Stories From The Press

Horror Story: Eight Artists Engage with Mass Culture through Traumatic Imagery

By Rhea Fontaine

October 25, 2014 through January 10, 2015

The idea for this show emerged from an ongoing interest in the idea of spectacle—specifically, Andy Warhol’s engagement with the subject. His Death and Disaster series embraced the horrific image to construct a commentary of historical trauma. Roger Kamholz wrote, “Warhol took the senseless tragedies of his time, ones that expressed the fractures and failures of the American dream, and presented them as history painting, in the tradition of grand, wrenching statements like Théodore Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa (1819) and Pablo Picasso’s Guernica (1937).”

Thinking more about this show and spectacle, I realized that in Aristotle’s outline of tragedy, spectacle is just one part of his thinking. “Horror Story” is really a show about the tragedy of violence.

1968 (detail) (300 dpi ; web)

Christopher Brown’s prints Continental and Flag are depictions of stills from the Zapruder film. Edgar Arceneaux’s etching 1968 depicts the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Brown uses cheesecloth on softground plate to create the look of a TV screen, and Arceneaux depicts the Starship Enterprise in the far distance of his image, making both interpretations feel a bit detached from the actual events. Arceneaux’s Beyond the Great Eclipse series depicts ephemera from the Watts riots of 1965. All of these tragedies continue to haunt our perceptions of the 1960s.

Brown Continental  Brown Flag

Examining the horrors of the slave trade, David Huffman’s print Remuneration, 2007, along with Radcliffe Bailey’s Passage Goe, 2011, are chilling portraits of the architecture built in order to traffic human beings.

Passage Goree       Remuneration

Perhaps it is the horror film genre that can best engage traumatic history and confront viewers with it. Gary Simmons’s All Work and No Play references Stanley Kubrick’s film The Shining. Simmons often uses metaphor and American popular culture to create works that address personal and collective experiences of race and class. In Kubrick’s film, there are several shots of Native American architecture, and the hotel is filled with Native American décor. The hotel, built on a sacred Indian burial ground, was haunted due to this desecration. Many theorize that the film is exploring the early American settlers’ exploitation and killing of the Native Americans.

All Work No Play

Again referencing film, Hernan Bas’ prints The Tenant and The Previous Tenant are images of the protagonist in Roman Polanski’s Film, Le Locataire, or The Tenant. The film explores the violence of the loss of privacy and the theme of victimization. Kota Ezawa’s prints Man and Woman and Stairs depict the scenes on the Odessa steps from the classic film Battleship Potemkin. The film terrifies the viewer with images of the brutal massacre of dozens of defenseless men, women, and children.

Bas and KJM

Lastly, Kerry James Marshall’s Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein address Mary Shelley’s classic novel and its racial resonances in the United States. Elizabeth Young, author of Black Frankenstein, states that “these Black Frankenstein stories effect four kinds of racial critique: they humanize the slave; they explain, if not justify, black violence; they condemn the slave owner; and they expose the instability of white power.” Again, Kerry James Marshall uses metaphor to explore the violence of slavery.

-Rhea Fontaine

Shaping a Master Printer

By Renee Bott

As part of the exhibit “Closely Considered – Diebenkorn in Berkeley” at the Richmond Art Center, Renee Bott was asked to speak this last Sunday on her experience working with Richard Diebenkorn. Here are some of her recollections.

 

By Renee Bott

When I look back at the years I worked with Richard Diebenkorn in the studio of Crown Point Press, I appreciate how that experience shaped my vision of what it meant to be an artist and, in turn, what it meant to be a printer. Over four years, Dick and I worked together on a total of four projects. We created a total of 20 editions.

I was 24 years old in 1985, and only a few months prior to meeting Dick, I received my master’s degree from the California College of Arts and Crafts (as it was then known) and was hired as a printer at Crown Point Press. At that time, Crown Point Press was located in downtown Oakland where Broadway intersected with San Pablo Avenue in a beautiful old retail space. Kathan Brown asked me to step in and help the three senior printers make and print the largest, most ambitious color etching that Diebenkorn ever created: Green, 1986.

Deibenkorn Combo
Printing Diebenkorn’s “Green”, 1986; Moving the press out of the Oakland studio to San Francisco.

As I worked in the back room steel-facing and preparing enormous plates, I was worried that I needed to be perfect. But Dick, with his certainty and quiet confidence, warmly welcomed me into his work ethos, a journey that accepted all, imperfections included.

Years later, the Loma Prieta earthquake struck and displaced Crown Point Press from its Folsom Street studio. It was an uncertain time, as Crown Point was forced to find temporary refuge for the gallery and studio. Kathan found a space several blocks south of the old location. It was an old garage that ran west to east for one city block between Folsom and Shipley.

The space was dank and dark, with florescent tubes that cast a hard blue light—a stark contrast to the beauty and grace of the Folsom Street studio. The earthquake had disturbed the homes of thousands, including the city rats. The rats often visited us, scurrying along the pipes that ran over our heads. After a while, our squeals of horror turned to nonchalance as we realized that they, too, were just looking for a new home.

It was in this environment that Kathan asked me to lead a project with Dick to make a set of small etchings for Arion Press’s book of poems by Yeats. Despite the chaos, I remember feeling so grateful to be given this chance to work with Dick again, even if we were in what felt like an underground cave. At one point near the end of that project, Dick, Kathan, and all of the printers gathered for lunch around a small coffee table. A rat ran by on a pipe above our heads, and a silence descended on the group. We all prayed that Dick would not notice our visitor. After an awkward moment, Dick smiled and asked “Was that one of our furry friends?” We all laughed hysterically. Dick was such a humble man. I believe he felt gratitude that we were all there with him, working together, even if it meant having to work around “furry friends.”

The six small plates created for the Yeats books were presented to Andrew Hoyem of Arion Press at a lunch prepared at the Dienbenkorns’ Healdsburg home. We drank crisp white wine and ate the lovely salmon that Phyllis, Dick’s wife, had prepared. After lunch, Dick asked me to show Andrew the prints. I untied a small portfolio containing the six images. Carefully turning the prints over like pages in a book, I gave everyone a moment to admire the work. No one said a word, but I felt that we were united by the prints.

Diebenkorn all coats
Richard Diebenkorn: Etchings for Poems by W. B. Yeats, 1990

 

As I prepared to leave, Dick put his hand on my shoulder and told me he liked the way I had shown the prints to Andrew. It felt like a ray of sunlight on my heart. His grace and humility stay with me to this day, informing my life’s work as a master printer.

Obamas’ Collection

By Rhea Fontaine

We are thrilled to announce that our print Starlite Theatre, 2012 by Gary Simmons has joined the Obamas’ collection!
Simmons painted a series of drive-in theaters and Starlite Theatre, a long gone establishment of 1950’s Dallas, was one of only a few to welcome black patrons.

Using icons and stereotypes of American popular culture, Gary Simmons creates works that address personal and collective experiences of race and class. He is best known for his “erasure drawings,” in which he draws in white chalk on slate-painted panels or walls, then smudges them with his hands – a technique that renders their imagery ghostly. His work is included in the permanent collections of the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington D.C., the Museum of Modern Art, NY, the MCA Chicago, The Walker Art Center, MN and the Whitney Museum of American Art, NY among others. Gary Simmons is represented by Metro Pictures Gallery in NY, Simon Lee Gallery in London and Regen Projects in L.A.

 

Starelite Theatre

Liam Everett

By Paulson Fontaine Press
Liam in the studio sanding a copper plate
Liam in the studio sanding a copper plate

 

It’s not uncommon for artists to enthusiastically tell us that working at Paulson Bott changed the way they think about making things in their studio. We‘re always pleased to hear this, though not terribly surprised. Artists tend to be restless and self-reflective. The process of printmaking is slow, indirect and abstract. It requires thinking in layers, rendering shapes as negative space and conceiving the composition in reverse. The process of making a print is like designing an exploded diagram. The end result’s cohesive and unified final appearance belies a complex assembly. This process has a tendency to make artists evaluate their habits and routines in a different way. These revelations tend to yield minute changes, but in the case of Liam Everett, it spawned a significant departure.

When Liam came to the studio in 2013, he made nine editions and three monoprints. The monoprints and the rondo editions are closely related to the work he was making at the time, which incorporated draped silk and wooden structures that avoided traditional flat, rectilinear framing. The six monochromatic pieces however were a departure. They balanced a traditional intaglio format and methods with the primordial materiality of his paintings, which are evocative of natural phenomena and chance. Liam came back in April of 2014 to make Untitled (Siguer) after we expressed interest in creating a large print in the vein of his current paintings. The new paintings are large and atmospheric, with moments of Technicolor intensity that are the stubborn residue of sanding through many layers of paint. There’s a quality that reminds me of weathered frescoes. I find that I am continually delighted by the remarkable difference between his paintings, despite their undeniable family resemblance. How does their distribution of color, texture and form seem so grounded, yet appear casual and incidental? They feel effortlessly balanced. Things happen where they need to happen and in a manner that’s appropriate to the whole. I was surprised (though I shouldn’t have been) that all the paintings start as drawings. Liam literally makes an architectural framework of DeChirco-like arches and columns with strong diagonals that are subsequently buried under layers of lyrical abstract marks. This architecture is crucial to their success. It provides a rhythm on top of which he can improvise. In retrospect it makes sense that during his time in the studio there were as many discussions about music (jazz, electronic, drone, pop, ambient, reggae, noise and metal) as there were about art. There’s a definite skepticism about the expressionistic dimension of their painterliness, but they never feel ironic.

Liam with Master Printer Sam Carr-Prindle
Liam with Master Printer Sam Carr-Prindle

While we were making Untitled (Siguer), Liam said that his current work was a direct result of working on the six monochrome pieces, which involved pressing the plates into asphaltum, open etches in the acid, sanding and alternating between additive and subtractive processes. The lessons he gleaned from making the prints don’t have an obvious 1:1 translation into the current paintings, but was more of a catalyst for evolving. He said that biggest revelation came from working with the acid. The physical distance built into the process (don’t touch the acid) encouraged him to consider a means of making a painting through means that aren’t a result of his hand or will. They also share a process of topographical erosion.

Liam may not have a definite picture of what a finished piece will look like, but he does establish parameters and a direction in which to move that is more like an educated guess than a blueprint. He starts by creating an obstacle, explores several of the permutations possible in a limited set of decision and moves towards resolution. The end result is never more important than the process. Failure is always a possibility, though he has a knack for succeeding, – which suggests that their hard won elegance is by no means dumb luck. Any unequivocal failures can always be cannibalized for their worthwhile qualities. Liam has said that a painting is finished when it no longer feels like the product of his conscious decision-making. He wants it to feel alien and “assert itself”. Liam would frequently ask us to make minor decisions while creating the plates in order to yield an unforeseeable element to respond to and assist in the process of distancing the work from his hand.

Liam Everett’s working method is in some ways similar to the definition of play proposed by the famous Dutch historian Johan Huizinga in his book Homo Ludens. Huizinga sees play as game-like in that it must to follow a set of rules or a structure. He asserts that play is always free, creates it’s own order, and isn’t done for utilitarian needs. Despite the rigidity and limitations of Huizinga’s definition of play (rules and frameworks are always up for play too), it makes a good argument for the importance of doing things for their own intrinsic value and pleasure. I can’t help but feel that there is a political metaphor in Liam’s art: setting up scenarios that allow for unpredictable, advantageous surprises to occur, without needing to force conformity to a predetermined ideal.

The artists aren’t the only one ones who are shaken up in the print studio. Artist’s frequently throw us a curve ball by innocently asking if we can do something. We have a familiar and dependable set of techniques, but they’re constantly being tailored to satisfy the needs of our artists. And Hallelujah for that! The necessity for experimenting and inventing on the fly keeps this extremely repetitive process exciting.

 

 

 

Lonnie Holley

By Paulson Fontaine Press

Lonnie Holley is an incredibly talented and versatile artist who expresses himself through sculpture, music, painting, and almost everything he experiences. He has overcome unthinkable hardships in his life but has managed to come out on top, maintaining his own unique and positive outlook on life. On our first day of work in the studio, Lonnie said, “I want to learn as much as possible from you, but at the same time, I want you to learn from me.” I was thrilled to be in charge of his first project at Paulson Bott Press.

Lonnie makes art out of anything and everything within his reach. One day, he went down to the nearby train tracks for some inspiration and came back with an assortment of debris, including an old tarp, tiny metal scraps from trains, and slabs of pale cement. When he set these materials down on the studio table, I felt a little anxious and wondered what he could possibly make out of them. But within minutes, he had come up with multiple concepts and created an intriguing sculpture of a boat and a face. He is a masterful improviser.

Lonnie Holley, The Things of Life (To See or Not to See), 2013. Color aquatint etching. Published by Paulson Bott Press

Intaglio was a new medium for him, yet he was able to embrace the various techniques seamlessly. By layering three-dimensional objects onto the softground plates, Lonnie found a familiar way to construct prints. His sculptures bend themselves perfectly to this printed form, allowing him to create work that remains true to his vision. His music shares improvisation and invention as well. You can listen here.