Stories From The Press

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. 

 

 

Hernan Bas

By Rhea Fontaine

When Hernan contacted Paulson Bott Press to purchase a print by Tauba Auerbach, I took the opportunity to invite him to make etchings.  For many years I had been enthralled by Hernan’s paintings and extremely curious about the man responsible for many of the “Renaissance in Detroit” stories I had read.

Hernan grew up in Florida and became widely celebrated as a Miami artist. His more recent move to Detroit was motivated by his need for escape and discovery. These same desires are evoked in his paintings.  Detroit has become a lonely, abandoned city, now haunted by the ghosts of America’s failed promises, the perfect muse for Bas and his depictions of boyish exploration, supernatural landscapes, death, and rebirth.

Hernan Bas, The Hallucinations of Poets (dandelion), 2010; Acrylic on linen

Hernan can push paint.  The skill with which he draws and paints is astounding.   His bold palette and confident mark-making is fast and detailed.

He pushes boundaries as well.  He breaks through to the other side, chases pleasures here, and digs treasures there. His embrace of sexuality and a queer perspective is bold and unapologetic.

Hernan Bas, Comus in a Drunken Stupor, 2013; Color Etching

Hernan and I came of age in the same decade, and I connect with his work in the same way that I connect with the post-punk, alt rock mood of the nineties.  My dream dates were once Layne Staley and Kurt Cobain, and there lived in me a deep longing for a life on the fringe, a feeling of alienation, a rejection of some idea I had of the mainstream. It was all “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.”

Hernan Bas, Sketches for prints, 2013 Graphite on vellum

It is no surprise that Hernan has been influenced by the writings of Joris Karl-Huysmans, who first defined the Decadent Art Movement.  Karl-Huysmans’ book Against Natureillustrated disgust with modern life and deep pessimism.  As art historian Otto Urban put it in an interview in F Newsmagazine, “there was much that that decadence introduced for the first time, above all themes that had been taboo (sexuality, Satanism and Anarchism).”  In Urban’s words, “The portrayal of the horror and madness of the modern world became a key theme of Decadence.  Decadence no longer had utopian visions of change, but only a grimace of ridicule and a longing for isolation.” 

Hernan in the Paulson Bott Press studio, 2013

Yet Hernan’s paintings have a redemptive power to remind us of our utopian dreams. Hernan takes this loneliness and spins it into gold. He is the contemporary artist whose self-imposed solitude inspired the alchemists of old.  After long hours in our studio, Hernan returned to his hotel and continued to work. He’d arrive back the next morning with a fresh group of drawings to inspire his prints, playfully experimenting with every technique intaglio has to offer.  The resulting body of work reflects an ongoing transformation between nocturnal longings and the glories of a new day.

 

Maira Kalman

By Kenneth Caldwell
This post is part of an interview I did with the artist/illustrator Maira Kalman for Paulson Bott Press in Berkeley. She is more comfortable with an assignment and a deadline than the process that takes place at a fine art press like Paulson Bott. But she used her skill of observation to gather a series of images that work together in a kind of grand collage.

 

What’s been the process of determining what prints you are going forward with?

We took all of these images and snippets and staticky things and put them together in one sheet. And then we went from there to doing individual plates and then putting them together and then separating. Back and forth.

How is printmaking different from working at home? What does it feel like?

When you’re alone in the studio, you have to make your decisions, for better or for worse. Here, when there are people who can give you feedback, I find myself in a bit of a fog, but not in a bad fog—in a very, very good fog.

So at home you don’t have assistants?

No. I have negative assistants. I have resistance. I’m just in my studio wandering around.

Does this have chin-collé on it then? Is this a sheet of gampi?

Yes.

That’s a whole new thing then. It’s a new effect, but it has luminosity.

Yes. I could paint on this. And I tried drawing some. This paper drives me crazy with happiness. I want like my whole life to be this.

Whose idea was it to print on cloth?
I wanted to print on cloth because I do a lot of embroidery stuff. And I thought, okay, it’s cloth, and then we’ll draw, and maybe try some embroidery. But the embroidery that I’ve tried feels unnecessary.

Mostly, 2012  A portfolio of 27 sugarlift aquatints and hardground etchings printed on linen.  Edition of 15
Mostly, 2012 A portfolio of 27 sugarlift aquatints and hardground etchings printed on linen. Edition of 15
I love the use of the fabric.

For me that’s part of the process—that we went to a nearby fabric store and saw what they had—and they had wonderful things.

Can you talk about some of these images you brought with you to use for reference?
This is an airplane. It’s like the early airplanes.

Like Kitty Hawk?
Exactly, but it may be upside down. I’m not sure. And this was a dancer from New York. I cut out a lot of photographs, so this is a woman that performed a few years ago. Half the time I don’t know where I cut out the images from anymore, but she’s a dancer, and this is also a dance troupe. So the movements of people making it through the day, both intentionally as dancers, and then just how we move around really fascinates me a lot. There’s a man behind her in the photo, holding his hands on her shoulders. But she’s a little bit awkward.

There’s a stiffness, yes.

I’m always watching how people are walking, and following them and photographing how people walk and really struggle—a lot of yearning to be okay, and dignity, and being brave. Basically I think everybody’s very brave for getting up in the morning and continuing through the day. Sometimes people walking, people sitting and eating, are just heartbreaking. I love Diane Arbus when she went to visit the people in the home and the Halloween images of those people. That’s also a Lartigue, but the photo is of a woman looking up at this ball, and then it became something else. It became a woman holding a stick. And then there is the rollercoaster after Hurricane Sandy.

With these images, are you drawing into the copper plate?

I’m always drawing into the plate, either the hard ground or the sugar lift. It only took me four days to remember those four words—hard ground, sugar lift.

And now you’ve got chin-collé and gampi too!

It’s like a nice poem.

I was going to ask you, does it feel a little bit like poetry—these scattered images or fragments that you’re tying together?

Yes. I think that the problem is, putting the word “poetry” on it—it depends what kind of mood you’re in: poetry can be a wonderful thing to say about something, and then, as a critic once said about me, “unnecessarily poetic.”

It’s a very different poem here in this arrangement than it might be in that arrangement.

Yes. I don’t want to forget the idea of a sense of humor along with the yearning and the sadness. There’s a lightness balancing the heaviness. And so poetry would imply one thing, and then just saying “I don’t know” would be the other.

Have you worked with poets?

No. But a lot of the things that I write or things in the books are poems. The dog says, okay, I’m going to write a poem now. I’m going to close my eyes and think of three things and then make a poem out of that. So there’s a lot of poetry and there’s a lot of songwriting in the children’s books. But I am collaborating with Gertrude Stein [in the set designs for the Mark Morris Dance Group’s production of Stein’s opera Four Saints in Three Acts]. So yes, I’m collaborating with a poet whom I never met.

She won’t get in the way.

I hope that if she were alive she’d go, “Great,” as opposed to, “Don’t you dare.”

Where did your idea of illustrating Elements of Style come from?

I found a copy of the book one summer and thought, “Oh my God, this is a crazy great book, and I need to illustrate it.” It’s the randomness of each sentence. The continuity comes from [Strunk and White’s] wit and the vivid cinematic images that they use. You don’t have to worry about a plot.

Do you want to come back to Paulson Bott Press and make more prints?

Of course I want to come back some time in the future when it all makes sense. I’ll go home and I’ll be able to moan and go, ugh, what was I thinking, or what was I not thinking? Really, it’s the beginning of a conversation.

You’ve been to Berkeley before?

I’ve been to Berkeley some other times, and I spent time in San Francisco installing the show at SFMOMA [about her late husband Tibor Kalman]. And then I came here to this gallery, and I said, “This is an amazing space. I love being here.”

Have you been able to explore a bit?

Well, I walk from my bed-and-breakfast in the morning. It’s over a mile. But that’s also the graph of the day—that sometimes you’re just sitting there like a stunned animal, not knowing what’s going on. We are animals that sort of freeze, and then—well I guess it’s like a possum, but a possum plays dead for something else. But I feel like sometimes I’m an animal that all of a sudden is dead. And then all of a sudden I come back to life.

So much of your work depends on observation. What do you see on your walks?

One of the things I did in Rome was go watch people pray, because I was trying to say, “What exactly are you doing? What are you doing on your knees? What do you think is going to happen here?” The intensity of people publically displaying their emotions and their grief and their hope, it’s incredible. Plus in Naples there were a lot of places where people are in confession and the priest is just sitting up, kneeling opposite them, not in a little contained cubicle, just open.

I think the concept of prayer is so interesting, because it’s one idea that can’t be defined, because each individual completely changes it.

The thing is that if you’re in the formal construct of a church or a synagogue and you’re praying to a deity, as opposed to praying for the strength to deal with whatever tragedy might befall you, and you are looking for a deity to save you, that feels delusional.  I say “Oh my god” a thousand times a day.  Then I say, “But I don’t believe in God.”  And i am really not sure which statement is true.