Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Maira Kalman

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.
 -By Kenneth Caldwell

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?

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

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.

Thursday, August 15, 2013


By Renee Bott

I met Erik Heywood a little over a year ago, soon after he launched his website Book/Shop.com. The website offers seasonal reading lists, library furniture and fittings, art, books, and delicious chocolate.
I was struck immediately by Erik’s passion for literature and books and his exquisite eye for design. His extensive knowledge of books and obscure publications provides a refreshing break from the culture of “insta-knowledge” and onscreen reading.  Erik studied English but soon left school to sell antique furniture. He worked briefly making props for Martha Stewart, then pursued both interior design and retail branding.

In March, Erik took the keys to a quaint, 250-square-foot space in the thriving Temescal neighborhood in Oakland and set up the brick -and-mortar Book/Shop. In addition to acquiring  books, he is amassing and designing several lines of merchandise related to reading: beautifully handcrafted canvas book bags detailed with fine Japanese leather, small portable bookshelves made from a variety of beautiful woods, (we bought five for the press and some for home too!), stackable bookshelf components, modernist furniture, art, and lighting.

The "Ballast" Bookbag
Raregem Japan + Book/Shop

Erik Heywood

Erik’s enthusiasm about our gallery program spurred us to collaborate. He is currently featuring five of our new Maira Kalman prints on the north wall of Book/Shop, and he has invited Maira Kalman to curate a pop-up bookshelf at the press in late September. (We will keep you posted about the date.)  I hope you take the time to visit Erik’s shop. His attention to fine detail is truly extraordinary.

         BOOK/SHOP   482D 49th Street, Oakland, CA, 94709. Tues.-Sat. 12-5. 510-907-9649

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Martin Puryear

By Rhea Fontaine

I can remember years ago, when I first interviewed for the position at Paulson Bott, my friend and former colleague, Sherry Apostol encouraged me by stating, “What a great place, Rhea.  You have got to work for them; they work with Martin Puryear!”

Before I had met Martin in person, another colleague compared the experience of his company with that of being in the presence of the Dali Lama.   When I met Martin in 2002, I realized that she was right.  His grace is remarkable.  In his company, one knows they are in the presence of greatness.  Martin is very soft spoken, but when he speaks, people listen. 

Martin Puryear, Reliquary, 1980, Gessoed pine; Martin Puryear, Self, 1978, Stained and painted red cedar and mahogany. Photo Courtesy the New Museum
We also listen to his art-- the vibrations, the emotions released from his sculptures.
They speak of the natural world, the human spirit and world history.  They nod at, bow to and break down our notions of the object.  Like Martin, they are quiet, magical and sublime. 

Martin employs wood, mesh, stone and metal to create forms that resist identification.  They evoke the future and the past, both forging ahead and leaning back.  They excite and provoke and comfort. 

Martin Puryear, North Cove Pylons, 1992-5, Granite and stainless steel
It is my greatest pleasure as Gallery Director at Paulson Bott, to introduce his work to those who have yet to discover it.  I often resist my temptation to scream, “What? You don’t know who Martin Puryear is?!”  “Haven’t you heard, the critic Robert Hughes has only declared him to be ‘America’s Best Artist’!”

Martin Puryear, This Mortal Coil, 1998-99 Red cedar, stainless steel cable, aluminum, and muslin
Martin’s first comprehensive show in the California bay area was in 2001 at the Berkeley Art Museum.  Sadly, it’s opening day was September 11th and many missed the exhibit for obvious reasons.  Slight redemption took place in the fall of 2008  when his retrospective, Martin Puryear, traveled to the SFMOMA.  It was an exciting chance for the bay to experience his impressive oeuvre.   I remember speaking with a friend who had just seen the show, and she stated, “I’ve always admired the images I’ve seen of his work but standing next to the sculpture in person literally gave me goose bumps.” 

After the opening, the SFMOMA hosted a spectacular dinner at the St. Regis to honor Martin.  Neal Benezra spoke to the group and expressed how fortunate we all were to be sharing such a momentous occasion with an artist of his caliber.   It is indeed our privilege at Paulson Bott Press to engage with an artist that we know will mark our time and leave a lasting legacy in the art world and beyond.

Martin Puryear, Phrygian, 2012 Color Aquatint Etching; Published by Paulson Bott Press

Friday, June 28, 2013

About Time

By Pam Paulson

I applaud the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act. This was discrimination enshrined in law. It treated loving, committed gay and lesbian couples as a separate and lesser class of people. The Supreme Court has righted that wrong, and our country is better off for it. We are a people who declared that we are all created equal—and the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.                                                                  
                                                                                                                        —Barack Obama

Kerry James Marshall, Untitled (Handsome Young Man, Woman), 2010
Wednesday’s ruling is a step forward for civil rights and civil liberties. The Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as unconstitutional, in contrast to Tuesday’s ruling, which took voting rights a step backward. We have come a long way on many fronts, but we still have a long way to go towards real equality.

Kerry James Marshall has focused his career on achieving real equality in the art world. "In the Tower: Kerry James Marshall" goes on display Friday at the National Gallery of Art's Tower Gallery and is Marshall's first solo exhibition in Washington, D.C. This is the first time that the National Gallery has curated and exhibited the work of a living African-American artist.
In a conversation with NGA curator James Meyer, published recently in the Huffington Post, Marshall describes the importance of the show:

When you walk through the museum you don't have a sense that the variety of different people who made up the nation as a whole have many any real meaningful contributions to the development of this country in the ways that people talk about its greatness. And I think to finally start to bring into a place like the National Gallery somebody who does work like mine that is not always celebratory of American ideals, that has an ambivalent and at times critical relationship to the overall story, to finally start to allow that work to be seen and those narratives to be articulated, starts to fulfill the promises that the idea of the country and the founding documents set out to guide us.

Today, 50 years after the civil rights movement’s heyday, we are at a tipping point. I hope today’s DOMA ruling and Marshall’s exhibition at the National Gallery of Art indicate that we are tipping in the right direction.

Kerry James Marshall, Bang, 1994

 For an additional perspective on Marshall’s exhibition, please read Tyler Green’s article here:

Friday, June 14, 2013

Collector Profile: Ross Evangelista

By Renee Bott

Ross Evangelista in front of painting by Gerben Mulder; Tauba Auerbach, 50/50 Random (Fine) , Tauba Auerbach, 50/50 Random (Coarse)

                              When I was in New York earlier this spring I had the good fortune of being invited to our client Ross Evangelista’s house for lunch. Since finishing graduate school at Fordham, Ross has been working in the financial services industry. Mike, Ross’s partner, enjoys moderate doses of art viewing and gives Ross plenty of latitude when it comes to collecting. I was curious to see Ross’s collection, and I never turn down an offer for a home-cooked lunch. Mike commandeered the kitchen while I spoke with Ross about his relatively new obsession: collecting art.
Renee:              Can you repeat what you were saying to me earlier about collecting art?
Ross:                There’s a tendency for collectors to be obsessive. There’s something about collecting and obsession that are related to one another. Collectors end up getting more than their walls are capable of taking. Mike is laughing because he doesn’t think that’s healthy.
Mike:                 We’ve actually had discussions about whether putting paintings on the ceiling was an option. Or could they go behind the doors? That one little bit of wall space there…that I have...that has the Buddhas on it…how about if we just wall-board that? That would actually then give him more space. Limited wall space is a challenge—he can have two or three pictures propped up against the walls. I make him shift them about.
Ross:                So whether or not it’s true for every collector, I don’t know, but I’ve spoken to a few collectors, and they say, “Yeah, it’s kind of a disease.” Gallerists are always saying not to sell anyone, especially the young artists.
Richard Misrach, Untitled #213-04

Renee:               Don’t sell them?
Ross:                 Don’t sell them. Don’t put them at auction. So what is our option? Basically, accumulate. I have spoken to some collectors who say that they do sell some works, and they put others in storage. We don’t have the luxury of storage, and I’d rather live with my pieces. What happens is it all gets to be more fun. Somehow, they find their place somewhere.
Renee:              What about the idea of curating your collection? I have a friend who’s an obsessive collector. He decided to build a closet to store his extra work. He curates his own shows! Every month or two, he pulls out a new set of work and rehangs his apartment.
Ross:                Wow. Does he do it himself, or does he have people helping him?
Renee:              He does a lot of it himself.
Mike:                Thank you for that great suggestion. (Sarcastic laughter) I like that idea a lot!
Ross:                I’ve considered that also. That’s sort of what we do, especially when we get new pieces. We want to live with them, so when a new piece comes in, we often have to move others around. Really it’s a function of size and space—like the Auerbach prints that I got from you that are in our Long Island house instead of our apartment, because there’s more wall space out there.I’ve considered curating, but you have to rehang and repaint the walls. I sold a print in the bedroom, and I haven’t even filled the holes in yet! Plus, we are in desperate need of better lighting.

Jessica Eaton, Cfaal 241;            Tauba Auerbach, Plate Distortion I.
Renee:               When did your art passion begin? Is this something you’ve been doing for a long time? Or is this something that started recently? 
Ross:                 It started about six, seven years ago. I’ve always been interested in art. I studied architecture, drawing, and studio arts in college, but never had the income to buy art. I moved around a lot before that. I lived in Connecticut, the Philippines, Germany, so acquiring art never occurred to me, since I lived out of two suitcases for a long time, because you’re only allowed two suitcases on international flights.
  • Hiroshi Sugimoto, Mechanical Form 0026
I think what eventually triggered my interest in collecting was getting exposed to online art blogs such as Modern Art Obsession and Artmostfierce as examples, which are (were, in the case of MAO) run by long-time collectors. Both of them featured “Buys of the Month,” which would feature prints by respectable artists at reasonable prices. Phillips de Pury & Company was also around the corner on 18th Street. We would sometimes go and look there, realizing full well that I couldn’t afford to buy at the time.
Back then, Jennifer Beckman had started something called 20X200. I started out buying from 20x200. I must have 20 or so prints from Jen. Afterwards, I started purchasing limited edition prints from Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Photography. I also have a few limited-edition Aperture and  AIDS Community Research Initiative of America photos (ACRIA) too. We try to go to galleries every week. When we travel, seeing art is definitely part of our agenda, which Mike doesn’t always like. You like seeing art, right?

Nicole Eisenman, Untitled;                          Julian Lorber, Untitled

Mike:                 In moderation.
Ross:                In moderation, yeah. For me, the key to getting into collecting was understanding that art is accessible. I let go of my fear of asking gallerists questions. I was trying to understand what artists do. I think a lot of people are afraid of art collecting because they’re afraid of asking questions. They’re afraid of not “getting it.” Of not knowing. My real collecting started after I got over that hump.
Renee:             Do you remember the first piece you bought from a gallery?
Sarah Pickering, Abduction                                               Sarah Pcikering, Fuel Air Explosion
  Ross:             Sure. This is actually the first piece.  (Sarah Pickering: Fuel Air Explosion).  It’s part of her Explosion series. That’s my first real print from a gallery, from Daniel Cooney Fine Art.  He’s a great gallerist, by the way.  This is also Sarah Pickering.  (Sarah Pickering: Abduction)
Renee:              I love that one.
Ross:                It’s awesome right?  I had that framed at Bark Frameworks since it’s so special to me. New York Magazine featured them as the “best” framer in NYC. I didn’t know then how dear “best” framing is!
Renee:             Tell me a little bit more about her.
Ross:                 As I understood it, her body of work then had a lot to do with keeping public order. She is from the UK, and a number of her series depict training grounds for policemen, firefighters, and investigators. In her photographs, you see what looks like a real street and real houses, but they’re fake. They are training sets. She worked with public officials to accomplish this. She’s a bit of a pyro, right?
Renee:             Yes.
Ross:               This is called Abduction. For this piece, she worked with the fire department. They would create a whole room and set it on fire to train firefighters how to look for a fire, how to fight them. They would leave clues. If you look closely, there’s a gun on the couch. It’s a very active piece. Even the explosion is a bit narrative. You ask, “How did this happen? Why is there an explosion? Is this a war zone?” You don’t know because they are so well composed.
Renee:             It’s stunning!
Ross:               From there, the floodgates opened. I finished grad school around 2005. I didn’t have much money. I still save up and try to look for good value and for what is interesting to me. Tauba Auerbach’s 50/50 prints were probably my next large purchase. I can’t remember if I bought all three at the same time, but I have three.
Sara Vanderbeek, Treme School Window, Baltimore Window

Renee:             I think you did. You have the Zoom In Zoom Out. It’s fabulous! Mike said that you’re reading all the time, educating yourself. Do you find that you want to get informed after walking into a show and being intrigued by what you see? Or are you doing research first and then seeking out the artists that you read about?
Ross:                I think both. I am definitely very research-driven in terms of what I look at. Even though I can’t add something to the collection, I still read about it. I’d even include it on my blog, which is a repository of works I own and works that I’d love to own. I have a lot of art books. I’m not sure about the real purpose, I just like doing research. Otherwise you are just a buyer. I don’t want to be just a shopper or a decorator. I want to be informed about what I’m collecting. 



Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Asking Questions

By Renee Bott

John Cage 1987 surrounded by charts of random numbers.

When Tauba Auerbach came to work with us at the end of 2012, I found myself thinking often about the composer and artist John Cage. I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with Cage in the late 1980s at Crown Point Press. Cage used a method of composing using the I Ching to facilitate “chance operations” to make his art. He believed that his responsibility was to ask questions rather than make choices.

Marsha Bartholomy works with  John Cage at Crown Point Press 1987  
Cage would sit down at one of the large artist tables in the studio to compose­­­, pencil in hand, predetermined materials selected, questions queried. During this process, he would consult one of the numerous charts of random numbers that he travelled with. Silence would descend on the studio while he worked, and graceful handwritten lists of lilted numbers written in graphite resulted. His number compositions functioned as a list of instructions. The directives were performed, resulting in a John Cage print. As with Cage, Auerbach’s process poses questions, but in her case, it is her intuition that informs her decisions, not the I Ching.

Tauba Auerbach prints in the Paulson Bott Press studio: Mesh/Morie 1-VI, 2013. Printer Maggie McManus curates prints. 

Kenneth Caldwell aptly describes her relationship to chance and her creative process: “Nothing seems placed by accident, and yet chance continues to play a significant role in the artist’s work. A lot of Auerbach’s art is about the tension between an almost total control over what goes into a process and an absence of control about the result that emerges from that process. She explores her system and process thoroughly, with thought and experimentation, and then when she’s ready, she lets go.”

While making the Mesh/Moire series, Auerbach created seven subtly different softground plates. A visual difference between any of these plates is imperceptible to the eye, and it wasn’t until two of these plates were printed together that a moiré pattern emerged.

Tauba Auerbach, Mesh/Moire IV, 2013

Printing combinations of two of the seven plates together yielded 42 possible permutations. Of those, she found six moirés pleasing. Auerbach’s meticulous adherence to her idea and the chance involved in the making of these plates is what reminded me so much of Cage. Both artists were charming and lovely to work with, and it has been a privilege to have been involved with their process. The strength of these two artists lies in their ability to turn inquiries into stunning visual results.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Please join us at the Atlanta Print Fair 2013

May 3-5, 2013

High Museum of Art
1280 Peachtree St, N.E.
Atlanta, GA 30309  

Thursday, April 4, 2013

On the Road to Thornton Dial

Thornton Dial:  Lost Cows, 2001
 By Pam Paulson

Earlier this spring I took a trip with my daughter Isabelle and our friend Matt Arnett to visit
Thornton Dial’s exhibition at the High Museum in Atlanta and see his studio in Alabama.  Dial’s incredible works were showcased in the exhibition Hard Truths/ The Art of Thornton Dial. The exhibition, which originated at the Indianapolis Museum of Art surveys twenty years of Dial’s paintings, sculptures, and drawings.  The work emphasizes the strength and compassion that Dial brings to each idea.  The survey brings up the difficult question of why Dial’s work has not been given the respect and notoriety it is due until now.  Race, education, and class have all played a factor in the denial of Dial’s admission into the contemporary art canon.  The exhibition is a resplendent manifestation of a powerful discourse on the human condition from a vantage point rarely celebrated.

Thornton Dial:  Ladies Will Stand by Their Tiger, 1991                  Isabelle at the High Museum with Dial drawing.
 A few miles beyond Birmingham in Bessemer, not far from the highway, a row of warehouses line a sleepy street.  Deep within the sprawling space of one of these warehouses, a corner has been turned into a large windowless room where Thornton Dial creates his work.

Looking into Dial's studio, 2013.

The warehouse, built by Dial’s sons, is the home of their steel patio furniture business, Dial
Metal  Patterns.  What was once a thriving industry has now slowed, devastated by the steep
and prolonged rise of steel prices.  Dial and his sons have worked in the metal industry most
of their lives.  Machines for bending, cutting, and painting , once used in the production of patio furniture now slumber.  Dial’s sons Richard and Donnie explained to me during my visit that not only had they built one of the metal bending machines after seeing one in another metal shop, but they had also constructed the entire warehouse itself, having had no experience with constructing large buildings.  Creativity and ingenuity run in the Dial family.

Thornton Dial: Construction of the Victory, 1997 (Detail)
Thornton Dial was born in 1923 in Emelle, Alabama, a tiny town that has all but disappeared.  As a very young child he had many responsibilities caring for farm animals and working the fields.  He watched as his uncle built sheds, barns, and small buildings. These structures, many built nearby by relatives and neighbors were designed carefully, composed from a wide range of materials colors, textures, and architectural styles intended to increase their visibility and to stylistically distinguish their makers.  Assemblages made from recycled materials and found objects dotted the landscape.  Communities created dialogues with yard art now recognized as part of the southern African American vernacular artistic tradition.  Dial absorbed this complex vocabulary and incorporated it into his own work.

 Through making things Dial expresses his understanding of the world around him.  Dial’s
painting and sculptures are narratives that discuss the complexities of his own life, nature, politics, race and history, constructed of found materials both natural and handmade.  Many of his assemblages have included bones, wire, dirt, flowers, clothing, utilizing reused and recycled materials, wood, wire, plastic, and metal scraps.  Surviving struggle and hardship Dial remains optimistic and the beauty of the natural world winds its way through his compositions.

Joe Minter's yard, 2013.
The discipline of yard art is evident as you travel throughout Alabama.  Like Dial, Birmingham resident and Dial’s friend Joe Minter grew into the practice of making things to express his ideas.  Isabelle, Matt, and I paid an impromptu visit to Minter’s yard to view the extensive environment he has created over the years.  Minter’s house sits atop a hill abutting the local black cemetery, which serves as a thought-provoking backdrop to his visual, highly political commentary.  The enormous yard is home to a maze of interconnecting installations that touch on topics such as slavery, voter’s rights, the Gees Bend Ferry, the World Trade Center bombing, and religion.  The dullness of the rainy spring day was diminished by our eagerness to see what was around the next corner as we walked through the yard over wooden pathways and bridges surrounded by a forest of rusting metal decorated with thousands of words and bright plastic ephemera. Minter is constantly amending the ever-changing environment.  He recently added a piece in response to the Sandy Hook shooting.
Joe Minter's Sandy Hook tribute, 2013


 Dial's early studio.
As we made our way to Dial’s studio we drove by his former home, a neat brick one-story building that he built. The sidewalk to the house is lined with cement filled soda cans, acting as bricks, attesting to the fact that Dial’s innovative use of recycled materials is not only a trait of his artwork, but also a characteristic of his everyday life.  Behind the house is a small garage where Dial created his work for many years, unbeknownst to anyone but his family.  Dial has always made things, but didn’t think of himself as an artist. Until a few years ago, Dial worked alone creating and moving large paintings and sculptures in the garage behind his house.  After he had a stroke in 2009, his sons created the new studio for him within the warehouse, and they began helping him move the heavy assemblages.  Inside Dial’s new studio, piles of scrap metal, wood, plastic flowers, paint cans, and old clothes populate almost every conceivable space.  Paintings in progress either hang neatly on the walls, or sit atop sawhorses, so he can attach materials such as charred wooden boards and cloth. From the surrounding sea of materials, glorious works of art arise.

Homemade soda can bricks line the driveway at Dial's former home.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Hung Liu

By Sam Carr-Prindle

Last September Hung Liu returned to Paulson Bott Press for her fifth project. All of us at the press look forward to her enthusiasm and her wide-ranging humor. The first time I worked with Hung Liu in 2008, I expected her to be stoic and severe, given the heavy content of her work. However, I was surprised and pleased to discover that despite her seriousness, she carries herself with an almost child-like cheerfulness and curiosity. There is a good deal of laughter when Hung is in the studio. She also brings a considerable amount of technical knowledge and confidence to the production of her prints. Intaglio can be a daunting and opaque medium for many artists, but she never seems intimidated by its esoteric challenges and unpredictability. For this project we focused on two large portraits and three small cartoon images based on her Happy & Gay series of paintings. 
Hung Liu: Happy and Gay (Thanks Mom, Kite, Flag), 2012
The Happy & Gay images are based around a series of Chinese Dick and Jane-like cartoons for children. The title comes from a song/school exercise for learning English: “Come boys and girls—let’s sing let’s dance. We are happy and gay. It’s our National Day.” The seemingly benign and bucolic images are both familiar and strange. Like their American counterparts, they’re intended to teach a set of wholesome, normative values such as hard work and pragmatism, with a heavy emphasis on the nuclear family and nationalism. Consequently, the fact that these doppelgangers are in the service of the Maoist Cultural Revolution, the loyal opposition of American exceptionalism, makes them feel, dare I say, queer. Such a contrast brings into focus the puritanical undercurrent in both.  Hung goes on to further push these tensions with soft subversions such as the pink clothing, which also evokes the double entendre of the title. Such flamboyance would be contextually deviant even in their American equivalents. The images and phrases of her youth are resurrected, with an irony and an acknowledgement that they no longer embody the meaning they once did.
Printer Sam Carr-Prindle and Hung Liu in the studio
A former painting teacher of mine once shared a story about a classmate who got in trouble and was ultimately expelled from their academy in the Soviet Union for making an impressionist painting. There was no dissident political content, or satire, just a few fauvist trees, which in an American school would have been at worst derided as quaint or anachronistic. Yet the implied individuality and emphasis on interpretation of feeling were perceived as threatening and subversive to the rigid social order. So in recreating these images in her own hand, and with small expressionistic flares, Hung is slyly breaking the rules that fettered the illustrators and artists forced to work in a state-approved style. In her version, the subjects seem to be tripping the Great Leap Forward.
Hung Liu, Shui-Water and Shan-Mountain, 2012
The two portraits are part of an ongoing series of works that are based on early 20th-century photographs of prostitutes. Many of the photographs are small and lack clarity and contrast, yet she is able to enhance the amount of information while imbuing them with a greater sense of life and naturalism. In addition to bringing her large collection of portraits, Hung also brought in an enviable collection of books filled with small reproductions of Chinese woodcuts, which she used to create the backgrounds of Shan-Mountain and Shui-Water. Both prints started with a softground drawing of the figure that was then built up with many layers of aquatint, drypoint, reductive plate work, and, most notably, spitbite, in which nitric acid is painted onto the plate and allowed to drip and run, echoing the turpentine streaks of her paintings. Similar to the way Hung mixes humor and seriousness, these images balance crude or visceral elements with elegance. The softground has a rough, heavy and weathered quality in the way the lines and shapes are broken up by optical chatter, yet the draftsmanship is masterful and sensitive. The spitbite drips can feel both chaotic and ominous, as if the women were melting wax figures yet the drips in and of themselves are lyrical and painted with an unfussy playfulness. These contrasting elements lend a fitting uneasiness to their beauty. While the women are poised and graceful, the images belie the grim and misogynistic reality of their original purpose.

Hung Liu’s work is never what you think it might be at first glance.
                                                         Video of Hung Liu at Paulson Bott Press