An interview with Providence-based artist/comic Mickey Z for Cheap & Plastique #11.
See more of her work here. Issue 11 also features interviews with the artists Admiral Grey, Tobias Hild, Tonya Douraghy, Tobias Faisst, Shane Lavalette, Ted McGrath, Emilia Olsen, Lisa Vanin, and Hidde van Schie, all articles will be coming soon to this blog.
C & P: What first got you interested in artmaking and comics? Have there been key experiences in your life that have impacted you and your work?
Mickey: I don’t know why I got into drawing—I used to draw a lot of dinosaurs and sharks and then later I wanted to draw stuff like X-Men or Garfield. People considered me “the best at drawing Garfield” in elementary school for awhile, but then this other girl started drawing Garfield better than me and I was very bummed. Then I saw some Anime, like “Unico and the Island of Magic”, the visual cues were different and it looked really bonkers compared to regular US cartoons. One time I rented an animated movie called The Mouse and His Child about a wind up mouse and his son, they’re trying to find a purpose or something—at one point this turtle tells the mice to find infinity, which is subsequently illustrated on a can of dog food, as a wacky dog holding the same can, and the wacky dog on that can holding another can, and so on….it completely deconstructed my existing perception of reality at the time (I was ten years old or something). I just found a link to the whole thing here (minute 50 for the infinity scene). I guess that’s impact in terms of visual and conceptual…life impacts tend to affect stuff less obviously maybe.
C & P: You work across a variety of mediums including drawing, painting, and silkscreening, producing comics, commercial illustration, and design work. Do you prefer working in one medium over another?
Mickey: No… I like to do all the things! If I do too much of one thing I start to miss the other things. Comics is the thing I definitely do the most, in terms of visual stuff, maybe I like it the most because it has an extra depth that the other stuff doesn’t have because there’s also a narrative. I love screenprinting but I haven’t screenprinted in awhile…. that is maybe the most “fun” thing. Each process for each thing is different, so it’s hard to like one better than the other.
C & P: Many of your drawings are very chaotic and dense with texture/line/color/text. Has your work always been produced in this frentic, loose style? How did this style develop? Do you ever draw in a more controlled, precise manner?
Mickey: Ahh this “style” developed mostly out of laziness! I don’t like to spend a lot of time on stuff, and I like stuff when it is “done”, because when it is done I can go outside, or stare at a wall, or go to a coffee shop and stare at a wall, or socialize or ride a bicycle or something. When I draw bigger the drawing gets more controlled on its own… just because the page gets bigger but the drawing implement stays the same size. So I can scribble all I want, and when you step like 4 feet away its just gonna look like a nice gray blur anyway, or whatever it’s going to look like.
C & P: You often draw animals such as wolves, snakes, goats, and eagles. What draws you to these slightly sinister creatures that many associate with the darker aspects of life?
Mickey: Yeah I don’t know? I’ve never liked drawing people…. and I’m really into “woods” or “the woods”, and all these things maybe live in “the woods” except for maybe goats? Goats live in the mountains? Walking through the woods can be difficult, it’s easy to stray from the path… or you think you’re on the path when you’re not, or you are walking around in circles and have no idea… meanwhile there is lots of life in the woods…. maybe they are symbols of the unknown? Or danger or temptation or something… or maybe they’re just watching you walk? Maybe I am just bullshitting? I definitely started drawing snakes though because one day I thought, “Man, I am terrible at drawing snakes.”
C & P: I really like the handdrawn type on your posters. Sometimes the information is hard to read but it makes the poster more intriguing, I like that the viewer has to work a little bit to figure out the message. Has anyone ever refused one of your designs because of illegibility? Or do most people who commission you to do a poster expect and appreciate this style?
Mickey: I’ve overheard people talk badly about the posters when they’ve been up somewhere advertising a show or whatever and I’ve had people refuse my offer to make a poster for something or other, but other than that people seem to know what they are getting into, I guess. People seem to understand that it’s much harder to accommodate their bizarre nuanced desires mid-process when screenprinting as opposed to working digitally or something.
C & P: How do you choose which medium you will work in for a particular piece? Is it a process of experimentation?
Mickey: It’s more the medium dictates the work than the other way around. If I have to make a comic, I do the thing I do to make a comic. If I have to make a poster, I make the layers for the screenprint the way I usually do. They’re all pretty separate…if it’s to be a screenprinted thing, it’s to be a screenprinted thing, there’s not another way to do it. But there’s usually room for stuff to evolve…. and sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t.
C & P: Your color palette for your silkscreened posters is very bright and your drawings (and comic books) are mostly black and white. Why is some work so colorful and other work monochromatic? Does the printing technique influence the coloration in your work? What is your preferred printing technique? You mention that you have been using a Risograph printer lately, what do you like about Risograph printing? Where do you print most of your comics?
Mickey: I think I said before, screenprinting is fun. Throwing on extra layers is very simple to do and also a blast, and not particularly time consuming since I usually don’t do runs of more than 40 or 50 prints (it usually takes less than an hour to print one layer on 40 or 50 prints, not including set up). It’s a physical process so it’s not boring, and it’s visually stimulating (because of the bright colors). Alternatively, printing comics is boring. Making comics can be great but I print them on a machine (the Risograph), in my house, usually in my pajamas. It takes way longer because the runs are larger and there’s just generally more stuff to print. And then the collating! Ugh it’s terrible. Since it’s such a bore to print the comics… I am not necessarily interested in putting more time in to make them look brighter! Although when the comics are short and the runs are small, like in the instance of What Does the Garbage Man Say? or Haunted Forest, it’s slightly more appealing to do multicolor stuff.
C & P: How often do you produce the comic series RAV? Could you tell me a bit about it?
Mickey: RAV seems to be a twice-yearly endeavor. It’s an ongoing underground romance drone comic. Some stuff happens, a lot of stuff doesn’t happen. It keeps going. People spend a lot of time walking through the woods. If people ask me to describe it, I tell them it’s a little like Alice in Wonderland.
C & P: Could you tell me a bit about the one off comic What Does the Garbage Man Say? I have read through it a few times and it is very funny to me. What made you make a comic about the garbage man—a figure in our society who doesn’t get much love. Have you had many run-ins with your local garbage man, is this comic based on a true story? Are most of your comic tales based on real life experiences?
Mickey: One time I was cleaning out this building, putting lots of plaster and cement scraps in a little dumpster. The truck didn’t take the dumpster on it’s scheduled day and when I called to find out why, the lady said the dumpster was too heavy for that style of truck to lift it. If the truck tried, the cement scraps might fall out and kill the driver (it was a front loading truck). When I asked if she could send a different truck, she said there were no other trucks that could empty the dumpster. So I asked her what I should do and she said “you’ll have to empty the dumpster yourself”. And then I spent an afternoon in the rain emptying all the stuff out of the dumpster and into my truck bed, which felt so insane and backwards and wrong in this completely indescribable way. I guess that was why I made that comic. Most of my comics aren’t about specific experiences I’ve had (“garbage man” comes the closest), but I guess they are about living experiences generally.
C & P: I think the first time I saw your work was in the centerfold of the Dirt Palace 10th Anniversary zine. I was there a couple of years ago interviewing Pippi Zornoza, for the C & P blog, and she gave me a tour of the space, it is incredible, well equipped and sprawling. What was your experience like when having a studio space there? Was it an inspiration to be immeresed in that creative environment? Do you ever collaborate with past/present members of the Dirt Palace collective?
Mickey: It was certainly, without a doubt, an inspiration to be immersed in that zone… I loved being there and doing stuff with a bunch of other people, lots of different kinds of energy, different ways of doing stuff, that kind of thing. I love Pippi and Xander, obviously. I learned a lot, the most important stuff being not art related. some of the people I am closest with I met while I was there. Also Xander introduced me to the Risograph! I used to print all my comics on her Risograph (then I got my own).
C & P: How did you make your way to Providence, did you grow up nearby? Does living in Providence influence your work? What do you like most about living there? Least? Is it a city which is friendly to artists? Is there still a healthy art and music scene happening in Providence in 2014?
Mickey: It definitely has influenced my work…I’ve lived here for arguably my entire adult life so, inevitably, of course. Most people here have a pretty brutal work ethic, people work hard at whatever kind of work they do, most people do more than one thing, like play music and draw comics, or electrical wiring and halloween coordination. There’s a lot of skills floating around and most everyone is happy to share what they know in exchange for a grip of tacos. One time I helped someone design a website in exchange for a cassette deck, etc. The city itself is friendly to artists I guess… Rhode Island is a small state, so getting grants and stuff like that isn’t a complete pipe dream, you don’t have to be Damien Hirst or whatever. It’s cheap to live here, there aren’t too many good jobs but it’s also very possible to “make your own job”, sometimes. it’s more of a working-together vibe than a competition vibe—“Come check out my thing.” It’s pretty small-town though… which can be frustrating, but it’s also part of what makes it so nice. And it’s still pretty healthy over here in 2014. And of course……. there are whole worlds of Providence I’ve never experienced.
C & P: What other activities do you enjoy pursuing when not making music or art?
Mickey: I mostly like hanging around, staring at a wall (I think I mentioned before)…happy to stare at a wall in public as well as private. I like going to the beach in the summer. I kind of collect radios, just regular radios… but I’m into cb radio stuff too, I mostly listen, but sometimes I bark. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a heavy priority right now, it’s been slowly absorbing more and more of my time… also i’m really into recreational ceramics but i don’t get to do that very often.
C & P: I see that you run a cassette tape label called Price Tapes. How long have you been running the label? Does the label only put out bands from Providence or from all over? Are you also a musician? Are you in a band at this time?
Mickey: Maybe I have been doing the label for five years? That seems like way too long! I think I started the label to release music by friends that don’t really play music, just to see what happened..since around that time I had started playing music for the first time, and was excited by the idea that I could just pick up whatever and just do it, and therefore anyone I knew could just pick up whatever and just play music too. And what came out of that would probably be fun and bonkers and genuine. That never ended up really happening though. But Price Tapes stayed pretty true to the relaxed, positive, experimental vibe. The label ideally releases music from everywhere, but it’s pretty heavily Providence because those are the people I see everyday… and see them perform or hear their music the most. I’m a musician, I guess, my project is called “Dungeon Broads”.
C & P: What projects are you working on currently?
Mickey: Working on finishing RAV #9, Youth in Decline will be publishing a partial RAV collection in Spring 2014, so I suspect I’ll be working on that sometime soon. Working on getting the Price Tapes dubber fixed, it broke. Got to draw Graveyard Ducks for Mothers News, I’ve been slacking on that! I’m trying to chill out a little bit… I ran around a lot this year.
C & P: What could you imagine doing if you did not create art?
Mickey: Ah anything! I like to do lots of things, I’d really be happy doing whatever—sweeping—I think is an ideal. Also have always wanted to work at a marina.
The young and the aged converge on Randall’s Island for Frieze Art Fair mania.
Ivan Seal, Carl Freedman Gallery (above 2 images)
These little paintings are my favorite for the second year in a row.
Unknown (above 2 images)
Unknown (above 2 images)
Raffi Kalenderian, Galeri Peter Kilchmann (above 2 images)
Borden Capalino, Ramiken Crucible Gallery (above 3 images)
Gardar Eide Einarsson
Graham Little, Alison Jacques Gallery (above 2 images)
Jim Lambie, “Metal Box,” 2013, Sadie Coles
Ricarda Roggan, Galerie Eigen + Art
Neo Rauch, Galerie Eigen + Art
C. Nicolai, Galerie Eigen + Art
If you happen to be in Minneapolis you should check out this exhibition:
Sonnenzimmer at The MCAD Gallery
The Minneapolis College of Art and Design
January 18 – March 3, 2013
More info here. Sonnenzimmer website here.
From the MCAD website:
Sonnenzimmer is the Chicago-based art, design, and print studio of Nick Butcher and Nadine Nakanishi. Merging backgrounds in typography, fine art, printmaking, and publication design, the couple’s commissioned and self-initiated work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, including a recent exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Known primarily for their idiosyncratic take on printed matter, especially the screen printed poster, Sonnenzimmer has carved out a niche for their small commercial art studio, servicing an array of clients as varied as the Poetry Foundation, The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Sub Pop records, and numerous free jazz groups. Their work has been published by Gestalen, Rockport Publishers, and Princeton Architectural Press and is in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Design and Architecture collection and the Museum of Design Zürich’s poster collection. Founded in 2006, Sonnenzimmer sees a bright future for the graphic arts as a new generation of image-makers emerges.
My favorite poster.
Went on a Chelsea and Soho tour this week in search of some inspiring art, here is what I found (and liked) during my wanderings:::
Barney Kulok at Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery
Exhibition runs from September 13th — October 27th. More info here.
Barney will be speaking at Aperture this coming Tuesday, find out all about it here.
And an Artforum review.
Ahmed Alsoudani at Haunch of Venison
Exhibition runs from October 4th — November 3rd. More info here.
James Welling at David Zwirner
Exhibition runs from September 7th — October 27th. More info here.
Renaud Regnery at Elizabeth Dee Gallery
Exhibition runs from September 22nd — October 27th. More info here.
Kraftwerk box set, DAP
FW Books, Dutch Contemporary photo books
Paper Monument-Saddest ashtray ever
Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe – Marlborough Gallery
Swiss Room (one of my favorite rooms, above 5 pictures)
Desert Island Comics
Happy Birthday Andy!
Untitled (Mirror Image, #18), Oil on Orange Mirrored Plexiglass, 48” x 36”, 2008
Cheap & Plastique interviews Brooklyn-based artist John Jurayj for Issue 9.
C & P: Your work deals with events that have taken place in Lebanon and how war and internal conflict have affected the country and its people. Your parents emigrated from Lebanon to the US before you were born. Have you been to Lebanon? Do you still have family in Lebanon?
John: My father’s family still lives in Lebanon, both in Beirut and in Kousba to the north. I have visited regularly since the end of the civil war in the early 1990’s.
C & P: I see that you have shown your work in Beirut. Is the reaction to your work different in Beirut than in NYC?
John: I think that the work is read differently depending on where it is shown. The viewer and his or her background, knowledge, and experience alters the work’s meaning. Certainly when the work is shown in the Arab world, and in particular in Lebanon, its resonance is different. The ostensible subject matter is fore fronted by the viewer’s subjectivity.
Untitled, Installation View, Participant, Inc., NY, 2011
C & P: You just showed your work at Participant, Inc. Gallery in NYC. Could you speak a bit about this show.
John: I have been working for a number of years on two different projects that are inter-related yet formally different. Undead furthered my explorations of “disrupted representation”. A non-profit and, in particular, Participant, Inc., allowed me a lot more leeway to show what I needed as opposed to what might work in the market.
C & P: The show included a video work, (Untitled) We Could Be Heroes, who are the figures in this video? Is this your first time working in this medium? Do you think you will create more video work in the future?
John: This is my first video but since its creation I have continued to explore this medium and have a large piece in my current show at Alberto Peola Gallery in Torino Italy. Untitled (We Could Be Heroes) is a piece sampled from my early paper and screen print work of the same title. It is an anthology of significant political players of the Lebanese Civil War, including American politicians. All the “men” are equalized when their eyes and vision are disgorged.
Untitled (Luggage), cast gunpowder and plaster, 14.75″ x 21.25″ x 7.25″, 2010
C & P: Your sculptures of luggage, (Family Baggage), made of plaster and gunpowder, have been referred to as “ghost objects.” Do you intend these objects to function as memorials in any sense? If so, are they meant to evoke memories of people or of broader concepts?
John: As opposed to a memorial which has the intent of commemorating, these objects are shadows or ghosts that float alongside the present. They are the darkness, the other side of what we see.
C & P: Given that the sculptures are of luggage and contain gunpowder, have you had any trouble shipping the works for exhibitions?
John: Not yet…
C & P: I imagine they might not easily clear customs.
John: You would think, but they always make it through. Maybe things are not as tight as they say.
Untitled (Boy With Shorts), Gunpowder and Ink Screened on Polished Stainless Steel, 67” x 44”, 2011
C & P: Can you speak about your use of mirrored surfaces/stainless steel in place of traditional canvases? Is this more of an aesthetic choice or is it intended to give rise to an interactive element in the work, as the viewer sees their image reflected back at them from within? With this particular series, Untitled (Undead), the reflective quality of the work seems to drive home a sense of not only being a witness after the fact but also of participation or complicity in past events, as the viewer sees themself with a “ghost image” of a dead figure.
John: Mirrored stainless steel is commonly used in psychiatric and penal institutions for safety purposes. I find this popular use important to the meaning of the work. Of course mirroring is a critical phase in child development and its absence can produce a rupture of self. In the case of painting, the mirror dissolves the privileged and separate space in which viewer stands, participation and implication is not a choice.
Untitled (Girl With Shorts), Gunpowder and Ink Screened on Polished Stainless Steel, 67” x 44”, 2010
C & P: The figures in Untitled (Undead) are painted from images of those killed in the Lebanese Civil War. Where do these images come from? Newspapers? Are they published images? Are these people strangers or do you have
a personal connection to them (are they relatives or friends of your family)?
John: The people are anonymous and are sourced from journalistic archives. It is important that their anonymity be the bases of the attempts to give them dignity through verticality.
C & P: Do you always work from photographic sources in your painting?
John: No, my abstractions are pure material as representation.
C & P: The subjects in Untitled (Undead) bring to mind Robert Longo’s Men in the Cities drawings from the late 70s. Interestingly, the figures and poses in both end up looking very similar although the intentions behind the work are completely opposed. Longo’s figures are jumping into the air, celebrating being alive, whereas your figures are fallen men and women, lifeless. However, your subjects seem to take on an almost triumphant air of reanimation when removed from their original context and placed upright and vertical. Could you talk about your decision to present the work like this? Have you looked at Longo’s work as a reference point?
John: Longo is not a reference point though I am conscious of the reflection. That said, I am interested in my work echoing the history of other work, whether recent or the deep past.
I think that it is best to let go of the anxiety of influence and play with the productive possibilities of aesthetic recycling. Whereas Longo seems to celebrate motion and the city, I am more interested in an attempt at changing time and altering space. Whether that is possible or not is also part of the work. It could be a heroic failure.
Untitled (Mirror Image, #27), Oil on Yellow Mirrored Plexiglass, 48” x 36”, 2009
C & P: Are you a fan of Michelangelo Pistoletto’s work, particularly the Mirror Paintings? Have these works influenced your decision to paint on a reflective surface?
John: I am a fan of his materials and some of the possibilities that his work opens up, though I am not interested in the seeming passivity and politeness of his work.
Untitled (Marine Barracks, 1983, #2), Oil on Linen, 74” x 84”, 2006
C & P: You studied architecture as an undergraduate, when did you decide to pursue artmaking rather than a career in architecture?
John: Architecture was a compromise with my parents. It allowed for me to have some aesthetic expression while maintaining the illusion of stability and social acceptance. It really wasn’t me. I have never functioned well in compromise and group settings. What drew me to architecture as a kid was my inability to distinguish between destruction and construction.
C & P: In your earlier work you paint pictures of buildings being bombed using a very colorful, day-glo palette, even though the paintings depict somber subject matter. Your newer works are rendered in much more subdued tones. Can you discuss this change in palette?
John: The nature of the materials actually changed—from traditional oil to silkscreen. And then there is depression which is always at my edges.
C & P: Do you mix gunpowder in with the paint/silkscreen ink in all of these works? How did you first begin working with gunpowder as a medium?
John: Yes, gunpowder is in all the screen printing and casting. I was looking for a medium other than standard ink or plaster to actualize instability, corruption, and volatility.
Untitled (Purple Diptych, #10), Digital print on watercolor paper with burn holes and purple mirrored plexiglass, 58.25” x 74”, 2011
C & P: Your paintings seem to have progressed from using buildings and architecture as their primary subject matter to using images of people. Can you talk about this progression? Is it indicative of a shift in your interest in subject matter or something necessitated or dictated by the particular cycle of work?
John: The work moves between source material which is public and spaces which are very personal. I think this is a continuous circle.
C & P: Do you paint specific buildings in Beirut? Do each of the buildings that you depict have their own story?
John: Yes and no. In general, anonymity prevails, yet certain moments such as the bombing of the U.S. Embassy or the U.S. Marine Barracks are iconic and unavoidably knowable.
Untitled (Orange Diptych, #8), Digital print on watercolor paper with burn holes and orange mirrored plexiglass, 56” x 73.5”, 2011
C & P: What painters/artists having you been looking at most recently? Past? Present?
John: When I paint my paintings, I look at myself. Otherwise, Warhol seems to always shadow me.
C & P: You teach at both SVA and Cornell, how does teaching influence your practice?
John: It allows me to be on the front lines. Thinking and rethinking what is pertinent, what is possible, and what is the point.
C & P: What are you working on right now?
John: I have been working with bricks cast in gunpowder and am thinking about a large scale sculptural installation to honor my father, and reflect his death.
Above spreads from Chapter One: Down The Rabbit Hole, Unique Silkscreened book,
33 x 46 cm, 2010
C & P: How did Bongoût begin? How did you start collaborating with Anna Hellsgård? When did you open the Bongoût art space/store? Who runs the Bongoût store? Are the shop, the graphic design/illustration business (Re:Surgo!), and the artist representative agency (Bellevue Illustration) all run by the same people, in the same space? Is this all you and Anna Hellsgård?
Bongoût/Christian: I started pretty punk. My first silkscreen atelier was in a huge alternative warehouse project across the Rhine, in Kehl (Germany), that was hosting rehearsal spaces, recording studios and event spaces. I was publishing silkscreen hand-printed artist books in a very DIY matter. Some of my friends started a small garage punk & noise label, so I would design and print the record covers. Meanwhile we organised concerts, exhibitions, raves and parties, So I was in charge of doing the design and print to advertise the events.
When I met Anna in 2001, we started collaborating and eventually our work became more structured and sharp. We relocated in Bordeaux for a year and a half. We quickly moved to Berlin. In Berlin we’ve had three different locations, and we’ve been in the space on Torstrasse since early 2008.
Our shop, design & print studio are all in the same location—we occupy the entire lower floor of Torstr. 110. Our illustration agency, Bellevue, is in the 4th floor in the same building. Anna and me run the graphic design studio and silkscreen studio together. We run the publishing company and shop with our partner Alain, and Bellevue is co-run by us and Jakob Hinrichs and Katia Fouquet.
C & P: Is there a silkscreen facility on the Bongoût premises? How often is the press in use?
Bongoût/Christian: The silkscreen print studio is in the back of of shop. Hardly a day goes by when we don’t print.
C & P: The Bongoût web shop sells photography, sculpture, paintings, handmade books, zines, limited edition prints, t-shirts, music, and more. Do you sell as much of a variety of products in the store? Who curates what is sold in the store and online?
Bongoût/Christian: Yes, in fact you can regard it as a sort of select shop—we carry things we like, mostly print publications (from polished offset artist monographs to DIY limited edition zines) but also prints, posters, apparel, vinyl records, and even chinaware designed by artists, and of course original artworks.
Biographical Chapter 12, Silkscreen print, 150 x 200 cm, 2011
C & P: Do you regularly have exhibitions in the space? Are the exhibitions always of people’s work who you sell in the shop?
Bongoût/Christian: For the last three and a half years, we had on opening every month and were having exhibitions non-stop in constant rotation. But we’ve had to focus more and more on our own work as well as the books we are publishing, and needed more space for the office and studio.
We moved them into the former exhibition space and are now having smaller shows every third month in the shop part of Bongoût. It’s not only people whose work is in the shop, but it will often be of artists who we’ve worked with in the past in some form. The connections come about quite naturally, and we develop the concept for the exhibitions together. When we were using the exhibition space we would approach it as a very flexible and modular space, and it looked different for every exhibition—adding temporary walls, changing the lighting, painting the walls different colours… each exhibition had a very unique character.
Loomings Chapter 1, Silkscreen print, 150 x 200 cm, 2010
C & P: Could you talk about the process of working with an artist/illustrator on a book or an art print? Do you silkscreen the book/print or does the artist silkscreen their own work? Or does the process vary from artist to artist, project to project?
Bongoût/Christian: We have very often worked with other artists—in fact, collaborations are an essential part. Each project defines a new set of rules, and in general we have a very good chemistry with our project partners. It’s comparable to making music with different people. It creates a good balance and challenges between our different projects.
C & P: Do you only print limited edition, hand-silkscreened books and prints in house? Do you ever send a project out to an offset press to print a larger edition of a book?
Bongoût/Christian: A few years ago we started to publish offset books. We now have a catalogue of over 15 offset publications, books & catalogues. We are currently working on three big offset monographs: a painting book by ATAK, a book of Marilyn Manson’s watercolours and a photo book with Natacha Merritt.
Given, 72 pages silkscreen book, 93 colours, 40 x 30 cm (above 3 images)
C & P: What is the most involved/complex project you have ever undertaken in Bongoût’s print shop?
Bongoût/Christian: We just finished Given, a huge collective silkscreen book. Three booklets in a cardboard box, 30 x 40 cm, 72 pages, and a run of 145. We used 93 screens for it. We asked 35 artists (Seripop, Tara Mc Pherson, Pakito Bolino, Gregory Jacobsen, Manuel Ocampo….) to submit images and we printed the whole project this summer. It´s massive.
C & P: How do you find the artists/illustrators/comics that you work with and/or represent? Are most of the Bongoût stable friends and/or acquaintances? People who have submitted work through your website? Or people that you have scouted out at schools and in other publications? Are they mostly German?
Bongoût/Christian: The connections happen naturally. The artists we work with come from all over the world. After 15 years of being active, we have a pretty good network, but we are always excited to discover new young talents to collaborate with.
C & P: How many projects do you work on at a time?
Bongoût/Christian: We always multi-task and work on several projects simultaneously. That’s how we can keep on being productive and avoid lulls. It is not unusual that a project goes over a time frame of three-six months (sometimes it takes a year or two to put everything on place), so if we were focusing on only one at a time it would be very slow and frustrating. This way we keep ourselves busy and have a steady output, its’ exciting.
C & P: Are there other publishers in Berlin doing something similar to what Bongoût is doing? How about elsewhere in Europe?
Bongoût/Christian: In Berlin I’m not sure. Over the years I saw a few publications that go in a similar direction, but rarely anything consistent. Since the 70´s here is a long tradition of underground art publishing in France, which is part of my background, l´APAAR, Elles sont de Sortie, Le Dernier CRi, United Dead Artists… just to name a few.
C & P: Do you ever collaborate with other independent publishers?
Bongoût/Christian: We carry other publishers’ books in our shop and web shop. We did a few straightforward collaboration too.
C & P: Do you sell Bongoût product anywhere in the USA?
Bongoût/Christian: Cinders Gallery and Booklyn Artist Alliance, both in Brooklyn, are carrying our silkscreen artist books, and in terms of distribution, DAP and LAST GASP are distributing some of our offset books in the USA.
C & P: How long have you been creating artwork? Have you always used the medium of silkscreen?
Bongoût/Christian: I started to publish graphic zines under the name Bongoût in April 1995, and I met Anna in 2001. We essentially silkscreen, but we also paint, draw, photograph, do installations and play in several bands.
Chapter Two: A Pool of Tears, Unique Silkscreened book, 40 x 60 cm, 2011 (above 3 spreads)
C & P: I saw the book Down the Rabbit Hole at the New York Art Book Fair last year and was absolutely blown away by it. It was definitely the most beautiful book I saw at the entire fair, unfortunately I could not afford to purchase it. There is only one copy made? And this year you produced a similar book, A Pool of Tears, which The US Library of Congress purchased. Could you tell me a bit about the process of making these books? Where does the imagery in the book come from? How long does it take to produce?
Bongoût/Christian: Yes, it is a unique book, there is only one copy. It’s a hard cover, with embossing (46 x 33 cm). The book is a mise-en-abyme of media and techniques and the title is obviously inspired by Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. The beginning it’s very intuitive. The materials go through several iterations and transpositions until the final result is achieved. It just clicks, we know exactly when we have reached what we wanted. At the end it makes it hard to pinpoint one specific technique.
This book is part of a series, with each book being considered as a “chapter”. Each chapter is named after a chapter in Alice In Wonderland. We are currently working on Chapters 3 & 4. Chapter 1 is now in the Standford library collection and Chapter 2 in the US Library of Congress.
C & P: Do you ever take the imagery from a page in one of these books and reuse it to make a poster or present it in some other format?
Bongoût/Christian: Like I said, our work is a constant mise-en-abyme. A time-travel remix. We are reusing film, elements, found material, our own work (paintings, drawings, photos)… one work leads to the next one. The creative process reflect the dynamics of creation and inspiration.
C & P: What is your favorite thing to do in the neighborhood?
Bongoût/Christian: Sorry but I will not advertise them in a public discussion. (Ed.- Understandable, I might have the same reaction to the question in regards to Greenpoint/Williamsburg!) I hang out there with my friends and I want to keep these places genuine and tourist-free as long as possible. That’s why they are my favorite spots.
C & P: Do you feel that you will be able to stay in Mitte for a long time? Or is Mitte changing in a way that it will make it impossible for a gallery/artist run space to be able to operate there in the future?
Bongoût/Christian: Anna and I were discussing it recently. We’ll see what the future brings, but all together I don’t think that it’s changing that fast.
C & P: I just read that Tacheles was closed down this year and the artists who had studio spaces there were evicted. Is this true? How do you feel about the arts landmark being demolished and turned into high priced condos?
Bongoût/Christian: I never felt very close to the Tacheles community or spirit. Tacheles was a pale vestige of a Berlin that is long gone for me. Twenty years ago you had a lot of squats and artist spaces like this, and I loved that energy, but it is something that was particular to the 80’s and 90’s right before and after the fall of the Berlin wall. These creative community had as much to give as the established artists.
But even if the building was amazing, over the last few years, the Tacheless turned more and more into just another tourist attraction. It’s a natural evolution, gentrification is inevitable. No big deal. When it happen move on and do something new.
C & P: I went to Berlin in early 2000 and again in 2005 and in just five years I noticed that the city had changed a lot… and now I assume it has changed even more. Do you feel that Berlin is a different city now than it was in 2005? Is it becoming more difficult to live cheaply there?
Bongoût/Christian: It might still take a while until all of Berlin looks and feels like Prenzlauer Berg though. Of course, once you’re settled or running a business, you’re pretty happy that you can walk along the sidewalk without stepping in dog shit and having to dodge the drunks. But people were saying the same thing in 1990, and again in 2000. I see tons of galleries and artists moving to Berlin because they think it’s the El Dorado of art. They heard about cheap rents and are hoping to make it big time here, but most of them quickly sober up and realize it’s not as easy as they thought. Financially, the city is still a nightmare—there’s a reason why the beer and the rents are cheap. Most people don’t make a lot of money here. But this is part of Berlin’s flair. And you could see this as a sort of freedom from economic constraints or the pressure of “making it.” If you have accepted that, you might as well do what you like. This creates the basis for the particular kind of vitality and creativity so unique to Berlin. Perhaps the established art world is getting bitter and running in circles, but there are a lot of extremely talented artists working on what they love to do, there are exciting off-spaces, hundred of concerts every night. It’s still really exciting what’s going on here.
C & P: Would you ever move to a different city/place or is Berlin the place for you?
Bongoût/Christian: Even if I could imagine moving to NYC or San Fransisco, Berlin is definitely the place for us. There is an energy in Berlin that you won’t find anywhere else. It’s always been like this. It is a city that is truly alive. This is why we love Berlin. It’s a city of paradoxes, and these paradoxes are its strength.
OOH LA LA!
CHEAP & PLASTIQUE 9!
Cheap & Plastique have been busily prepping for the Fountain Art Fair at Art Basel Miami over the past month. This past weekend Cheap & Plastique presented 4 artistes at Fountain (who were featured in Issue 8 of the magazine) and also had a brand spanking new issue on hand for Fountain-goers to peruse!
Everybody wants a copy of Cheap & Plastique in their Christmas sock! ORDER issue 9 today!
PAYPAL me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and you will receive one of these beautiful zineroos in your mailbox! Zine is $10, shipping $5. Printed on various fancy papers (silver and vellum—tres chic!), zine is 60 pages.
This issue features:
Paintings by John Jurayj, Andy Denzler, Elias Necol Melad, and Amanda Joy Calobrisi
Photographs by Ed Panar and Nicolas Wollnik
Video Art by Charles Roberts
Illustration by Zoran Pungercar
And studio features on Bongout from Berlin and NoBrow from London
In July, when I was in London, I stopped by NoBrow headquarters for a tour of their store and production facilities (and for a small shopping spree!) The space was great and there were so many amazing things to look at (I could have stayed there for days!) And even though Sam Arthur, one half of the NoBrow team, was having a very very bad week, filled with headaches (he was on the telephone dealing with finding a stolen van in Belgium, filled with freshly printed NoBrow books, when I first arrived), he kindly let me in, gave me photographic freedom to shoot anything I wanted in the space, and made the time to chat with me, enthusiastically, about NoBrow and the product they create.
This month Cheap & Plastique conducted a proper interview, via email, with Mister Arthur.
C & P: How did you decide to start NoBrow? Was it because of your love for the medium of illustration?
Sam/NoBrow: We started Nobrow because we love illustration and because we love beautiful books.
C & P: Had you been involved in any other similar projects/ventures prior to NoBrow?
Sam/NoBrow: Before we started Nobrow – Alex was an editorial illustrator and I worked as a director (mainly commercials and music videos), we had worked together on various animated projects, and although the end product wasn’t printed there was a similarity in terms of working with visual narratives.
C & P: Are you planning to expand NoBrow in the future or start any additional endeavors?
Sam/NoBrow: We are always searching for new projects to publish, doing more books and expanding into new markets is always going to be a challenge. We are going to be working with Consortium Book Distributors in the US starting in 2012 so our books will be more widely available in the US and Canada. We are also working on some translations of our books for the French market too.
C & P: NoBrow has existed since 2008. And you have had the shop and gallery for a little over a year and 1/2. Have things changed for NoBrow since the shop was opened? Are a lot more people aware of the NoBrow brand now?
Sam/NoBrow: We have had lots of opportunities pop up as a result of people coming into our shop, which is great. The idea that someone who didn’t know of us could stumble upon our shop and love our books is quite a romantic notion! However our shop/gallery was always intended to be a showcase for our products and the artists that we work with and in that way it has been really successful.
The amazing shop
C & P: Do you only sell NoBrow products in the shop?
Sam/NoBrow: We stock all of our own products, even some that aren’t available online, but we also stock products that are from producers and brands that we love and are ourselves inspired by.
C & P: Who is in the office on a daily basis?
Sam/NoBrow: Alex and I are always in the office unless we are away on business, and then we also have 3 full time staff members and that includes whoever is working in the shop.
C & P: How often is someone printing in the basement?
Sam/NoBrow: We don’t have the resources to be printing 24/7 unfortunately, but we usually have a new print edition every 6 weeks on average.
Silkscreening studio in the basement of the building
C & P: Do the illustrators silkscreen their own pieces, does NoBrow print the publications, or is it a collaboration?
Sam/NoBrow: We always print the editions – otherwise it wouldn’t be a Nobrow Small Press edition.
C & P: Are there other publishers in London doing something similar to what NoBrow is doing? Do you ever collaborate with other independent publishers?
Sam/NoBrow: Not that I know of – we work with lots of collectives and small presses but not so much with other publishers. We love publishers like Bongoût and Le Dernier Cri who operate in Europe, but there isn’t anyone quite as well established as these guys in the UK.
C & P: How about elsewhere in Europe? I saw the work of a Berlin based group called Bongoût at last years New York Art Book Fair who were selling similar wares (collectible silkscreened art books/objects). Do you know of them?
Sam/NoBrow: See above answer!
C & P: Do you sell NoBrow product anywhere in the USA?
Sam/NoBrow: We sell in places like Secret Headquarters in LA, Desert Island in Brooklyn and quite a few other cool independent comic books stores – next year we’ll be distributed by Consortium Book Distribution in US and Canada so it will be much easier for stores to get hold of our books.
C & P: Have you done any art fairs (like the Pick Me Up Contemporary Graphic Art Fair in London, where I first saw your work) in other cities?
Sam/NoBrow: We’ve done lots of shows and fairs all over the world (well mainly in North America and Europe) for example in the last 12 months we’ve been involved in shows and festivals in Angouleme, France, Toronto, Canada, Helsinki, Finland and we’ll be doing something in Madrid, Spain in November and also be at the Brooklyn Comics and Graphic Arts Festival in December.
C & P: The colors used in printing your publications have a unique look and feel about them and act as a common thread between all of the NoBrow library, making a group of NoBrow books look like a cohesive collection, despite the illustrator’s style. Is there a specific reason for your choice of colors? Was this color palette chosen because of any other publications/publishing houses that you admire? How are these super saturated, intense colors accomplished in both the silkscreen process and with the larger runs on the printing press?
Sam/NoBrow: We use a spot colour printing process with many of our large edition books that are printed with offset litho as opposed to silkscreen. The process is similar in that the colours we use are premixed and overprinted rather than made up of CMYK which is the more conventional way of printing things.
Sam showing me the difference between the screenprint version and the offset version of The Bento Bestiary book by Ben Newman
C & P: How do you decide whether to print a limited edition of hand silkscreened books in house versus a run of 3000-5000 at a press?
Sam/NoBrow: We can take more of a risk with the hand made books as we are only printing 50 or 100 copies – also it may be something that can only be done with silkscreen. With the large edition stuff we can do more complicated bindings as we are using industrial production methods.
C & P: Could you talk about the process of working with an illustrator on a book? Does it vary from artist to artist?
Sam/NoBrow: It varies quite a bit from artist to artist and project to project. Sometimes we have seen something that is already finished and we work with the artist to adapt it to a book for us – other times we are approaching an artist with a project in mind, in which case we are all starting form scratch. Some artists like to have some direction or an editor to bounce ideas off, where as others are much more likely to bury themselves away. Everyone works in a different way and we try to find the best system for each project in order to get the greatest end product: a beautiful book!
C & P: What is the most involved/complex project you have ever undertaken in NoBrow’s print shop?
Sam/NoBrow: We did a really cool concertina book with artists Jock Mooney and Alisdair Brotherston – the complicated thing was getting the maximum length from the paper stock. This meant printing in two sections on one sheet and sticking them together – and then folding them. Sounds simple it was real brain teaser!
C & P: How do you find the illustrators/comics that you publish? Are most of the NoBrow stable friends and/or acquaintences? People who have submitted work through your website? Or people that you have scouted out at schools and in other publications? Are they mostly British illustrators?
Sam/NoBrow: Again – this is probably our most commonly asked question – it’s different for every single artist. We have met some people via friends but these people are in the minority, for the most part we have approached people when we have seen their work and have loved it. Generally this is because we have seen their work online or in a book or magazine or even on some food packaging! Often people send us examples of their work or links to their websites and we always try to check these out even though we don’t always have much time. It’s important for us to always be looking at new things.
C & P: How many illustrators do you work with on a regular basis?
Sam/NoBrow: It’s not an official thing, sometimes people ask if we represent artists/illustrators and we don’t. However there are at least 20 illustrators that I can think of that we have worked with more than a few times. Hopefully this number will increase as we go into the future.
C & P: Whose collection of vintage Japanese toy monsters is displayed throughout the store and office? When did you begin collecting these? Do you have a favorite?
Sam/NoBrow: Alex is an avid collector of Kaiju Japanese monster toys – it’s his collection and he’s been collecting for at least 10 years. I love anything Godzilla!
Japanese monster collection
C & P: What is your favorite thing to do in the neighborhood?
Sam/NoBrow: I love a pint in The Griffin over the road from our office and lunch at the Hoxton Grill is always a treat! If I want to go somewhere a bit more colourful – DreamBagsAndJaguarShoes on Kingsland Road is a great night out.
C & P: Are there any other galleries that you frequent in Shoreditch? Elsewhere in London? What are your favorites?
Sam/NoBrow: I’m always a sucker for The Tate Modern – it has to be the best art gallery in the world. In Shoreditch – Seventeen Gallery, 17 Kingsland Road, always has interesting stuff and there are loads of galleries on Redchurch Street and also Leonard Street that have great shows.
Ben Newman and Sam Arthur sitting at the conference table in the office
More cool stuff in the office
House of Gold: An exhibition of work by Butter was hanging in the NoBrow gallery when I was there in July. The NoBrow gallery is currently showing an exhibit of works by the artist, Ben Newman, who I met during my visit. Ben seemed super nice and is a fabulous illustrator/artist, go check out his work if you happen to be in London!
Work from House of Gold exhibition
A few of my photographs of Sam Arthur and the NoBrow space will be in this month’s issue of Form Magazine, available at the end of October.