Monday, May 6, 2013

Squeak Carnwath in Conversation with Renee Bott

Since I don't make too many flat prints, I have never really considered applying for membership in the California Society of Printmakers, but I was more than happy to be invited by CSP's president and my CCA colleague, Michelle Murillo, to attend a talk sponsored by CSP: a conversation with artist Squeak Carnwath and Master Printer and co-owner of Paulson Bott Press, Renee Bott. When Renee was a grad student at CCA Squeak gave a presentation to a class she was in, which sparked her interest. "I am always learning from Squeak."

Many years went by, and Renee is now the co-owner of a well-established editioning press, and periodically she and Pam, her business partner, work with Squeak to create new prints. Renee and Squeak showed slides and talked about their collaborative printmaking process. "We didn't rehearse this," they said, but they were clearly comfortable with each other as they improvised and joked through the forty-five minutes.

I had seen Squeak's paintings at a show at the Oakland Museum of California in 2009 and the colors and patterns translate very well to the prints. Renee showed a short film of one print being pulled, and it was very sensual watching the band of color move from the prepared plate through the etching press and transfer to the large paper. Squeak said she liked all the layers that a print could create and wished to make about twelve plates per print, but Renee said she tries to keep artists to a maximum of nine. 

Renee explained that she and Pam choose artists both by how well known they are (and artists who have their own marketing in place) as well as artists who are not typically represented in print: women artists, African-American artists and those who are not traditionally art-educated. Paulson Bott also like to figure out ways to make the artists who are not printmakers comfortable with the process. For the women quiltmakers of Gee's BendLouisiana Bendolph, Mary Lee Bendolph, and Loretta Bennett, Renee explained how she and Pam brought in sewing machines and fabric and the women made quilts the size of the paper they would print on. Paulson Bott cut and filed the metal plates, coated them, pressed the quilts into the soft ground, then etched the plates. Renee didn't elaborate, but I assume the color was added in layers after that. A beautiful way to capture the texture of the fabric itself and to make the printmaking process a welcoming one. (Gee's Bend film here.)

When possible, Pam and Renee like to visit the artist's home, "eat and drink and break bread," with them, which I imagine gives them a good idea of who the artist is and how they might work together. I was fascinated by how intimate their process is. They probably notice little details, perhaps even subject matter that the artist lives with but doesn't think about.

Squeak most likely thinks about and is conscious of everything. "I'll put in absolutely anything," she said about her art. She said she likes to watch t.v. while she works, which I take to mean that she incorporates the things she sees there. This was supported by Renee's comment that in 1999 while they were editioning the print "Listening," they were listening to Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible: A Novel on tape and Renee started noticing how parts of the book were showing up in Squeak's work. In 2011, Squeak created lots of images of candelabras, and she said she was looking at A Dictionary of Symbols by Circlot.

The conversation wrapped up with a dip into the subject of digital prints and how they differed from fine art prints. Squeak said she didn't think digital prints had "the same luminosity as the print or painting," that they were too "smooth, smooth, smooth," and that she liked to see something "slightly flawed" that showed the hand. She likened digital prints to "bus wrappers," which provokes a funny and interesting image. Layers are very important to her and her work and unless you are mixing digital with other printmaking techniques, you will not find layers in digital alone. She said she thought it was a "great tool," but liked better the idea of "weird hybrids." Renee agreed.

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