The Fearless Art Of Alicia McCarthy

The Fearless Art of Alicia McCarthy 

Alicia McCarthy, identified with the San Francisco Mission School art movement, finds ways to translate her vision of interconnectedness. McCarthy reflects,

 Alicia McCarthy wraps her arm around Ruby Neri at the Berkeley Art Museum, 2018

Alicia McCarthy wraps her arm around Ruby Neri at the Berkeley Art Museum, 2018

 "Like hand-crafted color, we are all on unique paths but constantly interacting with others, offering new experiences where we intersect. Those interactions enrich our life experiences, offering a unique vision into the idea that as a community we are more vibrant and greater than any one individual.”

 McCarthy's work really began to stand out for me in 2011 after Jack Hanley moved to New York and started showing her weave paintings in his gallery there. Her extraordinary colorful weave paintings garnered a lot of attention. Everyone at Paulson Bott Press wanted to work with her, even though we knew it was going to be challenging to make a print as stunning and rich as her paintings.

 Alicia McCarth, Untitled, 2017 Gouache, spray and latex paint on wood 60 x 60 in.

Alicia McCarth, Untitled, 2017
Gouache, spray and latex paint on wood
60 x 60 in.

Often studio visits are very informative. We get to know an artist and see first hand how they approach working in their own studios. These observations are crucial in helping us work with them in the print studio. We made an appointment to visit her in downtown Oakland. At that time, her tiny studio was located in a battered old five-story brick building on the fourth floor. She shared her space with two other artists. When we visited, she was working on several 5' x 5' paintings that took up the whole space. I don’t know how she got them in and out of there. Every surface was covered. I had never seen more colored pencils in my life. She was hand coloring a painted wood panel while we discussed her upcoming print project. 

In the print studio, we continued the discussion about different printmaking methods we could use to create the feeling of a weave. For her paintings, she’ll start in the center; she’ll paint two vertical lines and then two horizontal lines. Working back and forth between vertical and horizontal, she slowly adds lines of vibrant color. She builds it like a basket, weaving out so that there is an actual physical weaving of the colors going under and over.

 UNTITLED (Z.P.R.R.A.Y) (102), 2016, Color sugarlift aquatint, and aquatint with drypoint and flatbite.  40 1⁄2” x 44” . Edition of 35

UNTITLED (Z.P.R.R.A.Y) (102), 2016, Color sugarlift aquatint, and aquatint with drypoint and flatbite.  40 1⁄2” x 44” . Edition of 35

To replicate that effect with a print, she made two plates, using sugar lift. She set the plates side by side and painted them with stripes, using the same brush and spacing the stripes equally: a stripe of sugar lift, a stripe of bare copper. Her working style required her to work vertically. Fortunately, we’d learned from working with Gary Simmons that we could take the copper plates and screw them directly to the wall. We couldn’t actually weave the stripes of color the way she made her paintings.  So we printed the two plates at right angles to each other to create the weave effect.

 Alexander Groshong and Alicia McCarthy at Paulson Bott Press, 2016

Alexander Groshong and Alicia McCarthy at Paulson Bott Press, 2016

More recently, I’ve been working with her on public art. I helped her apply for the public art pool for the San Francisco Arts Commission. SFAC ended up in selecting her to make three proposals. We were thrilled when she was awarded the commission for Jet Blue at Boarding Area A in the San Francisco International Airport. She’s creating a large glass panel that will hang in front of the bay windows at the end of the walkway in the international terminal. There’s a lot of paperwork involved, and we are still trying to find a structural engineer to work with. There’s no existing structure in place to support the weight of her piece, so it’s going to be a huge challenge.

 Alicia McCarthy, 2016 Rendering of SFO Terminal A glass-panel  proposal

Alicia McCarthy, 2016 Rendering of SFO Terminal A glass-panel  proposal

She decided not to create a weave image for the airport piece, because the mullions for the existing bay-window already creates a grid. As she put it, “It’s going to be grid-crazy if I do a weave.” So she came up with a color burst idea, rays of color radiating out of three different points that overlap and come together to form a new color. It’s going to be beautiful. 

 Alicia on a ladder, working on a public art installation in Indonesia

Alicia on a ladder, working on a public art installation in Indonesia

Alicia is fearless. She’s always juggling several things at once, creating installations for multiple venues as well as staying on top of her studio practice and teaching. She plays the banjo and guitar without ever having had lessons. She has no fear of climbing on scaffolding to paint a seven-story building. She’s a passionate, generous teacher at SFAI. She instructs her students to “Show up for yourself.” It is apparent she is speaking about herself and her art.

An Interview with Sidney Felsen

May 1 ,2018

 Sidney Felsen, November 2017

Sidney Felsen, November 2017

In 1966, Sidney Felsen and Stanley Grinstein, and master printer Ken Tyler founded Gemini G.E.L., a Los Angeles–based artists’ workshop and a publisher of hand-printed limited edition lithographs, screenprints, etchings, and sculptures by established contemporary artists. In the past 52 years, Gemini G.E.L. has worked with a wide range of artists, including John Baldessari, Tacita Dean, Jasper Johns, Elssworth Kelly, Roy Lichtenstein, Julie Mehretu, and Robert Rauschenberg and Richard Serra. In 1973, Ken left to found his own workshop on the East Coast; Stanley passed away in 2014. At 93, Sidney still oversees operations and fosters the company’s relationships with artists. Recently, I flew to Gemini G.E.L.’s workshop in Los Angeles to hear Sidney’s stories about working with artists and running the business side of such an influential endeavor.

Renee Bott: How did you end up founding a fine-art press?

Sidney Felsen: In college, I majored in accounting and had zero interest in art. Then I had a girlfriend whose family had abstract images on the wall. I just didn’t get it. But I liked her and her family, and I thought if they liked these pictures, there must be something to it. So I started reading about art, and then going to art galleries. I regularly went to La Cienega, where the art scene was in Los Angeles in the 1950s and 60's. I took night classes at art schools for over 15 years. I had zero idea of making art. But I liked the idea of being in art classes. I got very friendly with a lot of my teachers and classmates which led to longtime friendships.

I’d gone to college with Stanley Grinstein. We were fraternity brothers. He and I had no interest in art when we were in school. But then he got married a couple years after we graduated in 1950, and his wife, Elyse, was very interested in contemporary art. They became pretty serious about collecting. They were buying works by Rauschenberg and Stella and Lichtenstein and other contemporary artists.

I was a CPA at the time. I had an office and a partner. Two or three galleries on La Cienega were clients of mine. They were importing prints from Europe—the usual suspects, Chagall and Picasso and Miro. I said to Stanley one day, “It would be interesting if we started a little workshop here and got to know artists and build a print collection.” He said, “I don’t know anything about it. But if you want to do it, I’ll do it with you.”

We needed a printer. Coincidentally, Ken Tyler had recently started a for-hire lithography shop called Gemini Limited. He had been technical director at Tamarind Lithography Workshop before that. So Stanley and Elyse invited him to their annual Christmas Eve party, and we asked him to join us in a new partnership - to be publishers.

 Current Gemini  Printers: (right to left) Case Hudson, Amy Jo Toucey, Oliver Dewey-Gartner.   Xavier Fumat, Issac Osher handle paper to print a Richard Serra intaglio.

Current Gemini  Printers: (right to left) Case Hudson, Amy Jo Toucey, Oliver Dewey-Gartner.   Xavier Fumat, Issac Osher handle paper to print a Richard Serra intaglio.

In essence, we bought into his business. We kept the same location, in the back of a frame shop, and changed the name to Gemini G.E.L., which stood for Graphic Editions Limited.

RB: How did you start working with artists?

SF: Ken had worked with Josef Albers at Tamarind, and they had become friends. Ken asked Albers if he would help us get started. He would send a shirt to the laundry and get it back with a cardboard in it; then collected the cardboards. He would paint squares, tear it in half, give us half, and keep half. That was our first publishing venture. Albers was very kind to us. He said we didn’t owe him any money, just give him a portion of the edition. So that’s what we did.

RB: After you make the object, you have to sell it. How did you go about doing that?

SF: We decided to advertise in Artforum and Art in America. The Albers prints were our first ad. The series was called White Line Squares. It was a white line between one of three colors. It showed how color is so influenced by what’s around it. So we put an ad in Artforum in the June 1966 issue. I carried the copy right over—Artforum was three blocks away on La Cienega. I handed it to this kid. Well, this kid was Ed Ruscha. He was doing the layouts for Artforum. Our ad showed a yellow White Line Square. We got about 300 responses. I think the prepublication price was $100, and $125 was the publication price. People sent us cash and checks to buy our first publication.

So next we asked Bob Rauschenberg if he would do something. He came out in February of 1967. When I picked him up at the airport, he said, “I’m thinking about doing a self-portrait of inner man.” Whatever that meant. The next morning, he asked, “Do you have any friends that are X-ray doctors?” By another amazing coincidence, my closest friend from high school had become an X-ray doctor. So I took Bob to meet Dr. Jack Waltman.

What Bob wanted was an X-ray from head to toe, one plate. We found out that X-ray machines generally create a one-foot-long image. We did six 1-foot plates, which I think was a lot more interesting. That was Booster. We didn’t have a stone big enough, so we actually put two stones together and then we filled it in. The print was six feet long by three feet wide.

RB: In the early years, did Ken handle all the printing?

SF: When we amalgamated with Ken, he already had two printers. They both stayed with us. Long Beach State College [now California State University, Long Beach] had a really good printer teaching there named Bob Evermon, and he had great students. We hired them, and Ken taught them.

RB: After Booster, what next?

SF: Bob Rauschenberg helped us get Claes Oldenburg. And Frank Stella would visit Bob and stay almost all day a lot of times. Bob always liked to have three or four people in the studio with him. The TV was on. The soaps were on. He was a serious soap fan.

We had bought a shipment of stones from a commercial print shop that was changing over to offset lithography. They were 23” x 17”, which is pretty small, and they were not very thick. A whole stack of them were sitting in the workshop. While Bob was talking to Frank, he picked up a stone on the top and handed it to him and said, “Why don’t you try drawing on this?” Frank was probably 25 or 27 years old at the time. And he did. He drew what’s called the Black Series, based on his Black Paintings. So we had Albers and Rauschenberg and Stella and Oldenburg. Then we got brave, and I wrote a letter to Jasper Johns. He said yes. That shocked me. And then locally, Ed Ruscha did a couple of things with us, as well as Ken Price. Now we’re up to 1968. So in three years, we’d worked with all these great artists.

 Photographs line the walls of Sidney's office at Gemini G.E.L.

Photographs line the walls of Sidney's office at Gemini G.E.L.

RB: So today, who finds artists to work with? How is the company run?

SF: Stanley and I did. When Stanley was alive, I had one partner: Stanley. When he died three years ago I invited his two daughters to work here; my daughter, Suzanne; and my wife, Joni. So now there are five working partners. As far as inviting a new artist to work with us, we pretty much have to agree. We have made three decisions in the last five years or so. One was Julie Mehretu, one was Tacita Dean, and one is Analia Saban. They’ve all been fantastic. In the early days, everything here was male. It was all-male art.

My job, then and now, is handling artist relationships and running the workshop. I’m an administrative manager of the workshop. I’m not a printer, and there are a lot of things I don’t understand. But I use my common sense. Plus, I’ve been around it so long. One of these days, we’ve got to go to the next step and say, “Who’s going to take over my job? And what will each of the four do?" It's one of the next important questions facing management.