Since 1988 Jacob Samuel has published 43 portfolios of prints made by a diverse group of international artists, including Marina Abramovic, John Baldessari, Chris Burden, Mona Hatoum, Rebecca Horn, Anish Kapoor, Barry McGee, Ed Moses, Matthew Monahan, Wangechi Mutu, Gabriel Orozco, Nancy Rubins, Ed Ruscha, Robert Therrien, James Welling, Christopher Wool, and Andrea Zittel, among many others. Working primarily in series in intaglio mediums such as etching, drypoint, and aquatint, Samuel has invited artists to create prints in his Santa Monica studio but has also traveled internationally to collaborate with artists in their own studios. The number of prints included in each portfolio range from 6 to 36, with more than 550 individual prints included in the 43 portfolios. (quotation The Hammer Museum, 2010)
INTERVIEW WITH JACOB SAMUEL , DURING THE EXHIBITION OUTSIDE THE BOX, EDITION JACOB SAMUEL, 1988-2010, MAY 23-AUG 29, 2010, THE HAMMER MUSEUM, LOS ANGELES.
By Cynthia Burlingham, Leslie Jones, and Britt Salvesen
February 26, 2010 (Quotation from The Hammer text 2010, Los Angeles.
Leslie Jones: Would you describe why you were first drawn to etching and discuss its role within the context of printmaking in Los Angeles?
Jacob Samuel: My background was originally in black-and-white photography. I went to art school in the Bay Area, which has a really rich tradition in that medium. Because I was a photographer, I never thought of myself as an artist who painted or drew. When I graduated college in 1973, I felt very uncertain about my future as a photographer because there really wasnt any such thing as fine art photography then. And I knew I wasnt going to go the commercial route. The professors at the school were combining photography and conceptual art at this time, and at the same time it wasnt so important what you photographed. More important were the formal parameters you brought to the print. So that was my orientation.
In 1974 I was offered an apprenticeship at a commercial etching shop in Santa Monica, and I took it in a heartbeat. It was a very good training ground for me because it was straight commercial work. I was doing large editions of two to three hundred prints. I learned about such issues as hairline registration, working in different colors, and quality control from beginning to end.
And at the time I became very interested in the history of printmaking in Los Angeles. One of the first things I did was go to the Grunwald Center when it was at the Dickson Art Center at UCLA. I looked at the entire Tamarind Lithography Workshop archive there. Then I went to Gemini G.E.L. But what really got me was going to Cirrus Editions. I liked what the artists were doing there, particularly Charles Christopher Hill and Joe Goode, because it was coming out of process art.
Cynthia Burlingham: And when did you decide that you wanted to be a master printer?
JS: In 1976 I was working with other artists, but I wasnt a master printer. I met Nancy Mozur, who was the manager of Sam Franciss studio, and George Page, Sams lithographer. Sam was looking to have some etchings printed and asked if I would come over to the Litho Shop and meet with him. He had some old plates that had never been proofed, and he asked me to take them to the workshop where I printed in Venice and show him how they could be printed. So I printed them, and he looked at them and said, Well, they are kinda funky, but I see what youre getting at . . .
And then he started inviting me over and telling me to bring plates. Every time I would bring plates over, we would never work. He wanted to talk, to go out to lunch, go out for a drive. We never worked. This went on for about three years. In the meantime I was doing odd jobs for him, and I became part of the little scene at the Litho Shop. It was about six people, very nice, very low-key. Then a very good friend of mine, Anthony Zepeda, who worked at Gemini, told me that they were going to start doing etchings there, and so I went to Gemini. I was hired. Then one day Sam came in and said to me, What are you doing here? And I said, Well, I need a job! So he said, You should come work for me. And I worked with Sam for fourteen years.
CB: How many printers were there in L.A. at that time who could do etching?
JS: Not that many. It was very low profile. Because of Tamarind, etching never gained the popularity. I also think that it had to do with art of the time. Coming out of pop art, it was more about lithography and silk screen.
CB: Were you looking at what was happening with etching publishers elsewhere?
JS: I had this abiding reverence for two people: Aldo Crommelynck and Kathan Brown. I went to Paris twice and visited Crommelynck. He treated me like a little student brother and let me hang around the shop while he was working and printing. I was twenty-six years old. And at the time Kathan was working primarily as a contract printer for Parasol Press; she wasnt doing much publishing. So I went up there and visited her shop, and she let me talk with the printers. And one day Sam said to me, Whos good in the printing world? And I said, Kathan Brown. Sam said, Lets go there. So we went up to Oakland and visited Crown Point Press together and looked at everything, and when we left, he gave me a big vote of confidence. The other big vote of confidence was when Bobbie Greenfield had a show of Crommelyncks work in the early nineties. I went out to dinner with Crommelynck, and he came to the shop, and I showed him the Ed Moses book Abstraktion and Apparition. He gave me a big hug and called me his brother, and he called his wife over and spoke to her in French and said, Look at this, très joli. That Crommelynck could have that kind of response was one of the defining moments in my career.
LJ: So was it at that point that you became a master printer?
JS: I think it was when Sam really came to trust me after about a year and a half of working with him, when I figured out how to translate his work into lift-ground aquatint.
Another influence upon me was Ebi [Eberhard] Kornfeld. Ebi and Sam were really close. Kornfeld would come every year and would talk to me about the historical context of what I was doing. Sam sent me to Bern to meet with Kornfeld. And when I went, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. My first night there he took me to his study. On the wall there were paintings by Monet and Picasso, and all the furniture was Diego Giacometti. He went down to his wine cellar and returned with a bottle of wine and said, Im going to go work for a while, but Im leaving you with something to keep you busy, and he brought out his personal collection of Rembrandt etchings. The next day he had me taken to a Swiss castle where part of his collection was being shown. When I came back, he asked me if there was any particular thing that I liked. And I told him that I liked Picassos Vollard Suite. He sat me at a marble table, again with a bottle of wine, and he had his assistants bring out the entire Vollard Suite.
CB: So you were also always interested in that historical aspect of prints?
JS: Yes, and every time I went to Europe, which was quite frequently as I was working with all these European artists, I always brought that interest home. In Paris there were these old map shops, with etchings and all different kinds of things. I didnt have to explain to people what I was doing. Actually I felt like a jazz musician. I lived here, but I was working in Europe. And everyone in Europe understood what I was doing.
LJ: How do you define the role of a master printer?
JS: My job is to be as well versed in all the aspects of the medium of etching as I can be so that I have a variety of techniques to offer the artists I work with. Since I often choose to work with artists who have not done a lot of prints, particularly etchings, Ive been able to make it as painless as possible for them. I always told them: You dont have to think about the technique. Ill handle the technique.
When I started publishing, I had this rule that I wouldnt work with anybody whom I hadnt studied for at least ten years, because I wanted to understand what the work was about and that way I would have something to offer.
Britt Salvesen: What were some of the other influences on your work?
JS: In the seventies I was very influenced by a record label in Munich, ECM Records. They were impeccably packagednothing commercial about themand the sound was perfect. They put out the first Keith Jarrett solo albums. The album covers were artworks and had very beautiful photography. And there was absolutely nothing about it that screamed commercial or buy me! It was so low-key, and I really respond to that kind of aesthetic, particularly coming out of the seventies, when the dominant aesthetics were conceptual, minimal, and postminimal.
LJ: So thats when you started thinking about doing portfolios in boxes?
JS: Yes, they put out this ten-LP set, the Sun Bear concerts of Keith Jarrett in Japan, and I was just amazed at the quality of the portfolio box.
BS: And what was happening in art at the time that influenced you?
JS: It was the movement from pop to minimal and conceptual. I remember being at Crown Point Press when it was in Oakland at the old hat factory building, and they were working on the Chuck Close Keith print. I was watching them proof that, and then they showed me Sol LeWitt stufflines running in all directionsand it really raised the bar because if you are printing minimal art, what its really all about is technique. Prints of that period by Brice Marden, Sol LeWitt, and Robert Mangold are all very understated but printed perfectly. Even when they were large-format, there was no slickness to them. Etching was responding to the needs of the artist.
I went to New York in 1976, in 1977, in 1978, and I was staying down in SoHo, getting a feeling for what was going on there. Etching really seemed to be part of that raw aesthetic. There were minimal, simple prints that were formally impeccable but also had this quality of the handmade, a little bit of roughness to it. These were all things that I responded to.
LJ: Do you have a favorite printmaker?
JS: I have a few. They are everybodys favorites: Dürer, Rembrandt, Goya, Piranesi, Picasso. A contemporary artist who I think makes excellent prints is William Kentridge.
CB: Did you become interested in the series format because of its relation to the book?
JS: Its more about what was going on with conceptual art and working in series, like the serial imagery of Sol LeWitt at Crown Point Press. They published a book of photo-etchings in a grid that were details of everything in his studio. So I responded to that, and I liked the idea of serial imagery, one image leading to the next. What got me into books was working on the Lapis Press books.
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