Hung Liu, one of the most prominent Chinese painters working in the United States today, lives locally and teaches at Mills College. The Oakland Museum of California is currently exhibiting Summoning Ghosts, the first comprehensive survey of her work (it runs through June 30), and a new show of her work, Questions from the Sky, opens today at the San Jose Museum of Art. In his review of the Oakland show in the San Francisco Chronicle, Kenneth Baker said: “The [paintings] are really something to see.”
But it is to a favorite spot in Berkeley, rather than Oakland, that Liu often heads in order to see some of her work come to fruition.
Since the 1990s, Liu has worked closely with Pam Paulson and Renee Bott, the founders of Paulson Bott Press, a fine-art printmaking press located on Fourth Street that specializes in limited edition intaglio prints.
Liu says working with the Berkeley press has been, and continues to be, liberating. “We have done things I could not have done by myself in the studio,” she said recently in an interview with Berkeleyside.
Liu remembers being introduced to Paulson and Bott by Berkeley artist Christopher Brown, the press’s first artist, for whom it published a set of four-color etchings in 1996.
“Christopher Brown, a very generous man, would let me visit his private studio with my Mills College students,” she said. After learning that Brown had made prints with the two young women who had opened their own press, which was originally located in Emeryville, Liu had no hesitation about working with them.
Paulson and Bott, both master printmakers who earned their degrees at, respectively, San Francisco Arts Institute and the California College of the Arts, take a particular, and much appreciated, approach to their work that involves becoming close to their artists, “getting behind their artistic expression,” and, as they put it, acting as both cheerleaders and technicians for them.
“We roll out the red carpet for [our artists],” said Bott. Whether they live in Europe, New York or across the street, the pair visit artists’ studios and invite them in to work at the press for two weeks before making any decisions on what to print and publish. Having absorbed the artist’s work and techniques, the printmakers eventually offer suggestions on what they think will work graphically.
“They studied my style and they did their homework,” said Liu. “They are always going to my openings.”
The pair like to work with a range of artists who offer different styles, and they are interested in under-represented groups, such as artists of color. They say they feel lucky as there is a core overlap in their respective tastes.
Berkeley artist Deborah Oropallo was among Paulson Bott’s early collaborators; others in their fold include Caio Fonseca, Tauba Auerbach, David Huffman, Amy Kaufman, and Gary Simmons. The Gee’s Bend quilters crafted quilts in the Paulson Bott studio to be turned into stunning prints, and the pair worked recently with Squeak Carnwath exploring themes of darkness and illumination.
Pulling an edition can be a slow process – sometimes printing techniques can take months, whether it is hand-inking in special colors or incorporating chine colle (gluing paper onto a print during the printing process), or using acid washes over copper plates as the press did for the 5ft long piece by Liu, Foshou (Buddha’s Hand), 2008.
Liu uses many ‘drips’ in her paintings. “They suggested we have acid running from top to bottom on the copper plate which turned into a greenish tone,” she said. “It was an amazing phenomenon. I screamed when I first saw it!”
Pushing boundaries is a given, whether it’s working with new materials, striving to create the largest print possible, or leaping from two dimensions to three.
View slideshow of photos taken at Paulson Bott Press (click ‘Show Info’ for captions):
In describing her relationship with the Berkeley press, Liu emphasizes the collaborative approach of its owners. There is also a dedication, and a willingness to roll up sleeves and get to work.
When the press was working with Radcliffe Bailey on his piano keys monoprint Storm 1, 2001, Paulson, Bott and their small team cut thousands of silhouettes of piano keys, then dyed them in tea and tobacco to give them the patina they were looking for.
For a piece by Liu that involved 3D objects and batik patterns, La Ran: Phoenix, 2003, the team took a trip to Chinatown together and shopped for relevant items. “They are always encouraging and collaborative,” Liu said. “They think outside the box.”
Liu said one of the reasons she loves working with Paulson Bott is the fact that the press is run by two women. “The majority of master printers are men,” she said. “Renee and Pam are so personable and so pleasant that any fear I have goes away.” She described the days she works at the press with the duo. They are a pair working as a team with a crew of younger master printers, she said, working hard but also breaking for lunch to catch up and share a joke. “It’s familial and there’s a warmness which you might not have with men,” she said.
Paulson and Bott estimate they have created around 400 editions over the past 15 years, working with more than 35 artists.
An edition usually results in anywhere between 10 and 60 prints and there can be several editions within one release. One print is always framed and reserved for the Paulson Bott Gallery which is reached by a door on Channing Way, and is open to the public.
For Liu, the proximity of the press to her home also plays a part. “I don’t have to get on an airplane. I just drive to work. And there’s a different kind of rhythm there — very focused but lots of fun.”
Paulson Bott Press is at 2390C Fourth Street, Berkeley 94710. Open Tuesday-Friday, 11-5pm and Saturdays noon-4pm. Tel: 510-559 2088. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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