September 21, 2020

Printed Publics: Contemporary Art and Design Publishing in the Bay Area

On February 27th, we held a party in SFMOMA’s Koret Education Center for Printed Publics: Contemporary Art and Design Publishing in the Bay Area, which surveyed a variety of printed matter being produced by local artists and designers today. Participating publishers were invited and they in turn invited friends and collaborators, resulting in a convivial community gathering in which conversations unfolded amongst the stuff made by those in attendance. It was the highlight of the exhibition project for me, its organizer, encapsulating many of the intentions behind producing the show in the first place. 

As it turned out, this was the last big event I attended before the closure of most things a couple weeks later. Book fairs have since been cancelled and once omnipresent venues for book encounters shuttered, fundamentally changing the community around Printed Publics. We are asking questions now of how to replicate social lives in the digital sphere, how to find connection in our isolation. I’ve thought of the exhibition lying fallow in these months, books on shelves and in vitrines without hands and eyes touching them. 

Central to the idea of publication — literally embedded in the word— is a “public,” and Printed Publics examined publishing as a means of community building, information sharing, and collaboration. Publishers necessarily develop creative, informal methods for small-scale distribution; this kind of commerce is part of the work. As we look for new ways to persist as a community, we continue to reiterate the importance of this work. Follow along with our publishing community’s evolving projects on your screens, scroll along with their prodigious output — and BUY BOOKS. —DS


We asked all the participating publishers to answer the question, “Why do you publish?”

The following submissions are the compiled responses to our prompt.

Participating publishers:

Sming Sming Books, LAND AND SEA, Eggy Press, Jessalyn Aaland/Current Editions, Visible Publications, Mitsu Okubo, RITE Editions, no place press, Colpa Press, NIAD Art Center, RE/Search Publications, Floss Editions, The Black Aesthetic, Tiny Splendor, [2nd floor projects], Publication Studio SF, Stripe SF, David Wilson, TBW Books, Wolfman Books, Night Diver Press, illetante collective, Owl Cave Books, and Barbara Stauffaucher Solomon.

Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle, Kentifrications: Convergent Truth(s) and Realities (Los Angeles: Occidental College, 2018), designed by Sming Sming Books.

Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle, Kentifrications: Convergent Truth(s) and Realities (Los Angeles: Occidental College, 2018), designed by Sming Sming Books.

Sming Sming Books / Vivian Sming

Who makes art accessible? Are there truly interdisciplinary spaces? Where do we invest our divestments? Is cultural equity possible? Where does discourse lie? How can we create forms of institutional critique that will become gateways for non-institutions? What are ways we can support artists without relying on the accumulation of wealth? Can we make art that takes up as little space as possible but that emanates, reverberates, and is still felt profoundly throughout the world? Where does art reside?

WITH LIGHT. LP/zine edition by Christopher Robin Duncan.

WITH LIGHT. LP/zine edition by Christopher Robin Duncan.

LAND AND SEA / Maggie Otero and Chris Duncan

Maggie and I publish as a means of fellowship. We enjoy collaborating with folks to create accessible objects that share images, ideas, and/or sounds. Both Maggie and I come from scenes that flourish from a DIY code of ethics. We see LAND AND SEA as a continuation of an early education perpetuated by show flyers; music made in basements and VFW halls; stolen Kinko’s cards; hastily made, haphazard zines; twelfth-generation mixtapes and seven-inch records intended to change the world. Less about changing the world, LAND AND SEA hopes to amplify generally unheard and unseen efforts . . . adding to an ever-expansive, tactile, shared culture of print.

Eggy Press

Eggy is an artist-run platform specializing in unique projects, art books, and limited-edition prints and objects. Founded in 2013 by four friends attending California College of the Arts, EGGY was inspired by a desire to give young artists a platform to participate in the emerging art book publishing scene. Over the past six years EGGY has participated in numerous art book fairs and exhibitions. Our products can be found all over the dang place! We may seem massive and hugely successful, but our real strength is how humble we are. We’re actually a very small operation. Currently based out of Graham Holoch’s garage in Berkeley, California, EGGY is sort of crammed between four bicycles and some music equipment. We make it work because we love what we do and can’t imagine it any other way.

Photo courtesy Current Editions.

Photo courtesy Current Editions.

Jessalyn Aaland / Current Editions

I got into making zines as a teenager. From ranting against commercial radio at fourteen to interviewing Toots Hibbert of Toots and the Maytals at sixteen, I was empowered by self-publishing. The ubiquitous photocopier cheaply transferred my ideas onto paper, which, once bound, then made its way across the country through DIY distribution channels.

In my early twenties I began booking DIY music shows at the Che Café, a collectively run venue in San Diego. Every show needed a poster to advertise the event, so I spent hours collaging paper ephemera and hand-assembling layouts with looping band names made of Letraset and sticker letters. I took the cut-and-paste designs to Kinko’s, where I became an expert at finding the hidden menus on color photocopiers, squeezing just the right amount of blue or yellow out of the toner cartridges to achieve the effect I wanted. I also translated this process into album art. This practice became the foundation of my early work as a visual artist.

Paul Morgan, my partner at our small press, Current Editions, also got his start designing and screenprinting posters for our friends’ bands in the early 2000s, transforming our San Diego bathroom into a makeshift darkroom.

I have many identities — artist, curator, educator, labor organizer, public high school teacher, co-op owner — but DIY music communities are where I am my truest self. Printed materials bring that spirit of generosity into the art world.

Print is democratic; being inexpensive to produce, individual objects can be sold cheaply or given away free. The technology is ubiquitous, found in copy shops, schools, and public libraries. And production can be quick: a morning idea is easily manifested in the world by evening. There is value in jettisoning art world preciousness; refining ideas quickly forces us to determine what is most important.

In the age of GIFs, there is something valuable in producing physical objects and putting them up around town. I like the tangibility of print — that making a poster or a flyer means someone might encounter something strange or mysterious as they go about their daily activities. There is an intimacy and care in handmade objects that people can touch. Regaining our essential humanity and interconnectivity in the face of structural oppression is a thread that runs throughout my work. Because of print’s affordability and ease of production, I can connect with a wider swath of humanity, especially people who might not be interested in going to see paintings in a gallery. The utilitarian and practical nature of print, combined with its ability to easily reach more people, makes working with this medium an endlessly appealing and satisfying endeavor.

Gwenaël Rattke, from San Francisco Reverberation, Visible Publications, 2018.

Gwenaël Rattke, from San Francisco Reverberation, Visible Publications, 2018.

Visible Publications / Matt Borruso

My projects grow from an interest in the migration of ideas and forms across mediums. In my studio, these mediums are often generative. The books that I make generate exhibitions, exhibitions generate books, and ideas come from dialogue generated by found printed matter or relationships to physical objects as they exist in space. The book, like any exhibition’s announcement card, wall text, catalogue, or press release, can be seen as a prosthesis, or an extension of the exhibition itself. The book extends the work through slow, private, linear viewing. One page after another, spread by spread, new meanings are created through isolation and/or proximity.

In 2015 I started my own imprint, Visible Publications, and since that time I have published two to three books per year. I think of the book as an alternative exhibition space, and I see self-publishing as a democratic platform for distribution and engagement. My publications are inexpensive, handmade multiples, making my work available to almost anyone. My backgrounds in punk, DIY record labels, used-book selling, collage, and found printed matter have all led me to this place. What began as a side project has become an integral part of my studio practice.

Basement / Mitsu Okubo

I studied printmaking because I loved the process, but as time went on, I found myself loving the misprints more than the regular prints. I suppose making books is just another way of exploring my ineptitude as a printmaker.

Photo courtesy RITE Editions.

Photo courtesy RITE Editions.

RITE Editions / Robin Wright

Why I publish artist’s books and limited-edition multiples:

  1. Artist’s books and multiples are appealing, intimate, and portable artworks.
  2. Editioned artworks can convey ideas efficiently and strategically.
  3. My publications are relatively inexpensive and can be enjoyed and owned by many.
  4. I am interested in the way editions operate differently from other art forms.
  5. I am attracted to and collect artist’s books and multiples and want to be involved in that world.
  6. RITE Editions publications are artist-driven, and producing editioned work enables me to observe the process of conceiving and making art.
  7. If I did not publish RITE Editions works, the works would not exist.

no place press / Jordan Kantor

A certain belief in the creative and communicative potential of a book experience — a one-on-one, extended, and potentially repeated analogue engagement with a sequential arrangement of images and text — is at the core (obviously) of both practices. A key element of these activities is also the desire to realize projects that have been conceived in the native form of the book from the start. All the formal decisions that follow flow from this interrelationship and codependence of concepts and format. (This differs significantly from a book whose task is to document or promote work in other media, for example.) Of course, accessibility is also at stake: I am keen on reaching a larger audience (across a much wider geographic and temporal spread) with a native-form art object at a reasonable price than is possible with other works in my studio practice. Further, at no place press, Rachel Churner, Geoff Kaplan, and I are really interested in working with collaborators to realize projects that might fall outside the bounds of their normal, respective disciplines and that therefore would not be realized otherwise (providing a platform for an art historian to write more creatively and speculatively than an academic publisher might encourage or allow, for example).

The OCULTAS zine

Colpa Press’s OCULTAS zine.

Colpa Press / Luca Antonucci and David Kasprzak

We think of publishing as a way of putting information and images that we want to see out into the world — meaning that we work with artists and collections that we admire and that we think people should know about. There is an element of the fanzine to every one of our books. We want to promote the artists and things we love through new perspectives.

The NIAD Zine.

The NIAD Zine.

NIAD (Nurturing Independence through Artistic Development) Art Center

A few years ago we began printing zines, coloring books, and other publications in earnest as a way to offer super-affordable simulations of our works and as another way to engage our visitors.

As Bill Zindel, the head of our printmaking department, explains, “The NIAD Zine is an attempt to tell the narrative of NIAD Art Center visually. With images, it offers a glimpse of what makes the studio and the artists so unique that simply looking at their work cannot.”

All this coincided with Books for All Press publishing a wonderfully inexpensive monograph of Karen May’s altered advertisements from art magazines and White Columns creating a zine on the occasion of their Danny Thach exhibition.

We also have a number of artists who create unique artist’s books, often exploring and documenting their obsessions and interests. An avid reader, May explains that she approaches her manipulated books much like the authors approached the original tomes: “Trying to create a book that is all mine, that tells my story.”

The RE/Search Publications book display at the Small Press Book Bazaar!; SFMOMA, December 8, 2019. Photo: V. Vale.

The RE/Search Publications book display at the Small Press Book Bazaar!; SFMOMA, December 8, 2019. Photo: V. Vale.

RE/Search Publications / V. Vale

I was lucky enough to be part of the emerging underground that became known as “punk rock.” (I called it an “international naïve art cultural revolution” at the time — “naïve art” referring to art outside the gallery/museum system. Today it’s called “outsider art.”) Punk’s influence is still felt in fashion, makeup, hairstyles, clothing, poster design, album design, song lyrics and music, interview styles, and more.

Basically, I just reacted (in anger) against lies in major media everywhere and found solace in imitating anthropologists such as Marcel Mauss and Claude Lévi-Strauss, of the French structural anthropology school, and others such as Mary Douglas. I directly imitated Andy Warhol, whom I considered a kind of anthropologist, and set about printing super-accurate transcripts of interviews I did with people who seemed to be creating this new punk uprising.

Luckily, I started meeting more and more articulate, intelligent, even visionary young artists who fulfilled that ancient premise: to have a different future, you must have a different past. These interviewees gave a huge laundry list of books, writers, artists, musicians, filmmakers, et al., whom they had discovered, and I tried to accurately convey all this in my publications. I started SEARCH & DESTROY to document the emerging punk cultural revolution, but in 1980 I launched RE/Search with a much wider editorial ambition — beyond punk, so to speak.

RE/Search continues to this day! In the last eight months I’ve released four books: Underground Living (photographs by V. Vale — selected from the 100,000 I have taken), San Francisco (photographs by Yoshi Yubai), Burroughs and Friends: The Lost Interviews (previously unpublished interviews with William S. Burroughs, Brion Gysin, John Giorno, Diane di Prima, and Gerald V. Casale), and Robert Anton Wilson: Beyond Conspiracy Theory (interviews and photos). Plus, I’ve published the zines How to Read/Write, Search for Weird (two issues), How to Stay Together Forever, and others!

The Floss Editions studio. Photo: James Rice.

The Floss Editions studio. Photo: James Rice.

Floss Editions / Meg Fransee and Aaron Gonzalez

Bookmaking introduced parameters for consolidating ideas in one place. Ideas can be worked through and different permutations can be considered and combined in the discrete boundary of the book format. The process of working with an artist leaves exciting chance; as the artists familiarize themselves with the process and engage with the decision-making alongside us, we can learn new ways of making and expand our capacity as publishers and artists.

Photo courtesy Wolfman Books.

Photo courtesy Wolfman Books.

The Black Aesthetic

The Black Aesthetic, since its inception, has worked to create an ecosystem where Black creatives can gather in the spirit of watching, processing, and generating new discourse around Black cinema and visual culture. Part of our work is to destabilize the notion of an overly coherent, “neat” idea about what Blackness is and how it can be represented (and, further, how those representations can be talked about). Since 2016 our film screenings have been spaces to hold intimate gatherings and discussions among our growing community in celebration of well-known traditional Black filmmakers and local independent visionaries. These moments are further preserved in books published by Wolfman Books in hopes of gathering communities from all over the world who aren’t able to be physically present. Publishing gives us the ability to extend this dialogue to all the people and places we wouldn’t otherwise have direct access to.

Photo courtesy Tiny Splendor Press.

Photo courtesy Tiny Splendor Press.

Tiny Splendor Press

Cynthia Navarro, Sanaa Khan, Kenneth Srivijittakar, and Max Stadnik met at the University of California, Santa Cruz, while studying traditional printmaking. After graduation we began secretly using photocopiers after hours at a local copy shop to print our artwork. We soon branched out into printing work for our friends. We’d throw parties and encourage all our friends to draw on giant rolls of paper draped over our kitchen table. This became the content we compiled in our first zines. Gradually we taught ourselves book layout, digital tools, and all the other skills that would evolve into our publishing practice.

Looking for the cheapest possible way to print in full color, we stumbled upon our first Risograph printer. Soon we were churning out huge volumes of prints at unbelievably low costs and high speeds from a small room in our South Berkeley apartment. We didn’t think of ourselves as publishers at first — we just wanted the ability to make our own work. And the more collaborators we had, the further we were able to take everything. Beyond just achieving the means of production, we wanted it to be affordable and accessible. This is where the name Tiny Splendor came from — doing great things by working together, starting small, slowly building ourselves up, and bringing underrepresented content to greater platforms. Having built a community around our press by offering access to all our resources and materials, we now have a large, open-access printshop in West Berkeley, as well as a branch in Silver Lake, Los Angeles.

Self-publishing and printmaking continue to be powerful tools for agency in the face of harsh economic and political realities. In the US artists receive little to no socioeconomic assistance. San Francisco and Los Angeles in particular have rapidly transformed from supportive artist communities into places too expensive for artists to afford. In this environment, printmaking is a tenable and appealing practice — it allows for creative expression that isn’t tied to big monetary investment; multiple prints exist in an edition, making them easy to circulate. And through proliferation, an artist can gain agency that would otherwise be impossible. As we look toward the future, this is the reason we publish.

Tiny Splendor Press is based in Berkeley and Los Angeles and has collectively published over one hundred titles since 2012.

Masha Tupitsyn edition on the occasion of the exhibition MATH BASS + ELISHEVA BIERNOFF: ALMOST OUTLINES [ 2nd floor projects ] San Francisco. On view 13 November 2010 – 9 January 2011.

Masha Tupitsyn edition on the occasion of the exhibition MATH BASS + ELISHEVA BIERNOFF: ALMOST OUTLINES, [2nd floor projects], San Francisco. On view 13 November 2010 – 9 January 2011.

[2nd floor projects] / Margaret Tedesco

In 2006 I was invited to guest curate an exhibition at the now defunct gallery Queen’s Nails Annex in San Francisco, titled overundersidewaysdown. The participating artists were David Hatcher, Mitzi Pederson, and Wayne Smith. At the time I had a long-standing relationship with the local (and beyond) writing community — specifically the New Narrative movement, a theory of experimental writing launched in San Francisco in the late 1970s by Robert Glück and Bruce Boone. I had been considering the notion of shifting away from the usual writer’s relationship to an exhibition: serving the work with traditional catalogue essays and criticism; providing documentation. In the spirit of New Narrative, I began to consider the writer as an artist in the exhibition with an invitation to produce “newly commissioned” writings in any genre, from prose and poetry to personal narratives, epistolary, and critical essays. I then designed house-printed limited editions (fifty to one-hundred), either as broadsheets or chapbooks, without uniformity in size, shape, or typography, usually signed and numbered, on archival paper. The writers were selected primarily for their dissonance instead of their correspondence, allowing a range in form and content. I mostly withheld direction and offered a modest honorarium to compensate the writers for their work along with printed editions gratis and the understanding I would sell them to cover print costs during the exhibition run and at book fairs.

And so in 2006 I began by working with the late Kevin Killian, whose writings traverse a broad and potent spectrum. Kevin decided he would engage the artists through studio visits. The result was a trippy, down-the-historical-rabbit-hole essay titled “I Think You’re Great.” Simultaneously, Kevin was invited to publish this work online in Fanzine. Many of these newly commissioned writings became part of book anthologies, such as Eileen Myles including their essay for the 2008 Kuchar brothers exhibition in The Importance of Being Iceland: Travel Essays in Art; other projects took different forms, including Masha Tupitsyn’s writing, which became the radio play Time for Nothing at the Performa 11 biennial.

I have worked with seventy writers through [2nd floor projects]’s exhibitions to date. I believe small presses are important for writers, and I’ve often heard how the open process provides an enjoyable break from their usual practices. I continue to delight in the pairings and the notion of “the blind date” between the artist and the writer. As the exhibitions have progressed over time, many of the writings have revealed and addressed an interstitial space of engagement with the artists’ works from the writers’ points of departure, a kind of distal approach and architecture that embodies parts of what occurred in an exhibition, or not.

With its many intersections of publishing, from the intimacy of the personal to the “love of object-making” book fairs, the small press continues to hold my attention.

Stripe SF / Chris Hamamoto and Jon Sueda

Jon Sueda: I started making publications as a way to document things I was interested in. I felt that unless you captured that knowledge and made it into a material thing you could share, it might not even exist. I also like the idea of an autonomous platform for research and experimentation that is not dependent on external sources.

Chris Hamamoto: What you’re saying about publishing’s ability to make something “real” that otherwise may not exist is interesting. In particular, I’m interested in the idea that publishing can insert itself into, and influence, different time periods — a publication can live in the past, present, and future almost independent of when it’s actually published. I think this autonomy and agency is reinforced because in self-publishing, you can control every step of the process — from writing, editing, and design to production and distribution — which makes it feel really concrete in ways few things do.

JS: The act of producing and distributing publications seems like an act of resistance right now. All aspects of the ways most people access information are counter to the idea of waiting for something to come in the mail, of holding a physical thing in your hand and spending time with it. The intimacy of the object is also important to me. That aspect helps me overlook the fact that we often only make editions of one hundred, and very few people see the material we produce. Maybe that makes it more special?

CH: I do think it makes it more special, but I also think it’s worth considering ideas around scarcity. While, in my opinion, online distribution and publishing isn’t as egalitarian as it’s often described, when something is limited to one hundred copies, it does put a premium on those copies. In the best case, I see that type of scarcity generating a community in a (good) cult-following type of way. And in the worst case, I see it creating a consumer impulse around these limited-edition objects in a way that fetishizes them. In general, I enjoy that the independent press ecosystem seems to create community bonds rather than drive up prices. There are some exceptions, of course. My bank account is suffering because I buy two copies of each new Karel Martens book, since I’m worried I won’t be able to later!

Photo courtesy Publication Studio.

Photo courtesy Publication Studio.

Publication Studio (PSSF) / Calvin Rocchio and Lexi Visco

We co-run the Bay Area chapter of Publication Studio, PSSF. We also run a community print room called P.E. Area out of the art and education space 2727 California Street, in Berkeley. The question of why we publish feels quite specific to the space and community we work within. By opening up our process and resources to the public, the act of publishing becomes a means of working in an inherently collaborative way — whether working with an artist in depth or helping to support others in self-publishing through informal education around design, production, or distribution. It’s the exchange that takes place within this mode of publishing as a public process that feel the most meaningful to us, as well as the communities we are fortunate enough to work within.

illetante collective: SF Art Book Fair, 2019

Adrian Martinez / illetante collective

I publish as a means to reclaim physical space in my own community where space is currently at a premium. I also aim to bring awareness toward groups of artists who have never been published before and use print editions as a means to disseminate their work to other communities around the world. By creating a physical object, in this case a book, I feel that I am empowering the artwork within its pages by virtue of the space it occupies — whether that is on a shelf, in a venue, in a shop, or in someone’s hands. It is a firm declaration that the work exists and can coexist within the canon of published artwork and art at large. I started out using publishing as a means to push my own work and get it out there. As a photographer myself, I have always preferred viewing photos in book format as it allows me to freely develop my own ideas and associations around the works presented. In producing publications for other photographers and artists from different disciplines, I have found that same joy in flipping through pages filled with ideas and emotions represented as visual arts.

David Wilson / Ribbons

I take the word “publish” pretty broadly in terms of what I consider an edition. Publishing for me is about making forms of communication tangible and cherish-able (i.e. creating a thing that a person might want to save). I have a tradition of making rather involved invitation packages with maps and materials that might be used to help people find a place to gather or perhaps attend an event. Even though these mailings are functional in nature, I see them distinctly as their own end goal of what I hope to make and share, regardless if someone participates in the thing that is being offered.

Sometimes an event is just an excuse to make an invitation.

The question could also be put, “Why Do I Print?,” since it’s in large part the love of printing and assembling that inspires me towards spending the extra (and often obscene) hours of creating a printed invitation that could have easily existed as a digital byte. Personally, I don’t want to give or receive bytes, I want a full meal. So when I think about how I connect with my broader community, I want to translate that appreciation and care towards offering something that can be held, considered, and might be hard to throw away.

Courtesy Wolfman Books.

Courtesy Wolfman Books.

Wolfman Books

Wolfman Books is a community space first; we got into publishing later. The idea was to open the doors of the shop, see who showed up, and see what kind of work we could make together — what the community wanted or needed to make. What was missing. We started with posters and pamphlets, zines and objects, mostly to supplement artists’ shows that we hosted in a tiny gallery in the back of the shop. We were interested in trying to find the most beautiful or like as-essential-as-can-be-and-still-be-inexpensive expression of a piece of work.

After a while, we realized we could sort of flip that logic — and instead of creating publications to support the shows (everyone’s broke, so zines are more realistic to buy/sell than huge paintings) we just started making the publication the thing, and now maybe we’d do a show to support the book. We even closed our gallery and made it into a storage space for our publications — like, that’s how far we went with it!

There is something so great about the physicality of the book as an object. The insistence of it. How it takes up space. How the work goes home with you. Goes to work, on a date, etc. It’s intimate. Like, it goes to bed with you. You share it. You lend it and never get it back. A lot of what we do is at the intersection of art and literature and needs the texture of real life to be fully experienced. Having that book-object out in the world makes it possible to find something you didn’t know you needed without needing to look for it. The physicality of the book helps artists’ work escape the silos of social media and allows you to actually stumble on something weird and weirdly perfect for you on the shelf.

Publishing also provides a scaffolding for emerging artists to work into. Larger publishing houses still largely ignore freaks, queers, BIPOC, etc. It’s important for there to be weird presses asking people for work and putting their resources toward supporting the folks who might not otherwise be given the opportunity to reach an audience beyond their immediate circle. Then there is the amazing part of making books when authors realize their work is actually going to exist physically in the world and so get incredibly motivated, anxious, adamant, fretful, even (but not too) demanding. It’s like watching someone learn they are going to have a baby. It’s such an exciting, hopeful, and freaky time.

Barbara Stauffaucher Solomon

From 1972 to 1992, I sat in my big white room & typed lines on 8.5×11 pieces of paper. Words & drawings. Page after page. I was making books. Pix and prose, juxtaposed.

These pieces of paper were published into a glossy 8.5×11 book, GREEN ARCHITECTURE & THE AGRARIAN GARDEN. A box of these books arrived from Rizzoli. I piled the books on my long wooden table. I liked looking at them. A second book, GOOD MOURNING CALIFORNIA, was published. Books arrived. I made a second pile of books on the table. I liked looking at them too.

Then I ordered some dummy books from Kinko’s. The same size, 8.5×11. But blank! No lines, nothing, inside or on the cover. I made another pile. This pile – clean, white, and pristine — didn’t look the same. Did the books lined with lots of lines call the dummies dummies?

So from 1992 to 2012, I returned to my obsession with 8.5×11 rectangles of paper. I typed lines. I drew lines. One page led to the next. The game was to make something out of nothing. I cut-and-pasted letterforms, ladies & landscapes, I had fun. Self-publishing possible, a local printer printed & bound the pages into new books WHY? WHYNOT? and UTOPIA MYOPIA. Boxes of books arrived. I made two more piles on my table. People I don’t know buy & maybe read the published books. Fine. I hope they enjoy the verbal pokes and visual jokes. I enjoy looking at the piles of books.

Are piles of books on my table or in a bookstore blank or lined, a lost art form? Paper, ink, and glue sculpture?

Do you want to celebrate books with pages we can hold in our hands and turn and touch? Let me know. The more events the better. We’ll make a movement.

Night Diver Press / Lena Gustafson and Peter Calderwood

We publish because the art book/print scene is a more accessible scale model of the “art world.” The work is still very real, but its value is based on its multiplicity, which kind of levels the playing field. We also think that working within the restrictions of printing and binding is really interesting. When a work or idea gets multiplied, it reveals something completely unexpected and different than the original.

A major part of why we publish, though, are the people we get to work with. Lena and I started collaborating on prints and books when we met and didn’t really know what to do with them for a long time. We ended up doing a print show with Tiny Splendor in 2013, which showed us some ways to get our work out and fund more projects.

We didn’t even really consider ourselves publishers for a long time until we started working with artists other than ourselves. Now a huge part of our practice is getting to collaborate with people whose work we’re really excited about. Most of us don’t have the resources to commission a book or print edition up front, so publishing is a good way to make it a win-win for everybody. We get to work with artists whom we admire and they get to expand their normal practice to a new medium. And hopefully people want to buy it!

Photo courtesy TBW Books.

Photo courtesy TBW Books.

TBW Books / Paul Schiek and Lester Rosso

It’s 2019.

There is no practical or economical reason outside of masochism and a search for something resembling the spiritual as to why one would fire up a printing press in order to make a product as wonderfully obsolete as a book.

You are better off trying to publish dinosaur bones. Which also makes little sense.

Owl Cave Books / Vee and Brian Moran

Owl Cave Books is an independent artist-run publisher, distributor, and bookseller specializing in contemporary art, theory, criticism, and politics.

Established in London in 2008 by Vee Moran, who was also working as Bookshop Manager at the Institute of Contemporary Arts at the time, Owl Cave began with an invitation from artist Monster Chetwynd to lecture, perform, and facilitate a free feminist and gender theory book swap during Chetwynd’s multi-night extravaganza at GSK Contemporary at the Royal Academy of Arts, London.

Owl Cave Books has been based in the Bay Area since 2010, when Vee was a board member and organizer of the first Art Publishing Now! Bay Area art book fair at Southern Exposure. From 2011–12, Vee ran the Reading Room and Bookshop at Kadist Art Foundation, San Francisco, and from 2016–18 Owl Cave operated an experimental, artist-run bookstore in the Mission.

In 2017, Owl Cave Books published its first artist’s edition, Untitled, Ben Toms, a boxed edition of twenty new photographic works on adaptive mimicry and disguise in the natural world. The second publication in the series, Urara Tsuchiya, was released in 2018 and featured new ceramic and costume works by Tsuchiya, in collaboration with Toms.

Since then, Owl Cave Books has worked with artist and designer Barbara Stauffacher Solomon to distribute her self-published catalogue of books Why? Why Not?, Utopia Myopia, and Super-Silly-Us. In 2018, the series was completed with Read Any Good Boots Lately? and Making the Invisible Visible, co-published by Owl Cave Books and Calvin Rocchio.

Owl Cave Books celebrates its twelfth anniversary this year and continues through multiple iterations, always with the focus of expanding consciousness through art books and publications.



Printed Publics was hosted in the Koret Education Center by the division of Education and Community Engagement at SFMOMA. The exhibition opened December 9, 2019 and was to continue through June 2020.

Many thanks to Stella Lochman, Tomoko Kanamitsu, Julie Charles, and Petrina de Chalus from the EdCE team for their efforts in conceiving and producing this exhibition.

Original zine, graphic identity, and mural by Colpa Press.

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