Mixed media; 21.25 x 22.5 in.
Jack Fulton, who recently co-taught a San Francisco Art Institute MFA class at Magnolia with Donald Farnsworth, sent over this article from the archives of his Quid Nunc column in the Marin Arts Newsletter.
The article, which was first published in May of 1997, concerns a suite of collaborative prints created at Magnolia Editions that same year by Robert Hudson, Richard Shaw, and William Wiley. After his introduction, Fulton lets each artist speak for himself, describing the process and ruminating on the subject of collaboration:
Most recently Robert Hudson, Richard Shaw & William Wiley collaborated on a series of prints and it was the old “college try.” They were working at Don Farnsworth’s Magnolia Press in Oakland. The shop was great. All three were compatible. Nobody trying to compete. Letting their various imagery mingle. Everybody was working with a different print form than any had worked with before: the collagraph. Lots of handwork over it and re-use of the piece and mixing it some with lithos.
Hudson and Shaw also went to Andover, Mass. for three weeks to work together in a setting similar to a collaboration of theirs in the early 1970s. The conversations are a collaboration with each of them and myself, speaking in particular about what it is to collaborate.
Collagraph/mixed media; 22 x 30 in.
“If we trust our eyes, and not our preconceived ideas of what things ought to look like, we shall make the most exciting discoveries.” -Eduoard Manet
What brought collaboration about in my life was that sometimes it was among friends and we’d just come up and say, let’s get together and do a large drawing. Want to do that? Once you’ve done it, and there’s a product you’ll do it again when it’s been suggested. Other times, like the Slant Step and Repair shows in the 60’s, it was in the air … our ages between 25-35 years old … dancers, musicians, trying things, experimenting … that whole era fostered collaboration and community.
“No Contest” (Ralph Nader, 1996) -- book about taking the competition out of life. Competition and reward don’t lead to excellence in the best sense of the word. Competition promotes the idea that someone has to lose. Best thing is to give people work they’d like to do and not dangle carrots in front of them. Like collaboration is work you like to do. Competition breeds a hierarchy that leads to ruin. This ideology is not Darwinian and it is bred into our education system. You want to ask Johnnie when he comes home with an A, “what did you learn from that A,” rather than giving praise which sets up a separation. Collaboration aids things to be better and competititon leads to mediocrity, hence a loss of morals.
Two people collaborating is okay. Three is a different thing. A Taoist statement is that out of the three comes 1000 things. There are also time constraints for if there weren’t you’d just go on dabbling. It's a joy to see your friend’s solutions to visual problems and dilemas. When you don’t know what to do it's great to see where someone else is and repair their flat (tire). Sort of like trading jobs and you can work yourself to a corner or a dead end and then step back and somebody else can take the reins. It is an interesting way to explore the visual and verbal and mingle the possiblities.
There’s a saying, “when you don’t understand, you depend on life and when you understand, life depends upon you.”
Collagraph/mixed media; 41.5 x 29.5 in.
Like everything else in my life, it just happened. It depends upon the personalities. Bob and I sort of fell into it not even knowing one another in the beginning. I’m kind of the fast nervous type and he’s a slow nervous type. We were back there and if someone cooked the other knew exactly what to do… it was a good understanding of what was necessary. And it just was easy.
With Bob, we just worked across the table from one another and made separate pieces and talked. Wish I had kept a journal to write down what I learned from him and what I thought about and how I learned about myself. Bob’s kind of a technical guy and would take it from a different angle. I had assumed a certain thing and Bob would go straight for an idea which had a kind of looseness. I have a tendency to work with clay like wood. He spent time with the ‘slop barrel’ picking out pieces to glue on to things and so there was more of a plastic feel/look to it. After working that way for 21 days, I am now freer to work in a certain way.
Bob would go into the office and look at ceramic books where I’d rely on my brain … purely out of the head … and what objects were on hand ... but maybe shoulda looked at the books like Bob’s Picasso book and the Neri sculpture book. A book might show something that had cloth in it and Bob would go from there… he’d get an idea. Bob needed a different environment but tended to sit there a lot and contemplate.
With Wiley, it would be on the wall. Three people is different. We tried to breath life into it. We drew on it, used found things. Someone did something and then somebody else did something to that. Bob might take a squeegee and squish it all over the place trying to make it come alive. With Wiley and Bob it was harder for we all have strong personalities and high energy levels. Wiley would also spend time working on shoji screens and doing other things. Hudson would pace a lot and go home with a piece to come back the next day with something that was ‘huge’. The one lesson was in spontaneity … by taking out one thing and sticking it front of yourself it’d come together in 15 minutes. Either that, or it was a day.
Mixed media on free standing screens; two 22 x 68 in. panels
Richard kicked himself and felt both a time constraint and a self induced contest to pull it out of the head … and we all know that those are all the references we have from elsewhere anyway. Ceramics dry fast and so you can't linger, actually making it more spontaneous and both of them hung out like at home but then got real used to it. They worked from some industrial moulds made there prior plus other moulds like duck ashtrays, little fat boy soap dishes, Santa Claus etc. There was a lot of material already there plus Richard brought two suitcases of stuff like chair or skull models, even some cast turtles and other kitchy cornball stuff.
You’re real sensitive to what the other person is thinking. It’s difficult. Someone might say “it doesn’t work”... but there is a kind of excitement in the fact you had a feeling you really can pull it out even though it might not originally feel like that ... you have the feeling you can do it.
It’s not like playing music in the sense it is not melodic as it is more a stop and a start and things are so heavily juxtaposed. You’d think the metaphor would work, but it doesn’t. Dissonance is perhaps more appropriate than harmony … like the first time Mike Dixon played his soprano sax with us … first few seconds everyone sort of felt like it violated the country feeling and then it came together. It was new but it felt like it worked and it did.
Mixed media; 31 x 25 in.
Basically you're usually alone making art all the time and so it's one way to be with others and doing the same thing. That’s the biggest part of it: the exchange of information. You're boosting, using everybody’s intelligence. Rich and I just spent a month in Andover (MA) and we’re re-doing or doing that same thing again. We worked for 3 weeks between 8 and 12 hours per day and finished about 60 pieces each and we rarely do that. Of course it's much smaller but now and then we’d jump up in scale.
There’s all the kind of busywork in ceramics: make moulds, make slip, make clay, do all that stuff. In collaboration, you got somebody to do it: you have relief from the boredom of the busy work. So, in the morning we’d pour moulds and afternoon build on the pieces.
At Magnolia, working on the same pieces. If you saw something you wanted to change, you had total freedom and you’d suspend any kind of ego thing. You couldn’t have something just there. You had to be pretty definite on the value of it otherwise you left it and it was open for change continually. Once it gained momentum and you got over the hump of guarding something that you just did, it worked well … God, somebody comes and messes with it and it's gone … but then there’s a kind of a value there and you know, you just change your mind about it. It’s almost like going back to school and it's mostly a lot of fun and turns into a game in a way. Too, the whole thing is looked at differently when finished … it’s not as personal. Those things turned out bizarre … more than I’d expected.
May 12, 1997
Mixed media; 25 x 31 in.
More art by Hudson/Wiley/Shaw at Magnolia Editions