Thursday, April 15, 2010

Copy Art Exhibition

I came from a background in photography. I’d experimented with pinhole cameras, Dianas, infrared film, and various darkroom techniques during my years at university. I took traditional art classes, even made handmade paper one summer with my friend Judy Ivry who was an art major so had the equipment available to her, but the use of technology was where I knew I was headed. I used to spend hours late into the night working on Fortran programs for a class, using teletype and keypunch cards. The computer geeks – the ones working night shift running the mainframe so large it was housed in a separate building - would invite me into the inner sanctum to show me early computer graphics capabilities, enthusiastically discussing little known developments and inventions in the works such as the Cray. They told me of the day when everyone would have their own computer and we would be able to create art on computer systems. I believed them!

I wanted to know if anyone had ever created art from keypunch cards but they didn’t know of any. (I later figured out a way. See my future blog to be written on artibooks).

It was the second half of the 70s when the first color copier became available to customers at a local copy shop. I quickly became hooked. Starting with using the machines like huge cameras, I started making still lifes with objects placed directly on the platen glass. Later I was making collages to print. I got so involved with the print quality and color output adjustments I was offered a job running and maintaining the Xerox 6500. This made it possible for me to both do my own experiments at cost and to see the work of other artists starting to use copiers in creative ways. I printed for a lot of comic book artists, illustrators and graphic designers. I took note of who was working as artists using copiers.

At one point I taught workshops on techniques learned from experimenting with copier features, moving originals on the platen during the copy process, and making adjustments on both the Xerox and the black and white machines (also known as copy machine art). (Some of this is discussed in The Creative Camera by Nancy Howell-Koehler, 1989.) The Evening News on a local TV station had me demonstrate how to make copy art.

Noticing the wonderful artworks people were having me copy and doing themselves inspired the idea that a show would be important. The world should see this. At the time I was in the process of preparing for an exhibition of my own work at San Francisco’s Hot Flash of America. I discussed my ideas with them and later obtained support from the copy store owner. The Copy Art Exhibition held in 1980 was born.

As I was pulling together the work to be shown I realized that a more comprehensive exhibit would be possible by including artists as jurors who would give a more balanced view. I invited Stephanie Weber who worked in a fine arts aesthetic and Buster Cleveland who worked in a mail art genre.

As the invitations were sent out and word got around the art work poured in from all over the world. Before I knew it, the time to review the work for the final showing arrived.

But one big hitch occurred...Hot Flash the space for the exhibit was closing!

It was sudden and without warning. I had no space. With Buster’s help, we found that LaMamelle just happened to be available and a new agreement was formed.

I approached Xerox and Canon copier companies for sponsorship. Xerox wasn’t interested – they were launching their own show. Canon however loaned me a new large format copier with reduction capabilities, including paper and technical support if and when it was needed. People attending the show were allowed to make free art on the Canon. With this I made a billboard and the first issue of The Monthly.

Works not already framed were matted and framed by a shrink wrap process and hung by Stephanie with Nancy Frank’s help. I rushed to make a catalog for each artist using both black and white, and the 6500 machines. I did not want to use anything else other than a copier to produce this because I wanted the show to be completely copy art. It has since become a collectible.

Artweek and several other publications wrote positive reviews about the show, much to the surprise of some critics of the art medium. It was through this show I later met Jesse of JES Archive and was invited to the InterDADA 80 event.

All of this helped to make copy art spread quickly in San Francisco as venues to show and sell the artwork opened. A gallery on Columbus Ave in North Beach area named Electroarts moved into part of the Postcard Palace space where several copy artists sold postcard editions.  It also housed a Xerox 6500. At around the same time calendars produced in multiple editions were made by Barbara Cushman of the store and gallery, A Fine Hand. Several artists submitted page designs and they were bound in unusual ways. I still have my copies.

Today I make a few copy art pieces but with the death of the 6500, the lush image quality is just not the same. Many of us who used copiers extensively now use personal computers and printers instead.

Copy art though is still used for chapbooks and small edition runs of art prints and books. The excitement of having an alternative to more expensive printing set in motion the making of a new movement toward ‘zines and postcards. More controversial work could easily get published. Little known but happening in the Bay Area printing industry was a censorship against what you could print. Presses either refused outright or quoted exorbitant rates to discourage anything being published that was seen as controversial. I had a difficult time trying to find a printer to run off a large offset edition of my The Monthly magazine, an all female mail art magazine. Not feminist but to some it was, threatening the pressmen. With issue three I received returned layout boards stepped on and torn apart. The quality of the printing was okay but work was sabotaged. You can see this preserved in some of the magazine's pages.

Nowadays artists can publish a lot on the new print on demand sites. But before this, there was copy art.

What's in the name? Copy art refers to art made on copy machines. Some other terms used are xerography, Xerox art, copy machine art, and electrostatic art. Many artists prefer the term copy art because it is more generic as to the process not specific to a machine.

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