Back in days of yore, armed with a degree in Graphics, a trusty Letraset catalogue and a bargain sized pot of cow gum, Ann Ellis launched herself into the mysterious world of commercial design and her real education began. Some years later, via a little used route involving detours into art direction, advertising, psychology and academia, she emerged into a world of digital illustration where cow gum was no longer necessary. Delighted, she has never looked back. Contact her if you would like to pay Ann fair amounts of money for unique illustrations and a job well done.
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An interview with Bert Benson, Founder of Art Bureau
by Ann Ellis
Talented San Francisco based printmaker Bert Benson is well known for promoting the work of other artists through Art Bureau, his online gallery and limited edition publications. What motivates the man behind the familiar silhouetted logo? Bert gives Ann Ellis a rare interview.
AE: Bert, could you tell us what Art Bureau is all about and why it began? BB: Art Bureau (.org) started as an online gallery in 2000. I wanted to create a forum for artists to share their craft and ideas, a place where artists could read or write about artistic opportunities and see artwork beyond their local scene. In 2002, we began publishing limited edition booklets, giving artists a unique opportunity to see their works in print. Recently, we have entered the blog world, which I hope will transform into a gallery events page and become a conduit for artists and collectors.
AE: When you say 'we', are more people involved?
BB: I am the founder and publisher of Art Bureau and Gigi Conot is the events coordinator and consulting editor of the publication. The Bureau is mostly a loose-knit collective, and shout-outs should go to the artists who have become more than one-time contributors. These artists have helped with tabling, setting up events, collaborations, writing articles and spreading the word: Hubris Magazine , d.oram, Marc Snyder, Monkey Salon and Nate Williams.
AE: Art Bureau publications are frequently sold out in advance.
What makes them so collectable? BB: Well, plenty of back issues are available through our site and various stores like Quimby's in Chicago. But, yes the deluxe versions (or, DLX version as we like to say) do sell out prior to being printed. Past deluxe editions have included signed prints, a music CD, t-shirts and
buttons/badges. The deluxe editions are affordable and give subscribers the chance to become art collectors via their mailboxes.
The early issues were informal hand-assembled art booklets, printed in an
edition of 200 copies, of which 26 copies were lettered A-Z and set aside as deluxe editions. Those are long gone. With Issue Eight, the publication began to look more formal as we abandoned the Xerox machine and began offset printing with manila folders as the cover stock. The interior is still black and white, but photos and artwork are more vibrant. Nowadays, Art Bureau is printed in an edition of 500 copies, of which 50 copies are designated as deluxe copies.
AE: Is Art Bureau the first zine project you've done?
BB: No. Back in 1992 I produced a poetry anthology with several San Francisco poets. The one-shot anthology was published under the guise of "Flannel Press." I made 25 copies and sold them at a reading.
AE: That's interesting, as I've noticed you like to include images that incorporate typography in the Art Bureau publications. Is that something that you particularly look out for? BB: Typography is my sweet spot. Realizing I was not going to make a living with my drawings and etchings, I went to school and became a publication design grad. I am addicted to the design works of Paul Rand, Jan Tschichold and David Carson-all typography-driven designers.
I design my own typefaces. "Plastik" is one of my creations, and I use it in the publication as a display/headline font. The first few issues had a font created by a fellow student/friend during college, but he later confessed that he did not like his creation, and the body text is now something else.
So yes, images incorporating typography do appear in the publications and will continue. It would be fantastic to release an Art Bureau Type Foundry CD with fonts and dingbats created by artists and include it inside the "Type Specimen Issue."
AE: What are your impressions of the current art scene? Has the Internet made a difference? BB: The Internet has made a huge difference in seeing what is out there. I get discouraged when local galleries only focus on local talent. Art should be seen internationally and online galleries and blogs are making this possible. It is the norm for artists to have their own sites today, but only a few years ago artists had to rely on other outlets to show their works. When Art Bureau started in 2000, none of the artists represented had their own site. Now all of them do, and most design their own web pages and have made a commerce website at that.
In the 90s, San Francisco was ground zero for the Internet and for artwork that seems all too common today-graffiti, street art. Yes, Keith Haring and Basquiat pre-date the "Mission District School" of street art, but San Francisco local heroes: Barry Mcgee (twist), Margaret Killagan, Chris Johanson and others literally inverted the city walls and created acceptance among gallery owners that street art is marketable.
Now the San Francisco trend is colorful geometric cobwebs and shapes colored in as if they were secondary-color prisms - bright oranges and purples. Outside of S.F., I am seeing illustrators humanizing animals. Bears and wolves are now cute and on their hind legs, and birds have thoughts... In fact bird illustrations are everywhere! CD covers, t-shirts, badges, logos...you name it.
AE: For artists reading this who might be thinking of approaching you with their art, what are you looking for and how do you find and choose your artists? BB: Well, it is funny that grudgingly, I have a form rejection letter, "Thank you for submitting, but...". I do not "find" artists. They contact the Bureau first by "cold calling" via email attachments or sending a link to their site. Some have been referred by fellow Bureau artists, but no, I have never gone to an event handing out business cards and introducing myself. I have, however, pitched to artists, gallery owners and the like, to write an article for the zine.
AE: What are you looking for when they do submit work? BB: Two things: consistency in their work and professionalism. I do not mean they have to already be a professional artist, but they must articulate themselves well when corresponding and have the attitude and commitment to the artist/creative life.Visually, I shy away from political images and am not fond of Dali influenced doodles. If I am on the fence about including someone's work, I will forward it to Gigi or others for a second opinion.
AE: Each issue of Art Bureau has its own unique quality. Do you direct or design this in any way? BB: What I like about Art Bureau is that, yes, I am the art director, but I do not have full authorship of the publication. As I said earlier, I do not meet face-to-face with the majority of the contributors viewed online or in the zine. Those that do become involved, I only communicate with in simple pen pal fashion-through emails or blogging. Guy r. Beining, for example, who was in Art Bureau 8 and 10, communicates to me by random postcards.
Thus, I look forward to the submissions. I have no idea how the next issue will look, but somehow it comes together. It is "blind faith" when I ask participating artists if they want to also contribute 50 promotional items (stickers, postcards or other unique keepsakes) to the deluxe editions. I am always pleasantly surprised when they up the anti by donating signed prints, original artwork or t-shirts they have designed. It's fantastic that these artists trust me, a stranger, to interpret their works in print and also send several "personal goodies" to share with the readers.
AE: Who are some of your own biggest artistic influences and why? BB: Joseph Beuys speaks volumes to me with his idea of creating multiples and making artwork accessible to the masses. Billy Childish, a dyslexic poet from the UK, is a modern-day Renaissance man. He continues to do it all: poet, publisher, artist and musician.
AE: Are you inspired by any other art groups or publications? BB: Parkett, a publication based in the UK, is a favorite. It features various articles on contemporary art written by leading writers and art critics. Some artists have created special signed and numbered editions exclusive to the magazine. The list of collaborating artists includes: Louise Bourgeois, Sigmar Polke, Gerhard Richter, Cindy Sherman and many more.
Another unique publication is Deanne Cheuk's Neomu Magazine. Each issue is a miniature, wordless magazine that features cutting-edge graphics from an international group of artists and photographers. Deanne invites designers and illustrators to contribute a monochrome two-page spread, and then prints it all in a rainbow of colors. Each issue is saturated with simplistic beauty and design.
ANP Quarterly should be picked up and read not because it is a free magazine, but because each page of the gigantic 11" x 17" magazine is ready to be unstapled and hung on the walls. There is also a perfect mix of insightful interviews and artwork from artists who have set the standard for today's current genres such as Raymond Pettibon, Larry Clark and Barry Mcgee and works by up-and-coming artists who are continuing the D.I.Y. aesthetic.
AE: Looking to the future, what would you like to happen with Art Bureau? BB: I want to maintain and grow the Art Bureau publication by continuing to produce solo artist books and broadsides. 2005 saw the introduction of Art Bureau's Highball Reading Series, a chapbook series featuring artists who are also poets/writers. An Art Bureau Calendar, where 31 artists illustrate their favorite number, is in the works for 2007. And our "Lucky 13" issue is in progress with artwork by Kelsey Brookes and a retrospective of artists who have been involved with the Bureau.
Art Bureau will continue its online representation. We have been hosting a few "floating gallery" events, but a permanent gallery and art resource center is the goal. In fact, if there are any boutique or gallery space owners reading this, and would like to rent their space for an Art Bureau floating gallery event or zine release party, please make contact with your rates and conditions (anywhere USA or Canada).