Wednesday, March 01, 2006


Welcome to the Crown Point Blog. This is a place where you are invited to read and write about what’s going on here at Crown Point Press and in the world at large. I’m Rachel. I came to Crown Point Press a couple of months ago, in December ’05, a month after moving to San Francisco.

Everything was buzzing when I got here. After the landmark of Kathan’s 70th birthday, old titles were shifting. While Kathan still wishes to maintain a strong role here at the Press, she is now focusing more on writing than running things, so Valerie’s role has been changed from Gallery Director to full-on Director. Kathan altered her own title from Director to Founding Director. Javier’s title was modified from Administrative Assistant/ Publications Coordinator to Publications Technician/ Webmaster. I got a slash in my title, too: after a month of working here, a “/ Deputy Editor” was butted up behind my original title of Administrative Assistant. Now that I’ve got the slash, I’ll be supplying most of the text for the new Magical Secrets website, including this blog. After all of our names were changed, our workspaces were altered, too. I took Javier’s old desk; he took Mari’s; Mari set up shop in the shipping area; Valerie moved to the front, where she has an office of her own; Tiffany took Valerie’s old desk, and Tiffany’s old desk was taken by our newest staff member, Gallery Assistant and Shipping Manager Patrick Sinclair (or, as the staff referred to him when he was still just an abstract need for another man around the office, Spartacus).

It’s an experience working at Crown Point. Not since working in the snack bar at a Unitarian conference center on an island off the coast of New Hampshire have I had such a mouthful of a job description. “I work at a gallery, etching studio and fine arts publisher,” I say. I get a lot of different responses to that. The other night a woman I was talking to said “You realize you have the sexiest job in San Francisco.” I don’t know about that, but it is definitely a good place to be. For one thing, everyone who works here pitches in with everything that goes on around the office. Even though I’m new, it was clear from day one that I wouldn’t be fetching anyone coffee or doing their photocopying. Kathan isn’t the kind of boss who breathes down our necks, maybe because of her own work experience: Before founding Crown Point Press, Kathan worked as a typist in a ‘typing pool’ for an insurance company. As one of a roomful of young ladies tapping away at typewriters for eight hours a day, she sat under the constant watchful glare of a woman whose exclusive job it was to make sure none of the typists left her machine.

Far be it from Kathan to run a business like that. In fact, she has already given me more experience and responsibility than I was expecting. For instance, a couple of weeks ago I accompanied her to a talk given at SFMoMA by the artist Kiki Smith, who was working with us for a couple of weeks in January. Nibbling dates, pistachios and blue cheese and sipping wine, I listened to Kiki’s interview by Madeleine Grynsztejn.

I’ve long been a big fan of Kiki’s, but the interview really struck me with some new thoughts. Her speaking style, for instance, is almost robotic, and her mechanical intonation as she described a childhood of assembling geometric structures for her father (Modernist sculptor Tony Smith) in a minimalist city apartment empty of furniture, her attraction to the decorative and the bodily seemed all the more poignant. Through a deep, reactionary belief in the physical manifestation of a spiritual world, she cultivated her interests in bodily functions, decorative painting, and the visceral power of Catholic crucifixion imagery, to name a few. She read Gray’s Anatomy. She volunteered as an EMT. She became deeply interested in the work of the artist Leon Golub, whose use of body language sent a clearer message about the use of violence and gender dynamics, and was often more powerful than spoken or written words. “Figurative work inhabits a similar psychic space as people do,” Kiki remarked. Later in her career she has become ever more interested in the mimesis by which we understand animals. The myth, the narcissism and the anthropomorphism that characterize our relationship to the animal world can be a more powerful sign even than body language for our relationships with each other and with ourselves.

But perhaps what struck me more than even Kiki’s alien-like attraction to the human is her innate language of metaphor. One thing that has always been striking about Kiki’s work to those who write about it is her use of materials: she’s made pelvis out of porcelain, skin out of paper (which she described beautifully as being permeable like the atmosphere). But one story really struck me. Her first male assistant, Carl Fudge, began working for her rather late in her career. To him she assigned the task of making sperm out of glass in her basement. She laughed as she told this anecdote, seeming to see this assignment as totally appropriate, and of course it was. I think it is her acknowledgment of these irreverent proprieties that makes her art what it is.

In addition to Kiki Smith, since I’ve been here we’ve had artists Mary Heilmann and Julie Mehretu in the studio, which have been equally exciting. My desk is right by the door, so when anyone comes in I’m the first thing they see. Kiki, Mary and Julie were all very nice, and it was a pleasure having them here. When Mary left on Friday, printers Catherine and Emily told me they were sorry to see her go. It does keep things interesting though, as every artist has her (or his, I expect) own effect on the atmosphere of the place. Like Kiki said, it’s permeable; the attitude and outlook of whichever artist is here at one time does tend to filter through to the rest of us.

- Rachel Lyon


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Rachael, I enjoy your article..very much...I'm just reading Magical Secrets and wanted to tel Kathan how so I"m excited about readign her book.I printmaker for 15 years so happy to know that there are other people around in my tribe. Off to print 3000 etchings for the next holiday show in Union Square,not a plug . Where can you see 3000 prints handpulled inone plce. I plan to visit your wrokplace soon. back to the presss. Stephen

2:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thank you for the insight to Basel Fair. enjoy tremendously the 3min.egg segments...goes by to fast. Have you considered doing a souffle?

2:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You do have the sexiest job in town. CPP is wonderful!

icehouse studios

2:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey ,how about getting a clever bay area machinist to reproduce the old scottish press for sale?

2:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't have much to say, but it is nice to read about what happens Crown Point Press. I am a printmaker in Potomac, MD I visited you once in '93 and enjoyed it very much. Thank you for the Magical Secrets I have passed them on to my sister who teaches sculpture in Oregon as well Leighann Poultridge

2:59 PM  

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