Sunday, June 19, 2011

Interview with Justin Myer Staller

Note - Something a bit different!!  Justin has kindly shared several links for tutorials he has made on his process. See end of interview for links.


I grew up in Willow Grove PA, just outside of Philadelphia. (Justin currently resides in Philadelphia). In 1992 I discovered that there was more to music then Billy Joel’s greatest hits and got into Indie rock.  I started playing in bands when I was 14 and haven’t stopped.  I went to Penn State University and completed a B.A. in fine art and after a year of waiting tables went to R.I.T. to complete my M.F.A. in contemporary printmaking.  I married Linda Price about then and started playing in A City Safe From Sea.  Three years ago I started teaching printmaking at Arcadia University.  I am a member of Space 1026 and an involved cat dad.  

Why do you like to print? (Justin thought this said "where" do you like to print, so what the heck, here is his answer.....)

I do all of intaglio and photopolymer work at Arcadia University where I teach.  I try to squeeze printing in between classes and meetings and get the bulk of my work done while the students are away over breaks and the summer.  I really like working there alone because the studio also houses my cassette collection (my wife refuses to let me keep them in the house), which has grown massive over the years.  So I spend a lot of time there listening to the Feelies.  I can typically wipe all four CMYK plates in the time it takes to listen to one side of Its only Life, which is a perfect pace holder. 
The second studio is at Space 1026, located in the Chinatown section of Philadelphia.  My studio at Space is my formal studio and I share the spot with fellow printmaker Caitlyn Perkins.  We’ve been studio mates for almost 5 years.  At space I do a lot of my watercolors and drawings and it’s where I primarily do all of my screen-printing.  I keep a computer there and the gold edition box set of Twin Peaks that is now my printing background music.  Space 1026 is a fantastic place to print and is an excellent place to take a break from printing because there is always someone looking for a lunch date to the Reading Terminal Markets.  I usually get vegetable fried rice with an egg roll and this great Lemonade made by a fantastic Amish man. 

What is your favorite print medium and why?

I’m pretty obsessed with CMYK printing and I use CMYK to do just about all of my printing.  My work is a split between screen-printing and photo intaglio printing.  If I had to choose I think I would lean towards the photo intaglio.  My thesis, research, and general energy is focused on the advancement of ImagOn and photopolymers.  I’m attracted to ImagOn because it allows me to work photographically without being stuck with a boring photograph.  Being able to deconstruct and rebuild an image through the process is really rewarding to me.  Working with ImagOn is such a pain in the ass.  It requires so much dedication and upkeep that when you are successful you feel like you have tricked some evil lord that’s been thwarting your every move.  Because the process is so new there are really no rules, which allows me to create my own way of working without the fears of doing it right. 

How long have you been printing and how has your work evolved?

In high school I bought a Speedball screen-printing kit from an art store in the Willow Grove mall.  My friend Pat and I made t-shirts for our band Shake a Little Heaven.  We used the screen filler it came with and traced out an image of angel along with our bands name.  It took forever and really didn’t look that great but I was hooked.  In college I pursued photography, shooting a lot of bands, because I was good at it.  In my sophomore year at Penn State I was taking a zone system class that was killing my insides while taking a printmaking survey course taught by a graduate student named Simeon Wilkins.  At that time the photo studio was right across the hall from printmaking.  After my class with Simeon I just moved my things across the hall.  I think I got tired of having the printed photo being the final goal or end product of the image.  I wanted to do more with photographic imagery and printmaking seemed like just thing.   

As an undergrad my work was focused on photo transfers and collage, channeling Rauschenberg without the benefit of knowing who he was.  It was highly toxic stuff because I was using acetone to do my transfers.  The instructors asked me to only work after hours so I wouldn’t make anyone sick.  I should have known that something was wrong when the disposable gloves were falling off my hands.  

The grad program at R.I.T. really opened the doors for me.  David Jay Reed and Keith Howard had just finished years of research on the CMYK intaglio-type and I jumped in.  My first CMYK print was the largest that had ever been pulled at the time (72”x48”).  Working in that medium just clicked with me and I started making images.  I was shooting a lot of spaces, capturing their size with mosaic photography, and translating them through CMYK.  I was really in love with images from tour.  I was obsessed with the Fugazi/Jem Cohen film Instrument and started looking at my life as lower tier mirror of the places, people and experiences presented in that film.  

I think I’ve been lucky to make work that is a basic reflection of what I’m doing.  Most of the images I’m creating these days are places I come into contact with on my commute or travels and it seems like a great way to proceed.

(Justin has been printing for) Oh…12 years, drastically.  

What inspires you?

I think music is the thing that I keep coming back to.  I rarely go to a gallery and see work and come home compelled to create, but I can go to a show and it will fill me up with that nervous energy that gets my brain thinking.  I think I have nice group of friends, printmakers, studio mates that are always working on creative projects that I can really get into.  I think the key to that inspiration is the relationship I have with these people.  I am very guarded and not quick to accept new ideas but when I see new ideas in these people I can get with it quickly.  

But really it comes back to 90’s indie rock, Raygun Magazine and album art.  I think I’m constantly looking back to make sure I didn’t miss anything.  

How do your promote your work? 

I attend print fairs here in the city and use different websites and printmaking interests sites to drum up interest in my work (not working that well).  I never feel like there are enough opportunities to really show my prints so I try to take what I can find.  I don’t show that much and when I do I rarely feel like it was worth the effort of framing and hanging.  I think that a lot of gallery owners who already know who they want to show, or are booked so far in advance that even if they like your work it could be three years before they might have an opening for you (if that make it that long).  

The Internet has been great to me, but photographic prints are really hard to market online because they look like digital photographs on the screen, and no one has every heard of an Intaglio-type so there is a lot of technical educating on my part that needs to happen and can leave people confused about what they are buying.  I rely on my customer’s word of mouth to really help spread my sales.  

Are you working on any particular projects now?  

Yes, I always have projects in the works.  Right now I am creating another large batch of intaglio-types, about 9 prints.  I usually produce in chunks because it makes all the production easier to handle, like one day I just laminate plates and then next I just expose, etc.  I’m also getting ready to edition the next two prints from Harborcoat Press, which is the publishing company that I run with my wife Linda.  We work with artists who haven’t been exposed to non-toxic techniques and bring them into the fold and help them create an image through these new working methods.  We published work from Daniel Danger and Leah Allen in August and the next two artists up to bat are Eva Wylie and Emilla Brintnall.  Eva is professor at Tyler and does these great CMYK instillations so it’s an easy cross over into CMYK intaglio-type printing.  Emilla is an artist that I share studio space with at Space 1026 who’s been making these great Litho’s that I thought would transfer well to one color intaglio-types.  

Tell us one random fact about yourself 

I’m an excellent Tennis player, I have kick serve that will destroy your return attempts. 

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