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Hot Off the Inkjet : By applying high tech to high concept, L.A.-based Muse X Editions hopes to catch the eye of collectors with its digitally produced limited-edition prints.

TIMES ART WRITER

“It’s a case of being in the right place at the right time,” Randall Green says of Muse X Editions. An innovative publisher of limited-edition prints, the fledgling firm aims to merge the latest in digital technology with fine art’s cutting-edge ideas and traditional values.

The place Green refers to is Greater Los Angeles, where the film industry thrives. Or to put it more specifically, it’s a tidy little building on Cahuenga Boulevard near Universal City that houses Muse X and its parent company, Electronic Publishing Specialists Inc., which does high-end film separations for the movie trade.

As for the time, it’s now. Formed about a year ago, Muse X has launched its first group of prints and is just beginning to make itself known to artists, curators, dealers and collectors. Among works just off the press are otherworldly landscapes by Barbara Kasten and Oliver Wasow, a sizzling sunset by Peter Alexander, abstract compositions by Pauline Stella Sanchez and Jennifer Steinkamp, text and photo combinations by Bill Barminski and Nancy Dwyer, and conceptual photographs by Kevin Hanley.

Ranging in style and attitude from romantic to ironic, flashy to subtle, soft and fuzzy to hard-edge, abstract to concrete--and accessible to abstruse--the prints are difficult to categorize. About the only thing they have in common is that they are produced by an Iris printer, which prints digital images by spraying watercolor inks through fine nozzles onto paper or fabric. The process uses continuous inkjet technology to produce more detail and finer tonal gradation in a wide range of color than is said to be possible with similar digital printers. Resulting prints have a high degree of color saturation and a soft, painterly surface.

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If Muse X prints are all over the aesthetic map, that’s a desirable situation, Irit Krygier, the company’s curator, says, because it contradicts mistaken characterizations of computer art. “People tend to think of it as sci-fi art. It can be that, but it can also be many other things,” she says. “Digital does not have a certain look. Digital is only a tool.”

Showing a visitor around the clinically clean facility, Krygier points out a wide variety of approaches in finished prints and works in process. To make his panoramic landscapes, Wasow combines photographs of various spectacular locations and alters them with painted passages. Steinkamp’s series of abstractions, each produced as a monoprint, are enlarged frames from a videotape of computer-generated images.

Kasten creates artificially hued landscapes by photographing at night with colored lights, but she also invents images with a computer. Alexander’s sunset began with a Polaroid photograph taken on the beach in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, but he has enlarged the image to 30 inches by 30 inches and intensified the color. Diana Thater’s series of prints marries text with 8-millimeter film images of apes in a jungle.

For upcoming publications, Ann Marie Karlsen is working on a set of four intricate collages and Jo Ann Callis is using patterned fabric to frame photographs of desserts. But in every case, the artists either create artworks that are scanned into a digital file or they generate images directly on a computer.

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While all the works published so far have been made with the Iris printer, Green is looking forward to producing photographic prints in the traditional, labor-intensive--and rarely used--processes of pigment transfer and platinum printing. “I think we can have the best of both worlds,” he says.

One reason for taking the trouble to produce pigment transfer prints is that the process--which involves suspending pigment in a colloid, such as gelatin or gum arabic, and building up many layers of pigment--results in unusually long-lasting color, which is said to be stable for 500 years.

Green conceived of Muse X as a way to apply his sophisticated equipment to fine art. Krygier, who has a lengthy track record as a contemporary art curator and dealer, came aboard last year and began recruiting artists who were working with computers. She first snagged Steinkamp, who was a computer animator before she went to art school, but others quickly followed.

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“No one has turned us down,” Krygier says. She has enlisted many Los Angeles artists, but the company has no geographic boundaries or preferences. “We want the top artists in the world,” she says.

And they don’t necessarily have to travel to Los Angeles to make a print. Wasow, who lives in New York, heard about the new company and sent discs of his work. “I’ve never even met him. He’s never been here. We’ve done everything long distance,” Krygier says.

Producing art digitally can dissolve distances, but that is only one example of Muse X’s flexibility, Green says. Artists can produce monoprints or very small editions, and works can be printed as they are sold--adding to their life span. As for size, the Iris printer can produce prints up to 34 inches by 46.8 inches.

But in many ways, Muse X functions like any other fine art publisher, where artists work with master printers and engage in a dialogue about what they want to do and what is technically possible, Green says. The introduction of new technology doesn’t mean that craft has been lost. “It’s just different; it’s gotten more complicated,” he says.

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With finished artworks ready for sale--mostly priced at $1,000 to $2,000--and many other artists hatching ideas, Jane Hart, director of marketing, has her work cut out for her.

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Galleries that handle the artists’ work are primary outlets, she says, but the prints will also appear at art fairs and exhibitions. A subscription program also will be offered.

Unlike major publishers, such at Gemini G.E.L., which generally work with internationally renowned artists, Muse X has concentrated on younger and lesser-known figures. That means providing potential customers with information about the artists as well as the printmaking process, but Hart says she’s hoping to appeal to “a new generation of collectors who are looking for affordable art” and ready to move beyond Roy Lichtenstein.

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