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Entertainment & Arts

Private moments from the storied history of L.A.'s artist workshop Gemini G.E.L.

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Roy Lichtenstein wearing a mask cut from one of his proofs for the “Paintings” series, 1983.
(Sidney B. Felsen)

Sidney Felsen and the late Stanley Grinstein had no idea, when they founded Gemini G.E.L. in 1966, that the Melrose Avenue artists’ workshop and lithography publisher would play such an integral role in a nationwide revival of printmaking at the time. The former USC fraternity brothers meant for Gemini to be simply a place for local artists to gather socially, exchange ideas and make work.

During the next half-century, however, artists on both coasts streamed through Gemini’s doors. Robert Rauschenberg, David Hockney, Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, Richard Serra, Roy Lichtenstein, Frank Stella, Man Ray and others produced pieces of modern printmaking history there.

All the while, Felsen — who studied painting and ceramics and had been a passionate, amateur photographer since receiving a Kodak Retina for his bar mitzvah in 1937 — chronicled the artists at work. He shot quietly from the sidelines on a rangefinder camera because of its silent, unobtrusive shutter.

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James Grauerholz, left, William Burroughs and David Hockney in 1980.
(Sidney B. Felsen)
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Robert Rauschenberg early in the morning cycling in the Gemini parking lot after an all night sessio
Robert Rauschenberg cycles early in the morning in the Gemini parking lot after an all-night session proofing the “Stoned Moon” series, 1969.
(Sidney B. Felsen)

Now more than 200 of Felsen’s images, selected from about 2,000 negatives, are on view in the Gemini exhibition “The Artist Observed.” The show has been on view since July 12, but on Saturday Gemini will add 55 works to the show. There’s Lichtenstein peering out of a polka-dotted paper mask that he crafted from a discarded proof from his ’83 “Paintings” series; an intensely focused David Hockney as he paints William Burroughs and James Grauerholz; a young Rauschenberg leaping onto a bicycle in the Gemini parking lot.

The significance of what, collectively, the Gemini artists were up to crept up on Felsen over time, he said.

“For probably the first 10 years, it was really just working with artists that you knew were good artists and it was an honor to work with them,” Felsen said. “But then later on you start realizing, ‘Wow this is art history that’s all around us.’ It warms your heart.”

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Sidney Felsen, photographed in his Gemini G.E.L office, in 2016. Felsen, who still runs the business, turns 94 this month.
(Stuart Palley / For The Times)

deborah.vankin@latimes.com

Follow me on Twitter: @debvankin


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