Nicholas Gottlund: In Conversation
Nicholas Gottlund is an artist and bookmaker living in Los Angeles. He comes from a long line of bookmakers, dating back over 100 years. From 2007 to 2016, he ran Gottlund Verlag, an independent publishing project that produced artist books and limited-edition multiples that Gottlund made by hand out of a studio space in Kutztown, Pennsylvania. He has recently slowed down his publishing imprint in order to focus on his own practice, which is highly informed by his history and which investigates the spatial relationship between the printed page and its object-referent. We spoke with Gottlund about his time as a publisher and how it has informed his current studio practice.
Conveyor hosts an online journal with posts featuring conversations with artists, bookmakers, and small publishers, including artists who publish other artists as part of their practice. You are all of those things, so I thought it would be interesting to talk to you. Yeah, yeah. I guess I am.
How did you get started as a publisher? It’s funny. My dad's side of the family has run a printing and publishing company for over a hundred years. I went to the factory a lot as a kid. I still vividly remember the paper dust on the machines and all the smells. I used to draw on paper from the cut-off bin, that’s even how I made valentines. In high school, I worked there during the summers, doing the different tasks from stuffing envelopes to working in the binderies. I didn’t like doing that work then, I thought it was terrible.
What changed? I worked there again after college. I had to move back home to Pennsylvania for a little while and was running my family’s digital center. That's when I decided to start a publishing house. I thought it was cool that I had access to all kinds of equipment. At MICA (Maryland Institute College of Art) there was an emphasis on both collaboration and using the materials available to you. With those things in mind, I started asking friends what projects we could work on together with the resources I had available.
So you started a printing and publishing project within your family's facility? Yes and no. I would print in their facilities on third shift, using the presses to print flat sheets. Then I would take those back to my studio and do a lot of the bindery work by hand. I had some equipment there of my own, like paper cutters and letterpresses, but a lot of the work I did by hand.
What made you decide to do all your own work by hand? It was a combination of factors. Part of it is that I’m a bit of a control freak and I learned through the years, from just doing it over and over again, how to get it right. I also wouldn't have been able to afford running that business had I not been doing all of the labor myself. So it made sense to me financially, too.
I heard you’ve been focusing less on publishing lately so that you can focus on your own practice. I also heard a rumor that you’re a grower now. Is that true? Oh, yeah. I have made my own work, which itself is directly related to the printing process, over the years in parallel to my publishing projects. I believe that the time I spent running Gottlund Verlag helped me to develop my work into what it is now. Last year, I decided that I needed more time to focus on it, so I’ve been winding down as a publisher. I went to the New York Art Book Fair this past year. It was the first year I didn’t have a table, so people asked me what I was doing. I told them that I was making my own work and that I have a day job growing pot. And then the story somehow became: “Nick quit publishing to grow pot!” But, it's more that I just have a low-stress day job so that I can focus on my own projects.
Lodret Vandret recently published a book of your work titled Image Is Imminent. Could you talk a bit about the title and how it relates to the work? Yeah, we collaborated on two books, actually. The first is called Image Is Imminent. The title refers to designing something before the content has arrived. I scanned pages from various books designed in this way. I also went through my library, and other people’s libraries, looking for books with interesting image layouts. I scanned them and then deleted the images, leaving only the margins. Then I inverted these images and ended up with shapes that look like puzzle pieces. Later, I used these to make drawings. I used the drawings as guides to create plywood sculptures. I documented the process and then produced a one-color, spot-printing, saddle-stitched small-edition book with Lodret Vandret.
We also did a much more expansive publication this fall called Holding the Frame. I hate to call it a monograph because in many ways it subverts the idea of a monograph. It's a compilation of the last four or five years of my work; it’s a thick book of about two-hundred pages. I think of it as a slow burn of a book, meaning that it has a lot of repetition and hopefully a lot of rhythm, once you get into it. However, I tried to edit it so that the reader, or the viewer, can kind of enter and exit at any point because I certainly don't expect everyone to sit down and look through all 208 pages.
What was it like working with another publisher? I think it went well. We’re both happy with the books. The thing that was quite nerve-racking for me was not being on press. With any book, there are small errors that the viewer will never notice. I notice everything, both good and bad, in every edition and every copy of every book I’ve ever made. Lodret Vandret is a publisher that is based in Denmark and they use a printer in Lithuania, so obviously I couldn't be on press. I just had to let go and say to myself, “well, there go the files; I hope everything goes well.”
Is there anyone publishing at the moment whom you get really excited about? The artist book world is really small. We all know each other, so that’s a hard question to answer. Colpa compiled a collection of San Francisco Rave Flyers from 1990 to 1993. I bought one at the New York Art Book Fair, though I didn’t get a chance to talk to them about it. They are printed on half-sized — around 5.5x8.5in — glossy pages, with neon covers. They are such a fun resource for anybody interested in anything about the culture...
What are you working on now? Working on Holding the Frame was a very generative process. I'm not that precious with my books and I like to reuse materials in new ways. I also try to keep test sheets from any project I work on. So, I have a lot of pages lying around and I also have the book in every form. Recently I’ve been taking apart these books and cutting the text into 8.5x11in sheets and then combining them with all sorts of other kinds of ephemera and studio materials. I don’t think of it as random junk; it's the meat of making books. I’ve been rearranging all this material in five binders and using these as a point of departure for my next project.
Above: Installation Shots from Manifolds (Part of One Thousand Books 2016)
Each participating publisher presented an installation of works that relates to a specific artists’ book they have published. The selected artists’ works were shown both in the book form and as an exhibition. The exhibition took place in the south wing of Kunsthal Charlottenborg as well as the public space of the adjacent neighbourhood. A program of performances, live conversations, etc. accompanied the exhibition during the opening weekend. The official exhibition catalogue was made in the form of a video, check it out at lodretvandret.com/manifolds.
All photographs above are courtesy of Lodret Vandret and publications can be purchased directly from their website.