Master printer Felicia Rice on seven-year collaboration
Her’s is a world of fine handmade papers, thick intaglio inks, and endless bins of lead type. After decades in the rarified trenches of letterpress printing, Felicia Rice is celebrating the culmination of a personal masterwork.
DOC/UNDOC—currently on view at Felix Kulpa and Sesnon Gallery—is a seven-year collaboration that is, in the best sense of the expression, multimedia. Crowned by the bold visualizations of master printer Rice, the limited edition large-scale accordion book is accompanied by a DIY altar, a John Cage-style cabinet of curiosities, and a video.
Rice’s digitally-originated visuals respond to poetic texts exploring identity and experiences of immigration by performance artist and MacArthur Fellow Guillermo Gómez-Peña. Along with interactive sound art by Zachary Watkins and commentary by art historian Jennifer Gonzalez, the work transforms the borders linking word, image, and performance.
The path to this imaginative milestone began when Rice moved from her Mendocino home and began studying at UCSC with legendary book artist William Everson and letterpress master Jack Stauffacher. “When I first saw the Cowell Press in this little room under the Porter dining room—with a view of the ocean to die for—I knew this was the ideal place for me,” Rice recalls. “My real desire was to be in a community, so I started Moving Parts Press in a garage downtown. I was determined to make a living at my chosen work—hand-setting type, printing and publishing books.” An unlikely goal for a young women in the ’70s. After graduation from UCSC, Rice set up shop as a fine arts publisher and printer, while teaching book arts and working at UCSC.
“It is a meditative process,” Rice says, leading me through a labyrinth of cardboard, computers, and wooden racks filled with lead type. Her large flat-bed press is housed in her downstairs studio, where inks, rollers, metal plates, and other paraphernalia of fine press creation line every wall and surface. Since 1977, Moving Parts Press has turned out the books, broadsides, and prints now housed in libraries and museums all over the country.
“This book, Documentado/Undocumented, is essentially the sequel to another work I did with Guillermo in the 1990s,” Rice says. “The Codex Espangliensis was my signature. It was a challenge to consider following up on it. I consider myself a typographer, an artist working with typefaces and design principles. But how I work has changed.”
For much of her artistic career, Rice has worked with an old technology. “I pick up a piece of lead, place it next to others. You think about each step.” Such work is laborious, slow and best handled by “detail oriented” practitioners.
“We’re moving into a visual world very much driven by web design. This is no longer a literate world,” she says with a twinge of regret. Now her work uses 21st century digital tools and applies them to the hand-crank press—the intaglio images and highly manipulated text for the interactive new book were created and set on a computer. Negatives were made by scanning images onto plates which are destined for printing on Rice’s large intaglio press. Once image plates and text type are placed in the print bed, ink is applied with rollers. “These pages each went through 25 to 30 inkings,” she explains. “The type, which I manipulated quite a bit, became a visual object unto itself—it has a life outside its meaning.”
Rice still enjoys the arduous tension between the materials and the making. “This is an example of ‘slow art’’ she laughs. At the top of her field, she looks beyond the recent collaborative effort. “Next time it will be my book, one artist’s book.”
Felicia Rice performs in response to DOC/UNDOC on Oct. 22 at the Sesnon Gallery. For more about Rice and her work visit: docundoc.com and movingpartspress.com PHOTO: CHIP SCHEUER