For anyone who is familiar with the art of printmaking, it can often be a labor-intensive process. For San Francisco-based artist Greg Borman, it brings community, immediacy, and satisfaction. In this new interview, Borman describes his monoprinting process, tells us about balancing artmaking and a full-time job, and shares how his involvement in the punk music scene has influenced his practice.
My first steps toward applying my creativity to the outer world began in high school in Cincinnati, Ohio. I sang and played guitar and bass for several punk bands, contributing lyrics and musical arrangements. I also immersed myself in the underground music scene, going to see many bands and visiting the community radio station.
Immediately following receiving my BFA from the University of Cincinnati, I moved to Oakland, California, where my family had lived in the '60s and early '70s. Perhaps my parents' fond descriptions of the Bay Area led me back. I made art on and off until 1998, when I was accepted into San Francisco Art Institute's MFA program, where I focused on painting. I made the decision to re-enter school seven years after receiving my MFA and completed my MLIS (Master of Library and Information Science) in 2009. I currently work full-time in a position that utilizes the degree.
Since 2019, I have focused on the exploration of printmaking, specifically monotypes, at studios in Berkeley and San Francisco. For each studio visit, I trust that my years of exposure to and making of art will lead to a couple of successful prints in a day.
I am interested in creating evidence of human presence in each image that I make. Humans are represented in a bare-bones way, sometimes just a face and nothing more. I intend to get to the essence of representations of people, whether through portraits of lone figures or an array of many. In these prints, the people remain enigmatic yet still show a range of emotions. As my approach to making prints is largely instinctive, each one is filled with imagery and associations directly from my subconscious. I also leave space for the viewer to make their own interpretations.
My approach to completing my artwork has been to go to the studio as early as I can, with as little on my mind as possible. Drawing with altered Q-tips, brushes, and rags into ink rolled onto Plexiglas has helped to get me in touch with the process of making images, and I trust that years of exposure to and making of art can lead to a few successful prints on any given day.
The current work has been completed in community-oriented printmaking studios in Berkeley and San Francisco. I have enjoyed the sense of community that the studios offer, as I can see the work of others and have conversations about the creative process. While the act of creating prints is primarily a solo activity, it’s been great to be in the company of others as well.
When did you begin creating art? Is there a time that marked when you began viewing your art as something that could turn into a career?
I attended a Montessori school in Minneapolis for a couple of years that was very encouraging as far as making art goes. They let me draw pretty much all day, and I remember that cars were my favorite subjects. I wish I still had some of those drawings! Also, in high school, which was a 7th through 12th grade public school in Cincinnati, I benefitted from a very serious art program and took an art class virtually every year. By the time I got to senior year, I was enrolled in an Advanced Placement class that involved making original works of art for the whole year. In my case, I made both figurative and abstract works, and got a good sense of what it was like to pursue my own vision at a pretty young age.
I eventually got my MFA from San Francisco Art Institute, and was surrounded by serious artists, most of them following a very conceptual path. My chosen major, painting, was marginalized at the school, and I moved away from making paintings that had physicality to ones that were much more idea based. Upon leaving grad school, I hit a dry patch creatively. It wasn’t until some years ago that I realized that I had paid my dues in getting an MFA, and felt it was time to do work that showed a cohesive approach. So, I spent many eight-plus hour days at the printmaking studio, forging ahead with a set vocabulary of imagery. And I now feel that I am in a groove creatively and can make this into a career.
I understand you have a background in music. Did this experience lead you to your current method of art making? Does your musical background feed into your artwork at all?
I have played guitar, bass, and drums for several bands. I have formed a band and been primary songwriter, joined bands already in progress, and then made the transition to drums as an undergraduate in college. All the bands I’ve been in have had a punk or ’60 garage rock sound, and I think the rawness of the music I have written and played has influenced my approach to making art. In the 1980s, the punk scene in Cincinnati was very do-it-yourself, and many people who were creative in different ways (making zines and concert flyers, for example) were involved. I feel that the DIY ethos of punk informs my art making. You had to be motivated, organized, and a non-conformist to actively participate in the punk scene I was part of, and I bring those things to my artistic endeavors.
Printmaking tends to be a very process-oriented practice. For our readers who may not be familiar with the monotypes, would you mind explaining your process and what draws you to it?
For each monotype that I do, I begin by mixing a batch of ink that ends up being a single, unique color. I apply the ink to one of three pieces of Plexiglas (each differing in size) that I’ve prepared specifically for monotype printing. Once the ink is applied evenly on the surface of the Plexiglas, I use an array of items (Q-tips, rubber tools, brushes, and rags) to draw into the ink. The ink that gets removed ends up composing the image. While I’m creating imagery, I soak printmaking paper in a water tray, then remove it and use a towel and rolling pin to remove excess water. I then lay the Plexiglas face up on a printing press and place the damp paper on top of it, roll it through the press, and a print is made.
Each monotype is a unique image, and that is what draws me to this form of printmaking. Working from scratch each time presents a good challenge for me. Also, I can create an image on Plexiglas and roll it through the press within an hour. I really like how quickly work can be done in this way. It keeps me from obsessing over a painting for weeks, which is what I have done in the past! Making monotypes also has similarities to painting and drawing, both of which I have a strong background in.
The image of a figure’s face repeatedly appears throughout your work. Is this meant to be a literal figure, or perhaps an allegory or metaphor?
The more that I add to the body of work I’ve been pursuing, the more I think that the faces/figures represent different aspects of myself. I started feeling this way as I worked mostly in isolation during the pandemic, and it makes a lot of sense to me. I have long been interested in the intersection of art and psychology, and I feel that my imagery comes largely from my subconscious, so I think that the ‘aspects of self’ idea holds up.
Your current figurative works seems to be somewhat of a departure from your more abstract work from previous years. What led to this transition? What inspired you to move more into printmaking?
In pursuing my post-MFA work, I thought consciously about wanting to connect to an audience. And I thought including representations of people in my art was a good way to do that. Also, I feel that pursuing an abstract approach involves a searching process while the work is being made. It’s kind of like feeling around in the dark at times. These days, I work from a preliminary sketch, so no searching is necessary when I make a print. I like the certainty involved with this approach.
I felt that I could work more quickly, and therefore create more art in terms of volume, if I pursued printmaking as opposed to other mediums. I also like how there is a printmaking community in the San Francisco Bay Area. If you choose to work on your art alone in a studio, as many painters do, you don’t necessarily get that same sense of community.
How do you balance your work at your day job with your art practice? What is your biggest motivator?
I tend to keep my work life and art life very separate. I reserve Sundays as art making days and try to do eight-plus hour sessions on those days. So pretty much no going to the studio after work, as I feel there wouldn’t be sufficient time to be productive there in the evening. I like my job, so by the time I get to the studio on the weekend I’m not feeling stressed or anything. I am motivated by memories of time periods where I didn’t work on art at all and want to stay productive while the ideas keep flowing as they have recently.
Who or what in your life influences your practice the most?
My girlfriend Janet, who I live with, is a big influence on my artwork. When I work in the studio, I take photos of freshly made prints and send them to her via phone. Even just a thumbs up or a heart reaction in the chat app is good motivation to continue working that day. Also, grad school taught me to always have a concept behind what I am doing artistically. Because of the intensity of the critiques there, I feel that I can always explain what I am doing with my work at the drop of a hat.
With your background in music, I have to ask…what are you currently listening to?
It’s funny, when I work in the studio, I barely listen to music, and if I am, I turn it off when I’m making my imagery for the prints and running them through the press. I think the explanation for this approach is that I’ve always felt that music and art have been competing interests. When outside of the studio, some long-standing favorites include Kinks, Ramones, Velvet Underground/Lou Reed, Guided by Voices, Fairport Convention/Richard & Linda Thompson, Bob Dylan, Low, Stooges, Thee Oh Sees, and Papercuts. For me to get interested in a recording artist, the songwriting has to be great.