Sunday, March 9, 2014

Spotlight on Artist/Writer Marian Lansky of Kenspeckle Letterpress

Rick Allen & Marian Lansky
About twenty years ago while seeking a graphic designer for a direct mail project I had a chance to see Marian Lansky’s early portfolio. Her work made an impression on me even then. Today, with her husband Rick Allen, she helps manage their Kenspeckle Letterpress business from the second floor of the Dewitt-Seitz Building in Canal Park.

EN: Let’s start with an overview of your career history.

Marian Lansky: I grew up in New York City in a musical family. Was supposed to become a musician but I didn't love it. My parents wanted me to audition for the High School of Music and Art as a music major, but I chose art instead, drew up a portfolio, took the test and got in. It was a great education. From there I became an art major at the State U of NY at Buffalo, but dropped out in 1968, in the spirit of the times.

I travelled a bit, ended up in Duluth. Got a job as a nursing assistant at St. Mary's and then went to nursing school and became an RN. Did that for several years before realizing I wasn't cut out for it. Another great education.

In 1989, when my son was two, I started my own business as a freelance graphic designer. I obtained a loan and bought one of the first Macintosh computers in Duluth and taught myself all the software. I became busy right away and for 20 years had almost more work than I could handle. By about year 20, I began to feel constrained. I wanted to try my hand at creating my own visual art again. Since them I've gradually drifted away from design and have begun selling my work. So far so good! I'm still experimenting and this year's show introduces yet another new style of work.

Meanwhile, in the late 90s, my professional illustrator husband, Rick Allen, was watching the traditional illustration market collapse. It was the heyday of photoshopped photos and art directors were not interested in traditional media like linocut or woodcut. We decided to try experimenting with selling some of his older prints and discovered that people loved them.

EN: Can you share with us the roots of Kenspeckle letterpress?

ML: I was still working as a designer in 2003 or 4 when we came across a letterpress shop for sale (online) in Connecticut for $800. I knew we couldn't pass that up... Rick had always loved letterpress and wanted to try it. So we managed to get everything to Duluth and Kenspeckle Letterpress was born. Between letterpress projects, Rick's prints, my prints, our notecards (we have over 100 designs at this point) and the occasional design job or illustration commission, we have the great joy of making a living doing what we love.

We recently expanded our studio to make room for a tiny retail gallery so we can sell our prints and cards ourselves. We have a sign in the window that says "Knock loudly if you'd like to browse. We're in the back making more art."

EN: One of the questions I asked 2 years ago for my blog was, Do you have any favorite pieces? How would you answer that today?

MS: My favorite piece right now is one I did last month. It's called "Leaf Peeping." At least that's the provisional title. Since I'm trying to make a living as an artist/designer, I tend to use titles that give people a handle through which to interpret my work. It is, of course, not a picture of trees, really. Or a picture of anything. But it does remind me of trees in the fall... that astonishing depth of color. Color is my thing, always. This piece is quite vibrant and detailed in person, made of thousands of tiny dots of color, like a mosaic.

EN: Graphic design seems to be a very different field from fine art. Where is the line between graphic design and fine art? How does design inform the arts and vice versa?

ML: For me, art is about the visual interpretation of energy patterns. Graphic design was that as well, only at a very constrained level. This may not be true for other graphic designers, so I can only speak for myself. When I create art, I am also constrained by the need to make a living. So the energy patterns I translate into two-dimensional visual art may be ones that are designed to be pleasing to more people (I hope) and uplifting in some sense. Patterns that lift the spirit a bit. We all need a little lift.

To me it's all a continuum. I can, in my own work, create pieces that are a bit inaccessible to the public, but that please only me... and that is also gratifying. We can choose any point along the spectrum of frequency of vibration to translate into visual representation... so to me there's no hard and fast dividing line between design and "fine art." I have no intellectual statement to make with my art, but I naturally try to represent the lovely unspoken, unseen reaches of awareness.

EN: You make note cards and posters with clever, even inspiring verbiage. Who does the text? Do you do the writing as well as the art?

MS: The words in our notecards are by my husband, Rick Allen, or by me, unless we attribute the quote to someone else. I think there are a couple of situations in which I paraphrased Rumi, on the one hand, and A Course in Miracles, on the other, without attribution. I do write. My written work is online here:

EdNote: To see one of my favorite Marian Lansky works, pick up a copy of this week's Reader, p. 71.

1 comment:

marian said...

Thanks again, Ed!

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