Field Trip Publishing is an experimental editioning project directed by printmakers Kelly John Clark and Eric Dobbins. As recipients of a 2012 Rocket Grant from the Charlotte Street Foundation, Field Trip’s ambition is to work with Kansas City area artists to expand their practices beyond their own mediums and expose this new work through multiple exhibitions. As their website states: “Field Trip Publishing manufactures, in limited, an edition of collaboratively produced art objects.”
Field Trip’s approach is refreshing in that it typifies an underlying desire for a high standard of cultural production that is unique to the area. For what Kansas City lacks in a vast, cosmopolitan market of contemporary art institutions and galleries that instigate new work, it makes up in local, communal enterprise. These apartment galleries, basement venues, print shops, collectives, and intimately sized artist initiatives are the dark matter that holds the scene together. They give the city its mass, keeping its inhabitants physically involved and accountable for their successes.
I recently sat down with Eric and Kelly in a community garden in the Kansas City Crossroads District to discuss their beginnings as printmakers and their vision for Field Trip Publishing.
Lindsay Deifik: How did you enter the world of printmaking? What personally attracts you to working with printmaking and the multiple?
Eric Dobbins: I was going to school for illustration at Kansas University (KU). I enrolled in intaglio— Kelly was there, teaching.
Kelly John Clark: That was lithography, I was a grad student TA—
ED: Essentially, I took a little bit of everything. I just sort of fumbled around the printmaking department, and as I was fumbling I was realizing the potential of making multiples. My work itself… it fit in nicely with that end result of being able to share and …
ED: Yeah. I draw relatively quickly and simply, so I was able to turn out so much more work. My work is narrative based and rooted in illustration, sort of cartoon stylings. I just love the aesthetic, that sort of flat surface.
LD: Both of you were also co-founders of Wonder Fair, an establishment that sells fine art prints and printed ephemera with a concurrent exhibition space in Lawrence, KS. Can you talk about this project?
KJC: Eric founded Wonder Fair. I started, was it a year in? Two years in?
ED: It was about ¾ of the way through the first year.
KJC: We knew some of the same people, and I brought a drawing down that I thought he would think was cool—with a caterpillar on it. I needed something to do on Saturdays and he said you can work here on Saturdays and I did. After a while Eric said, “maybe you should have a show here.” So I said OK. As a part of the show Eric had suggested that we make merchandise that felt like the show, because the show was going to be drawings that were going to be big and expensive. He said, “well, why don’t we make stuff that is a little bit cheaper but feels like the work, that maybe people can afford.” So we made a bookmark and a pencil case and printed on the pencil case. The pencil case had a number of items inside of it that were related to drawing. It felt like the items on the wall. All of the work was very kind of sweet. I had done a little bit of work like that before, but not a lot. But it was the idea. I had studied printmaking and I had gotten my masters in printmaking, but it was making prints that were so accessible—and frankly I hadn’t done that before. That I really liked.
LD: So you were out of Graduate School at this point. It seems as if you are talking about re-encountering your own control over what kinds of prints you were able to make.
KJC: Printmakers tend to pay a lot of lip service to their work being accessible, but they don’t take that next step, which is: No, you can’t sell your prints for that much money, even though you want to. And you have to really, really focus on the audience in a way that you may not be comfortable doing—that you certainly are not comfortable doing in graduate schools. So there were conversations there that I had not had before, that would be against what the culture was at graduate school. I started teaching printmaking immediately after finishing graduate school, and the kids had this different approach to printmaking than I had been taught. I thought it was really cool, and it had more in common with Eric’s approach to printmaking. Right after I stopped teaching, that’s when I started hanging out at Wonder Fair.
ED: You needed me to reconnect you with your true passion.
KJC: Well, I needed Eric there to inject some fun into my work, some enjoyment and joy. A sense of joy in actually sharing work with other people, as opposed to having the idea that I could share this work with other people. But in really going out and like saying this is for everyone, there’s a lot of joy.
LD: What motivated you to pass Wonder Fair along to others and begin Field Trip Publishing?
ED: I did it for two years and the final year was with Kelly and two other gentlemen. The four of us just sort of signed on for a year and that year came and went, and we all were ready for new things. I think we got what we needed out of it–it was a fantastic experience, but time for other things. And we had some great folks interested. I think that I personally gained so much from it and thought it was such a positive element in the culture that I wanted to do that again. And the Rocket Grant was something that I wanted to apply for in some fashion. I knew that Kelly would be a good man to have on board because we really gelled quite nicely when it came to producing the handmade goods through his exhibition. It was sort of a break out experience for me, collaborating with the artists that were showing. It was sort of always the vision that I had for the space—to kind of merchandise the work that we were exhibiting. So I had this little idea on a plane ride home to Kansas and landed and gave you a call.
KJC: Yeah, I remember that. I was actually working on a Rocket Grant of my own. Wonder Fair was ending and I had enjoyed certain things about it. One of the things was connecting with people. I was looking toward my own future and I was writing a Rocket Grant that would just support me in the drawing that I do, and I was a little bit sad about—really I’m just going to go back to drawing?
LD: Back to the hermetic life of the artist in their studio…
KJC: Yeah, and so Eric brought up this idea and I said absolutely, let’s do that.
LD: Your website documents studio visits with the artists you have chosen to work with. When you’re doing these how do you begin envisioning the work translating into print? How does the conversation start?
ED: It started in ten different ways. With some artists we have an idea of what we would like to do going into it, and others they have an idea of what they want to do.
KJC: Some, we have no idea.
LD: What parameters do you use while choosing artists to work with? Are they people you know, those whose work you personally connect to, or artists whose work you can see easily translating into the world of print and the multiple?
ED: Definitely not really that. I don’t think there was any interest in it translating. Because that was part of the excitement— it was the challenge of finding this new thing from what they are already doing.
KJC: Right. At the time we had gotten the grant, I had seen a video of this Japanese machine for printing on glassware, and it spins the glass and has a nozzle [that prints on to it]. What you have is an object that you can figure out how to put a print onto. I was thinking: we will do this publishing thing, but we won’t make prints; we are not going to make paper prints. So all of the artists that we’ve chosen, we chose because we saw their work and thought, yeah, I like that work!
LD: Can you talk about any specific studio visits, secret collaborations that you are really excited about?
KJC: We had nice long conversations with Matt [Sculptor Matt Jacobs] about… not even what the work was about, but what he was just really attracted to—shapes and colors. And for me, the idea was that there should be something about desire involved, cheap desire. So we ended up thinking that it would be related to his [sculptural appropriation of] Tic-Tacs, something edible. He liked the idea of a candy, and I like the idea of the conceit of making sculptures that looked like his sculptures but are not his sculptures. And that it would just be fun to make candy, something cheap and silly.
ED: But, I think Matt’s whole approach to us was a little reserved. He wasn’t as quick to just jump on board, and that was different.
KJC: I don’t think I had ever met Matt Jacobs before. So it was getting to know him, getting to know his work, which I knew a little bit. You walk this really delicate line because if you say we’re going to make something else with your work, it could be insulting.
LD: Especially because of your interest in merchandising?
KJC: It’s kind of a dirty word or a pejorative term to say we are going to merchandise your work. So with Matt—because I didn’t know him—it wasn’t like I was necessarily coming from a safe space. He didn’t know that we were good guys, that we thought about stuff like that. We were there in our jump suits invading the house!
ED: And here’s a little bonus tidbit, Matt Jacobs’s multiple will have a free prize inside! Do you want any more tidbits on projects?
LD: I would love more tidbits on projects.
KJC: We are making one traditional print. I think it will be a 22 x 28, 7-color lithograph. It will be a four-color separation, a layer of neon pink, a layer of metallic silver, and then a layer of strategic gloss.
ED: Other elements that we are working with that are attached to different projects will be a silver reflective tube that will be used as sort of a viewing mechanism for one of our multiples.
LD: Like a kaleidoscope?
ED: You’re not looking through it! We are going to be using a CNC router to custom cut a few wooden pieces for a different projects. Another project involves the re-branding and re-packaging of various affordable purchases around the town.
KJC: There will be one that will be made entirely of leather. That one will be seasonally appropriate. That one will be very gorgeous. Oh! Possibly an incense holder.
ED: Possibly a package that consists of a number of different elements, one of which would be a custom incense burner plus a couple of things. An illustrated booklet that consists of some writings by one of our collaborative artists. With a bonus DVD.
LD: That’s a great survey. Where will we be able to see the fruits of your creative labors?
ED: We are going to be doing a showcase– actually, four. The lineup has been divided into two phases. The first phase will be rolled out before the Christmas holiday, and the second phase will be summer of next year. Two showcases per phase, one in Kansas City and one in Lawrence. Coming soon phase 1…which will consist of Matt Jacobs, Jaimie Warren, Erin Zona, Aaron Storck, and Lee Piechocki.
LD: Finally, How does your work with Field Trip affect your personal studio practice? Does it?
KJC: It’s part of it. I draw at home. I teach at the Kansas City Art Institute. I think a necessary part of an artist’s role is to help make their community better. I think that that’s hopefully what Field Trip will do. One of the ideas behind Field Trip is that we would help artists make things they had never done before. That sense of excitement is really important to spread outwards. But yeah, we both have studio practices on the side. This is like an adjunct.
ED: For me it’s a part of my overall creative practice. There’s a bit of performance involved in public events. We did an event at the Final Speakeasy called Dance Test…So that party side of things and organizing events is something I enjoy doing. [Field Trip] has been taking up a lot of my free time, so I have been making sure that the work we’re doing is true to what I want to be doing. So I would say that it is completely part of my creative practice. I also have started developing an illustration portfolio that is called All are Cool Here.
KJC: You know Matt Jacobs said something really cool to both you and I during a meeting…
“You guys take fun seriously.”
Lindsay Deifik is a printmaker and artist living in Kansas City, MO, where she is also a co-director and resident of the Front/Space project space. She has been an artist in residence at the Philadelphia Art Hotel and has recently been awarded a Charlotte Street Foundation Urban Culture Project studio. She holds a BFA in Printmaking and Drawing from Washington University in Saint Louis.