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In the Studio: Kay Gregg
By Jack Cantey
Fort Wayne Reader
Within five minutes of my arrival at her Indiana Avenue studio, screen printer Kay Gregg had read me an audacious quotation (by legendary music producer Steve Albini, writing about artist Jay Ryan), introduced me to her aesthetic mantra (“no fetishization of guns, boobs, cars, and guitars”), and offered me a can of beer (Miller High Life). Talk about starting things off on the right foot.
For the past three years, Gregg has produced some of the most distinctive and eye-catching posters and graphic art designs for local music shows, film premieres, theatrical productions, and fund raising events. The chances are good that you'll run into one of her creations tonight, maybe even one promoting All Nite Skate's (the band for whom she's the drummer) next show at the Brass Rail or the Firehouse.
I talked with Gregg in her basement studio about the unforgiving medium of screen printing, her transition away from painting, and a fateful encounter one evening with a squeegee.
FWR: How did you get into screen printing?
KG: I had a whole basement of shit leftover from an ex who had moved out. He was a screen printer. It was my Friday night ritual to buy a six pack and go through his stuff. I pulled a squeegee out of a box and I was looking at it, and it was perfect, it hadn't been used. I remember thinking, “Well this is new, and this is probably the most expensive part of it. I think I'm going to try this.” Oh, little did I know... [laughs] That's when I began to dump all of my time and money into my shop.
FWR: Do you remember your first piece?
KG: I do. It was a three-color print and it was for Eyeball Graphics, which is my design company. I exposed it in the sun and it worked perfectly. It was the ultimate beginner's luck. Then, when someone asked me if I would do a poster, I said, “Sure, it'll be really easy.” That was the descent. I realized I knew nothing about registration, or how to place the different pulls so they build on each other instead of obscuring each other. It was like the universe tricked me, man. I spent a year messing up left and right and learning things the hard way.
FWR: What type of visual work did you do before screen printing?
FWR: Do you still paint?
KG: Screen printing has really taken up that whole world. I always felt that I had to paint. I'd feel guilty when a weekend would go by and my paints would stick around. When I started screen printing, I'd get off work on Friday and go directly downstairs and start printing. It was like I was a kid and it was recess.
FWR: Do you feel you have an identifiable style?
KG: I don't know. Do you think I do?
FWR: I know when it's yours.
KG: For the longest time, I worried that I didn't have any style at all and I wished that I had an identifiable style.
FWR: You say you “worried.” It's not a concern anymore?
KG: Well, I started looking at them and realized that there is a style to them. There's a quality of line and a subject matter. The subject matter has slowly started to get more surreal, because I've decided that I'm going to use the imagery that appeals to me. Surrealism gets a really bad rap because everyone thinks Salvador Dali. I think of Meret Oppenheim and Joseph Beuys. I have an absurdist's sense of humor, but I look for meaning within that. And that's what brings me to surrealism. It's something that I fought for a long time because I wanted them to be something that people culturally responded to. But then you get back to the boobies, guns, cars, and guitars. I stopped worrying about it and started taking my sketches and turning them into posters. I just can't see myself trafficking in that kind of imagery, and that's why I use the images that I do.
FWR: What are your first steps after meeting with a client?
KG: It starts as a sketch, or a doodle, really. I let my brain run with it. Sometimes it gets scratched at that point. Sometimes it continues and is turned into a line drawing. And then I color the line drawing using my computer. I really hardly ever do more than three or four colors because registration becomes a nightmare after four colors. Then the drawing gets printed out as a positive.
FWR: How long does it take you to complete a poster commission?
KG: It depends. So many things can go wrong so fast. You can try to exert your will. But if it's not right, it's not right. That's a tough lesson to learn. This is an absolute. It has to be absolutely registered, the ink has to be absolutely the right consistency, the exposure has to be absolutely perfect. You can't be clever and wiggle your way out of this. You can't cut the corner.
FWR: You seem to still be intoxicated with screen printing.
KG: I think I pulled that squeegee out at exactly the right time. At a time when I needed to face up to the fact that beginner's luck wasn't going to get me through the rest of my life. It seems so banal. I might have two or three more of these in me. I might stumble across a spider making a web and I might become a spider watcher. I might become a bicyclist. You might get two or three of those in your life. Something that brings so much joy and becomes so compelling that you can't resist it. Isn't that great?
To see more of Kay Gregg's work, visit: www.eyeballgraphics.com