Artist and writer Annette LePique spoke with Matt Davis of Perfectly Acceptable Press for Chicago Artist Writers about their work and the local printing scene in Chicago. As a press that focuses on risography, Perfectly Acceptable will be hosting the North American Risography Conference (NARC) in coordination with Issue Press (Grand Rapids) during the upcoming Chicago Art Book Fair at the Chicago Design Museum on November 16th. All of the conference’s events are free and open to the public. Support for this interview is provided by Common Field’s Field Grant Program.
Annette LePique (for CAW): Does Perfectly Acceptable originate from your artist practice with comics? How would you say your press intertwines with your own sensibilities as an artist?
Matt Davis: How Perfectly Acceptable was born is a bit of a long and winding story. I got into comics as a student at Oberlin College in Ohio where I took a class that made me totally fall in love. Originally I was not an art student, I studied Russian language and literature. Comics became an important outlet for me because my language studies didn’t offer me much creativity. I began a group called the Oberlin Comics Collective which published anthologies of student work. At first, we were printing our anthology through the service bureau, basically the on-campus print shop. It was several Xerox machines in the basement, really low-quality prints, they would always miss something or misprint.
We had heard about Risograph printing as they were beginning to filter into comic conventions. This was primarily due to the efforts of a woman named Mickey Z who is based in Providence, Rhode Island. She was the first person to embrace the potential of Risograph printing for comics. Funny enough we came across a Risograph printer sitting in the back corner of the local post office. No one was using it so I asked if we could have it and they just gave it to us. It was so amazing to be able to print myself, quickly and with cool colors. I fell in love, it was very gratifying. We used that machine for the anthology.
Time passed, I graduated, and moved to Chicago. After I moved here I bought a Risograph printer from a woman in Wisconsin who used it for her church newsletter. I came to Chicago at a good time as there weren’t many Riso printers but interest in the practice was growing. To connect with other printers I went online and found The Atlas of Modern Risography, created by George Wietor. You could add yourself to a map and then people could look up where there are Risos being used for art. After that, I began receiving emails from people who wanted to connect or wanted printing jobs. At the time I was a dog walker and needed extra money so I started freelancing and taking jobs. My wrist was also giving me enough problems so that I could no longer draw for myself. That’s when I began printing more as a way to keep involved with art. Perfectly Acceptable was born and eventually I named the project. It’s a way to keep myself entertained and I really enjoy helping artists design their books.
Annette: You mentioned publishing works by other artists, how do you choose what projects to take on? Is it work that personally speaks to you or connections Perfectly Acceptable has within the Chicago community? Do you think Perfectly has any sort of defining aesthetic?
Matt: The books I’ve published are the books that I wish I could be drawing. Thematically I’m interested books that have a narrative but that are not necessarily paneled like a comic. Books that are telling a story but they’re doing it in a way that is experimental or that expands the parameters of what comics can be. I like innovative and new approaches to bookmaking, artists that are questioning notions of narrative and how a reader can interact with their work. I’m interested in publishing work by queer people, people of color all around the world. Most often they have better stories anyway.
Annette: Will there be a cross-section of work by Perfectly Acceptable at the Chicago Art Book Fair in November?
Matt: Yes, everything that’s in print will be there and books sell out rather fast. But there will be seven or eight titles at my table. Including our new book with Sonnenzimmer, Café Avatar, and our book with Western exhibitions artist Ryan Travis Christian, EVERYTHING IS LEGAL.
Annette: I know you’ll also be doing a Risograph Conference with Issue Press at the fair. How did you two connect and what spurred the idea of the conference?
Matt: Issue Press was created by the same George Wietor who created The Atlas of Modern Risography. He now also runs Stencil.wiki, which is a central hub for Riso knowledge. George and I have been in touch for a long time, we’re always talking shop. We’ve spoken about doing a conference for quite a long time. There’s a conference in the Netherlands at the Van Eyck Academie called “Magical Riso” and I went last year. It takes place every other year. It’s an extremely important event for many art and research printers because North American artists are paid to attend and many European partners are there as well, creating an invaluable opportunity for information exchange and knowledge gathering. George and I wanted to do something similar in Chicago. We knew we needed to have the conference on alternating years with the Van Eyck event so that it had to be this year. Since the Chicago Art Book Fair was also occurring we thought that would be beneficial to combine the events as we can’t offer the panelists much but the fair will make it worth their while to come.
Annette: Who are speakers and the panelists at the conference?
Matt: We just announced the list of participants, so I don’t want to forget anyone! I’m really excited about Jo Franken, he actually ran the Magical Riso Conference in the Netherlands. A few amazing folks from New York and Berlin. Johanna Maierski, who run Colorama, will speak. Colour Code from Toronto will also be in attendance. There will be workshops and panels on education, the SVA research lab will be involved. Scott Roberts is a DePaul professor who will give a talk on his art practice. I’m doing a workshop.
Annette: What’s your workshop about?
Matt: Really nerdy stuff; color profiling. I model ways to use empirical analysis to better understand the Riso selection of colors. Then illustrate how to apply those models to reproducing photographs or images using spot colors.
Annette: That’s really interesting. Speaking of the conference as a whole, I’d be interested to hear your opinions on the subject. What do you think events like the Chicago Art Book Fair and Risograph Conference mean for independent arts publishing in Chicago in terms of networking and community?
Matt: I think these sorts of events are really beautiful. I show at CAKE every year and these events provide a useful framework because they give artists deadlines in which to produce work. There’s always an influx of new work, which is exciting. We’re also all introverts so it gives us the opportunity to talk to one another. We’re all particularly excited about these research conferences because they provide formal opportunities to talk about your work with peers. Independent presses are in an interesting situation because many are a bit small and casually operated, so the opportunity to speak to friends and colleagues about who, what, and why you’re publishing is invaluable. It’s essentially finding an encouraging community outside of an institution. I don’t have an institutional background in art so events like the conference and Expo are how I’ve met fellow printers.
Annette: This perhaps holds true for all independent publishers but how would your say Perfectly Acceptable navigates the intersection of staying true to your practice, publishing projects you’re passionate about, and being a sustainable business?
Matt: Most of my living stems from contract printing and I get connected to my clients through sources like Wietor’s Atlas of Modern Risography. While publishing has it’s ups and downs there are so many quality artists in the world, you are bound to find good work that people are interested in buying.
Annette: On that point, I was looking at Perfectly Acceptable’s Instagram and saw several show posters for shows a few months ago at the Hideout. To me, that spoke of the importance of community support for independent artists and businesses. What do you think?
Matt: Definitely in the Chicago music scene and many other artistic circles. Someone always can be in need of printing and we can help. Chicago is an especially good city, everyone takes care of one another here.