Eugene Feldman

Eugene Feldman selfportrait 1953

Artist's Statement


It never occurred to me that I should make a choice between becoming a starving artist so that I could create beauty or running a business where all I could do was make money. Falcon Press was my gateway to art, and art is part of my business. I can't say I planned it that way. As a matter of fact, I can't say that I ever planned my life at all. It has been a combination of accidents that seems to have formed a pattern and a whole. Certainly I don't feel fragmented. There is no conflict between running a printing business (which has nothing to do with design and everything to do with producing the best possible job) and exploring my materials to discover their potential. It is within the experimenting process that artwork happens. Despite the fact that my experimental work does serve as a form of advertisement-and I am happy that it does-it never was meant for that purpose. The experiments add to the technical skills and knowledge that increase the business, and the business, in turn, uses the knowledge and sells the skills. Craft and commerce are not separate but united in purpose.

Teaching is the third part of my work and it is as integral to it as commerce and experimentation. Teaching gives me the opportunity to get out of my shell, to break from actual production and see what others are doing. It fosters the critical spirit, challenges me to look at my own experimental work with machines with detachment.

I try to use the machine as a painter does his brushes. My inks are my paints and the paper my canvas, In graphics, as in any other craft or art, respect for the materials in necessary. I think this respect leads to a desire to learn what the juxtaposition of type, line, color space and photography can create.

I am not sure where this desire to experiment comes from. Perhaps it is the pleasure of trying to discover, though that doesn't seem an adequate explanation. But I know that I have a compulsion to probe into the relationship of the elements of printing to each other, to change these relationships, to rearrange them, to experiment with the process. Frequently the commercial work inspires the experiments and the experiments, in turn, result in further commercial work at Falcon Press.

I started Falcon Press in Woodbine, New Jersey, when I was thirteen. Certainly I didn't know where it would lead. In fact, I didn't think it would lead any place. It just seemed like a good way to make money. One day I went to visit a friend who had just gotten a small printing press, and I was fascinated by it. I thought I could make money by printing school dance tickets.

Somehow I got together $18 to buy a Kelsey hand press. With one font of type and a mirror to read it with, I started to print. Looking around for a proper slogan, I hit on "Advertise or the Sheriff will". When I was fourteen, I thought what I needed was a little class, so I changed the slogan to "Printing is an Art at the Falcon Press". What I meant by art then was that I could print better than to local barber who was Woodbine's printer in his spare time. (Now I am less sure what art means.)

After high school I enrolled in the Philadelphia Museum School of Art (now University of the Arts). The first day at school we were asked to make a design, any design. After working all day at school we were asked to put our things on the wall, and the teacher looked them over carefully. Finally she went to mine and one other. As she pointed to mine, she said, "this I picked because it is so bad and the other because it is so good." A year and a half later I found myself sitting in the dean's office. He told me that if I wanted to be a fine artist, I did not belong in an art school. I left the school. What I learned was that whatever art there is, is with-in you and not in the classroom.

Now I am a teacher, but I know that I cannot teach the art of printing. I do not try. What I want is to give the student the skills he will need to know about graphics if he is going to be a commercial or fine artist. I want to teach my students how machines work: the way to use a hand press, a power press, an offset press and how to make a plate. I want to teach them what I have learned in my shop-that a commercial job must be done with precision and that the printer must have regard for, and understanding of, his equipment and its capacities.

When I was asked to set up a printing department at the Graduate School of Fine Arts of the University of Pennsylvania, I looked at it as an opportunity to create a more open and united program. There I could demonstrate to the students through practice the connective threads that bind technique to design, that is, how design can influence technique and how technique can spur the creation of design. Most art schools are overspecialized. The typography teacher is supposed to stick to arranging the letters on the page, Design is to be left to the design department. But the student must become fluent in both. I would be out of business if I had just stuck to putting letters on paper.

I would say, and it could be true, that creativity pays, but no one will try to be creative because there is money in it; at least, if that is his only motive, he won't succeed. The pursuit of knowledge or truth, or whatever you want to call that essence, is the core of all true vocations, and is in itself what lures the artist, the scientist and the craftsman. It, of course, molds the life of the pursuer, as it molded mine, and made Falcon Press more than business.

The first book I printed, back in 1957, came out of teaching. I have a good friend, Aloisio Magalhães, who is from Brazil. He came to the United States on a State Department Leadership Grant, which is a kind of Fullbright in reverse. While he was in Philadelphia, he stopped at the Print Club and saw a poster I had done. He liked it. And having nothing better to do that afternoon, walked around to my shop. So we met. His interest in printing and our friendship led me to try to teach him what I knew about graphics. The result was DOORWAY TO PORTUGUESE. This book, distributed by George Wittenborn and Company, New York, really was an excuse to experiment with shapes under the cover of instruction. DOORWAY TO PORTUGUESE is truly the result of three functions: experimentation, teaching, and the level of technical proficiency that the hard rules of commerce enforce.

THE WORLDS OF KAFKA AND CUEVAS was in a way more deliberate. I started out wanting to do a book in which I could experiment with and apply art printing to a literary subject. However I had no subject. Accident came to my rescue. I was in Washington at the Pan American Union, which has a fine museum. There a friend introduced me to the director, who was interested in my project and suggested that I look at work already done on Franz Kafka by the Mexican artist Jose Louis Cuevas. When I saw it, the choice was made, and so in 1959 THE WORLD OF KAFKA AND CUEVAS was produced.

That same year my third book, DOORWAY TO BRASILIA, was largely done because of Aloisio Magalhães' urging. He felt that this new "instant city" rising in the interior of his country should be documented by an artist. I, in turn was attracted by the opportunity to experiment with combining graphics and photography.

Louis Kahn's architectural drawings offered a different challenge. Could blueprints and renderings be made into a book that gave aesthetic pleasure? I thought that they could, and with THE NOTBOOK AND DRWINGS OF LOUIS I. KAHN (1962), 1 believe I succeeded to a degree in demonstrating that the armature of architecture offers a core around which a printing art can be imposed.

With NEW YORK WEST SIDE SKYLINE, I returned to experimenting with photography. This book is a study of the New York Skyline done in 1965 from the West Side, that is, from the New Jersey side. It came about because my father-in-law wanted to see the view and I wanted to show it to him. Because the power and the beauty of the sight so impressed me, I took photographs. Later these pictures made me want to see what a book of photographs lined up to show the panorama from this particular vista would be like. Now I know.

My books. are not on the bestseller's list, nor are they artistic successes and commercial failures. Being in the business of printing, I could not afford such dubious victories. Each book has been successful enough to finance the next and, though not created for that purpose each has served both as a form of advertisement for the Falcon Press and a special plea for the art of printing. The books illustrate concretely what I have been trying to say-that graphics, commerce, and instruction are not separate in printing, but indivisible.

In the future I might do books on commission. Their production gives a satisfaction that other kinds of printing cannot always give for they are more permanent. in the eyes of most museums, the offset press is not yet a legitimate source of fine art. Even though official arbiters have come to accept the printing press and pure graphics as worthy of consideration, they still resist offset and photographic plates in printing as too much a product of the machine, too little the creation of man's hand. Yet to deny the use of the machine while accepting another is like telling a painter that one brush is outlawed while another is sanctioned. I believe that machines-the offset press as much as the hand press-are no more or no less worthy of respect than any other tool that comes between the artist's mind and his work. And the same will hold true for new tools, including electronic printers, as Falcon Press establishes its place in commerce and art.