Know That You Are Lucky
A Memoir By Kathan Brown
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A Memoir by Kathan Brown
Fifty years ago in 1962 in the San Francisco Bay Area, forty-year-old Richard Diebenkorn telephoned a young entrepreneur, Kathan Brown, to ask if he could attend a Live Model Workshop in the etching studio she had founded that year and named Crown Point Press. Eighty miles away in Sacramento, California, Wayne Thiebaud was making his first paintings of pies and cakes. In 1965 Crown Point Press published limited edition portfolios of prints by both artists, and the antique art of etching was set to become once again, as it had been for Picasso and Matisse, a favored printmaking medium for avant-garde artists. As curator Richard Field pointed out in 1975, Pop artists loved silkscreen and lithography, but what he called “etching’s cool” appealed to newer artists searching for an “instrument of intellect.”
“Is this the Crown Point Press?” Sol Le Witt inquired politely in 1971 as he grasped a porch railing to save himself from being swept downstairs by two big dogs. John Cage arrived at the press for the first time in 1978 and returned regularly until his death in 1992. He set fire to newspapers on the press bed to create some of his “etchings.”
Kathan Brown’s memoir, “Know That You Are Lucky”, is full of stories about art and artists, but it is also an engaging narrative about an adventurous approach to running a small business in the varying economic times of the past half-century. This has included a good deal of internationalism. Crown Point Press brought artists from Europe—Daniel Buren from France, Jannis Kounellis from Italy, for example—beginning in the late 1970s to work in California. In 1982 Crown Point began taking American artists to Japan, and later China, to work with craftsmen to make traditional woodcuts. In what Brown calls “the new century” the press has brought artists from Sweden, Switzerland, and China to work in etching in its San Francisco studio. The narrative in “Know That You Are Lucky” moves quickly, and in the end the author follows the advice of Sol Le Witt (used as one of its chapter titles): “Leap to Conclusions that Logic Cannot Reach.” The book includes 47 color plates.
Lovely memories of an influential cornerstone
Kathan Brown’s book sometimes meanders and shifts focuses, but is filled with lovely nuggets of information about her life, the printmaking world and the San Francisco art scene. A quick read and thoughtful vignettes strung together.