The following interview was dictated from a video conversation that took place on January 28, 2021.
Leslie Diuguid: I can’t wear these. (removing headphones)
Corey Durbin: I can’t hear you.
LD: (muffled) . . . blah blah blah blah
CD: Okay, I got you.
LD: Okay, here I am, but yeah, that’s the disappointing thing. What the fuck, and also just like you work so hard to get all the way there (in the Art world) and there’s just still idiots all over the place, just still idiots, haha. The whole country has been taken over by these monster idiots who like have a bunch of money and it’s like, good for you, you got all the money, but are just dumb as rocks, most of ya’s. Surprising.
CD: Yeah, which I’m sure is one of the big takeaways you have too, from working in the Art World so long
LD: I mean it’s nice to have gotten there, to see what’s going on under the skirt of what the art world is like. Coming from really valuing Beautiful Losers and that whole side of shit, back in 2007. When it was like, “This is college and it’s great,” and then you’re thinking, where do I wanna fit in after college? You’re seeing the cool superstars and alumni ruling the town you’re at and you see them going to New York, so you’re like, yeah, I’ll go to New York. And you see these bike videos and neat culture fits and you get a good feel of where you wanna be and you go towards that, and I didn’t even realize there’s such a push towards that because of what had been like . . . propaganda in college, in a good way too, I mean, its culture, and you chase that. It’s a subconscious thing in a lot of ways, like failing all the way there. The little choices you make after you get hit by a car, get you to the point where you can live in New York and sustain your own shit eventually.
But all life has to be considered this, Corey, it takes a whole lifetime to get there! It’s not about getting there to that dream position, it’s about where you’re at because by the time you get to whatever career goal most art school kids are encouraged to have, you’re old and you’re ugly and you’re weird and you don’t have the social life to be able to go and flaunt around like the old days. So it’s nice to have had that and gained a culture and respect from community peers that I value and look up to. It’s all been powering what Du-Good Press is, because of the name too, but I came up with this whole concept of the press back in like 2015? 16? I was working for Kayrock then and I stayed with friends then—you know, Kansas City art school, everybody splits east or west—so some friends from school out there let me stay with them and we would all just get high at night and come up with all these neat ideas, I had an epiphany like “this is what Du-Good press is!” Like, “I can do it!” And it all made sense, because it was a tribute to my grandfather who had just died, lots of dramatic things, you’re in your 20’s, it’s a lot of life happening. Also being used to being so unstable made it easy to graduate into being like “fine for COVID,” haha.
CD: Haha, yeah, the building you talk about with how you immerse yourself into the “art culture,” whether or not it’s actually mostly idiots, you do still have to find your peers and find your own way to navigate through it, which ultimately brings you to whatever you’re able to do now.
LD: That’s the thing, because we talk shit, and however many idiots there are, that’s also how many special people there are, there’re a lot of really glorious people along the way. So it becomes easy to chase those people and put them in your pocket and do away with the dead weight. Kind of edit your lifestyle around what you choose to collect in every way, and your preferences guide where you’re going. But that’s the thing I’m learning that’s really valuable in life, when you’re broke as fuck most of the time and you got change and that’s about it, it’s the connections that kept me afloat. But I was also just not taking care of myself and making stupid decisions some days, so like, if you give somebody a bunch of money, the government, you gotta fix the problems or else you’re gonna have more irresponsible people with money just doing what’s right for their own survival because these times are so desperately fucked. But, if you have an opportunity to invest in yourself and whatever you can do in your space that you’re qualified for, or passionate about, there’s other ways we can be encouraged to connect without being so judge-y. Something outside of just not doing anything, or like, tweeting. I don’t do Twitter, do you understand it?
CD: I don’t really do Twitter either. I feel like Instagram and Facebook back in college were the only social media I ever really participated or had a drive to participate in. And it’s strange, I find myself loathing it constantly but feeling unable to separate from it, you know, especially as an attempted working artist, or “creative” or whatever you wanna call it. I imagine you do a fair amount of business or conversation about it, over Instagram?
LD: Sometimes, I force people to do emails because I can’t keep track of Instagram, it can erase and be invisible and whatever, so I’m just like email me whatever you’re talking about, chances are I will ignore you if you keep writing on Instagram, haha. But I’m easily overwhelmed, I’m mostly living in the world so I can’t handle more extremes, and more places to check messages, I can’t handle it. That’s why once the sun goes down I’m like NOPE gotta start printing because that’s my little rabbit hole.
CD: You start printing at night?
LD: I start printing at night, so once the sun goes down I start panicking. It’s just more intense because of COVID and being alone for so long, I’m more sensitive about the sun and time, things happen. I focus all my energy on doing these prints for people really fast and really well, but it’s such a juggling act when it comes to managing time in my funny little space, but it’s fun. It’s pretty boiled down now though, so I don’t panic anymore.
CD: That’s good! Also, I feel like I need to interject and remind you this automatically records everything and I’m just dictating everything later.
LD: I hope—is this going okay? I’m just rambling.
CD: Yeah, no, it’s good, I just wanted to say that, because at no point did we say like, here we go.
LD: Is this go?!
CD: Well I just noticed we’re already getting into what you’ve been doing and like—
CD + LD: yadda yadda yadda
CD: Yeah, also just, because we’re talking about platforms and this need to brand, I wanted you to know. And if we’re talking casually, you’re comfortable with whatever being out there.
LD: Yeah, fuck it.
CD: You know, face of a business, even though I hate that sort of thing.
LD: Yeah, I mean, I assume you’ll let me read it first, but I’m fine saying I was high in LA.
CD: I’ll suss it out later, whatever this is, make sure we say whatever you wanna say.
LD: Good luck
CD: Haha. Well like myself sometimes, I know you are able to talk a lot in this sort of endless stream of connections that just sort of never stop-
CD: Just do you and we’ll see. . . . So you started . . . eh, I don’t know if I wanna do that
LD: We can start wherever you want, I don’t do linear very well.
CD: Totally. But, you started, haha, started Du-Good Press in 2017, then were a founding member of Black Women in Print in 2019?
CD: But I read how your father and grandfather were also prominent Black business owners? You mentioned your grandfather before, is this where you get some of this drive from, even though it’s a different realm?
LD: It’s not even a drive, it’s just you become your parents in a weird way. I find that I’ve become my grandparents more than my parents even. It’s weird how much these things are magnified because of small things like initials? But because I’m a fourth-generation LD: Leslie, Lewis, Lincoln, Lewis again before that. Because there’s that connectedness just in a name, you research where’d they come from and what they’re about. That put extra pressure on me finding something, and my dad prompted me throughout my life like, “You’re great, and here’s another weird thing about time or space!” He says weird interesting stuff all the time, because he’s a journalist, and being that engaged with someone who’s raising you at the same time makes you more sensitive to your surroundings. Like, “Oh, he’s interesting. I wonder what other people are about.” He’s asking me questions that are actually interesting, and I realize a lot of kids didn’t have that, some didn’t have fathers, period, but other kids didn’t get to have people that engaged in their life, and that’s a privilege that I’ve been able to carry into other parts of my life.
I’d have teachers that were like, “She’s the daughter of a journalist,” and gave me preferential treatment of what they expected from my education. They’d call like, “Leslie is bad at reading for a first-grader, you better do something about it!” Haha. Now I’m good at it, but it took some work and it was embarrassing in a family of scholars, to have this kid, compared to my four-year-old cousins who could read the newspaper already. Anyway, there’s pressure to do something. I found what my something was and I put it into a form that can replicate what my grandfather started, to make an impact in a community that needs to see some shifts happen. There’s so many problems. And it’s the same problems just intensified now. Like social justice shit, that happened because of George Floyd’s murder and all the terribleness from last summer, of course, that influenced every Black person humongous-ly, whether you’re indoors by yourself or a social person. But you know, the way that’s empowered me to use my privilege I know that I’ve known I’ve had since childhood, to—oh yeah I was gonna look at this thing my dad just said—(read from phone) “I was thinking today that if Leslie still had her car it would’ve been 14 years old this year, and Adrianne’s would have been 16 years old this year.” Isn’t that nice?
CD: Yeah it’s funny how he dates it like—
LD: He makes it in a way that you have to backtrack to know what year you got that car, and what the fuck you were doing in 2010 or whatever.
CD: But it is very, like, journalistic: facts, discovery, story.
LD: Exactly! And it engages you in that particular moment, so I said, “Wow, I remember that new car feeling, time flies. My car is long gone but I suppose it was mine for half of its life at this point. Sold it in 2013 which was a big help in getting me where I am today, thank you car!” I rarely talk with him on the phone, but we text, have these special moments and it’s very encouraging to have this wing I didn’t have before COVID, because I was working all the time. As in, throwing my phone like ‘fuck it’ when I needed to do big-screen stuff at Powerhouse. It’s cool to have your “dream job,” but you sacrifice a lot, like family building, perhaps that could have happened. Potential avenues that other people have had the opportunity to pursue, but if you’re engaged in your own artistic growth and separate business, you put personal stuff on hold. Not even like you’re looking for that partnership, you find that in art. Pursuing that love and passion for the sanctity of creating art objects, even for people to sign as their own, has been such a high esteem I’ve been able to accomplish.
CD: As an artist yourself, you seem like you’re more interested in this process, and you’re building a community, you’re supporting the community with your work. We can talk a little bit about the “Du-Good In Unity” prints, but also that your process seems, especially the way you talk about color, that you’re sort of experiencing the process along the way, and talk about it as a way to learn and understand more ideas. New ideas. Which can also be like a journalistic thing.
LD: That’s a good key to exploring your own potential to make an impact in the world. It’s finding, like, what do they say, you find some boots and you pull em up and you strap on bootstraps or something? Haha. But, it should be more like you cut yourself and then you grow a scab and you pick at it.
CD: Seems accurate.
LD: Like wounding, discomfort, I gotta feel. You live in such stupid ways to make life’s suffering cool, and then you kinda make your own band-aids, there’s an analogy there but I forgot where I was going with that.
CD: I was talking about your interests as an artist being more wrapped around the processes within screenprinting than about making an object.
LD: I’ve been learning so much, the conclusion I’ve come to has been that I’m really gathering all this data from my life, that data collected from everyday experiences, not just printing, but you know, the ways I have to manage small spaces.
CD: You’re on what number of print shop that you’ve built out of an apartment?
LD: Two. But even before that, it’s just about being able to transition between day and night. Like, you’re gonna be outside all day, it’s wintertime, how many things can you cram in your bag before you look like a bag lady in a gallery, you know? Those small personal space issues, or of transition, have played into the type of unification that can happen on your own devices, of what you have in reach to really get where you’re trying to go. Everyday decisions become a spaceship in a way. It’s been neat to apply all those small moments of data, managing how I’ve lived my life in New York, hard and weird, for all of it. Then you realize, as a 34-year-old, analyzing your past to navigate your growth, god, you’ve made the same amount for like ten years. Which was great back in my early 20s, but it’s getting late 20s, 30s, every year about the same amount until recently, goddammit that was such a ceiling. And working more and more just to make that same amount. Cost of living keeps increasing, so there’s not really any way to get beyond that, except graduating into ownership. Taking on the potential I’ve seen shop owners manage in places that I’ve worked. And it’s not like I think I’m better than them, no way, they’re amazing! They’re geniuses! They’re masters of this shit. I hate the word master though. When you own a shop you’re not master over people, you’re a master over craft. That’s often confused because the market you’re creating within a structure to support your business, is more similar to how a plantation is run. It’s not that you’re not paying your workers, you are, but you’re paying them the minimum amount so that the product is most profitable. Put the production cost at the most minimal rate so that the client can get what they’re looking for at the cheapest amount, and the boss gets what they need to pay overhead and not much else. I’m probably wrong, but that’s how it felt. So that’s why I had a problem doing the large production stuff. Looking back. Not at the time, at the time I was honored to be a part of this team, and it’s great to pick up all these pieces of knowledge just by doing it every day. And being trusted to take it on, because I’m really good at asking questions and finding problems—pattern recognition when it comes to printing all day. Oh here’s problems, STOP THE PRESSES!
But the thing I had a problem with, like with the Dread Scott thing; we were reproducing these flags from the 1920s, the NAACP came out with the original “A MAN WAS LYNCHED YESTERDAY” to inform people in New York City that this was still happening in the South. It’s like 1920, we feel like there’s progress, W.E.B. Du Bois doing all this stuff, talking all over the place, Madam CJ Walker, super-rich lady, and she’s Black, there’s all this success Black people are seeing, Harlem is banging. But also, there’s discrimination running rampant and there’s the repercussions from the reconstruction period in the South, where Black people are getting lynched. There’s this shift that swings the pendulum in time, happening multiple places at once, and that injustice needs to be expressed to people who think that they’re privileged. Actually, your brothers and sisters are being murdered, and you don’t even know about it. So don’t celebrate too soon, because we gotta go and keep fighting, the NAACP says. But I’m probably wrong, I don’t like to preach too hard about facts.
CD: No, I mean you seem informed, but it is a grossly undereducated topic in America in general. And you’re informed by your own experience.
LD: Yeah I mean, Dred Scott remade that flag in response to the police murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile in 2015 I think, not sure about the specifics of what the flag was for, you just get asked to do a job at work. I felt like part of the team and it was super fun to do it, PHYSICALLY DIFFICULT. I had these big sandwiches for lunch every day but I was still super skinny, because it’s so fucking hard to get your body under control to do this large-scale printing, which was really amazing to do, and I wish I could do it more in my shop, but I don’t have the space. The problem is the flag took a lot of runs to do it, it was rejected several times because it wasn’t waterproof, windproof, all these obstacles. and made whatever would work best super toxic, so that was out the window. We found some solution that eventually worked, stuck well enough to be outdoors. The original was probably sewn or tapestry, but I gotta go to the Library of Congress to look at it closely, because 1920-ish is also when screen printing really became a thing on large-scale textiles like that. There was also this stencil process that was booming at the time, it’s a really interesting time to mirror now, also around when my Grandpa was born, that 100-year gap is a really good period of time to think of that point of relativity and memory. I need my prints to last so that our grandchildren have that point, not that I’m going to have grandchildren, the murder rate and death rate in hospitals is alarming, I’d rather just be an artist. Not that you can’t have children and be an artist, you know, it’s just, ahhhh, priorities I guess.
CD: You mentioned both your capability in your home studio, and your “Looking Back” print, did you want to talk about your “Black Woman was Exploited Today” print?
LD: Yeah the parallel is that it was difficult at the time, seeing it, there was this post that Dread Scott and Kayrock put out that said, “We printed this in 2015,” or whatever. You’re an Art Handler too so you get it, it’s the injustice that happens whenever an artist posts you doing something without your permission or knowledge, nor do they tag you or anything and you’re like damn I made this for you and you don’t even have the respect to like tag me in this shit, it was a really difficult job and I didn’t even get enough money to make a living. Stepping down from that position was one of the hardest and best decisions I’ve made, but that post coming up a couple days after George Floyd was murdered, “A Man Was Lynched By Police Yesterday” is the Dread Scott one, no harm towards the guy and publisher I’m just saying that production needs to be thought of when you’re making anything that’s a scale larger than you’re able to handle on your own. And as an Art Handler I think you can also identify with that, this mindlessness artists tend to have often is detrimental to those who have to create these projects for them. But maybe there are better ways to do it?
Also, you can have a high level of quality and choose to produce to a scale that’s manageable, and have more of an impact with that handmade thing as a sacred object. There’s a lot of special qualities I put into things being made at this scale that can be reproduced 666 times. A scale that can be impactful in a similar way that a big flag can be, especially because it’s made by a person who’s experienced that problem. Which the problem is identified in mine, because the Black woman is exploited today and not thought of as an equal human being, still at times. Because of the pay gap, we see this, even if you do get to these positions, even if you do get to a point of being in your dream job there’s still gonna be a new secretary in some office making more than you. Despite your decades’ worth of experience, to get your NBA status at whatever career you’ve chosen.
CD: I mean, it is crazy. I think the only major artist I’ve seen, I believe it’s Murakami, who has these giant produced works, while installing one of his shows, we saw on the back of a piece that all the people who had worked on it had signed it, so there’s a record that they had a hand in it, which I think is really cool. That’s not usually the case, and so often, to an extent Handlers who are asked to make or manipulate a work, but more so the people producing the work, fabricate it, like you and that Dread Scott flag, get totally ignored, and—
LD: For pennies too on what that shit’s worth, then people were reposting that shit in 2020 like, “Omg where can I buy this? Can I buy this?”
CD: Yeah, and you walk into a gallery, and they’re still so white, everyone working in the gallery is white, most of the artists represented, not just given a temporarily satiating solo or group show or art fair appearance, are white. Or your role as an artist, if you’re Black, is only called upon to represent topical Black things. Of course, that’s not 100%, and there’s white people working in production too, but the opportunities for POC in the arts exist more in production, and it’s an unseen and under-credited role where you aren’t valued for the amount of effort you put into making. As a printer in general, and with everything going on now, we’ll applaud Black women for saving the world and still under-appreciate them.
LD: And you know it’s fine, like it’s normal a normal thing to have it happen. It’s a thing I was catching onto in my early teens and I would go to my mom and, throughout my life, told her these different little fucked up things where it’s like, “Ahhhh something racist!” haha. I forget specific instances but I’d be like, “You know what I’m talking about?” She’s like, “Yeah, duh, go sit down,” looking at me like I’m dumb, “You’re just figuring that out? Of course, you have to be twice as good, that’s why you have to play the piano every day, now go get back to it!” You know, there’s different ways of handling it, what the Black experience looks like and how it impacts people, isn’t a monolith, duh, but it’s about how we handle ourselves and how we look at time and space, and it’s funny to have it so shortened now.
There’s not that much record of that long ago, there’s no need to look at the weather from yesterday ever, you know, history is erased quick and you don’t look back at it. Times change so fast we don’t really have the time to sit still and look back. So looking back at that flag as things needed to change so fast inspired me to figure out different ways of managing finances for what I wanted my future to look like. So it doesn’t overwhelm me or stress me out to the point where I have to hire workers for pennies. I don’t want my economy to support that, another one of those. And it’s not one person’s fault, not those companies’ fault for taking those jobs and not understanding the impact it had on me much later. I didn’t say anything at the time, it’s just like, “Whelp, I’m fine!” I fully take responsibility for that and am analyzing all this to find my own way forward.
CD: Well you do what you have to to get by, and are made to feel privileged to do it, you’re convinced like, “I GET to do this,” as opposed to having a valuable or desired skill set from experience.
LD: The artist has such an ego too, it’s more about them and it being their work. And just because you’re getting paid to help with it, it doesn’t make it yours, of course not. I love that because it removes the responsibility of explaining, “Well that’s what this is about!” Haha. I don’t have to care, I just have to care about making it look great. Making their job easy, making them look good, only reflects on me looking better, so I’m happy to give all the credit to the artist and say like, “Look at this artwork that this wonderful person made,” you know?
CD: Totally, but you know also, the galleries who usually fund these large works have the money to pay people appropriately for it, and just don’t.
LD: Oh yeah true, a whole other way to get fucked.
CD: They just penny-pinch and fuck over working people, including their own lower-level employees. Also, the artist, if sales can’t do their job of selling it, like, “Oh now you owe us for production costs.”
LD: But if all the print shops work around that model because it’s “normal,” of course it’s not gonna change, like is that model necessary? Do we have to? I don’t know, there’s ways to make it less risky to do business, making certain things predictable in some ways and flexible in others. The thing I’ve found over COVID, doing prints in my room and working with clients, has been the economy of resources that I have, the raw material of myself, and paper I can handle. It’s all managed in the space I have, like how can I take this rocket further along? Like, I can handle 22 x 30 paper, I get it, put it away and have it available to clients so their maximum size is this maximum I have available and everything revolves around my knowledge of what is capable here. I’m looking at my model of how do I charge people for this kinda stuff, because it’s difficult to print a one-color thing, and sometimes it’s easier to print a twelve-color thing depending on how it’s made, but each thing needs the same amount of care. Sometimes I can print twelve colors in one day but sometimes I can fuck up one color in a day and it sucks, takes longer to fix.
CD: We got a little bit away from the “Exploited” print itself but you produced that, selling it as a way, along with a GoFundMe, to fund opening up a separate space where you can expand and grow toward what you’d like to see out of a print shop.
LD: Yeah, and it’s all Math connected. Managing space and time and shit I have a maximum amount of money I can make, because the most a print I can make can sell for might max out at like $400, so I have to max cap everything and work backwards from there, and inwards from a different point so the price per print is based on the quality standards I have, relative to what I know in my own market, and that’s taken me over a decade of working in it to understand. Selling that to clients is easy because I’m having this conversation with them and handling it all myself. Putting that knowledge toward what I need financially to expand to the next level, applied to this print that says “A Black Woman was Exploited Today,” to correct that wage gap, I need to sell 666 prints at $60 each. Because that’s also what I could afford at the time to buy a dress or whatever else you find randomly on Amazon. I don’t know, a splurge at the dollar store haha.
CD: Oh, yeah the great benefit of NYC is still your local corner store, dollar store, deli, bodega, etc. Being a great resource not to shop at Amazon. Maybe we don’t give them enough credit for trying to save us. Haha
LD: So many still end up being owned by the most garbage people though! And it’s great to shop local but it can be inconsistent and hard to rely on. Also, as a local person looking for real estate and failing at it, it’s hard to be a contender. I tried before, but my GoFundMe was so underfunded that the math didn’t add up for me and I couldn’t project what I imagined financially to support rent. Pulled the plug early before it became too consequential, which was a good decision, but now I’m spaceless and just using my little rocketship home I’ve got to continue production for the jobs in Spring. So I’m happy to stay put, but I’m also getting really itchy to go. I live in a house with 6 guys and I’m doing this in my room, it’s pretty rude, but also everyone else is cleaning up their shit and getting their act together when it comes to their creative ways of living, so it’s really cool to live among such neat people. I don’t think I would move myself, unless there’s a much better opportunity in a new space. Point being, of my own ability and standards, that math can support a helper, but that helper would have to use their own time and efficiency standards, and there’s gotta be a set price that I can build into each job.
That’s the only way I can manage a scaled-up version of what I’m doing. I don’t wanna get so big that you lose track of things and start producing stuff just because you have to pay rent. All that time and care you put in each project being wasted on overhead like that? No! I want that to go in my pocket, or their pocket, that shit was made with love, I don’t wanna give it to some greasy landlord who isn’t gonna help fix anything or help with the expenses that are gonna be needed to get me open in the first place. So like $100,000 or like $60K minimum is necessary for the build-out I needed to happen to the space, and since I was nowhere near that I was just like NOPE. Wasn’t even gonna try to ramp up fundraising, it’s just best to take our time in these transition periods, but bringing it into my room for now made it easy to be flexible and understand what direction I wanna take it.
So, 666 prints at $60, I’ve sold about 65 at this point, I needed to sell like 100 to pay for the first deposit. I had enough from doing other jobs for the whole year to pay that so it wasn’t necessary to get 100 sales in by a specific time, but I had all these ridiculous goals at the beginning of my fundraising that became more and more disappointing as I failed. When you put yourself in this position, where you have all these dates set and goals you expect to happen, you become very hopeful and wish-y of things without necessarily having, I didn’t, a real plan in place to support the amount of push needed to get to that success level. Like what’s failing in the vaccine rollout, we’re all getting excited like YAY and aren’t really thinking about logistics.
But you know, that point of failure doesn’t come as a huge surprise. We’ve been getting fucked over for a minute. And I continue to live in my funny little shelter, loving it, but can’t help but feel for all the fucked over people right now. So, point of the story, I need to grow my practice so I can continue supporting artists and benefit editions for other people. Not making it so expensive for a person I wanna work with that they couldn’t afford it. Working together and helping each other promote so we make a sale happen, and make it worth it for everyone. That should be reflected in more industries, maximizing the impact and cutting all the waste. You know, there’s offcuts and stuff to be used as drawing paper, but so many industries just make stuff for shits and giggles, and there’s so much waste.
CD: The amount of waste in an Art environment is pretty gross. The amount of trash that results from a vanity in overabundance. But the thing I always loved about printmaking, especially because you’re thinking so economically about it, is that they are the ways people can afford to have art now, at least by more popular artists. Even at small and mid-tier galleries, there’s a price point that’s so unreachable by poor and working-class people. And so often then we mistake art as being these niche design collectibles for rich people, and excludes whole communities and cultures from participating in “fine” art. It’s great to have print shops concerned economically and environmentally about their output as much as they are being accessible to people. To make prints for rising artists, and then being able to sell them for, even if it was for $400, nothing compared to most alternatives.
LD: Yeah and you think about 400 bucks, and max it out at a hundred of them that’s still a fuck ton of money, you know, for whoever gets some.
CD: Yeah, and the casual viewer being like, “I wish I could have an Alexander Harrison,” and this is a way they can actually have access to them, own a work by them. More people deserve Art that isn’t necessarily just made by their friends or at IKEA.
LD: Wow, that’s the best print I’ve ever made. Every one I’ve just made is the best print I’ve made, but that one is for real, the best. That’s the other thing, I don’t know a lot of these people until I’m asked to print for them so it’s neat to be that filter, to be that creative pulse for people who need my services. For Drawer, the publisher of that print, they’re trying to look ethically for ways to produce an edition that supports what they do, to support other artists on their platform, and it’s cool to be part of that. Also, my efficiency standards help, all this communication that may be tons of people elsewhere all just goes through me, and in my power to be resourceful. In my room, it’s on me to do it well and be mindful of my energy and time. And not in opposition to other places I’ve worked, it’s just doing it all in one makes me more aware of how I can expand this to different people in this job. I’d definitely hire an assistant, but I’m not trying to take time off press. I just need more help when it comes to scaling up production.
But you know, if you’re the boss of a place, Murakami, sure, he can have his helpers sign on the back but I’m sure they’re still making pennies compared to him of course. Fine Art has its quality standards lacking in a different place. But it’s about respecting workers and not treating people like slaves. Or making it a place for training and advancement to happen and apprenticeships— a practical version of art school where you get paid to go. For instance, per edition, I hope to have one standard helper, my friend Janice is at my side, but I’d like an expert in each department if I need help. A specialist when it comes to colors would be helpful to have on press. Paying people fees per duty, when it just comes to being a person who is a resource and paying them for their time. Somehow these little things worked out, or made more sense, coming from me doing all of it myself, after it gets dark. Haha. It used to be 9-5 and I’d do emails at lunch, so I used to take care of it all in less time technically, but the ability to take on more to support myself in my own time, and not having a ‘day job’ anymore is really cool. To grow.
CD: Is working at night because of a light issue? Or just how you work?
LD: It’s just emails. I have to communicate with people during the day. I can’t ignore emails. I get like fifty new shits a day and I’m like, “Ahhhhh!” and reply before people can be like, “Can you respond to my thing?” So there’s more new projects to take on, which is cool, but I can’t let that overtake the production I’ve been doing, no way.
CD: So you’re like a day communicator and a night owl worker.
LD: Yeah, it used to be flipped though, it just depends on the season. It’s so dark all the time it makes it easy to prioritize nighttime in a sense, like the suns going down, “your screens not burned yet, better get on it!” Otherwise, I can’t tell time when the sun’s not doing its duty. But in the summertime it was cool because it was the opposite, I used to do communication at night and fix it in the morning. But doing this all in my own space and time, in my own way, because it’s COVID, makes it so much easier to be creative in ways I communicate that make me comfortable, and work for me. I’m used to being so judged about the way I do it. Like, you’re late, you smell funny, why didn’t you talk to me at lunch? And it’s like I wanna talk to you but I have to do EMAILS. Social obligation not being there anymore makes it so I can be Steve Urkel and be a robot, and no one’s bothering me while I’m pouring. I love it. I’m having a blast.
CD: It is strange, the double-edged sword, the lack of social life has been to people working in art. It’s also this weird social thing where people are like, “Oh you have all this free time for your art!” as if people aren’t all still going through something.
LD: That’s the thing though, if you do have all this free time AND have a whole trampoline to play with at home, this laboratory of endless exploration, if you’re resourceful with your tools and knowledge, anybody can be a scientist in their own little way, developing, exploring their surroundings. That’s why I wanna have a platform to be able to preach that better. I have friends who are teachers that have these ways of thinking of, not education really, but like applied science and math to real-world circumstances, activating everything by exposing its potential.
CD: Do you feel though, since you are producing these prints for other people, and doing all the communicating, that you are getting a little bit of that social aspect?
LD: Oh god yes, I meet so many new people just on the internet. And I’ve gotten to talk at schools. Weird, Corey, all the cool ones, I talked to MICA, and to Pratt. Many more!
CD: About your printing process?
LD: Schools mostly, WVU, a bunch of schools, it’s been neat. They mostly just ask you the, “Where’d you come from, what are you doing?” sort of thing and I can zazz it up however I feel, but when it comes to like, “Okay I gotta make a slideshow,” I’m like fuck. The extra time dings me up a bit.
CD: I’m bad at that too, the slideshow thing. Even preparing for this, you can see this pad. I try to write notes and interesting things about what you’re doing, but really the only way I know how to function is a loose conversation.
CD: I imagine getting in front of a room of people and being stuck to this slideshow, or tripping up over trying to reference notes and just freaking the fuck out.
LD: Yeah, you make it work, but also you (Corey) have this way of working that’s about how things can be beat and distorted, so it also becomes the process that’s interesting. And if you’re not that interested in what you’re trying to reference, it’s like, who wants to look back? I got all this forward direction to go. But I’m not an introspective person, I think. I take all these pictures all the time but I don’t ever look at any of them. It’s hard to do that unless I see an Instagram post I’ve made over the years. And that’s another thing, when it comes to the non-encapsulation of time that’s in media devices, it’s like reliance on tapes. Those were things we put out and it’s not easy to find new tape players anymore, is there gonna be technology to listen to those tapes in ten years? Or whatever’s on Soundcloud now? I’m down with it, but it’s hard to produce in an eternally resourceful way, that’s why I value works on paper so much, it’s easy to carry and store and move, it ages too. It’s also just nice to make things of worship in that way and make a living out of that. It’s not a ballin’ living, I don’t wanna make a bunch of money either, so I’m not gonna charge a bunch of people out the wazoo for my glorious services, and people who do know about me can hit me up anytime. But, at the same time, I just did a print for Barry McGee, through Fort Makers, so it’s cool to slam dunk those life goals I hoped were possible when I was a whatever-year-old in college. But you know, it took a decade and change of failure and trying.
CD: It’s interesting hearing you talk about time in different ways, like taking pictures with your phone all day and never looking at them, you don’t “look back.” And then, so much of your work now seems to reference the past specifically, but always speaking in present terms.
LD: Well there’s a goal, there’s an orientation. And that perspective is the thing to be chased, that’s the carrot. And when it comes to the carrot being my future space, and the potential I can have within it, to be prepared for that I need to look back and understand what I’m capable of. That perspective reference is always there, and the time between is like these branches of knowledge that grow between evolutions. This decade I was in this borough, that decade I was in Kansas City, etc. These jumps are referenced all the time in my decision-making, like there’s a tree that connects them, but I’m not at a point now where I need to look back at what I just did. As if I have amnesia, or bad short-term memory, and I’m looking back in the long term to inform my bigger periods, because right now as a thirty whatever-year-old I’m a third in. I’m deep enough in life, realizing this journey has passed the beautification phase, but I’m using my mind, my resources, trying to propel that same beauty to different parts of my situation. It needs to be referenced as a bigger period of time. But also, I can’t look at things in my past as a reference point beyond the hundred years. I don’t understand it. But I do understand what my family at that point was the product of. Like, I’m light-skinned because a bunch of light-skinned people got together, not because there’s white people in my past, it’s just that time hasn’t gone that far since slaves were raped, and it was common for people of similar color to feel like they had something in common. Not that there’s not other things to have in common, it’s just, there’s a reason why we’re here, all of us, and it’s not coincidence that that point in time has gotten us to where we’re at.
CD: History is always a presence, a present.
LD: It’s like, who cares about what JUST happened in a sense, live it, feel it, keep doing it. It’s like accounting, you don’t necessarily need to look at your bank statements every day, but look at every few weeks and you can do some specific tracking. It’s a tracking thing. Perspective, Corey, all about it.
CD: I don’t know man, I’m dogshit about money. Like I’m fine with it, but as far as like, everyone’s a GameStop day trader right now and I can’t seem to understand it at all.
LD: I love that so many different types of people are fucking up the systems that are there. Because they don’t apply to what we’re going through anymore. Like that obviously doesn’t reflect the economy, so a bunch of individual traders are fucking with the big dogs and getting money out of that, it’s crazy! They gotta payout millions!
CD: There’s at least some people struggling to find work right now who were able to fuck rich people out of so much money, and they’re panicking that there’s poor people who understand their con, and it’s beautiful.
LD: That’s how the systems were set up, for these big businesses to succeed. So being a responsible small business puts me in a position to be replicated by other small businesses. We don’t have to have a giant team of a million people to do whatever your service is better. You can actually have a better impact and know your client base as friends and have them as resources when you need their services back, legally or otherwise, haha. You have an actual support system without having to necessarily trust healthcare. I’m lucky that my cousin and uncle are doctors, but I don’t have health insurance. I lost it when I left that job and got busy working. Whoops. I don’t feel like I’m in danger necessarily, like I’m gonna die any minute, but I’m also just not worried about, “Oh I gotta go back to the dentist for a teeth cleaning!” I did that when I had that job, got all those checks out of the way. One year’s worth of healthcare is good enough. Haha.
CD: Is there anything else specifically you’re working on that you wanted people to know about?
LD: I have this Brittany Tucker edition coming out soon. In the next few weeks. That’ll be cool, something to look out for. I’m still fundraising for my buildout. Though I can’t get another lease until Summer, I’d have to raise at least $50k by springtime. My mind is on editions, I have 7 going on right now. I also realized if I’m going to have my own space I’m going to have to do more of my own publications. It’s cool to be able to ask people to print with me because I can do it. To ask and treat them like clients and just not charge them to do it, sell it on my site, and split the funds, that’s great. Conie Vallese has a print up on my site, it’s more expensive than anything I’ve ever put out, but there’s only 18 of them. It’s also fundraising the Free Black Women’s Library and Human Rights Watch. And then, I’m so excited, I have a solo show of proofs at Subliminal Projects coming up too. That Alexander Harrison in Drawer should be out by the time this comes out.
CD: Cool, yeah, we’ll definitely link the “Looking Back . . . ” prints, and whatever else you want. With that did you want to talk about the Du-Good in Unity prints?
LD: Yeah totally, I am pausing that project because I do need to focus on editions and publications that are limited and promote what my passion is. I prefer splitting the money with the artist and not necessarily just what they’re trying to support with their art. I feel better giving people the money, instead of being trusted to give that individual’s money to another institution, not that I always totally distrust institutions. I’m still doing Du-Good in Unity sales, and those are open editions—to fill the gap in my heart that needs to support nonprofits. It’s my duty even though I’m not a nonprofit. Those are cool, but I’m capping that period of time. It’s just from 2018-2020, the times I was operating the Press and Trump was in office. The anniversary of the first Women’s March is when we started it, and kept going every year he was in office, because it was important to empower women artists, cause they wanted to support. So, their artwork could fund the social change they wanted to see made.
I just printed it and co-curated it with Erin Welsh. But Tanekeya Word, doing it for Black Women of Print was super cool, that was part of the last batch. It was all Black Women of Print artists, me being one of them, and a lot of the editions that I sell in it go toward after-school programming with, like, Book Friends, giving educational resources to children in countries that don’t have access. And Artistic Noise is really cool, it shares art practices with young adults who are system-involved. Tanekeya Word is the Head Founder/President of Black Women of Print and with her publication sales, we were able to raise enough to get nonprofit status and get us off the ground. I’m all about disrupting the wealth gap. Having different ways to help friends support what I’m doing, and promote them as well. It’s all about that equitable way you can be resourceful. But really, I’m also just always fucking things up in weird ways, so I’m never confident like, “Oh THIS is the way you do it!” Haha.
CD: Well, I mean, it seems like you’ve done a great job of unhesitatingly continuing to fail forward. And you’re growing with every iteration of what you’re doing.
LD: Thank you, yeah, I feel like there’s an intuitive thing that I’m good at, from being really sensitive in environments. I can have that focus in the moment, I’m really good at putting out fires, and understanding what needs to be done at any particular time, and putting blinders on everything else. But I apply that to all sorts of different and there’s different ways that same sort of material mindfulness and care can be applied to governmental resources, it can be applied to a body of people. Dots, bodies, whatever kinds. You have to be functioning based on that problem, that need. But there’s so many structures out there that we’re all having to chase to fit ourselves into, and they’re just shapes no one wants to conform to. We’re all organic things, you don’t wanna be just this position, fit this box, and do this type of thing, because that doesn’t stimulate growth and success. All these factors that just pinched me into getting out. But as an artist you feel that pinch in different ways, and what our goal is, is to use our impactfulness, instead of giving it away. To use it to make the change we want to see. Survive the way we need to be surviving. Just better. The world needs to fit to our standards, we’re done fitting ourselves to what already exists, and that’s super against baby boomer shit, I’m not saying, “Socialism!” but things need to be reevaluated.
Like, what is money? What is value? What are these systems really, what are taxes? Why do I pay this much rent? Like who’s taking care of this shit? It doesn’t have to be always right, we just have to care about each other more. And it’s not there, and it’s never there, and it’s extremely evident, in my experience, Corey. You know, because I’m walking around looking like this, this is me on a good day. Sometimes I’m looking busted and crazy, and I do not get the same treatment anywhere in New York, doing what I have to do, when I have this big fro, looking like a gentle giant, people look on with cooing eyes and step out of my way and don’t hit me with their car. Haha. But often I’m just pressed in this city for space, and it has to do with people not respecting people who don’t look a certain way, and that’s just an energy and mindfulness thing. We all are just distracted by things that aren’t real, that take away from our interactions with other bodies. Not saying I’m perfect at all, no way, I ignore the world anytime I’m doing one little thing, but there’s different ways we can apply what we know to being the tree in the center of all these gaps in time. This is spacey me at night, this is what you get, told ya.
CD: No it’s great, and I feel like maybe that last sentiment was a nice bow on what you’re doing, that we can stop on.
LD: Well, there’s this one sentence I wrote, after finishing Alexander Harrison’s edition! Wait, it’s on my phone. (scrolling) Oh god oh god oh god, why do phones have to say so much stuff randomly? Okay, think it’s here at the bottom, oh, “Blackwords” haha, where’s Warren?
CD: Warren? I saw Warren (Jones, aka artist/musician False Prpht) when I was in Richmond a few months ago, and we hadn’t talked in a few years. We were able to reconnect and it was great. He’s also doing a lot of interesting and compelling thought work on his own Black experience.
LD: I know he would, I bet he would, no surprise at all. I was looking at his shit last year and got busy and forgot about it.
CD: Yeah, it’s definitely worth looking into if you haven’t recently.
LD: The thing I’m chasing really with all of it, experiencing printing in particular, because it is such a surface applied/fixed thing, where you have to do this special dance and it’s rhythmic, chasing what light does and captures, and it’s timeless. So it really can keep you alive for a century, which is what I care about. It’s all about this light manipulation/refraction that happens, and then the calm you get being in its presence. Taking that museum experience and putting it in a space that’s yours. Giving more power to that translation of those sacred objects, and getting something out of that life, together, with the time and space in between. Because that perspective and orientation on “what’s the center?” is really finding that emotional connectedness to yourself. And the more you know about how that piece was produced, in my eye, the more I appreciate the end results. But that’s only shown in the care that I put into these things, through the questions I ask these people. So it all becomes a pretty interview-y process when I do any print with a person. I have to figure out all these technical things, and also what their cares are within the print. I don’t necessarily ask A, B, C, D; they come to me and have these data sets and I organize them into different ways I can produce it.
CD: You create an individualized process for each artist you work with?
LD: I do, yeah, haha.
CD: That’s crazy, no, but it’s amazing. Because you have worked in all these print shops that have factory-style production, the “just get it done” quality. But all individuals, all artists are different, and would want different things from what they make, or want made.
LD: I try to sort it into different ways that make sense, that are relative to the places I’ve worked at and there aren’t a lot of parallels between them, unfortunately. By color, model makes sense—like more colors, more labor, more screens, more factors, but it doesn’t work out that way for me. I can make screens and shit really easily and I can fuck up small things real fast, so it needs to be a percentage of what the print would be worth, in my eyes. So, it’s always like 20% of what I think the print’s edition overall would be worth, is the median reference. It’s all based on quality standards I produce, which are never physically that large, mind you, there’s that maximum, it’s all about how many editions I can do in a month. I’m looking at numbers and how much I can make, but I value my time in different ways, so I’m not just chasing, “How much money can I get . . . blah blah blah.”
I’m also just going with the flow here, I have a production schedule that’s met for a minute, but I still have to pace myself and do one thing at a time, not trying to break my back here. It’s all by hand though, so it does really matter that that labor element is very Black powered, I’m very proud to produce it this way. I want to expand because I have all these materials and resources in random places that are stressful to keep in their precarity. So I am ready to expand, but I’m also enjoying my last moments here now. And it’s great for this fundraiser to be at this point because I can get some of the things that I’ve had on my list that need to be replaced, for instance, my computer is a decade old, so updating that while I’m in my same space will allow me to document what I’ve got set up here better. I’ve only been doing this for a year, a year and a half in this space, the rest of the time was at Royal (Jarmon)’s. It’s nice to be at a point where this is comfortable now, and not so much figuring it out, but obviously, you know, shit changes with the seasons, for real.
CD: It’s interesting, as you were saying that, and we’re thinking about Warren. He posted something earlier (on Instagram) where he was talking about appropriation, let me find it. I don’t want to misquote, since he has such a specific, blunt, and often challenging way of communicating:
“WE TALK WHAT’S BEING APPROPRIATED BY YT PPL/ NON BLK PPL FROM BLK PPL BUT WHAT AREN’T YT PPL/ NON BLK PEOPLE APPROPRIATING:
WE ARE ALWAYS TALKING ABOUT PHYSICAL FEATURES AND LANGUAGE BUT I PERSONALLY WISH YT PEOPLE AND NON BLK PPL WOULD STOP APPROPRIATING THE STRONG WORK ETHIC AND PRECISION OF BLACK PPL.”
LD: Wait say it again, the last part.
CD: The last thing he said? “WE ARE ALWAYS TALKING ABOUT PHYSICAL FEATURES AND LANGUAGE BUT I PERSONALLY WISH YT PEOPLE AND NON BLK PPL WOULD STOP APPROPRIATING THE STRONG WORK ETHIC AND PRECISION OF BLACK PPL,” which I thought meant, talking about America, especially, appropriating Black culture and Black bodies, as far as the appearance, the superficiality, of it. But we don’t talk about the appropriation of Black “WORK ETHIC AND PRECISION,” that I take to mean the ways in which Black people have had to constantly adapt and excel to exist in and influence a social structure that was not made for them to succeed.
LD: Ah yeah, see that’s the thing, I agree 100%, it took me a minute, I had to hear it a couple times. But that’s the thing, we’re all speaking our own alien language because we’re kinda fit into a box that’s not really meant for us. Like that tool of communication is maybe best in song for him, because we can really feel what the fuck he’s going through when he screams at you. But also that rhythm he’s producing is a different method of transportation and motion and experience that’s being put out. Which I super respect, and has been something that’s made much more sense later on. But that love for another person, when it comes to respecting their art and not understanding it all the way, is there. But I’m totally in line with that because that’s the thing with institutions and having a set of what standards of beauty look like, the Black experience a lot of the time is using what you have to create the best thing for whatever it’s for. So, it’s both making things pristinely perfect and “janky” sometimes, you know, but it’s also about getting the job done, and having that method transported through the way it looks. Or is functioning. There’s even “janky” ways in which my grandpa’s lab was put together, it was an old animal hospital, but it’s got landmark status now, that shit’s fancy and famous. I mean I don’t think it’s “fancy,” it’s still a crazy-looking laboratory, but it was decrepit and falling apart and he fixed it in the ways he needed it to function.
The goal is putting the quality into your product. It doesn’t necessarily have to be about this “untouchable unusable” space. That’s why I’m very proud to have my room be multifaceted in that way. But, it’s still very much the Black experience to be able to take what you got and make the most out of it, because that’s all you get, know what I mean? You can’t grow any bigger because you don’t get any more porridge, so there’s a certain amount you just gotta make work, and get as big as you can off the spinach instead. There’s some compromises there, but if you’re clever and you’re Black, because you’re used to not having a lot, you get generations of wealth when it comes to knowledge and the ways you put together those things you do have access to and saving what you can for later.
But also, being from my family, there were some savings, my parents had a bigger plan when it came to me and my sister’s public school education, and having a car, some things that were privileges, but it’s their careful planning and extreme thriftiness over my entire lifetime and my sister’s too that afforded us the college education we have now. My parents were middle class and frugal when they were in the most productive periods of their lives, when they were in their highest earning categories—which they aren’t anymore, they’re retiring and older. I see that, I know that will happen to me, probably earlier, because I’m using a lot of physical strength to get what I’m doing out there. I know I cannot do it forever, and that’s why I need to be doing what I’m doing now, with the physical resources that I have because they’re gonna be gone soon. I’m not trying to get off press, I really need to be eyeballs on all things I produce, but it’s a way of minding how my energy is used now that my body is getting old, I got another five, ten years before that shit gets weird.
CD: Before you start feeling old?
LD: I feel old all the time and it sucks, because I do all the stretches and stuff I can working in a little loop in my room. I don’t have to commute and walk as fast as I can for a mile to get to work, but those little changes in atmosphere really gave me a different body awareness, and I don’t do that anymore so I feel very looped in some ways. I also sleep on a futon, which I love, but it’s not super comfortable like a real bed or anything. Haha.
CD: Yeah you’ve adapted to this whole other thing that’s caused this great production level and concept of how you… I don’t even want to say ‘move forward,’ based on things you’ve said, it’s more about how you’re expanding your present?
LD: I’ve been trying to use my left hand more, that’s fun. It’s really bad at everything. It balances the other hand, but it’s as useful as a tail.
CD: But there is a sort of like, body sincerity, in using your amateurishness, that is nice.
LD: But that was also the nice thing about being around Royal when starting my business, you know, a painter who sort of always did things his own way and really put his body into what he was doing, that was really inspiring at the time. Plus he made my entire press from my designs. And that’s the thing when it comes to working around a lot of art and being asked an opinion when you’re working around all these fancy artists, and they’re all pondering amongst themselves and ignoring you mostly, getting to talk an elevator’s amount at most, it’s not really genuine. And I thought that was the glorious part about being in those positions and working in places like that, but you’re really just replaceable most of the time. Haha. But, you know, you do really want to make a good impression, because you only get one out of those types.
CD: I’m sure you’ve left a great impression with the artists you’ve worked with. The energy you bring into a room.
LD: That’s the thing Corey, I have. I’ve been doing the same thing for so fucking long, people are willing to trust me more now and that leads to a show at Subliminal, which is tight, because now I get to show all these crazy prints I’ve made over the years. I’ve never done that, it’ll be really cool to have this point of reference on display in LA, such a huge honor.
CD: Yeah that’s amazing, it’s this summer?
LD: Yeah the dates are so perfect, I’m such a junkie for time, when it comes to numbers. It goes from my dad’s birthday, July 17th, to the day before my sister’s birthday, August 14th. It’s neat when time works out like, “This is how this is supposed to be.”
Editor’s Note: These dates have shifted since, and the show is instead set to open June 5, 2021.
More information about Du-Good Press and access to their available prints can be found at www.du-goodpress.com.
COREY DURBIN is an artist, writer, and photographer from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; living and working in Brooklyn, NY.