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Over-Booked: Issue Press and Grand Rapids, Michigan

  Issue Press is small independent publisher and Risograph print shop based in Grand Rapids, MI. began as an extension of George Wietor’s poster-making practice in 2010 and has expanded to a variety of print endeavors, focusing primarily on artist-made publications and print editions. The following is an interview with George Wietor as part of […]

 

Issue Press is small independent publisher and Risograph print shop based in Grand Rapids, MI. began as an extension of George Wietor’s poster-making practice in 2010 and has expanded to a variety of print endeavors, focusing primarily on artist-made publications and print editions.

The following is an interview with George Wietor as part of the Over-Booked series:

What is the first book you can remember?

The first book that I can remember having any kind of meaningful interaction with was Paddle-to-the-Sea by Holling Clancy Holling. My dad, who had his own St. Lawrence Seaway boating adventure as a young man, gave it to me when I was very young and it’s the only book from my childhood I still have.  Even though it takes place mostly in Canada and along the St. Lawrence, there is something really Michigan-y about it that still resonates with me today.

What is the last book you read?

I am currently in the middle, or first third or whatever, of Haruki Marukami’s 1Q84. But that doesn’t really count, I guess, as I am not quite done. I recently finished all of The Hunger Games Trilogy, which I loved almost up until the end.

Describe a person you think might dig your books?

I’d like to think that the things I like, and subsequently publish, have a pretty broad appeal. I don’t see any of them as having a specific audience.

Do you have any book-related rituals?

In real life I am one of the messiest, least organized people you could ever meet – but when it comes to my collections, I try to be very meticulous about sorting and organizing. I worry that I will never find what I’m looking for if I don’t. Sometimes I’ll file something away before I get a chance to read or listen to it, just to make sure I don’t lose it in the long run. Usually I can circle back to those ones, but that is probably a bad habit to get into.

 

Do books start to look like their designers? Do designers look like their books?

You know, I never really think about what the makers of the books I consume look like. Maybe I should? But, I don’t know, there is something nice about only knowing someone by their cultural output. When I think about the people I know who make books and things, and I look at their objects I am not usually surprised by what I see. When I work with an artist on their book layout, I obviously try to think a lot about their personal aesthetic and not solely just what I would want to see in a book. Books start to look like their designers, and that is probably a little performative.

What publication are you working on right now?

GATHER by Grand Rapids-based printmaker Todd Freeman. I feel like it is the most “complete” thing that I have published. It really stands on it’s own. I love it.

This is probably cheating, but I would also like to revisit ’s first publication: B. Sanders, ‘89 – ‘98 by Patrick Lelli. In that project, Lelli explores the famous Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders through the fan memorabilia he collected in his childhood. There is something interesting about looking at an athlete, or any celebrity for that matter, solely through the remains of the disposable material culture created to celebrate and sell that person, because, apart from the raw stats, that’s all that remains at the end of a career.

 

 

 

Do you have a great idea for a book that didn’t happen?

Oh man. Good question. I started , ultimately, to publish my own work but that hasn’t happened as much as I would like as I have ended up focusing on putting out work by other artists I really love. I have tons of (well, some) at least passable ideas for books that haven’t happened. Hopefully they will! Maybe after a little more research…

What should others know about the community and things happening around it in Grand Rapids (or West Michigan in general)?

Grand Rapids, and West Michigan, has an INCREDIBLE design history – particularly with regards to the furniture of Herman Miller, Steelcase, and others. A lot of great design is still happening in that sector, but outside of that, it can be a struggle. In Grand Rapids we trade a relatively low cost of living for almost no opportunities for locally-based creative employment. Which makes it difficult for anyone wanting to seriously pursue a career in something art related that isn’t secondary to a part time job in food service. There is also very limited support for artists. Our arts council, for example, recently dissolved after over 30+ years of lukewarm programming and virtually no funding opportunities for individual artist projects. The arts funding that does exist seems mostly consumed by large events that favor spectacle over substance. So on one hand, the low rents make it very easy to experiment and try things out, but you have to do it completely on your own and you have to be REALLY motivated about it. Because of this, Grand Rapids is just bursting with evidence of independent culture.

Here are handful of projects in Grand Rapids that I will always be excited about, both creative and culinary:

Division Avenue Arts Collective (115. S. Division)

A nine year old all-volunteer run collective music venue, art gallery, and community space in Grand Rapid that emphasizes open access. You plan it, the DAAC will host it. Full disclosure: I helped start and continue to help run the DAAC, but my involvement has taken a significant backseat to .

Miscellany (136 S. Division)

A brand new artist book store, vintage shop, design studio and gallery run by Patrick of Barry Sanders fanzine fame. Miscellany is the only place in town to pick up the newest Nieves publication, some blank cassettes, an awesome drawing, and a pair of swim trunks all at once. My favorite place to have a book launch.

Civic Studio (Currently in the old American Bakery, 712 Bridge St. NW)

Paul Wittenbraker’s ongoing semester-long experiment in site-specific, research-based art production. And failure. It is class in Grand Valley State University’s Art & Design program, but it is open to students of all disciplines and from any institution. It is easily the most important and valuable class I took in college – particularly as a non-art student.

Bartertown Diner (6 Jefferson SE)

Hands down my favorite restaurant in town. A worker-owned, collectively run vegan/vegetarian diner that is open late and lets you trade meals for a couple hours of dishwashing or a mixtape. They are about to open an attached combination pizza shop and VHS rental shop called Cult Pizza. I can’t wait.

Cabin-Time  (maybe it would be good to embed their rad video)

Cabin-Time is a roaming residency that brings artists from Grand Rapids and elsewhere to remote places to produce new work in an environment of intentional solitude. The work created at the residency, or based on it, is then presented at a culminating exhibition a few weeks later. I have been really honored to print all of the “field guide” publications that coincide with the exhibitions and to publish the last two. The newest of which will be released at the next exhibition, opening Friday the 21st at Miscellany. This is by far our most ambitious book project yet.

Heartside Studio and Gallery (48 S. Division)

An incredible drop-in center for making art and working out ideas in a safe environment. Heartside serves all neighbors regardless of training, skill, mental or physical health, or housing situation. With some of the rawest, bravest work around. I really recommend visiting whenever in Grand Rapids.

Vertigo Music (129 S. Division)

Basically all you need in a record store.

Punk Island (Grand River)” note from author. If I’m remembering correctly George had a lot to do with the creation of viget.

The last remaining island in this part of the Grand River (a defining physical characteristic of the city). Unsettled, mostly, and wild. The land of possibility.

Selam Store (654 Michigan St. NE)

It looks like a weird convenience store because, well, it is. It’s also a great place to get an “East African hot lunch.” I recommend the vegetarian combo platter, which is basically whatever they felt like making that day.

Every Basement and Living Room

Grand Rapids has a great house show music culture, and a new group, Grand Rapids DIT, is looking to bring it all together.

Taqueria San Jose (1338 S. Division)

The best tacos in town.

Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (2 Fulton)

Basically the only place in town to see contemporary art cinema. I am really attached to that part of the organization.

…Circling back to the support for artists thing. There have been some great new developments that have come along with a change in leadership at some larger cultural institutions. The Grand Rapids Art Museum, for example, has recently started to pay more attention to local artists who are also currently alive. This type of relationship is very needed and it is really exciting to see. Overall, apart from some weaknesses – mostly the weaknesses of any mid-sized american city as related to the arts –  I am really glad that I live and work here in Grand Rapids. It is really easy to feel as though you are a part of “making something happen,” and that is encouraging thing to feel. You should visit.

What challenges or advantages have you run into with becoming a publisher and starting a press outside one of the major cities in the U.S.?

Well, for one thing, there is certainly a lot more postage involved. But one huge advantage is that everything is made around here. French Paper, generally my favorite paper, is milled just two hours South of my studio, and a lot of the equipment I use is made within a few hundred miles. While the risograph printers and consumables I use are all made in Japan, there is something really nice about knowing that I can drive somewhere to get replacement parts for most of the machines that make  possible. There a lot of people in the rust belt with a real working knowledge of what makes these things tick, knowledge that I don’t have, and that is really valuable. I don’t feel as though I have been set back at all by working where I do, but I am probably missing some cool parties.

What other projects/organizations/happenings are you involved in outside of issue press?

Apart from my volunteer duties at the DAAC, my day job is at a place called Community Media Center (711 Bridge St.), which is this amazing hybrid organization that includes public access television, community radio, a 100-year old historic vaudeville theatre, media education, nonprofit IT Support, and a platform for citizen journalism called The Rapidian.

I also help organize Sunday Soup in Grand Rapids, which locally is a project of the DAAC. Sunday Soup is part of an international network of meal-based fundraising initiatives. Basically people get together, pay five dollars, share a meal and listen to a series of project proposals. The diners vote on the project they like the best, and the winning proposal gets all of the proceeds from the meal. This is our own small way of tackling the community’s lack of artist funding that mentioned previously. So far, we have raised a little over $3,300 for 18 projects in 2  years. The idea for Sunday Soup was initiated by our friends at InCUBATE in Chicago and there are now at least 76 similar projects around the world, including FEAST MPLS there in Minneapolis.

I am really lucky in that my day job and all of my extracurricular activities get to be about supporting personal and creative expression on your own terms.

We’re both fans of Marüshka and I know you have an amazing collection of their work. Can you maybe share some of your favorite pieces from your collection?

Maybe I should provide a little context for these things. Marüshka was an often imitated screenprinting company based in Grand Haven (Where Grand Rapids goes to the beach) that made these amazing stretched canvas wall hangings from the mid-1970s to mid-1980s. These were a bit of a West Michigan phenomenon, but were really popular wherever people had a second home or cottage. It’s perfect cottage art.

In their heyday, Marüshka’s designers made over 500 different styles, many available in several colorways. I have been collecting them for about a decade and have several hundred now in various conditions. These are some of my favorites:

Recently, Marüshka has come back to life as the Michigan Rag Company, and is still based in Grand Haven. They have brought back a few of the old designs.

 

Special thanks to Jaimé Johnson who is responsible for many of the photos above!