Last year at photo l.a.–the longest running art fair west of New York City, which opens this year on January 17–CARTWHEEL founder Cindy Schwarzstein was turned onto fine arts/photography publisher ZERO+ Publishing through their book Everyday Heroes and Villains, a collection of portraits by photographers Tatiana Wills and Roman Cho which surveys some of the most intriguing personalities in today’s art, street and pop culture movements. Cindy also met the company’s founder, Kirk Pedersen who was manning his booth at photo l.a. (where he’ll be this year, too).
From there she went on to purchase ABOVE: Passport (and launched CARTWHEEL!).
One of the key things that united the CARTWHEEL team, aside from our love of art, is our enthusiasm for books about art, as you can see from Erwin and Eva’s coverage of Shark Toof and Cryptik. He also publishes Sage Vaughn (whose “Life” opening January 12 at Scion AV we covered), Jeff Alu, Blaine Fontana, Wendell Gladstone, Andrew Hem, Jophen Stein. And in the pipeline: Mark Dean Veca, Nathan Ota, Yumiko Kayukawa.
Zero+ publishes books that are art, which makes sense, because ZERO+ Publishing founder Kirk Pedersen is himself an artist (and professor of art and the art department chair at Mt. San Antonio College) who began his company as way to publish his own books. Zero + also creates books that are highly collectible. Many titles come in two or three different formats, from the elaborate hand-decorated, limited edition clam shell boxes with prints of artwork to more affordable, but still limited, standard editions. The formula is success: Five editions of books have sold out completely.
And now with photo l.a. marking the anniversary of Cindy’s introduction to ZERO+ Publishing and Kirk Pedersen, we bring you our CARTWHEEL interview:
As an artist and a professor, I imagine you appreciate many of your contemporaries. How do you personally decide which artists to publish?
This is the twelve million dollar question and I do appreciate a broad range of artists. I recently gave a lecture at Otis College of Art and Design and I expected to get this question, but I did not. In many ways the answers that follow will help address this question.
Who was the first artist you decided to publish and why?
I started by publishing my first book – URBAN ASIA, but when I decided to consider expanding into publishing (I didn’t expect that it would grow into its present form), I contacted my painter friend, Wendell Gladstone, and asked him, would you be interested in making a book with me on your work? I recognized the significance of his paintings and felt a quality book was deserved.
After Wendell, I asked an artist (former student), Jophen Stein, as he was very knowledgeable of the “new” illustration scene and I had a lot of questions about other possible artists that I was not aware of … Blaine Fontana was mentioned and a project called Heroes & Villains was discussed. These two books launched ZERO+ Publishing in the summer of 2011.
Have you considered which artists you might publish next?
Yes, but I never talk about the project until I absolutely know it is happening. I am constantly talking with artists and I recently had a great meeting a few days ago… everything seems right but I will wait until the project is confirmed before I post it on Facebook or on our web site.
Is there a thread that connects your published artists together?
Yes, but it is impossible to perfectly define (there is no easy answer to this question). Maybe Shana Nys Dambrot said it best and I paraphrase, ZERO+ doesn’t have a “brand” because each book is unique and designed specifically for the artist – that is your branding – you do not have a “template.”
On another note – beauty (the idea of beauty is integrated into our vision) – when I see a bold yellow painted mark with drips on a distressed black wall I will generally think it is stunning and beautiful, but most people will overlook it or see it as ugly, so ZERO+ is definitely interested in the less obvious forms of beauty. We seek out artists that create beautiful images in less commonly recognized forms of beauty.
To what degree are the artists involved in the layout of their books?
This is a highly important question because some artists want to relinquish all control and I “curate” the book entirely and in other cases the artist is highly involved. Ultimately, what is important is that ZERO+ wants the book to be about the artist’s vision. We make books that ideally truly reflect the artist’s work and hopefully the book becomes a form of art in the end.
Was there anyone who inspired you to start a publishing business?
I started by wanting to create my first book titled URBAN ASIA and I knew it would be published in two volumes and that was entirely clear to me. I became interested in publishing during my second book mainly as a result of collection photography books – I already owned thousands of painting books, but I started collecting Nazraeli Books (and other photography books).
Later I met the owner of Nazraeli Press (Chris), and his encouragement and mentoring helped me to start seriously considering publishing – ultimately, it was his twenty years of knowledge that shifted my thinking and gave me the courage.
Did you initially start ZERO+ to publish you own artwork?
How big is your staff at ZERO+?
We are small but act like we are big. One of the important elements of ZERO+ Publishing is the design work of Blaine Fontana (Fontana Studios, Portland). Without his wealth of knowledge, skills and belief in the company, ZERO+ would not be where it is presently positioned. He is one of the reasons that I am confident we will continue to be successful. As well, we work with brilliant writers such as Shana Nys Dambrot, Amanda Erlanson, David Pagel and Peter Frank just to name a few.
How much of your personal time is required?
Nearly every second I am not working at one of my other jobs or fulfilling personal responsibilities, I am somehow engaged in ZERO+.
Are you planning your next piece? Will it involve photography or painting?
I am engaged in both aspects of my work, and I have several shows lined up. I have a small exhibition of photographs and deluxe-boxed sets, which will be exhibited at the Offramp Gallery in Pasadena in March 2013.
Why do you prefer releasing your books as limited editions? Will this change?
I have no interest in the mass market – too much competition and limited quality control, ZERO+ is interested only in releasing quality editions and limited art objects.
Regarding your URBAN ASIA series, when you visited Asia did you already have the concept of your book in mind?
I first visited Bangkok, southern Thailand and Angkor Wat (Cambodia) in December 2004 but it was not until my second trip to Bangkok and Taipei a year later that the Urban Asian Series photography project started. So, I had no idea this adventure was going to happen.
Will you expanding your Urban Asian series into more works?
I plan to return this summer to photograph and investigate if more will be revealed, if not, I will move in another direction. I am very satisfied with the documented images but I can’t say that it is finished… frankly, I believe that it has just started (again).