Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Something about Alvin

This print is one of my prize possessions and has hung in my house since at least 2007. Printed by Alvin, art by Souther Salazar. It's one of many beautiful things that would not exist in this world if not for Alvin.

I first met Alvin Buenaventura at APE in San Francisco in maybe 2003 or 4. I remember there being some buzz about this guy who was making letterpress prints of some of my friends' work, but also with some famous people like Dan Clowes and Chris Ware. It felt very mysterious and cool. At some point I went over to his table and found an extremely quiet, humble guy who spoke almost in a whisper, and a very gregarious and friendly woman, all smiles – his wife at the time, Carleen. They acted as if we had all been friends for years. Of course in my heart I desperately wanted to be included in his project, but was able to act like a normal person and just begin to get to know them a bit instead. They were both friendly, unassuming and welcoming.

When he did eventually invite me to do a print it was one of a very few moments in my life that felt like I'd been included in some elite secret club. That feeling had nothing to do with any promise of money – there basically wasn't any – or of notoriety. It was because it was very clear that this person had extremely good, very particular taste – much better and more broad than mine, for example – and his vision of what was worth his time now included something of mine. His remarkable taste and enthusiasm for art was a theme for me in hanging out with Alvin, in a couple of ways. I was repeatedly struck by the clarity of his vision. I remember him showing me some Le Dernier Cri books at his house in Oakland once, and being struck by how sure he was of his opinions and enthusiasms about it. I was busily trying to sort out being overwhelmed visually, slightly grossed out, fascinated, jealous, and wanting to seem cool and like the right things. Encounters with other artist's work often feel compromised this way, it can occasionally be difficult to set aside my own biases, jealousies and artistic concerns and see another's work on its own terms. Alvin was one of those rare people whose taste felt immediate, singularly uncomplicated and clear. It was at once rigorous and generous. It was inspiring to me, and a challenge. It made him a very good publisher, but it also meant going to his house was like entering a little museum crossed with an incredibly well curated yard sale, full of treasures. It also meant that going to his table at a show promised a lot of new and very compelling work. I always spent too much money at his tables, and always wished I could spend a bit more. If all he'd done for me was introduce me to the work of Helge Reumann, and Lisa Hanawalt I'd owe him a debt.

Alvin and I worked on a few projects of various kinds, several of them better as ideas than they turned out to be as realities. He put out a skateboard of mine, of all things, and sold precious few – though he did actually try valiantly to learn to ride it, taking me to a couple of spots in Oakland to skate when I was in town. His enthusiasm for publishing seemed rarely to be inhibited by commercial concerns. He wanted a thing to exist and so he would do what he could to make it so, the market be damned. Which was part of why what he did was so important, but I know that came back to be troublesome in some ways, as it will. We had been discussing doing a small book project this year, one that probably would fit very comfortably in the slot of not-commercially-viable. But it was a unique project that would make sense for probably no other publisher. As Dan Clowes wrote yesterday, that's what he was: completely unique. There was a slot in the universe that he fit in, alone. That slot is now empty, and it matters a great deal. We are poorer for it.

Apart from what he was for comics and art, he was also just an incredibly sweet guy, at least to me. He always made me feel welcome, and wanted to help if he could.

Early last year Alvin and I got back in touch after a silence of a couple of years. Among other things he inquired about a drawing I'd done back in 2007, Hercules Ascending to Mount Olympus. The drawing was no longer in my possession, but I told him I'd thought of doing prints of it and would send him one, which I did, along with the rest of the edition to sell on his site. He came back to me later and asked if I would consider doing a larger version as a commission, suggesting a few additions that might make the image even more specifically personal to him and his life if, and only if, I didn't feel they would compromise the piece for me – which I didn't, such collaborations usually make a project more interesting and the idea was exciting: doing just such a near-monumental version had long been on my mind, but was impossible without a venue to show or a patron of some sort. I immediately went out and got a 10 foot tall piece of paper and waited to hear from him for a deposit and confirmation to begin. We talked a few more times in the months that followed, mostly about other things. He assured me a few times that he was still interested, just waiting for this or that project to come through to clear his slate. But then he seemed to fall out of touch, and confirmation never came. In some way this piece will always feel in some way like it belongs to him. The last few days have been heavy ones. His loss is heartbreaking.

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