Berkeley’s St. Hieronymus Press, led by the charismatic, enigmatic David Lance Goines, is located near where Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. turns into “The Alameda,” in a storefront with two large main rooms, an office and a European-style print shop, complete with enormous shiny black printing presses and full of beautiful posters and printmaking materials.
Just two blocks away, Allen Ginsberg wrote some poetry, and the area is now known for a general vibe of DIY gourmet chic, originating not completely but largely from the minds of Alice Waters and Goines, the creative partnership of which would create Chez Panisse’s first posters and “California Cuisine” aesthetic.
Waters gave people a reason to pay more for their food, appreciating quality over quantity, and Goines, for many decades, has given people a reason to return to the original technology of modern printmaking.
His work is now found almost every few blocks in the bay area, in stores, homes, restaurants and museums, many of whom are familiar with his name.
Goines, who “talks like a book,” is also an author, and his 1993 memoir The Free Speech Movement: Coming of Age in the 1960 has been a definitive account of living in Berkeley during the tumultuous era of student sit-ins. Goines was involved in every aspect of the explosion of radical media in the East Bay. In his unavoidable tome <em>Steve Jobs</em>, Walter Isaacson gives direct credit to Berkeley in the creation of an open internet ethos. Particularly, Isaacson describes New Left radical Lee Felsenstein, who protested alongside Goines, Mario Savio and others in 1964. In the wake of the institutional fallout, both Felsenstein and Goines returned to their own creative work in Berkeley, without the university glaring over their shoulders.
“[By August 1973] Felsenstein had seized on a seminal idea: public access to computer networks would allow people to form communities of interest in a do-it-yourself way. The flyer-cum-manifesto advertising the project proclaimed that ‘nonhierarchical channels of communication—whether by computer and modem, pen and ink, telephone, or face-to-face—are the front line of reclaiming and revitalizing our communities.’”
While Goines took the pen-and-ink approach to a very advanced, systematic and traditional level, and Felsenstein developed the early internet, both speak in the language of reclaiming and revitalizing communities, doing things from the ground up, without institutional support or authorization. Rather, the idea is to authorize oneself, to take it upon oneself to change society. Perhaps this is why, even after publishing several books and achieving so many art-world accolades, Goines is so accessible to the public.
Shoshone: How do you describe the relationship between politics and art in 2015?
David Lance Goines: If you were talking about the Medicis, there would be definitely a relationship between politics and art. Art was sponsored by, essentially, the State. I think insofar as people feel free to express themselves, the art can go, pretty much, unfettered. If we lived in an Islamic State, for example, art would be severely constrained. But, I think, absent government restrictions, y’know, like in China, for example, there are considerable restrictions on what you can and cannot do, but we don’t have very many such restrictions here.
Through the 1960’s we managed to dismantle most of the state restrictions on what could be said and what could be presented and what form could be presented, and I don’t think there’s too terribly much left there. We are living in a relatively wealthy community and a relatively wealthy time, and insofar as art flourishes where there’s money to support it, I think we’re pretty much okay.
I think we, at least in the United States, particularly this part of the United States, have the least political or social restraint. If we lived in Georgia there would be, probably, more restraint, but we don’t.
My opinion of politics is that it’s not very important. It seems like it’s important, and it seems like the lawmakers are passing laws and all that, but the lawmakers are more a reflection of the society than the society of the lawmakers, and the reason the United States is the way it is is very complicated, and I don’t fully understand it myself. I do know we’re different from North Korea, and why we’re different from North Korea is a very long and complicated story. But, without getting too fancy, we are different from North Korea. So we don’t have any of those restrictions or fears.
There is a sort of self-censorship which can occur, more outside of this area, but I think that’s always the case. But that’s not really governmental censorship. So there.
S: Thank you. What are you focusing on now?
DLG:I’m working on a poster right now. Photoshop just decided to quit on me for reasons that are not clear.
S: Has Photoshop improved your work a lot?
DLG: Oh, yeah—I use it like a darkroom. Before about 2002, I actually had a darkroom, and I’d be doing all this work that I’m doing right now in the darkroom. But since Photoshop became fully useful, I tore out the darkroom and put another printing press in that spot, and I use Photoshop precisely like a darkroom. I’m a very primitive user of Photoshop. What I do is not very sophisticated. I scarcely have proceeded beyond where I was when it first came out in the early 1990’s. It improved in each iteration until the most recent form which has all sorts of features which I have no use for, so I don’t use them at all. I don’t know what version this is—it’s a fairly old one—but I have no need to proceed beyond it.
S: What do you mean when you say “like a darkroom”?
DLG: In the early 1980’s an Israeli firm called SyTex built a dedicated computer and software device which basically took all of the most skilled and complicated work that was performed in print shops, and put it all into a program and began teaching people. There was a firm out here called Mike Roberts Color.
The very complicated business of fixing up a photograph—for example, take a photograph of Main Street, USA, and it’s got telephone wires and a crappy-looking sky and a bum sleeping in the gutter. Take all of that stuff out, replace it with a nice sky, put in some pretty clouds.
It was all very, very clunky, and the examples of it abound, of course. If you look at, for example, old editions of National Geographic. It was all done by hand, and it didn’t look very good, and it was very expensive, and very highly-skilled.
Ten years later, Photoshop supplanted that very expensive, one-million-dollar machine, and the very-highly-trained people who ran it, with a program that pretty much anyone who understood the basic principles of graphic design, and who understood the basic principles of the then-very-simple Macintosh computer could use, and, in short order, darkrooms began disappearing. There were actually rooms that were dark, that you developed film in, and did all that photo-manipulation. Now there are, to my knowledge, no darkrooms. I mean, there are amateur darkrooms where people develop their own film, and things like that, but there are no commercial darkrooms, to my knowledge, that do this kind of work, at least not in print shops.
So, what I’m doing is I’m doing everything that I did in a darkroom except I’m doing it out in the light instead of being covered with ice-cold water and freezing to death. I can manipulate photographs if I want to do that, but I’m just using this to make my color separations. I’m actually working out the design right now, and a color sketch.
S: Does religion inspire you?
DLG: No. In no way. I have a good deal of knowledge of religion. I studied for the Lutheran ministry—it didn’t work out. So I’m very knowledgeable about religion, and I incorporate—needless to say, all my knowledge gets incorporated into the things that I do. But as for faith-based operation, nope.
S: Are you an atheist?
DLG: I don’t bother. There’s no point in it. Y’know, people who call themselves atheists are often an even bigger pain in the ass. I just have no interest in religion except theoretically. I mean, I can debate theology with you and have a gay old time, because I know a lot about it. But it’s taking as a basic premise something that is neither provable nor disprovable. However, it is a subject of intellectual interest to me. I mean, if you want to talk about the nature of the trinity I’d be delighted. I know a lot about it. But it’s like talking about a fairy tale. I mean, did Cinderella have a glass slipper or is that a mis-translation? I am not interested in religion.
<strong>S:</strong> So what would you say about the trinity?
<strong>DLG:</strong> How much do you want to know?
<strong>S:</strong> As much as you want to share.
<strong>DLG:</strong> I don’t particularly want to talk about it. It’s of academic interest. I mean, the whole of the Middle Ages was deeply concerned with religion, and to understand the Middle Ages, you need to understand what was going on and what they were doing and how the world changed when religion shifted, when people’s points of view shifted away from religion and more toward secular things. The beginning of the Renaissance is a real secular shift. And the Middle Ages was a time full of very, very great time of technological innovation and production. It got kind of a bad rap, I mean, people view it as the Dark Ages. It wasn’t dark at all. A lot of very, very important things happened during the Middle Ages that laid the groundwork for the Renaissance. But it took a long time to recover from the Roman Empire. I mean, the institution of slavery had to be good and gone, which it wasn’t, quite, but it was gone enough. And the Renaissance and the rise of mercantile capitalism really was a very, very dramatic change in the way people thought. Basically, getting back to examining many of the basic principles laid down by the Greeks, the Athenian Greeks, and putting together with that whole other technological expertise of the Romans, and starting building again. Hence the name, “rebirth.”
If you want to look at the rise of technology beginning, say, with the domestication of fire, you’ve got this curve that goes like this (Goines traces a very slow curve with an abrupt acceleration toward the end with his finger) and now it’s going straight up.
S: Are artists necessarily engineers, technologists?
DLG: It depends on what you mean by “artist.” You can call yourself an artist, but I tend to think that doesn’t count. I think other people have to call you an artist.
S: I agree.
DLG: By that definition, I’m not an artist. I’m a graphic designer and a printer, and I’ve got those machines in there running. I’ve been a graphic designer and printer since 1965. This is commercial work, I’m being paid to do it, and I don’t do much of anything for myself. Almost everything I do is commercially oriented.
S: Was that always the case?
I do a lot of things for myself. I write a lot, and I do various projects, like this here is my new years’ card which I just shipped off. Let me give you a copy of it.
S: Oh, thank you.
DLG: This is sort of done for self-promotion, I guess you could say.
S: Yeah. It’s artful.
DLG: It’s artful. But it’s not art. This is graphic design and printing. What you’re seeing there is as much printing as it is the object. If this were reproduced commercially it would be pretty flat. It wouldn’t have as much zip.
DLG: I started out as a printer, and after about five years I began to integrate that into graphic design. One of the advantages I had is that I was a printer; I had access to printing presses, and whatever I designed I could turn into the real thing, and I didn’t have to try to interpret my work. I didn’t have to explain myself to a third party who didn’t necessarily understand what I was doing. I would design things and print them. That very quickly became how I made my living.
S: In those days, did you think politics was important?
DLG: Well, I started out with the Free Speech Movement and the Civil Rights Movement. I think that we, the citizens, made a big difference. The government was forced to go along with us, and the government did not come willingly or eagerly. We compelled the government to do what we wanted it to do. And that’s the way it’s been in the United States.
Actually, if you want to go back to the Magna Carta, where the nobles forced that King John to obey their will under the threat of violence. And the Civil Rights Movement, the Civil War…it’s all force. It need not be lethal force. It need not be physical fighting, although, sometimes, it does come to that. There is nothing that does not exist by force. The stronger the people are, the better the government is, that is to say, the weaker the government is. So my job is to weaken the government.
S: Your job is to weaken the government..?
DLG: Yes. And I don’t mean streets, and garbage pick-up and things like that. I mean the people whom we elect to be lawmakers, who, because we elect them to be lawmakers, naturally, they make laws. That’s what they do. They have gotten…well, they haven’t gotten out of control. Their agencies have gotten out of control. The government has no control over the government. You’re no doubt familiar with Mr. Snowden and his revelations.
There is a shadow government behind the government that is the real government. You can elect whomever you wish for President. It means nothing. He has no power. No power at all. He goes to dinner with people. Makes speeches. So I’m not interested in those folks. I am interested in keeping the NSA out of my information, because they can mess things up. But as for the President of the United States—completely meaningless.
S: How do you keep the NSA out?
DLG: You don’t! Not at this point. We don’t even know where they are at this point. We’re just going to have to develop work-arounds. There’s nothing we can do about it. I mean, I carry this little listening device around in my pocket all the time, and they’re not interested in me personally. They’re just interested in all of us. And they’re combining metadata which allows them to predict our actions with great accuracy, and we’re just gonna have to figure out some way around this.
S: Yeah. So the Minority Report situation is very much real.
DLG: Very real!
S: Did you ever meet (Berkeley writer) Philip K. Dick?
DLG: No, I never did, which is kind of dumb because he lived right down the street, but what can I say? Although I very much admire his work.
S: Well, you also have Janet Napolitano as chair of Berkeley.
DLG: Yeah. You can’t make that shit up!
S: It’s crazy, isn’t it? It’s all, like, coming to Berkeley, somehow.
DLG: Well, the Bay Area, Berkeley and Stanford, Berkeley and Palo Alto, have been birthplaces of this profound change in technology. There were other places that were doing things, like HP, for example, but the real deep social changes came out of Berkeley and Stanford.
I think of Berkeley and Stanford as two sisters that don’t look much alike or act much alike, but they are sisters. And they, kind of, have a rivalry, but, in fact, they’re sisters, and they love each other. And we’re the beatnik, weirdo, druggie sister who studies pure mathematics and is into, you know, the Rig Veda, and Stanford is the preppy sorority girl sister who likes to pretend that she does nothing wrong but secretly does all the stuff that her other sister does.
This is a very powerful and wealthy part of the world, and we here in Berkeley like to put on Poor Mouth and drive our old beat-up Volvos, but we are, in fact, stinking rich. Palo Alto and Stanford is the same. We have so much social power. We are so much at the long end of the lever.
The rest of the United States, especially the middle part, what we call the “flyover” states, is baffled by the fact that we have all the power. Think of something like gay marriage or abortion. Many of the residents between the states of California and New York are opposed to these things, but they just don’t seem to have a voice.
We are very much at the long end of the lever here. It might be something that doesn’t seem so terribly significant—for example, the Center for Independent Living got off the ground here in Berkeley, and all of those things that were just pipe dreams are now all over the place. Access for the blind, access for the deaf, access for the crippled. These things did not exist before that. Those people had a terrible time getting around. All of those little yellow dotty bump things on the corner—that’s dealing with blind people and people in wheelchairs. They weren’t there before. That spread all over the place, and nobody paid much attention; nobody noticed.
The tremendous revolution in sexual rights and the way people behave themselves—I can’t say that it began here, but it had a very, very important part of it going on in the Castro district—we’d have to go back to the Stonewall Riots—but the reality is that somehow we in the Bay Area decide to do something, and it happens.
Mayor Gavin Newsom decided, “Fuck it! I’m going to marry people.” All of a sudden, it started happening! The forces of righteousness tried to strike it down, but they just didn’t seem to have any power. Proposition 8 was rejected by the courts. They said, “you can’t do that, you have no standing, and we’re not going to listen to your case. Get out!” It was as simple as that. Jerry Brown declined to accept the case. “No! You have no standing! Get out!” And that was it! That was the end of it. It happened, almost, without anybody noticing.
Things like that are all over the place. I could give you a list as long as your arm.
So, we do things, we are very innovative. We try all sorts of things, some of which are dumb and don’t work, and some of which are dumb, and do work, and some of which change the way the whole world works. I don’t know what would have happened had Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak and those various guys not started putting together computers in their garage. I don’t know what would have happened. Something would have happened, but I don’t know what it would be. I can’t go back and rewind history that way.
The reason I’m here is that we have such an accepting, relatively wealthy community that can afford, and likes, the things that I do. If we were poor, if it were during the Depression, this wouldn’t be happening.
I’m very privileged to be part of this particular community at this particular time. It always strikes me the incredibly large share that luck has to play in everything, how very little it has to do with my own unaided cleverness, how much it does have to do with where I was, where I happened to be and when I happened to be there. I came into Berkeley in a very exciting time, and I participated in world-changing events, and I didn’t get killed, which is pretty lucky right there, and I understand this community extremely well. I’ve been part of it since the early 1960’s or late 1950’s. It has accepted me and made into what I am.
I think if I were to try to start from scratch, if I came here when I was eighteen years old right now, I don’t know if I could do this. I don’t know. I can’t answer that question.
Being kicked out of Cal and taking up as a printer was just about the single luckiest thing that ever happened to me. I can’t think of any single event that was luckier.
Luck plays a very large role in the affairs of men, on both the large scale and the small scale, and you can take advantage of these opportunities that are offered you, or see them, or not, but you didn’t make them. Luck. Lots of luck.
S: Thank you.
DLG: Yep. Let me show you the equipment. (We enter the printing room)
Here my coworker is printing these calendars right now. This is a Heidelberg offset lithographic press, built in 1968.
S: Are the German ones the best?
DLG: Well… (long pause) There are probably Italian presses that are this good. In a word, yes. They’re very well-made. They’re well designed. They’re easy to run. They’re easy to fix. And the only reason they weren’t universal is that they were the most expensive ones.
DLG: Their expense—of course, it’s made up for very, very quickly—but, still…Basically, these machines cost as much as a new house.
DLG: Pretty big chunk of change.
So this is a cutter. It cuts pieces of paper up very precisely, which is extremely important.
And this machine is also a Heidelberg and it’s for printing relatively small things. Physically smaller. It also is a very precise machine.
And this is our oldest machine, and it was made in 1911. It’s kind of the opposite of a Heidelberg—it’s the very model of simplicity. There’s just about nothing on it to break, although I suppose you could break something. That round thing at the top is the ink disk, where the ink goes.
(We watch a Heidelberg print several dozen posters)
S: Has it printed millions and millions of them?
DLG: We don’t really know. It doesn’t have internal counters. The more modern presses do have internal counters. But these ones don’t.