We all know when one door closes another one opens. That was most definitely the case in 1998, when Karl LaRocca purchased a drying rack and exposure table from “a guy who was going out of business." Karl lugged the equipment into a loft he was sharing with a group of friends, and continued the passion he’d developed for screen printing in college at Oberlin. Luckily, subject matter was easy to come by. Most of his friends were in up-and-coming bands, and Karl began designing posters to sell at the shows—signed Kayrock.
Fast forward twenty years, and Kayrock Screenprinting manufactures everything from handprinted fine art editions to books to greeting cards to tote bags out of their Brooklyn Studio. MoMA recognized the company as leaders in their field and invited Kayrock to join in The Print Shop Pop-Up at MoMA Design Store last month, which is where we had the privilege of getting to know them (and seeing firsthand their live-printing events on Saturdays). Here’s a little but of what we learned about Karl a.k.a. Kayrock, his process, and how he’s sharing the medium of printmaking with artists and the public.
Karl, live printing using the rainbow roll technique at The Print Shop Pop-Up at MoMA Design Store.
Simply Framed: What do you love most about screen printing?
Karl LaRocca: Right now, my favorite part of what I get to do in screen printing is interacting with artists and collaborating with them to create their art. In Fresh Prints! we work with a lot of painters, photographers, or illustrators to create an original, multiple piece of art. It’s a print so there are many of them, but it’s not a copy of something they’ve already made.
I love taking an artist who’s not a printmaker and finding what aspect of their own work will translate well to a print, helping them bring together our techniques with their creativity. Every time you have a new project, you have a chance to make a mistake or invent a new process and learn from it. Then those new techniques are in your toolbox to share with future artists you work with.
I also love the process of screen printing: the fact that you can mix a color like you would mix it for painting and lay it down on the paper in any detailed shape you want. You can get it totally flat, or completely and evenly transparent. And it’s relatively fast for a printmaking process. I can have an idea in the morning, make a screen print, and have it done in the afternoon.
SF: You’re also a painter. How do your paintings inform your screen prints?
KL: A lot of my paintings are very hard-edged and geometric. The structure is defined ahead of time, but there is an exploration of color as I paint them. Each painting is made up of hundreds of little shapes, each painted a different but related color. They’re not something that could easily translate to a screen print because it would take hundreds of screens to print them, but they are very printmakerly with a graphic quality to them.
Many of my paintings are actually based on unfolding origami of 3 dimensional Platonic solids. I’ll make this very intricate origami that makes this crazy regular polygon—like an icosahedron or dodecahedron—and then you unfold it. So all the structures are based on the folding patterns of the origami.
SF: What was your experience being a part of The Print Shop MoMA Pop-Up at MoMA Design Store?
KL: Doing live printing every week has been a really interesting way to think about educating the public about screen printing. I’m also currently teaching printmaking at Cooper Union. When you have to teach something, you have to face what you know about it—or don’t.
Each Saturday at The Pop-Up, we took one of the just-released prints and showcased a technique from it in a way that was interactive with the public. One week we featured a FOO/SKOU print, which is an augmented reality musical composition. We made a small version with just one of the notes that people could take and interact with using an app on their phones.
One week we featured a Gabriella Jolowicz print, an illustration of her hair salon in Berlin printed on a top of a rainbow roll, which is a printmaking technique where you can mix multiple inks on the screen to physically combine them to make a fade. We live printed fades of 3 different color rainbows, and then gave people markers and had them make drawings on top of the fades inspired by Gabriella’s print.
Figuring out ways that somebody can see how a technique in printmaking works, and then interact with something themselves to take home has been really fun.