Five Questions with Paul Mullowney: Master Printer at Mullowney Printing Company
The “smells of ink and paper… the sounds of the presses and linotype machines…” are among the sirens that lured Paul Mullowney into the thriving family business his grandfather founded in the early 1900s. He is now a Master Printer for Mullowney Printing Company, a multifaceted studio that focuses on publishing and printing etchings, woodcut, photogravure, direct gravure, screen print, and letterpress editions by leading contemporary artists.
Here, Paul talks about the people who have inspired him and shares some insights into how he balances his professional responsibilities with his creative process.
What is your relationship to the creative process?
“As a master printer and print publisher, I spend a great deal of my creative energy collaborating with other visual artists on creating bodies of work, editions of multiples of works on paper. Professionally and creatively, it is very rewarding to be a part of projects that are larger than a solitary studio practice of my own (which I also pursue to maintain balance).”
How or where to you find inspiration?
“It takes a team of assistants working together with the artist and master printer to produce editions of prints, and I find the energy and dialogue that occur over the course of large projects with many people working drive me to inspiration. Also, the collaborative nature of the printmaking media and ability of traditional print forms to disseminate images to broad audiences inspires me greatly.”
What was one of your biggest creative challenges?
“The largest creative challenges have been balancing my studio practice as a visual artist with a busy professional career as a master printer and publisher. Creating contemplative time and space for oneself in this contemporary age is a constant struggle for many people, I believe. Balancing a creative practice—which often does not bring in a steady income for artists—with the paying jobs is an ongoing dilemma. I am lucky that my professional career is in the visual arts—the realm of fine art print publishing. The rewards are great, but the financial risks are constant in San Francisco, where the cost of living is among the highest in the country.”
When did you first realize you needed to be in a creative field?
“I knew from an early age I wanted to be in the graphic arts. My grandfather was a printer and founded Mullowney Printing in the early 1900s in Minneapolis. Though I never knew him well, I somehow knew I wanted to continue his legacy. My father was a newspaper publisher, and my earliest memories were playing in the press rooms where the smells of ink and paper and the sounds of the presses and linotype machines, along with the allure of the photo darkrooms and the cacophony of the news rooms, made a big impact on me. I knew I wanted to get into photojournalism, and that soon led to my branching out into fine art photography and eventually traditional printmaking.”
Who is one of your heroes and why?
“Shikō Munakata (1903–1975), the great 20th century woodblock printmaker, a folk hero in Japan, is a huge influence on me. I love his approach to printmaking, which had connections to Japanese folk art, ukiyo-e traditions, and deep Buddhist and Shinto spiritual traditions. His art was a religious practice for him. He never stopped making prints, paintings, and ceramics, even during the war when he was able to find paper and wood to work with. His work blew everything wide open in Japan in the post-war period, and soon influenced artists in America and Europe.”