Sidney Felsen was supposed to be an accountant; his USC degree says so. But after graduating in 1950, he struck up an interest in art, one that led him to take classes for 15 years at various art schools across L.A. He took painting, sculpture, drawing—printmaking was never on his schedule. So when he and friend Stanley Grinstein opted to open an artist workshop, printmaking wasn’t a logical choice.
The duo joined forces with printmaster Kenneth Tyler, creating Gemini G.E.L. in 1966 “for fun.” Since its inception, the printmaking workshop and publisher has invited renowned artists—from Roy Lichtenstein to Frank Gehry—to try new ideas and techniques, and has won a following for its craftsmanship. Fifty years later, Gemini is still publishing prints in a Gehry-designed building off Melrose.
“A lot of the general public thinks a print is just a reproduction, and that’s far from what it is,” says Felsen, 91. In fact, each print is an original, painstakingly handmade by a printmaster in a process that can take anywhere between six months and two years.
Generally, artists first sketch on paper, then work with printmasters who engrave the artist’s design onto a plate and hand-ink it; the printing press transfers the ink onto paper.
“Gemini G.E.L. really spearheaded making L.A. the epicenter of fine-art printing,” says Bethany Montagano, a curator for the Skirball Cultural Center, where Gemini prints can be seen in the exhibit “Pop for the People.” “They are willing to try anything, and they’ve had that reputation for the last 50 years.”
Many, including Montagano, say fine-art printing’s popularity was due to Gemini G.E.L., but Felsen says it was “luck and timing” that propelled the studio’s success.
Though digital printing has made the medium less popular, Felsen says a greater challenge is the growing pool of artists; there are too many to choose from. His method of selecting who to work with has remained the same: He never wants a “flash in the pan” and sometimes follows an artist for months. The biggest factor, and one he says is key to any artist’s success, is work ethic. “Artists who make it, they work all the time. They have a desire and need to succeed.”
Where to see Gemini G.E.L. in L.A.
Gemini G.E.L. Gallery The gallery is open to the public during business hours. Gemini G.E.L., 8365 Melrose Ave (323-651-0513, geminigel.com). Mon–Fri 9am–5pm; free.
“Pop for the People” A look at Roy Lichtenstein’s impact and work with Gemini G.E.L. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N Sepulveda Blvd (310-440-4500, skirball.org). Oct 7–Mar 12: Tues–Fri noon–5pm; Sat, Sun 10am–5pm. $12.
“The serial impulse at Gemini G.E.L.” A portion of the National Gallery of Art’s collection of Gemini G.E.L. LACMA, 5905 Wilshire Blvd (323-857-6000, lacma.org). Through Jan 2: Mon, Tue, Thu 11am–5pm; Fri 11am–8pm; Sat, Sun 10am–7pm. $15.
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