On the Wall: Chris Chandler of Neu House Press

Feb 26, 2020

Chris Chandler founded Neu Haus Press in 1996 after he acquired his first Vandercook Press in Venice Beach, CA. Through the years his love, talent, and knowledge for this vintage craft has grown -- inspired by pioneers of graphic design like master typographer Jan Tschichold, Bauhaus, Constructivist El Lissitzky, and the Expressionist painter and printmaker Erich Heckel.

In addition to his printmaking, Chris spent 30 years working as a tour manager and sound engineer in the music industry and has had the privilege of sharing his passion for letterpress with a variety of musicians, leading to intimate collaborations and the opportunity to print their work. Making his home in Portland, Oregon with his wife and two children, Chris has been able to expand his studio and printing portfolio. This collection of work exhibits how Chris takes advantage of his Vandercook 232P with a 30” x 32” printing bed to recreate and experiment with the 1943 Alpha-Blox font in large form in order to push the limits of letterpress printing.

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Stumptown Coffee Roasters: Hi Chris! From our studio visits, there was a great sense of community with fellow artists and makers in the building. I love that a studio neighbor beautifully makes your frames there, and you trade time with your printing equipment for lovely hand-stitched notebooks using your secondary prints as the cover. How important is community for you and how has it contributed to your work?

Chris Chandler: I’m very grateful to have the artist and maker community here at Yale Union; places like this are becoming harder to find around the city. I try to support the other local artist community and keep as much in house as possible, like you mentioned, we use frames by EM Collier, whose work is simply beautiful, and her natural woods compliment my pieces.

SCR: Can you tell me about the title of your show, Alternate Options?

CC: The pieces in the show are variations on the 1944 font Alpha-Blox by the American Type Founder, created as a movable font. When looking back at their original ads it was sold to printers as an ‘Alternate Option’ to the usual restrictive fonts. These pieces are whatever you see in them, it’s about the beauty of the design and endless possibilities.

SCR: When viewing your work, I get this sense of listening to music, visually. There is a rhythm to it - with the black/white, and the vocals in color - sometimes soft, sometimes bold. And the scale of your work adds to that. Can you tell me more about your process - placement of the plates and color selection?

CC: My printing isn’t controlled in terms of method. I try to embrace the unexpected and imperfections; the layers of colors, the wood grains, the tearing during wheat pasting.

SCR: What was the first medium you connected with?

CC: Growing up I tried pottery and photography but didn’t feel a connection till I started printing.

SCR: Who/what was your introduction into printmaking?

CC: My first connection to print art was when I was around 12 years old delivering newspapers in Stillwater, Minnesota. There was an antique shop on my route, and at one point, they let me go in and pick out an item. I was drawn to a woodcut print by the German Expressionist Emil Nolde. Then I was introduced to letterpress in LA in the mid 90’s by Bruce Licher, owner of Independent Project Press. Our bands shared a rehearsal space and I was intrigued by his prints on the wall. It was Bruce who encouraged me to get my first press.

SCR: What part of your process do you enjoy the most?

CC: As a sound engineer, I was known for sticking with the analog tapes and consoles rather than moving to the digital world. I find the same to be true in my art, using ‘analog’ machines from the 20’s thru the 50’s. From the maintenance and restoration of these machines, to the design and printing, I honestly enjoy it all. I find that I’m more connected to the pieces of the process not just the results.

SCR: Did you grow up in a creative household?

CC: Yes, very much so; my dad is a designer. My parents would try to expose us to as much art as possible, which wasn’t easy with four kids. Our family vacations were architectural tours of the Midwest in the station wagon. He has always had an art studio, photography, painting, life drawings and pottery; an amazing all-around artist with my mom as his muse.

SCR: What were the first and last albums you purchased?

CC: First: New York · London · Paris · Munich (by the group M)
Last: Outside the Dream Syndicate (by Tony Conrad & Faust)