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Sam and Katah at the Atelier Circulaire
December 2003 through February, 2004
This article, written by Sam Kerson, was first published in Vermonts'
Artists' Resource Association Newsletter in May 2004
Sam at the relief press

Each Friday, the Atelier Circulaire holds open workshops in printmaking, alternating weeks between Lithography and Etching.  The Atelier Circulaire, is conveniently located at 5445 de Gaspé,  north of Fairmont, between St Laurent and St Denis.

Katah at the inking station preparing lino-blocks of a series of images Sam carved

   During this past winter (2003-2004) Katah and I found ourselves living in an apartment one block from Atelier Circulaire and  decided to register for  a three month residency.  This proved easy to do and rather inexpensive. We rented a small studio space to store our stuff and more important, a key to the front door for about $100 US a month.

    Circulaire is on the fifth floor of a factory building full of small work-shops that manufacture clothing and this building is one of two, they are about three hundred yards long and 12 stories high. Every day till six the doors are open and as I said we have a key for after hours.  A large number of the people who work in the clothing industry are  Asian, mostly women.  The place is a real beehive during the day with trucks, ten wheelers from Texas, and FedEx and DHL vans, and

local delivery trucks blocking the streets. Hassid in their black  costumes file by among the Asian, Latino work force. We take the elevators to the fifth floor and enter the clearly marked, 503, Atelier Circulaire..

    Things change right away and we feel a little of that museum silence. The walls are lined with extraordinary large and amazing printed images.  Right now there is a show about Hairy People and their encounters with Rene Donais..called “Hirsutographies, autopsie du velu”. A one-man show in three spaces, one little room for the more shocking material called, “ The Hell of Rene Donais”. 

   Circulaire’s space is approximately 150 by 120 feet…that is 18,000 square feet! And the ceilings are 13 feet high! There are sixty  members, and each has a file drawer , so the entry, after the exhibit in the hall, after the gallery which is a seperate space about 15 by 40 and after the bathrooms the kitchen and the office, turns into a row of flat files, cubbys and cubicles  where the members store their stuff.  

   At the end of this corridor we emerge into the print shops, there are two.  The one on the east side is dedicated to etching, we see a row of large wheels and stands of gears, there are six etching presses, most of them Hurel presses designed and built by François Xavier here in Montréal. These Hurels are appreciated for there big cylinders and their finely adjustable pressure and they have various size printing beds, one is six feet long!

   On the south side there is an equally large space dedicated to lithography, with plenty of stones, small ones and large ones, running water and three active litho presses, these are from new York, a Charles Brand and a Parks press, and a pigeon press from  Montréal…In this section there is also a large, an enormous, off set press which seems to be dedicated to monoprints.

   It is this press we are using for our lino cuts…this Cadillac of the lino-presses, is an offset press, as opposed to direct printing. With direct printing the paper is placed directly against the image, or the paper is placed directly on the face of the inked linoleum block..

   Direct printing produces a reversed image, which is why when you look at a linoleum block the letters are backwards, and this backwardness has implications for all the design and printing process..The offset technique ends all this complication by reversing the image before applying it to the paper. With the offset press the image is picked up on the cylinder reversing it and rolled off on the paper reversing it again.  The image is printed once on the cylinder and then from the cylinder it is printed on the paper, it now looks exactly like the image carved on the linoleum block..

   The south wall and the east wall are entirely windowed, the whole place has plenty of overhead fluorescent light, but at the right time of day these windows that line two walls create a very pleasant rich light effect, giving everything a kind of amber glow. The windows offer a wide vista of the city of Montreal from the Olympic Stadium in the east end sweeping to the edge of Mont Royal to the west with the Jacques Cartier bridge rising over the St. Lawrence in the mid-distance to the south.

   The atelier maintains a well stocked, big store room with essential supplies, a selection of printing  papers and inks and specialty things, snake slips and carborundum.

  There is a dark room with two enlargers and black and white development kits, sinks pans, clothespins, red lights.

  There is an acid room. Big ventilators can be turned on in all the work areas.

  There is a drying room, with pads and weights to keep the dampened, printed, paper from curling, or warping.

 There is a complete kitchen with a generous table and plenty of chairs. The printers are very sociable.

 To keep everything in order there is an office with a computer and a copy machine and an accountant, and the coordinator Yolanda works there.

 There are 11 private, artist spaces, five larger and six smaller.

    The open communal spaces are dotted with worktables. On Fridays when Circulaire sponsors open workshops there are twelve to twenty separate people or teams of people working in different parts of the shop all needing table top space. It doesn’t seem crowded and some workspaces are still available.

   Some of Montreal’s best known and most respected graphic artists work here, Paul Cloutier is a founding member though he is in Mexico right now. Louis-Pierre Bougie is in the middle of a large complex, printing project, which brings him to the acid room every day. We watch him varnishing his plates and scratching the shiny surfaces. He is conferring and cooperating with the press coordinator Paule as they work out Bougie’s sophisticated, multiple image, multiple impression, multiple color prints.

   This is a fascinating part of working here at Circulaire. The artists we meet, and the projects they are realizing, and the methods they are using. We are learning a lot. We are seeing new ideas, new methods, new materials every day. Colography, drypoint, eau forte,  carborundum, electric tools, photo engraving, etching with acid, lithography, mono prints.  We are watching this elaborate social process that we isolated Vermont artists don’t participate in, the mutual support, the shared enthusiasm, the contagious excitement, the spontaneous transfer of ideas and techniques and solutions, this delightful sharing of resources.  Sharing really, that is what it is about; simple, orderly, intentional sharing. That act of sharing, that communal consciousness in itself, is very gratifying, very encouraging and very agreeable to me. 

  Working here is about the people in the final analysis, even eccentrics like us, who work late at night, meet with and deal with the resident community sooner or later.  More and more, really, as we do attend the Friday open workshops on etching and lithography and as we do attend the live model on Monday and since we are in the shop 30 or so hours a week, every day we meet a couple more people. Plenty of immigrants, a Mexican artist, working on images from the Mexican ruinas,  a Colombian woman engraver, trying out a new technique, a US expatriate, married to a Canadian, always bustling and checking to see we have what we need, Europeans who have taken up residence in Montreal, and mostly lots  of Quebecers, with their unique graphic language and communal experience. 

  If you call Atelier Circulaire you are likely to reach coordinator Yolanda Jimenez, at the following number 514-272-8874.

The address is, Atelier Circulaire 5445 Ave Gaspe, Espace 503,

Montreal, Quebec, H2T-3B2. e-mail address,

and the web page,      

 Let us know if you go to visit...Sam and Katah on the Pacific at Escondido

Here we are experimenting with the offset press.

Carlos Calado is discussing various possibilities with Wah Wing Chan.

They are using one of Sam's recent linocuts representing Montreals' Architecture park

back to the series: Imperial Armies in the Garden
More Graphic Art by Sam Kerson
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