When master printmaker Chris Creyts relocated to Salt Lake City from New York, bringing more than a decade of skills learned at the hands of the cream of the cosmopolitan art world, he also brought a printing press that has seen more history than some professors. The 36-year-old moved to Utah in 2003 to spend more time with his daughter, after a career in which he worked in some of the most prestigious printing houses in the world. And he’s got stories to go with the press as remarkable as some of the prints he brought along.
While studying ceramics at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia in the mid-1980s, he took a printmaking elective and was won over by it. “Screen printing breaks down the composition of an image,” he recalled; “being good at math, I was drawn to it.” While working at the school’s print shop, Cretys was invited by a visiting professor from the Tokyo School of Art to study traditional calligraphy and wood block printing there. When he returned from Japan, he worked briefly with Andy Warhol’s silkscreener Donald Sheridan, until a paper dealer recommended Creyts to Ken Tyler—founder of Tyler Graphics, one of the top print houses in New York.
“When I started with Tyler, I was a ‘floater,’” he explained, doing everything from etching to lithography to making paper. As a result, he got to work with almost all the artists using Tyler, which included lions of the New York art scene: Helen Frankenthaler, Roy Liechtenstein, Frank Stella. “We sometimes worked from 7 a.m. to midnight,” he recalled. “It was dog eat dog; if you didn’t have passion and commitment for the work, you’d soon be weeded out.”
Being artists, each of them had their own quirks. “Liechtenstein had a poise about him, but if you showed him a print he didn’t like, he’d let you know in no uncertain terms.” Stella was more whimsical: “I’d ask him what color to use and he’d answer ‘the color du jour.’”
With Tyler, he worked on some major pieces, like Frankenthaler’s “Tales of Genji” series with its ghostlike abstract shapes and Stella’s “A Bower in the Arsacides,” a massive undertaking that utilized over 130 different plates and took 18 months to complete. He shows off one in his studio, valued at about the price of an average used car and jokes about its shocking neon colors: “It comes with its own Duracells.”
After Tyler closed his studio, Creyts moved to Universal Limited Art Editions, Tyler’s main competitor, where he became head of the etching department. In the meantime, Creyts had used his savings to purchase the press he brought to Utah—a press at one time used by Picasso. Buying it cost him a job with a printer who had also wanted it before he went to ULAE. “I don’t own the press; it owns me,” he confessed.
What’s so special about the press? “There are only three like it in the United States,” he explains. “It’s geared down so it moves very slowly, so it can push away water and wick ink out of the way. It can administer an immense amount of pressure.” The printing game is one of millimeters, and this instrument can deliver very exacting images, and oversize pieces up to 4 feet by 6 feet.
Since coming here, he has taught classes to local artists like people from the new Saltgrass Press and artists Sandy Brunwald, Teresa Jordan and Jean Arnold. He hopes to offer studio time to artists who want to make original artworks to sell.
“To be a good printer, you have to be self-conscious,” he explained. “It’s a continual process of second guessing. The second you think you’ve got it mastered, you’re kidding yourself.”
Unlike painting where you can paint over mistakes, if there’s a flaw in a print, you have to start over from scratch. “There’s no room for attitude in what I do.”