When Brandon Bandy went to Webster University, he had a vision. That vision included pastel colors and graphics in a studio of his own. Now, he spends his days living it out.
Riso Hell is a printing and publishing operation started by Webster alums Bandy and Bridget Carey. Bandy, who graduated with a photography degree in 2017, works in Riso Hell’s workspace in St. Louis publishing prints and hosting workshops for local artists.
Riso Hell comes from the name of the printer they use: a Japanese machine that was brought to the U.S. around the 1980s and early 2000s. It’s created for places like office spaces and churches. By its design, it is not intended for artistic use, as it was made for printing documents for office use instead.
“Since it was never meant to be used for this stuff, there’s a lot of issues and quirks that it has,” Bandy said. “Working around them and just dealing with the machines can be like hell.”
What makes the printer so special for artistic use, Bandy said, is that it is much like a copy machine that dispels ink like a screen printer – so their art is printed in a way that looks unique.
Bandy and Carey have worked on this project since 2015. Because they were involved with the arts, they were familiar with the printing process. To move forward with their work, they applied for a research grant through Webster. They used the money from the grant to pay for supplies so they could print publications on art department professor Tate Foley’s Riso machine.
Later on, they got a Riso printer from Craigslist for their own work. The two eventually got enough colors and supplies to start doing work for hire. Artists around St. Louis send in their illustrations and artwork to be printed on the Riso printer.
Bandy’s best friend and Webster Studio Arts graduate Andrew Gurney has been with the Riso project since its toddler years.
“It was cool because it seemed pretty ambitious,” Gurney said. “From the start [Bandy and Carey] were always very passionate about it and very excited. They wanted to learn all about it and be very committed.”
Carey, who graduated with a graphic design degree, said doing work for hire can be tough in the Midwest.
“This is a really easy way to make our work,” Carey said. “But being in the Midwest, it’s kind of hard as a Riso printer because it’s really popular on the coast. We don’t get a ton of people reaching out, but we’ve been picking up recently as more and more people have heard about it.”
Bandy said that Riso Hell is the only for hire Riso printing operation in St. Louis. Professors at Webster have Riso machines they use for their personal work, but there is nowhere else in St. Louis that an artist could go to get their work printed on a Riso.
Art and Inspiration
Riso Hell is Bandy and Carey’s side operation. Aside from this idea being their passion, they do not believe they would be able to do it as a living. In the meantime, Bandy said he has been interested in primarily doing art books and zines – a collection of original and appropriated texts and images, typically produced with a photocopier.
He said his latest work has been playing around with the idea of appropriating trends from the past and trying to perfect them into now. He calls it image and aesthetics recycling.
“We’re kind of in this time period where we’re cherry picking tidbits from the sixties through the nineties and creating this perfected version of them,” Bandy said. “All the rainbow art of the ‘70s – now we’re getting it on phone cases and stuff like that. And you never saw anything that was that perfect from that time period. It was very different.”
With a photography background, Bandy considers that printing is more directed towards illustration and design, not so much photography. In his latest work, he is trying to combine the two.
“Now I’m still continuing to do more photographic work with that and trying to push it in that direction a little bit,” Bandy said. “A lot of the art book stuff that got me into this was photo book stuff because that’s kind of my primary interest.”
Gurney also played a part in some of the Riso prints, creating a poetry and art book titled “It’s Like a Sports Bar For Your Head.”
“Making work with them was really cool because [Bandy and Carey] are not really ones to cut corners so we can mess around with a lot of funny ideas, and we always try a lot of different things,” Gurney said.
Carey, who also makes artwork of her own on the Riso, gets most of her inspiration from other artists on social media who post their work. She said this is another example of aesthetic recycling, but it’s also merely inspiration.
“Mine is a lot of just scrolling through instagram,” Carey said. “I’m really interested in these really over the top, like pop out things on Instagram, like a disco ball tumbler to drink out of. No one needs that, but of course I want that. I want to draw that type of thing.”