A tale of two print shops

I really don’t like inkjet prints.  Sure they are cheap and they photographically recreate an artist’s work but they lack a craftsman’s touch, they have no soul. In the last two months while working in Mexico City and Paris I have had the opportunity to spend time at two of my favorite print shops in the world.  75 Grados in Mexico City and IDEM in Paris. Idem is a lithography print shop that has been printing for 135 years.  I visited Idem for the first time over two years ago while I was working on the “The Tall Trees of Paris” book.  I stopped by to watch artist Alexone’s litho being made.  It was a fantastic experience and I didn’t know if I would get a chance to return in the future. On that day I met Patrice the shop master, who was very cordial and showed me around.  Seeing the archive of legendary artists represented on the upper floors was unbelievable.  This past June I was lucky enough to accompany artist Andrew Schoultz to Idem while he was working on his print for “Print them all” out of Geneva, Switzerland.  A long covered alley leads to the entrance of Idem, and behind a big black steel door, visitors are greeted by a room full of varying sizes of litho stones. A giant paper cutter stands in the corner. Across the threshold and into the main printing room resides an impressive collection of massive to gargantuan printing presses.  There is space for artists to draw, proof and sign prints, all under natural light flooding in from skylights. In a method that truly captures the moment, Andrew Schoultz drew one of his prints directly to stone in the shop.  The bygone era industrial atmosphere bleeds from every corner and eventually permeates the work being done there.  On this trip again I had a chance to chat with Patrice.  Like a team of surgeons working to transplant a heart, the team of printers tackle each print and press.  I doubt the end result of each print could be replicated elsewhere.  The shop has paid its dues and each scar finds its way into the ink on each piece of paper printed.  There is a fantastic short film about Idem by director/writer David Lynch that is well worth checking out.  Lynch also makes prints at Idem and was in the shop working the day I was there.


Across the world in another neighborhood in Mexico City is 75 Grados print shop.   They make silkscreen prints and have been doing it for over 35 years.  Being in the middle of working on my next “Tall Trees of” book about Mexico City, I have visited the city a few times this year to gather material and meet artists.   I had the opportunity a couple of months ago to visit the shop with artist Raul Urias and to meet shop boss Arturo Negrete.  The shop is on a non-descript street in Cuauhtémoc with an exterior featuring murals painted by friends of the shop.  Entering the main floor there, I first noticed several people cutting up print negatives.  Arturo explained that after each edition is finished the negatives are destroyed to ensure each artist that no further prints will be made of their work.  Hanging upon and leaning against the old red brick walls are framed serigraph prints made in the shop over the years.  In the back office through an archway some folks worked on computers while a “dia de los muertos” paper mache skeleton sat across the room watching.  Arturo showed me a selection of archival prints with colors that were so vibrant, and print quality and registration that were so perfect.  The shop smells hazardous in a good way.  These inks and chemicals create beauty.  The printer’s hand makes them unique.  We headed up a steel spiral staircase to the second floor where two different prints were in process.  One person examined each print as the other person squeegeed the ink through the screen.  Less than perfect ones were set aside and the survivors got a spot on the drying rack.  The shop is quite compact, yet produces huge prints.  Having originally been interested because they work with quite a few artists who will appear in my next book, I am now looking forward to featuring them in the book as well.


Available work from “Hijos Del Lago Perdidio”.

Hijos del lago perdido (Children of the lost lake)
Mexico City is built on the ancient lake Texcoco.   The Aztecs built the city of Tenochtitlan on an island in the middle of the lake in the 1300’s.  After the Spanish conquered the Aztec empire in the 1500’s, the lake was filled in to control flooding.  The lost lake of Texcoco gave birth to the city and it’s culture. When I arrived in Mexico City to start working on my next book “The Tall Trees of Mexico City” this year, I had an established recipe for finding artists, making books and curating art exhibitions, but I did not know if it would work in Mexico like it had in Tokyo, Portland and Paris.  Very quickly any doubt was put to rest as I started meeting artists and they were in turn introducing me to other artists.  The “Hijos del lago perdido” (Children of the lost lake) show represents a selection of artists that will appear in the next book.

View available artwork here.

Curiot goes to Berlin

Really awesome getting to catch up with Curiot in Mexico City while  I was there starting my next book.  We brought Curiot to Portland a couple years ago for the “Forest For the Trees Mural Festival”.  I popped by his studio with a six pack of tall boys the night before he was to leave for Berlin.  Yep, he was still painting a few pieces.  That’s the way it goes in the art world.  I really love the direction that Favio is going with his new body of work.  They incorporate installations and conceptual design in a distinctive new style.  If you are in Berlin, don’t miss stopping by BC Gallery to check out the show.

I don’t know what to do but I’m doing this.

Like a majority of the United States I woke up the day after the election in shock and horror. The crazy shit from the current regime is off the charts. I won’t go into each element of bullshit but one stance particularly sticks in my craw: all of the absolute false claims about immigrants. Vilifying Muslims and Mexicans really struck a dischord with me. I have crafted my life around traveling to international locations and getting to know artists and their cities, yet the new oval office temp was telling U.S. residents to fear Muslims and hate Mexicans under completely false pretenses. Sadly like Pavlov’s dogs, the ignorant racists of the United States answered this ringing bell with slack jaws spewing saliva. Like most Americans on that day and in the subsequent days, I felt powerless. Days went by without any real actionable thought on what to do to fight this catastrophe. People around me were posting advice on how to write your political representatives or telling everyone to join their local democratic party and run for office. Everyday someone had a specific action to do or a protest to join. To be honest I’m not really a joiner or a team player so these plans were not going to work for me. Suddenly I remembered what I do. I write books. My books are about exposing foreign artists and their culture to the world. Our post-freedom government was telling America that our neighbors to the south were murderers and rapists who are only here to steal our jobs and deliver drugs. The answer to this manufactured problem, build a wall and ban people from entering the country. Well fuck that. I prefer to get to know my neighbors as opposed to condemning them. The “Tall Trees of Mexico City” will be about getting to know my neighbors and introducing those awesome folks to my United States family.

I have been asked “what city was next?” since the Paris book was released. To be honest Mexico City was not the first place that came to mind. I had been thinking about Montreal, Barcelona and Amsterdam for the next book in the series. I have never been to Mexico City. I have some cursory knowledge about Mexico and its big city but truly like most Americans I am ignorant to Mexican culture. I can’t wait to discover all the nooks and crannies. I also can’t wait to tell everyone else about it. I want to shout it out. Mexico is not the problem, immigrants are not the problem. You are the problem, white folks shaking in dark corners afraid of their own heritage and family story. We are a nation of immigrants. We are mutts. I love mutts, always have. The “Tall Trees of Paris” was started under the cloud of my mother’s death. Her memory fueled me. I have never been more appreciative of the people I met in Paris, for their warmth when I needed it most. This book is being started under the cloud of a shattered United States. I definitely feel helpless and hopeless most days but every day there is a glimmer of humanity piercing the darkness. I hope the Mexico City book will change some minds and build a stronger friendship between our neighbors to the south and us during these dark times ahead. I was raised in the deep racist farmlands of middle America but I knew different. I knew curiosity didn’t kill the cat. Getting to know people is the only way to move beyond the fear. So I’ve picked a fight I guess. I’ve picked my little contribution. I’m doing my part. I want to educate and envelop the voices of fear in a blanket of art and culture.


Lady Amputee in a powder room

I met Makiko Sugawa several years ago while I was the director at another gallery in Portland.  I showed her work there and have continued to show her work since.  Makiko lost her leg to cancer 12 years ago.  This event heavily influences her work.   “Lady amputee in a powder room” reflects this influence.  Each of her delicate drawings features a character missing limbs.  Like with her prosthetic limb, the subjects of her pieces also have interchangeable prosthetic’s.  The difference between reality and her work is that the figures are like dolls with snap on limbs.  Makiko is a champion for amputees in Japan and is heavily involved in the community.  In a country that is fixated on appearance, this can’t be easy but she keeps knocking down barriers.  “Lady amputee in a powder room” opens at Vanilla Gallery in Tokyo on February 6th.