In the studio of Jorge Crespo

The immigrants in the artwork of Jorge Crespo tell a story of identity, humor, humanity and of the fantastic. They come to their new environments in parades like sad circus performers, or in boats with toy like horses and musical instruments. They bring with them symbolic empty cages and wear their wears upon their heads and chests to hide their thoughts. The colors brighten the somber images. The tones and shading of the masked and magical characters emerge from the matrix to tell their stories of an old life in a new place.

Like many of the artists in Costa Rica, Jorge Crespo has his studio located in his home. He tells me about his own history; his family emigrating from Bolivia. We walk through the living room where a few of his paintings occupy the walls. Jorge employs a printmaker’s vision to create the canvases but the scale is that of a muralist at times.

Then we enter the pleasantly lit studio with its printing press, papers, inks and the rich smells of creating art. Over in the corner is a contraption that looks like a homemade science experiment…and it is. Crespo explains to me how he has designed a system to etch electronically his plates for printing without toxic chemicals.

On display are the many prints he has created as a master printmaker for editions designed by other Costa Rican artists. Then he presents an embossed portfolio to show me his etchings. Immigration is still the context of the striking mezzotints, woodcuts and aquatints on thick and thin papers. Sometimes surreal in their bodies and proportions, the characters mimic the immigrants living in his canvases.

I meet Jorge’s lovely wife, Marite; she is an artist also. She creates sensitive prints of feminine genres. I am impressed as well with her work. We talk about a project with a Costa Rican company, Cemaco, which is commemorating Jorge’s work on a line of ceramics. Before I leave, I order portfolios embossed with the Ford Fine Art logo. Jorge gives me a portfolio of his etchings and woodcuts to immigrate to the US for a new life…they are up for adoption now on our website.


The monoprint and the monotype are one of a kind artworks achieved by applying colored inks to a surface and then transferring that image to paper. In essence: printed paintings. The two terms are often used interchangeably and both are spontaneous techniques that create painterly quality originals.

Monoprints can be found back in the 1600s when artists experimented with intaglio plates, re-wiping and inking in different ways from traditional inking and printing techniques. They were called “painted drawings.”

Rembrandt created the first monotype by applying a heavy film of black or brown ink onto an etching plate, drawing his white lines with a blunt stick and creating tones with a variety of tools. The plate was then printed using a press, as with all intaglio prints.

William Blake became one of the most important artists to work with monotypes. He painted with egg tempera onto a board, retouched with drawing tools or brushes. Using rags, fingers and brushes Edgar Degas experimented with adding richer color to his works, sometimes adding pastels and finishes to enhance the colors.

Paul Gauguin developed his own unique technique called trace monotype. By inking a sheet of paper and laying another sheet over it and drawing, a new linear type of imagery created original painted drawings. Paul Klee used the technique later in his works.

Monoprints are the simpler of the two processes. A handprint on paper is a monoprint. There is always a pattern or part of an image which is constantly repeated in each print, sometimes a pattern or etched plate to add texture. It can be created using any technique: relief, intaglio or planographic. Each print is different from the other, as the artist works each plate individually, adding color or wiping the ink differently each time a print is pulled.

The monotype is created by covering a clean matrix entirely with etching ink, then removing the ink to create the lighter and white areas of the picture being made. A variety of tools can be used to create the lines, figures, and images. In monotypes sometimes a clean plate is used and the colors applied. It involves drawing, painting and printing techniques. It is not possible to create two that are alike.

When the image is ready, the plate is run through the etching press with a piece of dampened rag paper. The ink transfers from the plate to the paper, depending on the thickness of the ink creating expected and unexpected outcomes. Chine colle and frottage are the application of fine Japanese papers or printed papers to the printed image before the actual printing is done.

Both monoprints and monotypes are considered original works and are good investments in fine art. Monotypes usually are valued higher than monoprints as the monoprints are originals but they can exist in a series or edition, each with modifications.

Going to the Bienal

September 8, 2010

The Bi-annual of Visual Arts of the Central American Isthmus is different from most recurring art events. This alternating yearly event jumps from capital to capital within the six participating countries.

Starting in Guatemala in 1998, the Central American Biennial has touched down successively in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama, El Salvador, and Honduras. The 7th Bienal Artes Visuales del Istmo Centroamericano (BAVIC) is scheduled for November, 2010 in Managua, Nicaragua.

Originally conceived as the “Painting Biennial of the Central American Isthmus,” the event has evolved. It now encourages a wider focus to include sculpture, art object assembly, video art, animations, net art, artistic photography, etc. The six participating countries send two works by six vetted artists to the exhibition.

In all, 72 pieces of Central American contemporary works compete for the prizes valued at $ 8,000, $ 6,000 and $ 4,000.

The Biennial is sponsored by a group of Central American business people made up by: Bank Promerica from Honduras; Bank Promerica for Salvadorean art, El Salvador; Ortiz Gurdian Foundation from Nicaragua; The Paiz Foundation for education and culture from Guatemala; Entrepreneurs for art from Costa Rica and the Fernández Pirla Foundation from Panamá.

The winners who will participate in the VII BIVAC are:

Panama: Rachelle and José Manuel. Castrellón Mozman, Cochez Raquel, Maria Pilar Moreno , Claudia Lamboglia, Giovani Ramses.

San Salvador: Mauricio Esquivel, Walterio Iraheta, Simon Vega, Ernesto Bautista, Veronica Vides, the group composed of Melissa Guevara, Karen Estrada, Jaime Izaguirre, and Mauricio Esquivel Mauricio Kabistán

Nicaragua: Marcos Agudelo, Donaldo Altamirano, Patricia Belli, Jean Marc Calvet, Moses Mora, Patricia Villalobos

Guatamala: Regina Galindo, Jorge De Leon, Alberto Rodriguez, Manuel Chavajay, Alfredo Ceibal, Yasmin Hage

Costa Rica: Alexander Arias , Edgar Leon, Mauricio Miranda , Joaquín Rodríguez del Paso, Guillermo Vargas, Elena Wen Habakkuk

Since the BAVIC is all about contemporary art and artists, the emphasis is away from traditional art venues like paintings, printmaking and photography. Video, installation, conceptual and performance art are the innovative forms seen here at the Biennale.

Lithographs, what are they?

September 29, 2009

While most people I talk with know the term etching as an art form, they don’t really know what exactly is involved in this process of intaglio printmaking.  They usually understand the concept of a wood block print or relief printing, recollecting potato or linoleum block prints made is school.

But when it comes to lithographs, the confusion is rampant…and rightfully so.  There are two very different lithographic printing techniques and understanding them both will help collectors and investors of art make better decisions about their print purchases.

Some lithographs are considered as fine art prints, others are mere copies.

Stone or hand-pulled prints are created by artists who design their edition for the process of printing on a flat surfaced stone (litho) using oil base inks and the resistance of water.  Each color requires a different stone and a separate printing.

Prints that are only reproductions are offset lithographs.  This requires taking a photograph of any painting or drawing and having it printed at a commercial printing company.

The cost of creating a stone litho in time and supplies can be near $50 per print and more in comparison to offset lithos at one dollar and usually less.

First clue that the litho might be a fine art print… an edition of less than 250.  The hand prepared stone surface starts to break down in quality and integrity if more.

Second clue, the paper is usually heavier and watermarked.

Third, the image has a painterly quality.  Many artists who like to paint prefer this technique to create multiple artworks as it lends itself to painting rather than the carving required for a wood block print or linear/detailing of an intaglio edition.

Artists who are known for their lithography prints include Goya, Odilon Redon (one of my personal favorites), Toulouse Lautrec, Alphonse Mucha, Picasso,  Jasper Johns, David Hockney, M.C. Esher and many of the Mexican muralists.

Fine art prints are considered original pieces of art.  It is an inexpensive way to collect top artists work.  Be careful of what I call cruise art.  The limited editions of Miro, Picasso and Dali are not limited, they are mass marketed and not hand pulled or authorized for the printing by the artists.  They will be worth a lot less than you pay for them.

May 20, 2009

My colleague in art unexpectedly said to me that he no longer liked women’s faces in art.  In jest I asked if he was becoming a misogynist, and we talked further.

He clarified that some faces were ok, maybe just the faces that were fashionable or just beautiful were objectionable…”this one is ok and I like that one all right” as he pointed to women’s faces that suggested natural states, universality or expression.  “Not just a pretty face” was my interpretation of what he was conveying.

It made me think about why we like what we like in art.  Do the emotional responses change in light of education and experience?

When I go to a museum, I don’t like to use the headphones that tell you about each work. I first want to have a personal, uneducated response to the art before I delve into knowing about the artist or the circumstances of what he is saying or why she used the imagery she did.

One time I went to the MOMA and I saw the work of Cy Twombly.  One piece in particular drew my attention, but I didn’t “get it”.  I thought about it often.   While studying the work of photographer Harry Callahan, a photo of grasses emerging through the snow connected me to that painting.  I then understood what Twombly was saying to me. That moment helped me to define one of my emotional responses to art.  The wonder and underlying essence of nature speaks to me in art…the abstracted concepts, patterns and secrets of what is happening dynamically in the natural world. When I witness those concepts in a two or three-dimensional representation, it is as sublime as the nature itself.

I have studied, written about and taught art for many years.  With education comes appreciation and understanding. But I am talking about the emotional response…what really turns one on or off about art. To discover and define those aspects is epiphanic and revealing.

So when my colleague told me about the faces of women, he was just reinforcing what I already knew about him, he has a true respect for women. His personal art collection is full of women, real and expressive women.  Maybe experiences and education recently reinforced that revelation. It was his emotional response to art that he was declaring. And what are emotional responses except unexplained forces of nature that happen dynamically.

And I believe it an apt metaphor for art itself…Not just a pretty picture, but a personal response to what is significant in one’s own life.

museum quality giclee?

May 13, 2009

I recently saw advertised on an artist’s page “museum quality giclees” for sale.  The original was a mixed media painting with collaged papers.  I called immediately to find out why the artist would consider a reproduction of her original as museum quality.  She assured me the copy looked as good as the original (not for sale) and most people could not tell the difference.  The giclee was printed on the best ink jet printer using archival inks and rag paper so the copy could stand the test of time and it retails for $750.

Really? I find it hard to believe that just the materials used qualify a piece of art as museum quality. Plus the fact that museums generally stay away from reproductions, much preferring to collect original art and artifacts.  But the idea that most people could not tell the difference is the part that disturbed me the most of what she said. 

The term giclee actually means spray of ink, from an ink jet printer, onto paper or fabric. Looking closely at a giclee will show a smooth finish without brushmark or nuance of tool or medium (most certainly not showing any collaged aspects.)  You can see the weave of canvas or textured paper…sometimes those pesky marketers of reproductions add painted areas or a varnish with strong brush strokes, thus making the “work of art” embellished and more valuable, at least in the pricing, which brings me to the next point about giclees.

Giclees of paintings will be worth less than you pay for them.

A giclee or digital print of any medium other than digital images like photographs or computer genaerated art is just a poster, a copy, a reproduction, a poser, pretending to be something it is not.  Yes, there is a place in the market for posters, offset lithograph prints and reproductions,  they can be found in department stores everywhere.  Numbering and signing them does not increase their value. and please do not be fooled by language and inappropriate prices to the value of these giclees.  They are not considered fine art and most artists and collectors feel that they actually devalue the original. 

However, there are museum quality digital images produced on the same ink jet printers, using the same inks and papers, but they are originals or editions of images designed and created for the medium used.  And limited editions are very collectible and valued by museums as long as they are hand-pulled originals, which will be the next topic of suzsaysthisaboutart blog.