International Print Portfolios of ARCEO PRESS, Chicago

My first experience participating in a print portfolio was in 1983, while studying at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago I took my first printmaking class with David Holtzman. All class participants created a print to share with everyone else in the form of a portfolio. In 1990 Tomas Bringas, an artist from Durango, Mexico suggested to a group of Chicago printmakers that they compile a print portfolio. Thus, “El Canto del Papel” was born of the labor of seven artists: Nicolas de Jesus, Gerardo de la Barrera, Tomas Bringas, Carlos A. Cortez, Arturo Barrera, Carlos Villanueva and myself. The images created were inspired by a set of poems by Duddley Nieto. Within the year, this group decided to create the Taller Mexicano de Grabado (The Mexican Printmaking Workshop, now Casa de Cultura Carlos Cortez) in the Pilsen/Chicago neighborhood.

In 2003, under the auspices of the Federación de Clubes Michoacanos en Illinois (Federation of Michoacan Clubs), I began coordinating – with Juan Guerrero from the Artistas Visuales de Michoacán – a new bi-national print portfolio “Bajo un mismo cielo” (Under the Same Sky). The portfolio included twelve artists from the state of Michoacán, Mexico; six living in the USA and six in Michoacán. Juan coordinated the six artists in Michoacán, organized the logistics for USA artists who travelled to Patzcuaro, Mexico to produce their images, as well as pulling the editions and the fabrication of portfolio covers. This project was the catalyst for the foundation of Arceo Press.

Based on this experience, I decided to create Arceo Press to foster printmaking collaborations and exhibitions with an international approach. Each limited-edition print portfolio includes the participation of 20-35 artists from various countries including Mexico, United States, Spain, France, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Canada, and Puerto Rico. The portfolios Arceo Press has published thus far are:

2005 – Mnemonic: To Aid the Memory
2007 – Bestiary & Nahuals, vol. 1
2007 – Bestiary & Nahuals, vol. 2
2008 – Día de los Muertos: Common Ground
2010 – Centennial of the Mexican Revolution
2011 – Santitos (folk culture of Saints)
2012 – Rostros de la Migración/Faces of Migration (co-published with FEDECMI)
2013 – Posada: 100 Year Legacy
2015 – Chicago (in collaboration with the Chicago Society of Artists)
2016 – Superstitions vol. 1
2017 – Superstitions vol. 2
2018 – Water/Agua

My interest in creating this type of international project is three-folded. First, it has to do with my interest in seeking an opportunity for artists from different cities and countries to collaborate under a common theme. In my travels and experiences with many artists, most often printmakers, I find myself wanting to bring them together in some form. I also wonder how artists from different cultures, experiences and backgrounds would respond to a specific theme utilizing their preferred media. How could such collaboration enrich the given theme? What diversity of media and styles could come about with this type of collaboration? I purposely select mature and knowledgeable printmakers with expertise alongside young promising artists so that all can benefit from these projects. Each and every collaboration has been enormously gratifying and, in some instances, illuminating.

My second interest lays in that this type of collaboration links artists together from within the international arena. Often times, additional projects come about as a direct result of the connections and common interests that participating artists realize they have. This translates into solo and/or group exhibitions as well as art exchanges. For example, I had the opportunity to present a solo exhibition in Paris during October of 2006. There I met several printmakers from a collective whom I have invited to participate in numerous portfolios. In some other instances, artists from Montreal have been invited to exhibit individually and collectively in the Chicago area.

Thirdly, I am interested in utilizing these print portfolios as a way to gain exhibition opportunities in other countries. It is very expensive for an independent self-funded artist to ship one’s own artwork for exhibition to another country. If an artist does not have professional gallery representation or a museum interested in promoting his/her work, they would have very limited exposure. By creating works on paper, specifically prints, artists have the possibility of more easily and affordably mailing prints to potential exhibiting venues abroad. One of the great benefits of these print collaborations is that each participating artist agrees to promote an exhibition of their portfolio in their own country and city. Through the support of the sponsors, individuals and businesses, I am able to take care of the logistics for all participants, including purchasing and shipping paper, contracting the design and production of the portfolio covers, collating the editions, and shipping the finished portfolios to each artist involved. Each artist has only to worry about creating their image within the specified size in the media of their choice and pulling the edition of their single print.

Finally, the themes of the previous and current portfolios have come out of numerous meetings and discussions with Chicago-based artists. I am particularly interested in nurturing themes that could involve many possible artists' interpretations and visualizations, while being humanistic and/or culturally meaningful. The themes that search and explore some new level of meaning, that excite artists and may engage audiences are my constant pursuit.

René Arceo, director-printmaker