Tuesday, December 31, 2019

¡El Grito! -- Looking back on the Desert Triangle before 2020

 Making a Big Noise 

The purpose of the Desert Triangle Print Carpeta is to make a BIG NOISE, and let everyone know that there is artistic talent in the heart of the old Wild West.

Sometimes it seems as if artists just disappear when they stray into our triangle --  bounded by Tuscon, El Paso and Albuquerque -- the way ships disappear in the Bermuda Triangle.  Exhibitions representing the great Southwest can skip over its core.  For instance, in the superlative print exhibition -- "Estampas de la Raza: Contemporary Mexican American Prints from the Romo Collection" -- only three artists from our region were represented, one from El Paso, and another from Yuma, Arizona, and of course, the superstar Luis Jimenez.  Likewise while triangle artists are included in print collections of the Self Help Graphics (LA) and the Serie Project (Austin), we in the Mountain Time Zone could be better represented in general.

I think we in the region have to step it up, because our artists are better than our minimal exposure.  Moreover, if we don't do that ourselves, no one else will.  That was our purpose with the Desert Triangle Print Carpeta, and in the last five years we have shown the carpeta portfolio in Portland, Houston, Chicago, Austin, Riverside (near LA), Miami -- as well as in exhibitions within the triangle,  El Paso, Tucson, Albuquerque (plus Silver City and Las Cruces) -- and even in Mexico -- Patzcuaro (Morelia), Mexico CityOaxaca and Puebla.

As the Desert Triangle talent is bigger than the 30 artists in our portfolio, we have also produced other exhibitions, focusing on mostly local printmakers  -- such as "The Dessert Triangle" (El Paso 2016), "Postre Prints" (El Paso 2017),  "Prints by Southwest" (Albuquerque 2017), and "New Mexico: Living Relief" (Albuquerque 2019).


In 2020 hindsight, on the eve of a new decade, we are still weighing in on what kind of impact we have had.  It was a wonderful surprise to see two of the Desert Triangle prints surface in the exhibition at the El Paso Museum of Art -- "El Paso Museum of Art: 60 Years of Collecting" (September 2019 - April 2020).  Both of those prints were created in Mexico: that of Manuel Guerra at La Ceiba Grafica (Veracruz), and Francisco Delgado at Taller Grafica Libre (Oaxaca).

We were also pleasantly surprised to see three of the Desert Triangle prints on exhibit at the University of Arizona Art Museum (2016, Rudy FloresJesus "Cimi" AlvaradoKrrrl); and then the print by Ruben Urrea Moreno, on display at the Tucson Museum of Art (2018).

The Desert Triangle Print Carpeta is part of six permanent collections -- those of the El Paso Museum of Art, the Tucson Museum of Art, the University of Arizona Art Museum, Mexic-Arte Museum in Austin, the University of Texas at San Antonio, and the private collection of Juan Sandoval.

Moreover the momentum of the Desert Triangle in part fueled Manuel Guerra of El Paso to organize, along with Taller Grafica Libre of Zaachila, Oaxaca, the "Ambos Lados International Print Exchange" in 2019.  The 158 prints are split pretty evenly between artists in Mexico and the United States (with six entries from other countries).  The artistic impulse of our region is spilling over the border.


Looking back we also need to pay respect to our roots.

Perhaps the anchor of the Desert Triangle is Main-tain Collective of El Paso, which solicited at least seven printmakers from El Paso, and work from two print collectives in Ciudad Juarez.  Ramon and Christian Cardenas, of the team Los Dos, connected us with Taller 75 Grados of Mexico City, where Maestro Arturo Negrete produced a third of the prints in the carpeta.  It would have been impossible to birth the Desert Triangle Print Carpeta without the bedrock of the Main-tain Collective in El Paso.

Prior to conception there were many previous print exchanges that built up momentum. Manuel Guerra, professor at UTEP in El Paso, first organized the Horned Toad I Print Exchange (2014) from his studio in El Paso -- before igniting Horned Toad II (2017), and then co-organizing the "Ambos Lados International Print Exchange" with Taller Grafica Libre of Zaachila, Oaxaca (2019).

Joe Marshall organized the YayBig Print Exchange (2013) from his gallery in Tucson.

Plus we also have to thank Jules Floss for her example and inspiration.  She had previously co-organized five international print exchanges from the University of North Carolina at Pembroke,  with Jorge Eliécer Rodríguez Osorio of Universidad de Caldas in Manizales in Columbia -- "Dialogos y Intepretaciones" (2012 -- 2015).  She also participated in all the Horned Toad print exchanges, and currently teaches in Yuma, Arizona.


Magical things happened during the Desert Triangle's tenure.

The day after the Desert Triangle opening at Mexic-Arte in Austin (2018), the Los Dos (El Paso) and Jellyfish (Ciudad Juarez) collectives painted a mural on the building.  This was not planned, but rather unfolded spontaneously in a beautiful way.  Later the mural was enhanced with Augmented Reality, by Augment El Paso, before SXSW (South by Southwest 2018).

Looking wider we discovered a parallel portfolio of large prints created during the same period -- the "LA HAVANA" print portfolio (2016) -- between Self Help Graphics of Los Angeles, and Taller Experimental de Grafica of Havana, Cuba.  Octavio Irving of the LA/HAVANA portfolio also participated in the "Ambos Lados International Print Exchange." That overlap is a nice poetic link, albeit distant, between the two separate print project impulses.

Reaching beyond the Southwest -- 
Octavio Irving of Cuba contributed to the LA/HAVANA portfolio,
although not to the Desert Triangle Print Carpeta; 
however he also participated in the

In the past five years when the Desert Triangle was on the road, Google invited artists to use their free online  AI (artificial intelligence) program to make art -- Deep Dream GeneratorAI art emerged in parallel with the Desert Triangle.  While we did not exploit AI, we did take advantage of AR (augmented reality), by Augment El Paso, to enhance 3 of our prints, pushing the carpeta into the 21st century.


Our region should look brighter to local artists. In the previous century, artists used to flock to New York and San Francisco to try to make their impact, and indulge in a more invigorating environment.  However in the 21st Century, those traditional art centers are too expensive for struggling artists.  Rents are more affordable in the Desert Triangle territory, which makes the old Wild West more attractive.  Moreover with Instagram, artists can stay connected to impulses from all over the world, and counter their isolation.

Currently all three triangle cities have hit a kind of critical mass.  They are all pushing a million people in their metropolitan areas these days (El Paso/Las Cruces/Juarez over 2 million).  By comparison, Paris of  the late 1800s, at the height of the Impressionists era, only had a little more than half a million people.  Tucson, El Paso, and Albuquerque also each have a major university and substantial military base.  Albuquerque is home to Tamarind Institute and Remarque Print Workshop (and not far from the Santa Fe Print Club at Argos Studio/Gallery).  Thus there are some printmaking resources in the desert region, not to mention emerging small galleries, drawing sessions, and other art support.

Admittedly,  the creative energy can ebb and flow in the desert.  Were artists to continue to exhibit between themselves in the region, that energy can buoy up the creative esteem within the Desert Triangle. As prints travel easily with FedEx and UPS, print exhibitions between Tucson, El Paso, and Albuquerque might best sustain that artistic ambiance.

Lastly, as the Desert Triangle hugs the border, it faces Mexico; thus we can also buoy ourselves from their substantial art tradition.  We feel the influence of a surreal and more colorful style rising from the south (not to mention a thriving contemporary art scene); and can easily fly out of Ciudad Juarez on bargain airfares, to touch that inspiration directly.  After all, we labeled our project a "carpeta" (instead of a "portfolio") as we were impressed by printmakers from Oaxaca.

Desert Triangle artists enjoy a unique geographical advantage on the border, and perhaps we should reciprocate more with that rich artistic scene in Mexico in the future.   We have already started, by producing two Mexican print exhibitions -- "From Behind the Wall  -- Prints by Contemporary Mexican Maestros" (Albuquerque 2017), and "Contemporary Mexican Prints", a pop-up at the El Paso Museum of Art (2017). A big thanks to Pavel Acevedo, for opening the doors to Oaxaca, currently a Mecca of young printmakers.

Albuquerque, 2019






The Desert Triangle Print Carpeta was conceived in 2014, during the Chalk the Block festival in downtown El Paso, when Karl Whitaker approached Ramon and Christian Cardenas, suggesting that they join forces to show bigger prints at the festival the following year.  The initial vision was to commission 10 artists in the region to make prints.

Later the number swelled to 30 artists, and expanded its focus to within the Tucson, El Paso and Albuquerque metropolitan areas.  Pavel Acevedo was invited to participate, pretending that Riverside, California was part of greater Tucson.  Quickly we followed the lead of the Serie Project, and commissioned co-editions of 50 large prints, to be split between the artist and the Desert Triangle; all prints were the size of a full sheet of paper, 22 x 30 inches.  In a fortuitous turn of luck, our project was invited to show at the El Paso Museum of Art in 2016, instead of at Chalk the Block.

The theme was open, as the artists were encouraged to create "something personal."

For a look way back, check out the first blog posting here eking out our vision -- Premise.

Other Print Exhibitions -- Albuquerque and Santa Fe

There were two excellent end-of-the year print exhibitions worth noting in New Mexico.


at Remarque Print Workshop

The Remarque Print Workshop in Albuquerque had the opening for their 7th Annual International Juried Print Exhibition on December 6, 2019.  The show runs until January 25, 2019.

At the opening on December 6, 2019







Beatriz Rodriguez


Politics as Usual

The Argos Studio/Gallery had their annual exhibition of historical prints from Dr Bell's expansive collection reflecting the current political situation -- Politics as Usual. The show runs from December 6, 2019 -- January 5th.

Dr Bell lecturing about his historic print collection
in Santa Fe on December 7, 2019

Salon art judges in France

Based on a drawing by Van Dyke

"I have just dropped in to ask a little question, I want to know -- 
if you are really desirous to relieve the people of retrenchment and economy -- 
why don't you begin by reducing your own salaries?"

"Your question is a very impertinent question!  and I take it to be exceeding personal!"

"What a very disagreeable question!"