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"The East Coast Series" on display at Studio Sixty Six. Photo provided.

Guillermo Trejo’s The East Coast Series on display at Studio Sixty Six until July 2

By Sonya Gankina on May 16, 2022

Found materials. Local inspiration. A musical connection.

This is The East Coast Series—a new solo exhibition by Mexican Canadian artist Guillermo Trejo, who is now based in Ottawa. The Series features a collection of prints, created by Trejo during a residency at the Saint Michael Print Studio in St. John’s, N.L. “I could see the sea from the studio, it’s a beautiful historical place,” recalls Trejo in a conversation at Studio Sixty Six, where his work is exhibited until July 2.

Guillermo Trejo. Photo provided.

The East Coast Series responds to The West Coast Series, produced during Trejo’s residency in Vancouver, B.C. The parallel titles of the two collections are based on the idea of jazz improvisation. The organic evolution of the art without set plans or rules, similar to the musical concept, emerged from Trejo’s creative process of using only found materials in the St. John’s studio.

Inspired by the idea of a jazz ensemble, Guillermo’s work was carefully arranged by Studio Sixty Six’s Artistic Director, Sam Loewen, to resemble a musical pattern—the art flows in a melody, staccato rhythm interspersed with lyrical movement.

Trejo’s enthusiasm and powerful energy shine through, “I’m not just making my own thing; I’m influenced by objects and history and the studio. For example, the circle in the print is the circumference of a jar lid for ink that I found. St. John’s is on an island so it can be hard to get materials and the scavenging became part of the creative concept. I used inks leftover from previous artists—I wasn’t looking for that particular red but it was there and that’s what you see.”

The East Coast Series by Guillermo Trejo. Photo by Sonya Gankina.

When I ask if this ecofriendly choice was intentional, Trejo shrugs, “The environmentalism element is really ingrained in my work, it’s not something I tout or focus on specifically but it is important for me as a practitioner. Art materials are not overly toxic but they’re not natural either. How much waste does art produce? It should be known and aware that we are responsible as creators. I always think about recycling materials and I try to consider ‘lower materials’ like newsprint or cheaper inks—they should be equally valued. You can produce great art with just what’s available and accessible to you, you don’t need super expensive tools or paints.”

The East Coast Series by Guillermo Trejo. Photo by Sonya Gankina.

Working with the legendary 1970s oversized press at Saint Michael studio, Trejo approaches the printmaking process as a collaboration with the machine, rather than a transaction: “In art school, to create a ‘professional’ print, you have to follow all these protocols—clean edges, edition numbers, the same design every time. For me, there was not enough artistic aspect. Years ago, when I was working, I realized the printing press would give you noise or different tonalities that’d traditionally be considered a mistake. I started wondering if it was not an error but a response to what I was doing. A metaphysical awareness of a possible transaction.”

“The idea of collaboration came after Vancouver residency—the machine was finicky, there were issues with pressure. Each machine has its own needs that produce different behaviours, which can be shown through the printing process. The machine in St. John’s has been in use since the 1970s—how many people used it and broke things? It develops character. This approach brought me curiosity and less frustration. I’m now less attached to the “correct” idea of printing. It’s the serendipity of production. How painters approach technique, free-flowing—maybe I should do the same with print.”

The works carry this effortless idea of creation, where “imperfections” come together to create a truly unique print, rooted in decades of history, and carrying a nod to the machine that produced it, forever.

All monoprints in the collection feature either stencilled shapes or a rhombus, or both, creating a beautiful sense of peace, calmness, and cohesion. And it’s not accidental, “In St. John’s, there is a mountain, where locals used to fly kites to communicate through Morse code, and that’s where the shape evolved from. The lids and studio materials also carry a radiographic quality. The images don’t have a specific meaning but represent a way to control things. The rhombus shape helps maintain logic,” explains Trejo.

Naturally, the East and West Coast series inspires me to ask what’s next for the artist—which coast’s energy will be captured in a future collection? “I want to go to the printmaking studio in the North,” readily shares Trejo, “I want to see what happens scavenging materials there and how different it’d be. There is also the moralistic aspect where the creativity shouldn’t be overpassed by materials, especially in North America—having less activates more creative uses.”

Catch The East Coast Series on display at Studio Sixty Six until July 2nd.