By Liam Kennedy
In these strange times, things that once seemed like fun, effortless, or enriching experiences now seem nearly impossible. Most of us wouldn’t have worried about going to an opening at a local art gallery back in December 2019. That’s when Guillermo Trejo was planning an exhibit of his new collection of prints for the spring of 2020. At the time, it seemed pretty straightforward. Trejo has been an Ottawa-based artist for the past 12 years, and has made a lot of connections in the local art community. Studio Sixty Six seemed like a natural fit, since he’s represented by them and often does curatorial work there.
Over the next four months, the plan got complicated. With public events being cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns, Trejo thought it might be best to cancel his show as well. He knew that if he did, the pieces he made while in residency at the Malaspina Printmakers Studio in Vancouver would likely not reach an audience. He was prepared to accept that. Luckily, he and the gallery’s curator, Carrie Colton, came up with another approach that would allow his work to be shown at a safe social distance.
Trejo’s West Coast Series, a collection of print-making experiments the artist undertook while on the eponymous west coast, is now a virtual exhibit. A video is available in the exhibit’s Facebook event, where viewers are given a private tour of the collection by the artist from inside the gallery, with additional information about each piece. Comments and questions from viewers, sent to the artist while the video was live, can also be seen when viewing the video on Facebook. A recorded interview of Trejo by Colton and a video tour of the exhibition without commentary will also be made available. The impossible is now possible again: All you need to do is join the Facebook event!
The series itself is a new direction for Trejo. His previous work can be characterized as political in message and clean in aesthetic, favouring dark colours and defined shapes, drawing inspiration from graphic design and Trejo’s thoughts and concerns regarding current world events. Though he felt his work remained relevant, after some time Trejo became concerned that he was not doing enough to change the situations he was commenting on. Plus, drawing inspiration from often-heavy political questions takes a psychological toll. While in residency, he decided to focus on his medium, print-making, and play with it. The result is an experimentation with colour, form, and abstraction.
Though previously he had considered printing a tool to convey a specific message, Trejo wanted to take the opportunity to look closer at the influence print-making techniques have on the final product. He described this process as “like trying to brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand,” making something familiar to you deliberately unfamiliar so you gain a better appreciation of how it works and what other possibilities lie within it. As a result, he gained a new appreciation for printing, and now considers the process itself to be his collaborator in making art.
In the spirit of experimentation and unlearning, the series makes use of both abstract and recognizable forms. Specifically, letters from the Latin alphabet appear throughout the series. These familiar shapes accompany abstractions and often overlay, or are overlays of, colour or black ink, rendering these familiar forms unfamiliar. His use of letters in this way is an attempt to point out our expectations of these shapes, based on how we have grown accustomed to interpreting them, and call those assumptions into question. As with his previous work, Trejo continues to take inspiration from the graphic design elements of posters and signs, as well as less noticeable forms. As an example, he pointed out that “spray-painted lines in parking lots are abstract shapes conveying information everyone understands,” but rarely thinks about.
The West Coast Series exhibit opened on May 1 and will run online until May 30, 2020. If you are interested in checking it out, join the Facebook event or visit Studio Sixty Six’s website. If you really want to see the collection in person, get in touch with the gallery to arrange a solo tour.
For more from Guillermo Trejo, you can follow him on Instagram @trejoguillermo02 (though he notes he is not an Instagram purist and his account often features photos of his daughter or furniture he is building as a hobby) or visit his website to see his previous projects.