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Inspiration comes from the other side of Lake Erie

By François Levesque on January 30, 2013

Print-making, comparing Cleveland to Ottawa, and a new perspective on the United States. Guillermo Trejo talks to us days before the opening of his solo exhibit at La Petite Mort.

Guillermo Trejo has been calling Ottawa home for the last 6 years already and has been in a number of group shows at La Petite Mort. A year or so ago, this piece attracted LPM owner Guy Berube’s eye and they started discussing collaboration on a show that would showcase Trejo’s trademark wood and lino cut work. A February date was confirmed for the show, about the same time the artist learned his application for a residency was accepted by the Cleveland Foundation. The foundation brings artists from different artistic backgrounds (visual arts, dance, filmmaking) from all over the world to work in the community and perfect their art. He volunteered with an outreach arts program for inner-city youth that offered art classes for schools that don’t have art classes anymore because of cuts in the United States.

Cleveland is very similar to Detroit in the sense that the 2008 recession has hit the city hard. Many houses in the city’s core have been abandoned and the downtown is pretty much dead, says Trejo. “Being from Mexico, the most interesting about living in the States is that I always saw the States from the Mexican perspective, as a land of opportunity. For many Mexicans, their main achievement in life is to pass the border and make a life in the United States.”  Going there and seeing the current reality was a big eye opener that made him realize Mexico’s not so bad at all.

At the Other Side of Lake Erie – the title of Trejo’s exhibit – refers partly to the geographical location, but more importantly to the cultural differences between Canada and the United States through the eyes of a Mexican. Trejo compares Cleveland to Ottawa without the public servants. It’s poorer but very community-based, with its own personal style. While it’s a city that’s seen better economic days, it has a rich and resilient cultural scene. The warehouses once used by various industries, after being abandoned for decades, are now getting filled by artists. It also has a beautiful contemporary art museum that re-opened in a brand new building in 2012.

The new scenery and circumstances inspired Trejo to go abstract, bringing him back to the work he did in his academic years. While the finished product is different, the techniques used for both types of prints are the same. I tell him that prints seem to appeal to younger people and ask if it’s a matter of usually being more affordable. He goes beyond this. “If you see print making as opposed to painting, all these functional techniques used to produce things and knowledge – books, stickers. Every time a technique becomes “dated”, like etching or wood cuts, type setting, etc. Every time a new technique of printing comes, the past ones become artistic impression. What’s interesting to Trejo is that all printing techniques were developed to serve a purpose in society.  While painting is definitely purely an artistic endeavor and, rightly or wrongly, can appear elitist, printing is something everyone understands. There’s a functionality to it.

Trejo likes the share the techniques he’s perfected. As such, he hosts print-making workshops at the Ottawa School of Arts. These 10-week sessions are to initiate folks to etching, dry point, relief. His time spent in Cleveland’s also inspired him to work with kids and he hopes to get engaged in the OSA’s outreach program.

His exhibit, At the Other Side of Lake Erie will be showing at La Petite Mort Gallery, 306 Cumberland St., all of February. The vernissage is this Friday, February 1st.