Drawings that explore human memory and experience. Some artists can produce infinite variations in a separate image. They tirelessly draw or paint new versions of a popular model, a beloved landscape, or the ancient porcelain vessel. For several, an entire profession may not be enough to explore all aspects of a preferred subject. Francisco Souto is not one of these experts. Originally from Venezuela, who now lives in Nebraska, he is never satisfied with repeating a project. My greatest fear, he says, is realizing that I am copying myself. As a result, it can be not easy at first to find connections between the different works of the artist. There is no theme or visual motif that appears piece by piece. Some represent figures, some objects, some landscapes, and some are difficult. The work is performed in an ever-expanding assortment of media, including printmaking, drawing, painting, and digital history.
The general style ranges from strict realism to gestural abstraction, from classical to avant-garde. But after careful inspection, Souto’s production is linked in several ways. From a thematic import of design, much of his work reveals an interest in human memory and the notions of place and spatial relationships. Furthermore, the range of themes, media, and techniques that at first makes Souto’s work seem so varied, in a sense, unites it, as all of his work manifests a passion for finding new ways of creating images and expressing ideas. The fact that Souto constantly changes is one of the most consistent things about him.
Push creative limits
Souto has always been reluctant to repeat himself. But one of the most significant changes in his working methods did not come by choice. It is how he went from printing to drawing as the primary mode of artistic creation. The artist was having success with his halftone prints. But after a few years, without wanting to repeat himself, he decided to take a qualitative leap. I was wondering how far, technically and emotionally, can I go, including this? I wanted to push personally to the goal. So I made an intense impression that took me six months to complete.
A fortuitous wound
Working on such an ambitious piece, which required hours and hours of energetic and repetitive movement used in mezzotint, came at a high physical cost. After I finished the work, my arm broke. Carpal tunnel, elbow tendonitis, and rotator cuff tear. I couldn’t even keep my toothbrush. As his body healed from the damage, Souto explored another way of making art. He first changed its scale, creating the series After the other and The other, both with small representative images surrounded by extensive backgrounds full of dripping and splattered paint, a far cry from the strictly controlled process mezzotint.
I was involved in this primordial type of creating an image. This new language has taken over my engraving. Soon Souto’s new interest indirect forms of artistic creation led him to draw. In the past, drawing was just a medium for me; it wasn’t something he was too involved in. But after spending so much time with a technique in which he spent months working on a home before he could see what his picture looked like on record, he found the appealing immediacy of it.
Souto took drawing as a central component of his process, working primarily with graphite. In 2010 he created by the river of time, a series of large graphite drawings that combined the geometric patterns of the stones on the ground with the figures’ legs. The models were from Souto’s family, but they seem anonymous to us. This rediscovery of the design was not a repudiation of Souto’s earlier practice, quite the contrary. I don’t choose one or the other. I consider myself multilingual. I believe that print is still my mother tongue, but drawing has become this beautiful language that I can also speak.
And once you open up like this and accept another language, everything opens up. You start thinking about painting, photography, anything. I’m not happy with my injury, but it made it possible. Souto’s rediscovery of cheetah drawing gave rise to his recent series of monumental graphite landscapes, Echoes of Memory. The sky dominates the images. Each can only identify through the lower part of the image, representing a city, a mountain, or a body of water. Ninety percent of the designs are minimal and abstract; the remaining 10 percent remain in real places, although those places are filtered through the lens of memory.
The relationship between place and memory has already proven to be fruitful ground for Souto. In this series, the artist drew on memories of the most mundane variety. You see so many things when you travel, so many different cultures, so many places that you cannot forget. For years I have been making art with these great experiences and great thoughts. But there are also additional concepts, which I call side images. They are smaller moments that you have left. I wanted to make a complete show from these smaller images. I decided to blow them up on a large scale, a tribute to these little experiences.
When the drawings hang on the wall, viewers see the first thing is just a piece of paper. But then they stare down and see the cityscape or whatever is at the back, and then they walk back to see everything. They have to travel into it. That way of seeing an image, the sailing in space, seems really interesting to me.
Beautiful in white
Represents around the world. But Souto’s access to the list was heavily affected by one place: his home. I’ve been here for eight years. The skies are vast and immaculate blue. The beautiful desolation of the sky and the field finds a direct passionate response in these drawings.
To achieve these broad and delicately blurred sky fields, Souto drew with a combination of traditional pencils, mechanical pencils, and graphite powder applied with a brush.
He sanded some areas with a rag or paper and wiped where necessary to restore the white areas. With graphite, I have the potential to do erasures, which is essential to me. It goes back to the beginnings of the mezzotint, where you start with black and then erase the image. In a sense, that erasure is not avoiding a card but a membrane. Even after a delete, there is a memory area.
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