Riso! is Hecho a Mano’s first show centering the risograph, a digital printing technique known for its vivid colors and crisp, layered textures. The word ‘risograph’ comes from the name of a printer and ink company—RISO—created by Noboru Hayama in Japan in 1946. The development of both the risograph and soy-based ink was a response to the expense of importing emulsion ink after World War II. The risograph machine looks a lot like an office photocopier, but works more like a compact duplicator press. It creates a ‘digital stamp’ from an uploaded or scanned image and etches it into a rice sheet, which is the master from which all subsequent prints are made. “I think it really hits at some of the core qualities that draw people to printmaking,” says Hecho a Mano owner and director Frank Rose. “There’s the reproducibility, the affordability, and being able to still get something that's artistic and very unique.”

 

The vibrant potential of risograph printing is evident in the work of Oaxaca-based artists Mirel Fraga and Alfonso Barrera, which will appear in RISO!

 

The two artists began printing Riso eight years ago after Fraga became interested in the technique when she happened upon risograph prints in a book by English designer Aries Moross, and was fascinated by the prints, which looked like a mixture of offset and traditional screen printing. Luckily, the Instituto de Artes Gráficas de Oaxaca had recently acquired a risograph machine, and she and Barrera were quick to experiment with it.  They loved the variety of the prints created by the machine’s imperfections: Sometimes the sheets move during printing, or they stain or dry imperfectly. “Even though it's an edition, every print is different, and that’s what makes it so special for artists,” Fraga says. “I think that's what people like—interacting with a machine that is not perfect and has human characteristics.”

 

 

One of the most interesting qualities of the machine, for them, is the transparency of the colors, which allows artists to create images with a full spectrum of colors using a limited number of colored inks. Sometimes Fraga and Barrera create projects using a partially analog process, drawing in black ink on paper and then scanning the image to produce different color combinations. “You don't really know the final colors until they print it,” Barrera says. “So it's like an experiment, and sometimes we get very good surprises.” In addition to the ‘natural’ colors available with other modes of print-making, risograph printing makes it easy to use fluorescent colors—which show up a lot in Fraga’s work. Fluorescent pink is a color theme that runs through much of her work, and her subjects often center on natural elements like plants and animals, the cosmos, and the interconnectedness of human life with everything. “Sometimes when I feel depressed or I’m feeling alone or anxious,” Fraga says, “I remind myself that I'm part of nature, so I'm not alone. I am just nature, not myself, and making art is a part of my nature.” Fraga’s philosophy translates to the experience of viewing her work, too—instilling a meditative state in the viewer, inviting us to contemplate our own relationships with land, the universe, and our human and other-than-human relatives. For Barrera’s part, his work fuses the present and past, the personal and the cultural, the physical and the spiritual. “As Mexicans—and for every person in the world—you have to know your past, because if you don't know your past, you can't understand your present,” he says. 

 

His work encompasses a wide variety of visual references, from pre-Hispanic art to eighties horror movies, and he uses subtle symbolism to allude to the lingering impacts of the past. “Sometimes my work  tells you a history, but I bring it to my personal experience,” Barrera says. Both artists are happy to see the risograph featured at Hecho a Mano, and it’s a technique they feel is well-suited to current artistic movements: its immediacy, its accessibility, and its egalitarian qualities all contribute to its rise in popularity. “It's going to be very cool to see all the work from all over the world,” Fraga says. “We’re excited to share the exhibition with them.” RISO! will open at Hecho a Mano on Friday, April 5 and will be on view until April 29.

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