La Aldea Window 3, intaglio transfer(left). La Aldea Window 1, fabric and emulsion(right).

Frances Valesco completed her residency at Zea Mays in the summer of 2019. Valesco delved into photo silk aquatint and intaglio photo transfer with pcb press-n-peel techniques during her visit. Valesco used the same image for all her prints as a benchmark to observe how the technique actually informs the image. Valesco said she is always looking for different kinds of methods that don’t need a lot of equipment, “Just using what I have. Who knows what life gives us.” Valesco also took a mezzotint workshop while she was at Zea Mays with Carol Wax which she said was an extra bonus. Valesco had hoped to teach some of the methods she experimented with during her residency in the classroom. She was teaching at City College at that point but unexpectedly retired and now with the pandemic has not had the chance. Valesco says COVID has just created other opportunities for things; she is currently building her own studio in her house. Her new studio is too small to have a press and Valesco says she’s done moving presses. It’s just going to be big enough to coat and hang screens. Her work however is still wedded to the press, so she’s planning on renting press time every once in a while.

Zea Mays test 1, photo emulsion.

La Aldea Window 4, photo emulsion and carborundum.

During residencies, Valesco focuses intently on her artwork. She relishes the experience of focusing on work and not getting distracted by life as we know it at home. This is true of all her residency experiences, and Zea Mays was no different. Valesco cited that she learned a lot more about green technologies during her stay, thanking Liz Chalfin for figuring out those safer practices. Valesco explained that she and Liz both studied at Long Beach State University, a couple of years apart. They both agree it was one of the most toxic places on earth. She gave the example of a fountain that was similar to one that car mechanics use, that was just a spout with solvent coming out with a tray below. They all washed their plates and hands in it, and breathed in all the fumes. Valesco talked about their shared experiences at this institution and how Liz emerged determined not to pass these practices on to the next generation, how it was the impetus for something better. Valesco started using water based inks after she got sick from working in such a toxic space, at that time there were not very many non-toxic materials available. Valesco said it is terrific that there are so many methods now that you can use to get similar results without killing yourself. 

Valesco plans on teaching remotely from her new studio once it is complete, hopefully by the end of the year. She currently teaches at San Francisco State in the art education department. She’s looking forward to figuring out how to help her student teachers teach printmaking remotely for grades k through 12. The techniques she experimented with and learned at Zea Mays remain in the back of her head to reference.

Valesco said that at the beginning of the pandemic the idea of making something amongst all of the chaos was a little overwhelming for her. Instead, she organized all her sewing thread, weeded her garden, and curled up on her bed a lot. At one point the crew working on attaching the studio to her house put up plywood to block off the kitchen. She said she attacked that wall with all sorts of materials, charcoal and paint, creating a mural. It broke open a damn for her. The work on her house is still her main focus but she said she’s getting closer to figuring out what she wants to print. Valesco ended her reflection talking about the power of collective energy. Recently she went to Golden Gate park with some friends to do some socially distanced drawing. They were all silent with just the sound of their drawing materials, it reminded her of group mediation and the power of collective energy. She said it was quite wonderful, reminding her of the feeling she got at Zea Mays; everyone working independently but conjuring a collective energy. 

Check out more of Frances Valesco’s work on her website

And find her on Instagram at @fvalesco1