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An Unorthodox Odyssey:
Argentinian artist Ral Veroni’s political and personal publications*
by Linda Neilson

In the ten years since his graduation from Buenos Aires School of Fine Art in 1988, Ral Veroni has continually employed a variety of expressive media, producing not only prints, but painting, artist’s books and public art. Whilst his work in Buenos Aires - where he was born in 1965 – took the city as subject, the last three years, working in the USA and UK, has diverted his focus to the self-referential and to literature.

As a result of massive Spanish and Italian immigration at the turn of the century, modern Buenos Aires is markedly cosmopolitan with a population of predominantly Mediterranean descent and a rich, European-influenced architecture and culture. It shares with much of Latin America a chaotic political history and an irregular cultural policy. From the ‘Dark Ages’ of the last military dictatorship (1976-1983) to the massive hyperinflation of 1989, its people have come to distrust both politics and finance. The relatively stable situation of recent years remains vulnerable and, in such an environment, culture is no more than a peripheral concern for government.

Due to financial constraints and in reaction to the restrictive nature of the Buenos Aires ‘art circuit’ Veroni began, in the early nineties, to work predominantly with screenprint; this offered the best means by which to disseminate his art. La Muestra Nómade/ The Nomadic Exhibition, was produced as a series of self-adhesive stickers printed in five colour-separations. The 42 cartoon-inspired images focused on socio-political influences in contemporary Argentina such as Rata Autoritaria/ Authoritarian Rat (referring to the military dictatorship), Malabares Ideológicos/ Ideological Juggling (a comment on the untrustworthy nature of politicians) and Esperando a la Vacuna/ Waiting for the Vaccine (in response to the emergence of AIDS). In a clandestine operation conducted by the artist, his friends and associates, over 2000 stickers were ‘exhibited’ around Buenos Aires over 6 months: in elevators, buses, public toilets (including those in museums and galleries) and in the homes of ‘collectors’. An ‘exhibition catalogue’, documenting the designs and their exhibition locations was produced in an edition of 80.

Following the success of his ‘travelling exhibition’, Veroni used the same format for his 1991-95 project Bienvenidos al Circo/ Welcome to the Circus: a series of comical, clownish designs of bones, mouths and ‘Pinocchio’ noses. Commencing with the 1991 elections, the artist distributed stickers to Buenos Aires’ residents of diverse political affiliations inviting them to ‘vote their criticism’ by pasting stickers to the posters and billboards of candidates. ‘Voted’ candidates assumed the appearance of clowns. Devils and lunatics: a playful comment on the gap between political promises and reality.

In 1994 Veroni began a ‘public’ project entitled Lucha por la Vida/ Struggle for Life: printing onto paper currency removed from circulation due to hyperinflation. His intention was to examine the complex relationship between the individual and money. In Argentina, fluctuating inflation remains the norm. For a people taught that ‘el ahorro es la base de la fortuna’/ ‘to save is the way to riches’, the discovery that their best means to ‘invest’ could, on the contrary, be to spend led to a common insecurity. Banknotes which could one day be relied upon to buy food for a month could, on the following day, be practically worthless. Yet although trust in money has been eroded, it remains difficult for most to deny such ingrained ideology and dispose of ‘worthless’ currency since banknotes retain symbolic value as ‘proof of toil’. It is these bills, hoarded for years, that Veroni continues to obtain for use in this ongoing project. His designs are simple brushworks printed on the notes, with titles incorporated such as Deudas que se clavan como puñales/ Debt stabs like a dagger or Soñar, Soñar /To dream, to dream. His overprinting plays on the colours, textures and imagery of the richly engraved backgrounds, a technique which draws the viewer’s attention to the true nature of the notes as no more than printed designs themselves. He has, thus far, produced over 1000 prints based on only 32 designs, but each finished work is unique due to the variety of backgrounds printed upon. These have been publicly distributed in various contexts and continue to be circulated by means of exchange: screenprinted notes being swapped for ‘clean’ ones on which to work.

With Veroni’s appointment as printmaker-in-residence at the Tamarind Institute, Albuquerque, USA in 1996 came a move away from the explicitly public nature of previous works. Vacuum, an edition of 10 lithographic portfolios, stands by contrast as a personal, introspective, ambiguous work requiring exhibition of a more conventional nature. Despite – or possibly because of – gaining unlimited access to such a well-resourced studio, Veroni decided to limit the media he employed, producing somewhat stark, minimalist pieces. He printed tiny, delicate, single-colour designs on Inomache Nacre sheets. Playing on the paper’s texture and sheen, the strategic placing of images is suggestive of space and contemplation. The portfolio, whilst slightly reminiscent of a child’s flick-book, reads in a non-linear sequence with isolated figures and couples depicted in ambiguous and unrelated ‘human situations’ displaying for example curiosity, violence or affection.

In 1997, Veroni became British Council Fellow at the University of the West of England Centre for Print Research, Bristol, UK where he embarked on Itinerario / Itinerary, an edition of 98 English/ 75 Spanish artist’s books, produced as typeset single-colour texts on Japanese Kawanaka paper. Described by Veroni as a delineation of his hopes and disappointments in art or, in the words of the text: ‘an itinerary of that journey, a mixture of ingenuousness and experience, with no possibility of discovering its meaning’ Itinerario is a gentle, philosophical work, ebbing and flowing as a stream of thought. In many ways its production was an act of catharsis, an outpouring which interrogates his ‘uncertain way of life’. Itinerario precipitated an emotional journey for the artist: having spent his childhood observing his father’s production of typeset books, the experience of working with this process became a reliving of fond memories. Although, due to illness, his father had been unable to pass on his skills directly, watching him at work strongly influenced his son’s choice of profession.

With the production of Sophie in 1998, Veroni moved from this most traditional of print techniques to experiment with digital media. Working with Photoshop software on Apple Mac, he transformed a series of ink and brush sketches by manipulating line and texture. Printing using inkjet onto small sheets of Transmarque White Cloud paper, the monochrome images were collated to form the five ‘chapters’ of this boxed portfolio of 15 editions. As with Vacuum, Sophie deliberately avoids combining text with images and the colophon (in English and Spanish) provides only the briefest indication as to its subject: ‘in its way, a love story’. The transparent sheets, printed on both sides, build up images which unfold and alter with each turn of the page and the ‘story’ becomes a work which gains order through its viewing. Whilst Sophie appears initially as a personal history, references to Greek history and myth are evident in the recurrent use of symbols such as pillars, temples and urns, in its title (‘sophie’ coming from the Greek sophos, meaning wisdom) and in the play on the myth of Orpheus.

It has been from this myth of Orpheus that Veroni’s most recent project takes reference: Orpheus’ Little Journey, a series of monotypes produced in Glasgow Print Studio, Scotland and exhibited there in early 1999. The prints that form the ‘journey’ employ a multitude of colours and are rich and painterly in quality. Veroni developed a particular process of printing and reprinting, building up a layered presence of images, symbols and textures which avoided the immediacy often found with monotypes and instead conveyed a subtlety echoing that found in Sophie. Yet the monotypes are not simply a descendent of or adaptation of this previous work, but rather stand as a series of works both related, and unrelated, to each other or to Sophie. The colophon of Sophie and the catalogue of Orpheus’ Little Journey conclude: ‘the lover who loses his love descends into his own hell, with seduction and song he tries to persuade the Goddess of Sorrow to recover the one he has lost, his love, or himself’.

Linda Neilson
*published in Printmaking Today Vol. 8 No 2 Summer 1999



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