Evanston printmaker Socorro Mucino talks sustainable art, quarantine inspiration

Ilana Arougheti, Reporter

Socorro Mucino’s studio at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center could be a gallery in and of itself.

On every wall, a collage of work from previous shows jockeys for space with personal favorites – prints of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Mucino’s husband’s sneakers and a favorite Rogers Park bookstore. The artist is known around Evanston for her work with alternative process printmaking, which mixes digital and sustainable techniques to create a high-tech version of traditional etchings.

Mucino taught art at Chicago Public Schools’ Roberto Clemente Community Academy from the mid-1980s until 2013. While teaching, she fell in love with printmaking during a workshop at Anchor Graphics, the now-defunct printmaking studio at Columbia College Chicago. She moved into full-time printmaking after she retired in 2013, and moved into her current space, Almost By The Lake Art Studio, in 2018.

“Once I retired, I had the time, the energy to continue working on it,” Mucino said. “It took a lot of time to get the timing right. Because when you’re working with photopolymer gravures, you need to have good timing.”

As an alternative process printmaker, Mucino primarily works with polyester plate lithography and photopolymer gravure. Polyester plate lithography involves printing digital art onto a polymer plate with waterproof toner. When the polymer plate is treated with chemicals, the blank areas will repel ink, like the concave area on an etching.

For photopolymer gravure, images are printed with water-based ink and then exposed to UV light-like photo negatives. The light hardens the areas that are not covered by ink, creating an embossed effect.

As a sustainable printmaker, Mucino uses soy-based ink. She also cleans her polymer plates with vegetable oil instead of mineral spirits and sources her frames at rummage sales.

“I’m going to be really careful about the materials I use,” Mucino said. “I consider this a non-toxic space. And that’s important to me.”

Mucino has collaborated with the Four Hands Collective, a group of nine Evanston mixed-media artists, as well as with an international group of alternative-process artists, currently meeting over Zoom. She has shown work at five Evanston galleries and has sent work to four additional shows so far, selling prints ranging from $50 to $200 unframed or $300 to $350 framed.

Her favorite show, Paper Dolls, was co-presented with designer Janet Webber at the Evanston Made gallery in 2018. It featured prints of beloved childhood dolls along with audio interviews with their owners.

“My dolls were a little on the creepy side, but that’s sort of my style,” said Mucino. “I love things that are not quite pretty… I want to tell a story. So when I take a photograph, there has to be something behind it.”

Paper Dolls was Webber’s first studio show, and she developed a deep mutual trust with Mucino as they gave each other advice on how to make their work stand out in the space.

Once they realized they were both burgeoning Evanston printmakers, she also shared Mucino’s studio space from 2018 to 2019 while they worked on similar themes, including garments and the female body. During their collaborative period, Webber said she admired Mucino’s commitment to constant revision.

“She cares endlessly about techniques,” Webber said. “Man, she has so much energy. She is just experimenting with new things all the time.”

Mucino said she wants her art to tell the stories of people, either paying tribute to close friends and family or imagining the lives of strangers. However, since she can’t photograph people during the pandemic, her recent work has focused more on shooting objects at angles and lights that reflect her own emotional state.

Mucino’s daughter, artist Candice Johnson, said that her mother has been more productive than ever during quarantine, developing her own narrative through printmaking.

“I’m always encouraging her to focus on specific series, just because she gets really excited about so many different things,” said Johnson. “She is always eager to show people her process.”

One March series featured the sculptures in Calvary Catholic Cemetery wearing masks. Looking Up, her most recent print series, celebrates nature by featuring twisted trees shot from below.

While the ink dries on Looking Up, Mucino is working on assembling previous pieces into a series that she can display in an upcoming shared gallery exhibit with her daughter. In this and other recent series, she has worked to reintroduce positivity to her art.

“There’s a lot of really negative artwork out there that’s really sad,” said Mucino. “Just really sad (responses) to how people are dealing with the COVID thing. There’s so much isolation. And at this point in my life, I didn’t want to show that in my work.”

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Twitter: @ilanaarou

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