Printer Michael Costello

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - PRINTER MICHAEL COSTELLO — Michael Abatemarco

Mas­ter printer Michael Costello wasn’t the founder of Hand Graph­ics, which of­fers pro­fes­sional print ser­vices to artists. But as its cur­rent owner, he has grown the busi­ness to the point where its fa­cil­i­ties, lo­cated at 2312 W. Alameda St., house two print stu­dios, a frame shop, and a gallery. Com­bined, the print stu­dios con­tain all an artist needs to do lith­o­graphs, etch­ings, in­taglio prints, and photo etches. The gallery ac­com­mo­dates works by prom­i­nent lo­cal and re­gional artists such as John Big­gers, Dan Nam­ingha, Harry Fon­seca, Louis Jiménez, and Emmi White­horse. Th­ese artists, and many oth­ers, have en­listed Costello’s ser­vices over the years.

“I made a de­ci­sion when I took over the shop — and it was a hard one — that I’m not go­ing to be the artist,” Costello said. “I’m go­ing to be the print­maker, and I’ll help all the other artists ac­com­plish their goals.”

Costello grew up in New Eng­land and be­gan at­tend­ing classes in print­ing tech­niques in 1976. He con­tin­ued his ed­u­ca­tion in Berke­ley, Cal­i­for­nia, in the late 1970s be­fore pur­su­ing a bach­e­lor’s de­gree at the San Fran­cisco Art In­sti­tute. “I was al­ready a lit­tle bit older for a stu­dent, and the Art In­sti­tute was very ad­vanced, mean­ing they didn’t tell you what to do,” he said. “If you had a plan and a project, they would give you the fa­cil­i­ties you needed to re­al­ize your vi­sion. It was a good school for peo­ple that were driven. I did elec­tronic arts, video, paint­ing, and print­mak­ing there. Print­mak­ing was my ma­jor.”

Af­ter brief stints in Van­cou­ver and back in New Eng­land, Costello moved with his sis­ter to Santa Fe in 1981, hop­ing to make use of his print­mak­ing de­gree. Un­able to af­ford a home of his own, he was off to a rough

“I made a de­ci­sion when I took over the shop — and it was a hard one — that I’m not go­ing to be the artist. I’m go­ing to be the print­maker, and I’ll help all the other artists ac­com­plish their goals.”

start. He and his sis­ter parted ways and he pitched a tent in the moun­tains not far from Ten Thou­sand Waves, where he found em­ploy­ment do­ing grounds work and odd jobs. “It was great un­til it was win­ter­time,” he said. Heavy snow left any avail­able fire­wood in the vicin­ity soak­ing wet, and he had noth­ing to fuel the wood-burn­ing stove in his tent. “I had to buy fire­wood and then haul it over the ridge in a back­pack,” he said. “I had a girl­friend at the time, and she was game for a while. But then we did a lit­tle house-sit over Christ­mas, and she said ‘I’m not go­ing back up there.’ ”

Even­tu­ally, they found a place in town. At the time, Hand Graph­ics, which artist Ron Adams founded in 1974, was lo­cated on Mon­tezuma Av­enue in the same build­ing as the Jean Cocteau Cin­ema. “The first time I walked in that build­ing, I thought, ‘This place should be mine,’ ” he said. Costello spent the next five years ap­pren­tic­ing un­der Adams, un­til the mas­ter printer de­cided he wanted to de­vote more time to his own art. “I saw an op­por­tu­nity, and I was able to buy the busi­ness from him. We worked out an ar­range­ment that he could go on the road and sell prints from the in­ven­tory, and we would also sell prints in the gallery. It worked re­ally well. I was about twenty-eight at the time. I was at a point where I needed some­thing sub­stan­tial to do. It was like, ‘OK, no more think­ing about things in the sky. You’ve got to ac­tu­ally make some­thing hap­pen on the ground.’ It was hard but it worked.”

Locked into an af­ford­able lease, Costello ran the busi­ness on Mon­tezuma for an­other 10 years. Af­ter the lease was up, Costello and his wife pur­chased the Alameda prop­erty (part of which he leases to Nord Sta­ble). When he bought the prop­erty, it was lit­tered with old cars, re­frig­er­a­tors, and build­ings in need of ma­jor restora­tion. “This place was wrecked,” he said. “There used to be an au­to­mo­tive paint busi­ness here, which worked out be­cause I could get a busi­ness li­cense. The gallery was about half the size it is now, and it was a fall­ing-down shed. There was a house, but not the house that’s here now. I had three dif­fer­ent plans for ren­o­vat­ing it — it was a hun­dred-year-old adobe. But no­body would sign off on the old stone foun­da­tions.” For the next four years, he main­tained the busi­ness in the Rai­l­yard, start­ing off each day there and then re­turn­ing to clean up the new prop­erty and build him­self a new home, de­signed by artist and ar­chi­tect Wil­liam Lump­kins and ar­chi­tect Ben­nett Stra­han, next to the busi­ness.

Among the ser­vices of­fered by Hand Graph­ics is one Costello refers to as “col­lab­o­ra­tive print­mak­ing.” When an artist seeks to trans­late their work into the medium of lithog­ra­phy or to cre­ate a com­po­si­tion in an­other print­mak­ing tech­nique but lacks the ex­per­tise, that’s where Costello comes in. “An artist may have great knowl­edge in paint­ing and draw­ing, but not nec­es­sar­ily in edi­tion print­ing,” he said. “It’s a whole other field, with a whole dif­fer­ent re­source of knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence. But any­thing that has their name on it has to be up to the level that their paint­ing is at. To keep pace with them, a print­maker has to have a knowl­edge of aes­thet­ics, to un­der­stand what the artists are try­ing to do with their dif­fer­ent styles and also the tech­ni­cal knowl­edge.”

Costello is slow­ing down some­what, lately pre­fer­ring to work with artists he’s known for some time on spe­cial edi­tions rather than devot­ing him­self full-time to print ser­vices. He’s at a cross­roads, try­ing to find a way to get back to his own cre­ative projects. He’s hop­ing for a com­mis­sion to paint a mu­ral on a stretch of county-owned prop­erty that abuts his own on the Santa Fe River Trail. He would also like to de­vote more time to mono­type print­ing. “I started out do­ing stone lith­o­graphs, and that was al­ways my first love in print­mak­ing,” he said. While he still loves lithog­ra­phy, he con­cedes it is a dif­fi­cult and ex­act­ing prac­tice. Mono­types al­low for more spon­tane­ity and im­pro­vi­sa­tion. “When I was at the art in­sti­tute, there were very few mono­type artists. It wasn’t con­sid­ered real print­mak­ing. But I al­ways liked it. With a mono­type, I can take a cou­ple of days and re­ally get some­thing ac­com­plished.”

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