Printer Michael Costello
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.”