Raymond Verdaguer’s bio
I was born of Catalan ethnicity in a tiny village in the Pyrenees Mountains on the border of France and Spain. The village was historically significant for its highly strategic importance in dividing this two countries.
Both my paternal and maternal families were “refugees” due to the Spanish Civil War. We spoke only Catalan at home. My father could speak three languages impeccably – Catalan, Spanish and French.
I was raised in French culture and experienced a lot of isolation living at an altitude of 1200 meters in a small remote village in the mountains. Given that isolation was the norm there was not much to trigger my imagination as a youth. Such isolation likely fed by eagerness to communicate some kind of response or results from such lived experience. I was, of course, clueless that one day the age the of “internet” would arrive and change this. When I was growing up transportation was seldom possible. While the surroundings were exceptionally glorious in terms of natural beauty our community was very difficult to access. The weather was often harsh with endless snow; this is something I experienced again later in life in coping with snowy Canadian winters.
It had, as I found out later in my life, its less bright “North American side” as well. The town had mushroomed new around a single enormous late 19 century building for seasonal residence and tourism, similarly Far West style quick return grabbing money, bubble like real estate pattern. This economic development-style “take over” created enormous gaps between the haves and the haves not in the community. Countless bars, discos and one casino appeared fostering a culture of “alcohol, sex and rock & roll”. And yet, we had no community library, museum or high school! I remember my daily walks to supply our family with fresh cow milk out of a two liter aluminum container set against the backdrop of this cultural emptiness.
Endless childhood illnesses from the cold, harsh physical conditions added to the none culture around me may have stimulate this unexplainable volcanic urge within me to draw. While at first I was supported by my mother, soon she came to resent my devoted attention to drawing. However, my elementary resourceful school teacher, who was a great fan of sports and paper recycling, figured out that my skill would be helpful to promote school events. It was here that my artistic career as an official school calligraphist in a huge private ‘studio’, using plain cardboard, was spawned.
Because my ” vacation ” village attracted outsiders, one day I stumbled into the workroom of a celebrity national cartoonist who was laying down sketches of pen and ink drawings… an event which became ‘engraved’ in my mind. [Imagine 10 year old kid today entering Serge Bloch’s studio!].
It would seem that the question of whether “the mountain was greener on the other side” had arisen in my mind leading me to leave the community as soon as underage ended. I travel the world [of almost]…until I hung my hat in New York city to take my chances in the field of the “arts” -drawing, painting, printmaking. I dropped my portfolio at endless publishers’ delivery rooms with little chance to see their faces. I made the commitment to become self-taught in the arts. In 1977 I went “public”, exhibiting my first wood engravings in France, unaware they would eventually become my landmark.
A simple principle of “engraving” that one is confronted with from the start is the reality that it is a “one-way street” or “one-time” deal. There are no erasers to remove and start again! This is similar to my family’s refugee status where they were not allowed to go back to their home country; there was no return! When “engraving”, “mistakes” don’t get deleted but instead they are figured out, not so much in terms of “improvement”, but rather with respect to how one can turn them around to one’s own advantage and hopefully to create a transformation that one can live with! “Engraving ” is not a formula that comes out of a cookbook, instead, it involves on-going skill, risk-taking and instinct – in effect, you are working in a kind of “survival mode”. As a result, the temptations to quit “engraving”are many, and yet, the only secret to getting better is to “stick with it”.
Over time, “engravings” became a ‘vehicle’ that allowed me to express myself on almost any kind of life activity or situation, keeping in mind, that images must at some point include ethical and humanitarian values, otherwise it defeats the purpose of art itself.
The aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001 was very harsh on New Yorkers’ minds and bodies [ to say the least]. They were experiencing their worse historical trauma. I did not know that life was repeating itself, like in the case of the Spanish Civil War, and that my artist “luck” would be born again out of human tragedy. Following 9/11, possibly art images may had been able to be accepted in a more raw and gripping manner …before there would be a return ‘to business as usual’. In 2002, Harper’s Magazine started to commission linoleum cuts and by 2003 the New York Times Op-Ed got me on board. Other commissioned publications followed. They included: USA: the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor [ …] FRANCE: Le Monde, Le Monde Diplomatique, Liberation, Le Magazine Littéraire, Courrier International, International Herald Tribune [ …], CANADA: Walrus, Le Devoir, Écosociété […]. SPAIN: El Mundo, ABC, Letras Libras […]. And over a dozen universities […]
- I offer my artistic cooperation to support none profit organizations on sensitive issues ( AIDS, malaria, social justice, human rights, education…)
- I further current knowledge of and skills on the ‘engraving’ technique via my exhibitions, lectures, workshops, photographies, videos, blog [since January 2010] and social medias [ FB, Instagram, Twitter…]
- I volunteer in educational events. In 2011, I was invited by the Cultural Service of the French Embassy in New York to be the godfather and president of an art competition open to all the schools in the USA & France. A contest involving creating art with the use of recyclable materials [ 4000 entries from K G to high school ] .
- I donate my art work to educational institutions – In 2013, I donate to the collection of Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux Arts. [ Followed by exhibition and lecture ], and In 2017, to the Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Paris art print collection.
- I have presented work and techniques internationally.
- I am committed to using transportation practices that are less impactful on the environment by walking and biking to the sites wwhere i engrave.
- I establish close contact with and relationship to the communities where I do my work.I seek to work in relation to the natural, built and human communities where I engage my art. I feel this is an ethical responsibility as an artist.
- I give priority to presenting and exhibiting work that relates to and is produced in local community environments [ in 2017, Museo Civico Alessandria, Sale d’Arte Citta’ di Alessandria, Italia.].
- I collaborate and welcome support from local medias [ 2014-17, La Stampa, Italia ].
interests: Chinese calligraphy – nature – history – geography – craftsmanship – antiques – architecture – traveling – culture – language – literature – local food growing and preparation – skating – hiking – sport gears
spoken languages: French, English, Spanish… (Italian beginner).
Compete bio is available upon request, thank you for reading my page.
photo/ foto portrait Mike Kopal, New York City.
original linoleum cut . linogravure originale . linóleo grabado original . incisione originale . Copyright © Raymond Verdaguer 2018.