Memories and Big Skies: The Art of Francisco Souto
Francisco Souto left his native Venezuela and found beauty in Nebraska. In this edition of Faculty 101, Professor Souto talks about the artwork he creates to express his feelings about his native country and his adopted state. And he shares how injury changed the way he views the world.
Show Notes: More about Francisco ›› http://www.franciscosouto.com/about/, More about the School of Art, Art History & Design ›› https://arts.unl.edu/art
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[00:00:02.370]When Francisco Soto goes for a run he lets his
[00:00:07.040]It's my time to meditate. I will run with no music,
[00:00:09.430]nothing. It's like just run and run and run.
[00:00:14.260]Running gives him the physical and creative
[00:00:16.730]energy to go back to his studio.
[00:00:19.340]So even when I finish running I have to go back
[00:00:21.437]and start writing ideas and I think that to me
[00:00:23.592]a way to kind of really start thinking, really kind of
[00:00:27.392]a creative endeavor even.
[00:00:28.800]Professor Soto says athletes and artists have
[00:00:31.750]a lot in common. They do what they love and they
[00:00:35.210]put in the hours.
[00:00:37.110]Teaching two classes I didn't have enough time
[00:00:38.730]in my studio. I would come at five in the morning
[00:00:40.655]so I would work from five to ten and then go teach
[00:00:44.290]and come back to the studio. Coming at five
[00:00:46.310]in the morning is not fun it's not fun at all.
[00:00:49.430]But that grade and that's what it takes to succeed.
[00:00:52.590]Like many athletes Professor Soto grappled with
[00:00:56.130]injury. It was a struggle that changed the course
[00:00:59.770]of his career. That's coming up on this edition
[00:01:03.500]of Faculty 101.
[00:01:05.592]Okay you should switch partners now.
[00:01:07.030]To be able to inspire young people.
[00:01:08.787]Ace your finals.
[00:01:10.606]It's really rewarding.
[00:01:11.990]I love the students.
[00:01:13.970]Welcome to Faculty 101. Life hacks and success
[00:01:17.610]stories from Nebraska faculty.
[00:01:22.366]We start with orientation, who is Francisco Soto?
[00:01:26.261]I do you know curating there and I do the
[00:01:31.000]We sit down to talk in Professor Soto's art
[00:01:33.430]studio on the University of Nebraska Lincoln campus.
[00:01:35.886]As a professor, he's dedicated to sharing what
[00:01:38.949]he knows without holding back and meeting students
[00:01:42.434]where they are in the creative process.
[00:01:44.958]Everything that I know the students will know I
[00:01:47.163]share everything and I bring them to my studio
[00:01:50.040]and show the techniques. So I think that to me
[00:01:52.780]that kind of shared knowledge is a really important
[00:01:56.159]thing for me because that does two things for me
[00:02:00.032]it gets me excited about sharing the knowledge
[00:02:02.670]and also to tell them that I don't want to put ideas
[00:02:05.460]into them, I want them to bring their ideas.
[00:02:07.770]I gonna give the vehicle for them to shine in
[00:02:09.564]whatever their interested on.
[00:02:12.853]What are been working on?
[00:02:14.632]So I've been working on this plate
[00:02:17.010]When graduate student Nicholas Shelton seeks
[00:02:19.210]Francisco's advice on a print-making project, you can hear
[00:02:22.870]the way the professor works with students, offering
[00:02:25.810]encouragement, coaching, and patience.
[00:02:28.119]But I like what's happening so far.
[00:02:30.413]Nick Shelton came to Nebraska from Oregon,
[00:02:33.320]and faculty was a big draw, especially UNL professors
[00:02:37.203]Karen Kuntz, and Francisco Soto.
[00:02:39.541]I picked Nebraska for the faculty,
[00:02:42.340]first and foremost and then for funding second.
[00:02:45.408]The faculty means so much
[00:02:48.780]to this process and having Karen Kuntz and Francisco Soto,
[00:02:53.057]it was everything that I'd hoped for.
[00:02:55.890]Professor Soto is cutting back on his
[00:02:57.980]teaching duties to take over as director of the
[00:03:00.390]School of Art, Art History, and Design.
[00:03:05.330]At a reception celebrating the history of
[00:03:08.330]painting faculty at the university, Soto greets donors,
[00:03:11.527]faculty and students, and members of the art community.
[00:03:14.970]Hi Gandhi! How are you?
[00:03:17.431]Good to see you! Thanks for inviting (fade out)
[00:03:19.610]He sees his new role as a chance to improve
[00:03:22.680]facilities and equipment and promote growth.
[00:03:25.037]I mean, the School of Art, Art History and Design
[00:03:27.670]is a great team, and I'm talking about faculty and staff
[00:03:30.870]and students. I think one of my priorities is pretty much
[00:03:34.488]straight forward, you know create that kind of excellence,
[00:03:37.108]and really kind of get the ethos of the school to
[00:03:39.990]permeate throughout the university. We have great support
[00:03:42.429]from upper administration, we have great support from
[00:03:44.780]the college. I think we need to think about creativity as
[00:03:48.620]a driving force for change, and I think that will eventually
[00:03:52.180]locate the future leaders, and future creative leaders for
[00:03:55.180]the greater community.
[00:03:56.517]Next, lab work! A deep dive into
[00:03:59.605]Francisco Soto's creative activity.
[00:04:04.419]He started as print maker.
[00:04:06.850]Print making chose me. Rather than me choosing
[00:04:09.570]print making, in the sense that I lie in the hands of,
[00:04:12.390]in the notion of the process, and sense I grew up
[00:04:15.810]making things, you know it became pretty natural to me
[00:04:18.237]that you know, this is the process that I want
[00:04:20.440]to follow through.
[00:04:26.792]Professor Soto used a 17th century technique
You get a
[00:04:31.869]piece of copper and you have to roughen it
[00:04:33.976]by hand. And then you take these tools,
[00:04:36.368]the scraper or the burnisher,
[00:04:39.310]then you just, kinda, polish in the middle.
[00:04:42.470]It's labor intensive, but the result is
[00:04:45.110]astonishing. Prints look almost like photographs, with
[00:04:48.850]gradations of tone, from rich, velvety blacks,
[00:04:51.614]to soft or glowing whites. One of the prints is a
[00:04:55.640]self-portrait of Francisco at work.
[00:04:58.010]This is the same piece. And this is the day
[00:04:59.310]match that you know, I got injured with.
[00:05:01.950]So it took me six months, from the beginning,
[00:05:03.860]all the way to the end.
[00:05:05.370]By the time the print was finished,
[00:05:07.550]so was Professor Soto's arm and shoulder.
[00:05:10.195]So the process, you know it's so intense
[00:05:12.690]physically and muscular, that I got rotator,
[00:05:14.916]at some point I got a rotator cuff,
[00:05:16.617]tendonized carpal tunnel,
[00:05:20.056]Chinese elbow and golf elbow. So at some point,
[00:05:22.891]this right hand couldn't hold even a toothbrush.
[00:05:25.693]Physical therapy helped him return
[00:05:29.357]to normal. But he decided to turn his efforts to drawings.
[00:05:32.110]At first, it was difficult, and a little scary.
[00:05:35.039]So I did a series of drawings which I call
[00:05:38.910]catharsis drawings. So I put pieces of paper on the wall
[00:05:42.150]and would start splashing paint, like literally
[00:05:44.290]kind of relieving that kind of emotional distress.
[00:05:51.120]Eventually Professor Soto turned to
[00:05:53.070]graphite drawings and a new passion was born.
[00:05:56.272]He uses pencils that are sharpened until the tip is almost
[00:06:00.050]like a nail. Making the drawings is a pain-staking
[00:06:03.610]process, creating shades and highlights- details
[00:06:06.489]that make the drawing come to life.
[00:06:08.870]He wears a magnifying headset so that he can work
[00:06:11.490]as closely as possible to the paper, and then
[00:06:14.180]pull back to see the big picture.
[00:06:16.362]It's constantly in-and-out, in-and-out,
[00:06:18.190]in-and-out. Mmhm. So yeah, I'm working with a
[00:06:21.430]four inches focal lens, you know, really close
[00:06:24.660]to the paper. If I have to pull out and then, you know,
[00:06:27.120]it's constant adjusting of the length of the focus.
[00:06:31.579]His show, poetics of recognition
[00:06:34.920]is a love story to the prairies and big skies
[00:06:37.810]of the Midwest.
[00:06:43.510]A year later, Professor Soto started working
[00:06:46.030]on a series of drawings that would become
[00:06:47.703]Memory in Peril, a show dedicated to his home country
[00:06:56.403]I don't live there anymore.
[00:06:58.310]But the country that I used to live is my memory
[00:07:01.000]because the country now is a country that I don't
[00:07:03.230]recognize anymore because of the social and
[00:07:04.853]political, you know, changes and so on.
[00:07:07.399]That body of work was really difficult to make,
[00:07:11.321]because you know, once again I was, kind of reliving
[00:07:14.740]the memories of a beautiful country that
[00:07:16.529]no longer exists and that was particularly hard
[00:07:20.030]because the work that I was doing, was making
[00:07:22.710]was really hard. People starving, tear gas, protests...
[00:07:26.663]But that's not the country that I used to live in.
[00:07:29.935]So it was like, you know like, mixed emotions in a sense.
[00:07:33.860]But it was an important work to make because I think
[00:07:36.480]if I don't say those things,
[00:07:40.440]I think it was, it was
[00:07:41.410]my duty in many sense, to kind of, present that.
[00:07:48.160]Time for Office Hours. How did
[00:07:50.050]Francisco Soto get here?
[00:07:56.270]He grew up in the shadow
[00:07:57.590]of the Andes Mountains.
[00:07:58.817]So my father, you know is a maker.
[00:08:01.176]What I mean by that is that he make cheese and
[00:08:04.570]prosciutto and he have a winery.
[00:08:06.951]He says growing up on a farm
[00:08:09.462]enhanced his creativity.
[00:08:11.332]You had to kind of entertain yourself.
[00:08:13.320]I mean, you can build things! I think that
[00:08:15.220]way of thinking is really important, nowadays
[00:08:17.370]more than ever. Because nowadays, people want to be
[00:08:20.310]entertained 24/7. I think that's not the right approach.
[00:08:23.537]He married his high school sweetheart, and
[00:08:26.170]the couple studied in the United States,
[00:08:28.600]landing in Nebraska when Professor Soto was recruited
[00:08:31.750]but UNL printmaker Karen Kuntz.
[00:08:33.645]They hadn't planned on staying forever, but...
[00:08:37.286]Oh, I love Nebraska. I remember when we move
[00:08:42.314]here, Lincoln, 14 years ago, my wife and I,
[00:08:45.580]we were joking, said "Well, we'll go to Nebraska for
[00:08:47.550]a couple years. We'll put- maybe we'll get tenure
[00:08:50.330]and then we'll keep moving on. But then, the longer we stay
[00:08:52.893]the more people that we know, we get to know the community,
[00:08:55.959]now we are part of the community, we have a family,
[00:08:59.060]they go to Lincoln public schools and we love the schools,
[00:09:02.159]grades are, you know like, so yeah before you know it,
[00:09:05.043]the notion of moving became obsolete. So, and we love
[00:09:09.510]being part of it. So I think that's what kept us here
[00:09:12.810]and we are here for good.
[00:09:19.590]Now it's time for a pop quiz. Random questions,
[00:09:22.820]life hacks, and wisdom for all of us.
[00:09:26.771]Why is art important?
[00:09:28.847]Art will make you aware of your surroundings
[00:09:32.757]will make you, will make you sensitive
[00:09:35.930]of different cultures.
[00:09:38.710]I think art is, is the
[00:09:40.660]universal language. I think if we
[00:09:42.070]all took that language, we should
[00:09:43.630]get along easier.
[00:09:46.890]would you have to parents to encourage creativity
[00:09:49.150]in a child?
[00:09:50.707]That seems it would be so obvious
[00:09:51.970]but I guess it's not.
[00:09:53.300]make it really simple. Let the kid be bored.
[00:09:56.886]Don't entertain them 24/7.
[00:09:59.960]Let them be bored.
[00:10:01.461]It's good to be bored. When you are bored,
[00:10:04.347]things start to happen.
[00:10:07.090]adults to do bring art or creativity into their lives?
[00:10:11.528]the easy way would be to go to Sheldon or
[00:10:12.830]go to Valerie's. But the basic parameters at this point is
[00:10:15.770]if you enjoy it, and you experience it,
[00:10:18.035]that's a good beginning. It's pretty much
[00:10:20.540]like food. If you don't like Indian food, you don't
[00:10:22.580]have to explain why you don't like Indian food.
[00:10:24.157]"No, I'd rather do Mexican." Fine!
[00:10:26.239]I will take the same with art. It's like,
[00:10:28.130]you like this, you don't like that, you like
[00:10:29.140]figuration, you don't like figuration,
[00:10:30.970]you like abstraction, it doesn't matter, it's about you
[00:10:33.400]indulging yourself more than anything. There's no
[00:10:36.990]manual to enjoy art. You enjoy it
[00:10:39.037]because you are a human being.
[00:10:40.615]Can you see yourself in another career?
[00:10:43.280]In a parallel universe would you be something else?
[00:10:44.830]Oh I would've, you know what I would've loved?
[00:10:46.560]To be a surgeon. What if I have the hands
[00:10:48.252]that could save somebody's life?
[00:10:51.428]Wouldn't that be great!
And at last,
[00:10:54.565]it's Graduation Day. Final thoughts from
[00:11:02.182]Over the years, Professor Soto
[00:11:04.390]has taken students on study abroad trips to Italy.
[00:11:07.710]He loves to introduce students to another culture
[00:11:10.740]and open their eyes to a world beyond their own.
[00:11:13.581]He wants students to embrace new experiences, the way
[00:11:17.478]he was able to look at life anew following his injury.
[00:11:21.122]I'm not glad that the injury happened, but that
[00:11:24.320]injury allowed me to see the world differently.
[00:11:26.258]And, in the midst of a constantly evolving
[00:11:29.320]career, Francisco Soto feels a strong pull to help others
[00:11:33.395]find their footing in the art world.
[00:11:36.210]At some point I was moved so deeply in one
[00:11:38.470]piece of art, I can't even remember, but
[00:11:40.900]once you become and artist, it's because at some point
[00:11:43.940]in your life, art really knocked your socks off.
[00:11:46.722]So I think, it's my duty to give back to the well. Say,
[00:11:50.780]I took from the well, now it's my opportunity to give back.
[00:11:55.701]That's it for Faculty 101. Thanks to
[00:11:58.430]Francisco Soto. In the show notes, we link to his website
[00:12:01.670]where you can see Professor Soto's work, including
[00:12:04.660]images from A Memory in Peril and Poetics of Recognition.
[00:12:08.377]Next time, on the podcast,
[00:12:12.760]what helps children succeed in school?
[00:12:15.360]We want the best kind of information to
[00:12:17.360]go in and say "We know this, we know this works.
[00:12:19.740]We know there's gonna be an effective outcome."
[00:12:22.210]Lisa Konkoi is trying to find the answers.
[00:12:26.526]Faculty 101 is produced by the
[00:12:28.644]University of Nebraska Lincoln.
[00:12:35.775]You know what makes my life easy when I'm
[00:12:37.970]in the studio, grinding? Podcasts.
[00:12:40.088]I listen to anything and everything.
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