Reinaldo Gil Zambrano is many things: a husband, a business owner, a printmaker, an artist and a teacher.
Above all of these roles, though, he's a storyteller.
In "Pulling Roots," his latest exhibition on display through April 20 at the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture, Zambrano showcases over 20 pieces that come together to form a narrative about his family, nomadic upbringing and the nuanced concept of identity.
Zambrano was born in Caracas, Venezuela, a place that defines much of his sense of self and inspires his art.
"Because I've been moving so much since I was 16 years old, I've been able to use printmaking as a self-explorative research channel," Zambrano says. "Through it, I realized that there is a universal idea of what home is: the people around you. It's the people that offer you this warmth and love and the ability to continue growing."
When he was 16, Zambrano left Venezuela for Costa Rica to study at the United World College. After his time there, his studies took him to Caldwell, Idaho, to pursue his Bachelor of Fine Arts at the College of Idaho. He then went back to Venezuela for a short period, then returned to Idaho for his Master in Fine Arts at the University of Idaho in Moscow.
For the past five years, Zambrano and his wife have called Spokane home.
Since relocating to the Lilac City, Zambrano has managed to firmly cement himself in the creative world of the Inland Northwest by co-owning the Spokane Print and Publishing Center and founding Spokane Print Fest, an annual celebration of the local print community each spring. He's also an essential member of the team who brought the Rocky Mountain Print Alliance's conference to Spokane last fall and shares his knowledge with Gonzaga University students as an assistant professor of printmaking.
Zambrano's work can be seen on buildings in downtown Spokane (including the MacDaddy's mural on the north side of River Park Square), inside restaurants like Kendall Yards' Baba, on T-shirts and in the homes of plenty of locals who purchase his prints.
"I've been able to find that warmth and those people in Spokane, and I'm proud to call it my home," he says. "But I also have this attachment to Venezuela because my family lives there."
Through the use of iconography and portraits of family members, Zambrano has been able to create pieces for "Pulling Roots" that he hopes target memories and particular archetypes. His unique style is apparent throughout all of the work, continuing past narratives and pulling them into others through his use of bold lines, fine details and contrast.
Many pieces in the show explore roles that people assume within different cultural environments, social themes, rituals and traditions. The artist blends his life experiences, pop culture, politics and hints of magical realism to tell stories of identity, cultural and physical borders, and more.
One piece titled "Madres/Mothers" pays tribute to the female figures in Zambrano's life who sustain his family.
"It's a portrayal of my grandma and my mom," he says. "You can see that they are holding this three-dimensional object, a cube that looks like a room. Their hands surround it, and they're crafting, or shaping, this cube into a home."
The room depicted is one that Zambrano shared with his brother growing up. One side of the print features orchids, his grandmother's favorite flower, which was always around the house during his childhood. Parallel to the orchids is a hummingbird, which Zambrano says represents knowledge.
"It shows off these pillar figures that were the support and the base of this place where we were able to grow as a family," he says.
Zambrano works mostly in relief printing, but the show features installation work as well as prints and several matrices, the object from which a print design is transferred. Zambrano's matrices are wood blocks.
The prints range in size from about 16 by 20 inches all the way up to 5 by 4 feet. The installation aspect of the exhibition spans an entire wall in the gallery, coming in at over 7 feet in length.
"People might think that the smaller pieces would be faster to make than the bigger ones," he says. "But I feel more comfortable carving big."
The printing process can sometimes take an entire day as Zambrano makes multiple prints to achieve the most ideal outcome.
"A piece can take me a week or a month depending on what I'm trying to do," he says. "Once you pull the print for the first time you notice things you need to tweak. So you make adjustments to the ink, the matrix or the pressure or even the type of paper to get exactly what you want."
Zambrano says the beauty of printmaking lies in the fact that every print is unique.
Printmaking is an art based on democratic multiples, meaning that the art or message can be replicated easily for an extremely cheap price and distributed widely, something that Zambrano thinks is extremely important.
"It's not like a machine that's going to make everything perfect," he says. "Printmakers are the illustrators, the carvers and the painters in this case. Not only is printmaking for the masses, but it's also highly collaborative. The process involves a lot of people. Sometimes you're going to be carving or prepping a matrix by yourself, but then to get the community to see and react to the work, you need help from the many."
The installation wall featured in the exhibit invites viewers to interact with the art and one another, and to create within the space as well, bringing the communal aspect of printmaking into Zambrano's show.
"We can celebrate the things we have in common as human beings and pay tribute to the fact that we are so connected," Zambrano says. "Let's celebrate together despite the cultural differences we have."♦
Reinaldo Gil Zambrano: Pulling Roots • Feb. 10-April 20; Tue-Sun from 10 am-5 pm • $8-$12 (members and ages 5 and under free) • Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture • 2316 W. First Ave. • northwestmuseum.org • 509-456-3931