Yolanda del Riego’s trajectory as an artist has been the result of many personal circumstances and opportunities encountered along the way. Not one to follow convention, her non-conformist attitude has been ever-present in her work and in her life.
Her life has taken her to many unexpected places, and Yolanda del Riego has juggled her various roles as artist, mother, and wife along the way. A constant throughout her journey as an artist has been her incessant need for artistic expression, and her ability to seek out the opportunities at hand for materializing her ideas —innovating on whatever medium was available.
Yolanda del Riego (YR) was born in Central America during the political exile of her parents, who were both from Asturias (in northern Spain). She returned to Spain as a child and grew up in Madrid. At the age of 20, she married an American and embarked upon a new life in the United States. While living in New England during the late 1960s, she immersed herself into the thriving art community, studying numerous disciplines and exhibiting in local art associations.
Artist/Printmaker in Alaska
YR lived in Anchorage from 1973 to 1980. She often says that as an artist, she was born in Alaska. In 1976, YR was accepted as a member artist of the Visual Arts Center (VAC) to study printmaking, a medium for which she developed a life-long passion.
The uniqueness of Alaska as "the last frontier" made it possible for the VAC to attract internationally regarded artists for extended visits, to impart workshops and master classes. This continuous influx of diverse artists, working closely with the VAC member artists, resulted in a stimulating and creative environment.
While at the VAC, two visiting artists in particular, had a profound and lasting impact on YR's development as a printmaker: Dr. Jules Heller (Dean, College of Fine Arts, Arizona State University), who encouraged a holistic view for printmaking as a vehicle of self-expression and introduced her to the idea of the "artist/printmaker", and Mish Kohn (California State University), from whom she learned the fine details of chine-collé and the freedom to create "evolving editions".
YR studied a broad range of printmaking techniques with other visiting artists, including: Japanese traditional woodcuts with Master Tōshi Yoshida, intaglio etching with Lee Chesney (Professor, University of Hawaii), photographic etching, relief techniques and viscosity printing with Clinton Cline (Professor, Colorado State University), lithography with John Sommers (Technical Director of the Tamarind Institute), papermaking with Kathryn Lipke, and other workshops with innovative artists such as Carol Summers, and Roy De Forest.
These experiences instilled in YR a clear idea that the different printmaking techniques could become a means of direct expression for the artist that masters these disciplines.
In 1978, following Jules Heller's advice, she acquired her first etching press and set up a printmaking studio in the garage of her house in Anchorage.
Return to Spain
Yolanda del Riego returned to Spain in 1981 and set up her residence and studio in Madrid. Without an etching press, she worked at traditional etching ateliers where artists did not perform the end-to-end process from inking to printing. This incompatibility with the artist/printmaker approach drove her to branch out and focus on other mediums, resulting in a continuous cycle of periods of experimentation, each culminating in an exhibition.
Attracted by the idea of doing collage with fabric, she created a series of abstract large-format patchworks. In 1983, with the collaboration of the United States Embassy, these patchworks were first shown at the Instituto de Cooperación Iberoamericana in an exhibit titled Óleos, grabados y textiles (presented by José de Castro Arines) and later that year at the United States Cultural Center in Madrid in Obra reciente (presented by the award-winning poet José Hierro).
The Biblioteca Nacional de España recognized 10 years of YR's printmaking works with a solo exhibition in 1986, titled Yolanda del Riego. Obra gráfica (1976–1986) (curated by Elena Santiago Páez and presented by Cesáreo Rodríguez Aguilera).
YR returned to oil painting, using different supports: canvas, wood, and paper. These works were exhibited in 1987 at Galería Macarrón in a show titled Óleos (presented by Luis González Robles).
Back to Etching
After receiving a long-awaited Charles Brand etching press from New York in 1987, YR resumed printmaking in her studio and continued her experiments with Japanese papers, dye and wrinkle —focusing primarily on monoprints. The resulting works were shown in 1989 at Galería María Salvat in Barcelona, in a show titled Yolanda del Riego y sus métodos calcográficos (presented by Mercedes de Prat). Inspired by the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution and the recognition of women as equal citizens that took place during that period, YR titled these works with names of the calendar months used during the revolution ("Messidor" —month of the harvest, "Thermidor" —month of heat, etc).
YR went through a period of introspection in the 1990s, closing her studio and spending long periods of time in Paris with her daughter. Although she temporarily stepped away from the art scene, she continued to paint from home. Some of her works from this period were shown in 1996 at Galería Dean in Valencia, in an exhibit titled Explorando los límites del papel (presented by José Garnería).
YR set up a new studio on the island of Arousa in 1997, where the surrounding Galician marine landscapes began to have a notable influence on her work. Soft-ground etchings and collagraphs, incorporating corals and kelp, were the subject of an exhibition titled Impresiones y Expresiones (presented by José Marín Medina) at the Galería Rafael García in Madrid in 1998.
Long walks on the beach and the beautiful sunsets motivated YR to begin working with watercolors, as she could easily work outdoors. These landscapes were first exhibited in 1999, at a show titled Horizonte de Arousa, at Galería Rafael García in Madrid (presented by Javier Rubio Nomblot). The poet, José Corredor-Matheos, allowed her to use fragments of his poems as titles for the works.
From the terrace of her studio, overlooking the sea, she was able to expose steel plates to the elements for long periods of time. These plates offered very delicate etched lines, and she printed them with a variety of mixed techniques. These mono-prints were featured, along with a number of collagraphs, in a show titled Obras recientes (presented by Francesc Miralles) in 1999 at Galería EUDE in Barcelona.
At this time, YR was also working with linocuts. Her Atlantic Quartet, a series inspired by the poems of T.S. Elliot, was displayed at Galería EUDE’s ARCO 2002 stand with the title Yolanda del Riego: El grabado como indagación (presented by José María Iglesias).
YR broadened her work with watercolors to include sumi-e inks, and presented these landscapes in 2003, returning to Galería EUDE with a show titled Más arriba de la mar (presented by J. Corredor-Matheos).
Looking for an alternative to acid, YR began to mechanically manipulate steel plates - making holes, etc, and these works were the subject of Los 4 elementos, a solo exhibit (presented by J. Marín Medina) at the Casa-Fuerte Bezmiliana (Rincón de la Victoria, Málaga) in 2003.
Going Digital in Seattle
In 2004 Yolanda del Riego began spending periods of time in Seattle, with her oldest daughter. Away from the studio, she took the opportunity to study digital imaging with Steve Laskevitch (Professor, Cornish College of the Arts), and began to appreciate the creative possibilities of digital media. While in Seattle YR was introduced to Tod Gangler, founder of the Art & Soul digital studio, and discovered they shared an appreciation for using the best pigments and papers. She was impressed by the quality of the digital prints produced in his studio.
The photos she took in 2005 of the Windsor Tower fire (a high-rise building across the street from her home in Madrid) and its lengthy deconstruction were the subject of her first serious digital works. To these images she applied her experience as an artist/printmaker through the incorporation of her own textures, often based on scanned images of her etchings and drawings. YR turned to Tod Gangler to print these series. The resulting editions, Arde el Windsor and Desmontaje were shown at the Galería Rafael García in 2006 in an exhibit titled welcome!.
Her next work, The Flow of Time, was a series of 160 digital works based on the scanned images of her drawings from Arousa, through which she expressed her concern for the destruction of the environment. The series, whose printing was once again entrusted to Tod Gangler, was exhibited in 2008 at Galería Rafael García in Madrid. To complement the digital prints, YR produced a video in which the various images are animated, along with text annotations and musical accompaniment. The series was also included in the 2009 retrospective exhibition of her work at the Museo de Bellas Artes de Asturias in Oviedo, Yolanda del Riego: Thirty Years of Works on Paper 1977-2007.
YR has been working almost exclusively in digital mediums since 2010.
Nature has always been an important inspiration for Yolanda del Riego and concern over environmental issues —such as marine pollution, deforestation and climate change— has increasingly become the primary subject of her work.
YR's recent exhibitions, Climate Change. An Artist's Perspective (2016), Unsustainable Escalation (2016), The Sea As I See It (2015) and Trees to Meet You (2014) have almost exclusively focused on the negative effects of environmental degradation and climate change.
Cat Heller del Riego
August 2009 / Last updated: February 2017