Master Printmaker Francesco Siqueiros Instigates Constructed Nature of History in “Arbor Cognitionis”

By: Gabrielle Garcia

As the founder of El Nopal Press: Limited Edition Fine Art Printing, established in 1990 in the heart of downtown Los Angeles, Francesco Siqueiros embodies and moves fluidly between the intersecting roles of artist, master printmaker, and curator. El Nopal Press engages in the challenging conversation and dialogue between the cultures and worlds that live both north and south of the U.S.-Mexico border. Siqueiros and El Nopal Press consistently interrogate ideas surrounding ‘meaning making’ through the visual arts and the multitudes of paradigms, cultures, and politics that coexist and clash in our present. The press produces a variety of prints using lithographs, woodcuts, etchings and other printmaking techniques and their hybridizations. With over twenty years of printmaking and artistic experience, Siqueiros has also served as an arts educator at several southern California universities and colleges, including the University of California Los Angeles, the University of California Santa Cruz, the University of Southern California, Otis College of Art & Design, and more. His work has been exhibited domestically and internationally in Mexico and France.


Siqueiros recently produced a new illustrative and allegorical print exploring representations of colonialism called “Arbor Cognitionis,” or “Tree of Knowledge” that will be featured at Self Help Graphics & Art’s Annual Print Fair and Exhibition on Saturday, June 29th, which also features fine art prints from a variety of professional artists. Drawing upon Catholic references with the Tree of Knowledge and the cherubs alongside indigenous symbolism, Siqueiros explores the concept of performance and artifice in representation and the creation of meaning in the construction of our history, especially colonial history. Foregrounding the print with a cool and subdued color scheme, he elects to draw greater attention to the historically and religiously-charged content, rather than distract with more explosive colors.

In presenting a nuanced interpretation of this history, he depicts a Euro-American figure adorned with a variety of garments that each represent different forms of colonizing forces. Siqueiros comments, “Colonialism happened all over the world, right? And I think it happened in many permutations. This individual presents itself in changing the existential panorama of whatever is approaching as he’s colonizing.” Conquistadors, cowboys, pilgrims, French nobility, and other forms all come together into a single intrusive entity that disrupts the established life of the indigenous peoples of the New World. 

Rather than exploit cliché imagery of physical violence, Siqueiros elects to explore an equally pervasive form of colonialism through forms of technology and modes of thinking. The ice block becomes a pivotal allegory in the print as a representation of invasive Euro-American paradigms. Just as the apple from the Tree of Knowledge tempted Eve, so too does the ice block tempt the indigenous onlookers into an entirely new view of the world and into technology that do not serve to better their established way of life—as represented with the women figures with gourds and fish in the background—but only create new issues that did not exist before. In such a narrative, the presence of the tree of good and evil and the ouroboros in the center of the piece along with the framing of the curtain destabilize black-and-white ideas about morality, neutrality, and truth. 


In discussing his print Siqueiros said, “So the approach I took to that was that I put it in a theater because immediately for me that’s the part that really the idea is successful because once it was put in a theater it became a construction, it became an opinion. It was an event that has more interpretations, as opposed to being confined into a solid boxed interpretation of the event. Once I put this thing in a theater, it alluded to the fact that is was a potentially a theater piece, a construction, that history is a construction and I do that to more to generate a conversation more than anything because there were events that did happen.”

Through such a conceptually complex print, we begin to ponder, how deep does the artifice, the construction go in our history? How can we can continue to interpret and bring our histories forth to the present? How can we confront and explore the traumas and scars of our history and the ways they continue to manifest today? How can we further create dialogue about these issues?

Self Help Graphics & Art’s Annual Print Fair and Exhibition Saturday, June 29, 2019 from 12:00 PM- 5:00 PM is a highly anticipated one-day opportunity for art lovers to see a culmination of works printed between 2018-2019, and acquire new, limited edition, fine art prints created by dozens of artists through our Professional Printmaking Program. The Annual Print Fair and Exhibition features serigraphs, monoprints, as well as new relief and intaglio print editions for sale. You can also purchase prints at our online shop!

Gabrielle Garcia is a Self Help Graphics & Art Getty Marrow Undergraduate Intern and recent graduate of Scripps College.