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The old adage states that, “true beauty is on the inside.” 

Beyond appearances and the conception of the whole as a unit, there are those who see beyond, in the elements that make up that whole and their interactions. Venezuelan artist José Catamo has made this search the core of his work.

The Irresistible Attraction of Paper

Catamo was attracted to the world of art from a very early age. He took his first steps in the workshops of the Instituto Universitario de Estudios Superiores de Artes Plásticas Armando Reverón (Caracas-Venezuela). “These early days of expression and creativity marked a constant interest where I was experimenting with techniques of assemblage, sculpture, graphics and tools linked to the sensitivity of being in art and its environment.”

In the years that followed, Catamo undertook drawing classes and studied Graphic Design, later working as a designer in advertising and publishing. It was during this time that paper became an object of experimentation in his artistic sphere. “Experimentation on paper connects me to traditional engraving with Caracas art collectives such as TAGA (Taller de Artistas Gráficos y Asociados Luisa Palacios), a space where I learnt to work with engraving and screen printing using alternative resources such as security paper, invisible inks and other uncommon materials which I had been collecting to apply and explore in different formats.”

The discovery of security materials becomes a source of inspiration for Catamo, who began investigating how they could work as part of an artistic process. “My research into paper money connected me with experts in the field, such as master papermaker Jean Carlos Siciliano, who opened my eyes to the experimentation of security paper and its variations. I learned to make handmade paper and that became a canvas on which I could experiment with oils and the deconstructed elements of paper money, such as filaments.”

This search was complemented with design work related to philatelic editions for the Telegraphic Postal Institute of Venezuela (IPOSTEL). “As a consequence, I began to collect stamps banknotes and coins, which determines part of my inspiration in each creative piece of work. The interaction with these resources generated the collection and identification of materials and techniques with security elements such as: filaments, watermarks, holography, watermarks, and invisible registers, among others.”

Today the research continues through experiments with new formats and materials based on recycled processes, exposed to the variation of types of light and fluorescent colours.

© José Catamo | “Dendritas Dragon Tree”

Deconstruct in Order to Build

The everyday metamorphosis where constant change sets the tone is a recurring theme for Catamo. In his work the banknote never becomes a whole, yet remains halfway in its component parts. The security inks, the filaments, and banknote are isolated elements that are combined under new formulas: “I started working with sensitive security inks and ultraviolet lights, filaments, cut-out banknotes and paint – the interaction with these elements became the core of my work. Each piece is unique because it has been customised. I have made a series with silkscreen printing where each piece has been intervened in a different way.”

Catamo’s artistic journey makes the banknote a form of inspiration and deconstructs it to give it new life into his own artistic creations, where interaction with light is a constant theme. In fact, a world with which he identifies himself as an artist is “diurnocturnity” (a pun combining the concepts of day and night). His works play with the duality of light and darkness to express different aspects and emotions. Thus, the pieces show one side in daylight and another as seen under an ultraviolet light. In this way, these materials, which were originally intended for printing banknotes, are given a new life in his artistic expression.

“Paper money records a time and a history, which inspires me to seek its preservation through art.”

These works show curved and intertwined lines that form infinite wefts and allow further complex forms to be seen from a various distances. “It could be defined as figurative art, where abstract lines converge altered by the action of light and different applied colours”.

© José Catamo | “We are human beings”

Money Art as a Transformative Agent

Catamo sees Money Art as a novel and evolving concept, bringing together numismatics and artistic expression. Although he does not yet consider himself a Money Artist on his own terms, he recognises that his background as a graphic designer has facilitated his approach to art from a perspective based on interest and constant research. A passion for knowledge about banknote materials and manufacturing techniques has shaped his artistic work.

Catamo knows that the messages in his work will change over time and as he evolves as an artist; as he delves into new ways of expressing himself. “I look for the valuation of history and time through the graphic discourse used in each banknote, coin or stamp from its original production. I try to turn each piece into a legitimate object where elements of unique and original value converge, thus transmitting the concept of authenticity that banknotes and coins have.”

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