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Italian Artist Claudio Orso Explores Cleveland Immigrant Experience

Italian-born artist Claudio Orso first made his way to the U.S. in the 1990s, following a stint working in Mexico. He walked across the border then with little concern from customs officials.

A couple of decades later, Orso, now an American citizen, works with immigrant students from Cleveland's Thomas Jefferson International Newcomers Academy.


Italian-born artist Claudio Orso is known for his woodblock prints [Michael Larkey]

"I speak French, I speak Spanish. So it was very interesting to speak with kids in three different languages during the same class," Orso said.

His observations of these young immigrants serve as one of the inspirations for his new exhibition, "Panta Rhei"or "everything flows" in Greek, on view at the gallery in the Bostwick Design Partnership building in downtown Cleveland. 


Claudio Orso's exhibit, "Panta Rhei," at the Bostwick building gallery in Cleveland [Michael Larkey]

"You see people escaping truly dire situations," he said. "Sometimes just bringing a listening ear does a lot."

The exhibition is a collection of Orso's large-scale woodblock prints along with his sculptural masks and fantastical puppets.


Claudio Orso's exhibit "Panta Rhei" is on view at the Bostwick Building Gallery in Cleveland [Michael Larkey]

The woodblock prints are as large as four-feet high by eight-feet wide.

"You start from drawing in your sketchbook and you transfer the drawing to a large sheet of plywood," Orso said. "Once you have the image on the block, you tint the block to be a stand in for the color of your ink. Then you proceed in carving and proofing the image until it's right."


Claudio Orso carves an image into a piece of plywood with a little help from a friend [Claudio Orso]

From there, Orso inks the blocks with color and prints the images onto pieces of paper that he actually makes himself at the Morgan Art of Papermaking Conservatory in Cleveland. Each sheet of paper took Orso about 15 hours to make before he even began the print-making portion of the process.


Claudio Orso removing print from the carved woodblock [Claudio Orso]

The images in the prints come from instances in Orso's life where he has witnessed adults not practicing good parenting, in his opinion.

"The kid in the car with the parents screaming on the cellphone while smoking a cigarette and the kid is without a seat belt and they're pulling out of a fast food restaurant," he said as an example. 


Claudio Orso's woodblock print "Malnurtured" on view at the Bostwick building gallery [Michael Larkey]

The puppets and masks on view were created for events like the Cleveland Museum of Art's Parade the Circle and the Big Parade in Oberlin.

Orso takes inspiration from his memories of parades in his hometown outside of Turin, Italy, where they'd celebrate Carnevale before the Lenten season began.


Claudio Orso modeling one of his masks [Claudio Orso]

"For me, it was really the occasion of parading through downtown and [to] be in the show and sharing the show with people. It's something that stayed with me," he said.


Claudio Orso and ideastream's Dan Polletta [ideastream]

Claudio Orso's exhibit, "Panta Rhei," is on view through March 10 at the Bostwick building gallery Sundays 1-4 p.m. or by email appointment to outclod@gmail.com




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