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[ Image:  The artist's Iowa City studio workspace. ]
The artist's Iowa City studio workspace.

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[ Image:  The artist's tools. ]
The artist's tools.

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[ Image:  The artist's tools. ]
The artist's tools.

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[ Image:  The artist's tools. ]
The artist's tools.

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[ Image:  Plate for The Cat The Clock and Ballerina in progress. ]
Plate for The Cat The Clock and Ballerina in progress.

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[ Image:  Self Portrait (1957) ]
Self Portrait (1957)

Mauricio Lasansky:  The Artist on His Art

Mauricio Lasansky on His Art

What people need to understand for a democracy to work is that simple principle. We're not the same, but we have the same rights. That way we're glorifying the diversity, that's the strength of our system.

Modern civilization took away a hell of a lot of the survival instincts. That's where we got the Nazis, you know. The (German) society was castrated. They did not have the ability to think anymore.

I mean, how can you explain a civilization like the (Nazi) Germans'? Let's not say prehistoric, but let's consider the past thousand years; sophisticated, educated, great musicians, great philosophers. How in the hell can you explain how a country can get that low? I don't mean everyone; just the Nazis. If you are a sympathizer, or if you don't say a word, you are still a Nazi.

The industrial era is giving us many things. It's giving us some things, but taking away some things that made human beings survive the last twenty thousand years. If you look at cave drawings, if you look at how they were made, what kind of life they have, you won't believe it. I was in Spain with my son, many years ago. I was taking him to these caves (at Alta Mira). I wanted him to see it. We ran across an engineer. We got friendly. He said, "I'm an engineer."

I said, "I'm an artist."

"Maybe you would like to see what I found; oh, maybe six months ago."

He took me to a cave that he discovered making a road. I never saw drawings so beautiful. It's unbelievable. I wish I could draw one tenth as well as these "primitive" people; and these so-called primitive men had a lot of time. At night they were scared to death, so they went into the caves, and somehow, they had torchlight with animal grease or something, and they drew and they engraved. Oh, the experience of that day. How to teach the other guy hand-to-hand. These guys were very little guys, you know, and they did pictures of these great bison. Unbelievable, these primitive people, twenty thousand years ago.

The process is not the important thing. That is just technique, mechanics. Anyone can understand the process in ten minutes. I spent many years teaching at the university; not training printers, but teaching artists. I could teach a guy to scratch a plate in fifteen minutes. To train an artist, that takes many years. The print shop is just where I taught because that was where I worked. The important thing is the seeing and making of the image.

The sketching is the first thing, but not of a specific idea. You need to start drawing before you have an image set in your mind; just start drawing whatever comes to mind to see what happens. Draw constantly, you must always be sketching, because it makes your ideas flow and your mind work. Then you look at the images you have and see if you want to work with any of them.

I must always have many things going on. I might set one aside and not work on it for months, then I'll come back and see something, and work on it again. I always have many unfinished pieces in the studio. I don't beat them you know, the (the works) beat me. But you know, Napolean was a great general, and not even Napolean could win them all. We battle every day in the studio. You fight, and you fight, and you fight, and one day you say the hell with it: (chuckle) No. But I work on many things at one time, not only on one print, and that way I keep alive and keep from going nuts.

The working process for me, is momentary. That's the search. You don't know what you look for, but you know what you don't like, but it's not easy to find what you really like. There's nothing to lose, you see. You keep searching and searching. You try anything that might feel right, and then see if it is. I play with the images constantly. In fact, when I have decided on a final image and run the prints, I always cover them with plexiglass immediately. All of the prints in the studio must be covered, or I'll keep trying things with them.

You see, the scraper (used to remove images from copper plates) is like history. We live today, but we do not live today if we did not have a history. That's the approach I have with the plate. All (the image from a plate) was black (before incising). What it was, it is; always there even if you can't see it.

You can print in yellow, red, whatever you want. Well, I like red, or black and white when I start to see the whole image. It's a bit like perfume, good or bad. Black and white is right or it's wrong. Like the written word, it's much more sober. But people don't want to have anything to do with black and white now. With television, they like to make a movie on television in color. It needs to be color.

That's impossible, and the meaning is different, see; the perception of color is not only the light, but color is a very moody thing. You know, the way you dress, I can tell pretty much what kind of personality you have, what kind of mood; pretty darn close. Women have much better taste in color than men.

You know, an artist is very sensitive to the environment, and you hope you get influenced. The sensitivity of an artist is like a thermostat is to heat and cold. You better have a brain to refine this heat and cold, and that is what is very difficult to teach the young kids. That's why I told them. You work like hell, you walk in the studio and you don't think. Work with your gut. When you stop working that day, sit down and have a Coca-Cola, a beer, whatever you want. Watch what you did, cool it off; and take it apart.

Your brains or your judgement will be logical. Not a common logic, your logic. Everyone has a sense of logic, you see, of proportion; but don't wait for your brain to get in front of your fingernails. The tips of your fingers, and your gut, is your instinct. You need to always listen to that. You need a balance of creative and intellectual processes. And you put it here, in your eye. But don't put it in front of your fingertips. That's the (critical) process; it's a highly intellectual process, very refined. The creative process is a knowing, is more of an instinctive one.

How do I chose? I can't even tell you. The day I did the printing, it was totally arbitrary. It may have as much to do with what I had for breakfast that day as anything, but I look, and I say I like this one, and we print. You do it when you're still tied up. You can go this way or that way, but your decision is part of the entire process. Stop working, enjoy yourself, criticize your work; and don't trust anyone, not even yourself. You question. That's what I always told my graduate students. Doubt; the creative doubt is one of the most positive things humanity has. The ability to question, not just anyone, but yourself, your own work, your own life. That's our destiny, to keep moving.

You see our eyes have a brain. The scientists don't think so. Well, now they are just starting to discover that the eye is like a executive secretary of the brain. It makes decisions too. The catch is, if you cross the street, the eye or the sound (of something coming) will tell you before it even gets to the brain. You'll jump, immediately. For you see when you can get to use your natural instincts, and everyone should, really, and you let . . .. Well, like the saying says, That's the way you learn to know what you don't like. You eliminate what you don't like. You are looking for what you do like.

An artist is all instinct. An artist . . . Look, an artist is always the flower of any civilization. It's not as if he wants to do it, you do not pick (to be) an artist. An artist is picked; he doesn't even know (why), he is just picked. Why this is so, I don't know, it's beyond me. But, the truth is, he was picked. And when they say, "Artists this, or artists that," it's all just double-talk.

You need to know (that) it's got a lot to do with egos. An artist has a big ego, and there's a logical explanation. When an artist has an ego, it's not crap, it's survival. Why? An artist has no way, nowhere to go. You can go look at a picture by Picasso, but looking at a picture by Picasso is not looking at the picture I'm working on. By metaphor, I can learn something, but on the other hand, on the one I'm working on there is no scientific way to prove I'm on the right track. What your ego does then, is to build up a wall around you, so you don't get lost. Do you understand what I'm saying?

What I suggest, after work every day, you analyze so you learn to control your ego without destroying what you need to survive. You realize that my problem is not your problem; we're all in the same boat, but it's not the same problem.

Now art is in very bad shape. Too many mosquitoes. Mosquitoes breed mosquitoes. I never stressed technique. I'm trying to get more flexibility into the work. Instead of working by techniques, they become the tools. I never taught technique to any of my graduate students, and they have more knowledge of techniques than any artists in the country.

My motto is you use the technique you need, and if it doesn't exist, you invent it. That's the principle. After I have trained them, they can do as the goddamn please. Art is like picking a wife. You pick what you love, what you need.

Reprinted from Expressions XIV (Des Moines, IA).
Used with permission.

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