An Interview with Mauricio Lasansky
Jan Muhler Let's say someone is preparing an anthology of printmaking and approaches you with the request that you choose six prints which you feel best illustrate your development as a printmaker and/or your attitude toward printmaking in general. Which works would you select and why?
Mauricio Lasansky You pick the prints. You are asking me to say which ones I think are truer than others. I love them all. Whatever I did is as far as I could do it then. Now, all these years past, I could not have done it better; I never made a thing too fast, too slow, it's as far as I could go. I have respect for my infancy. I would not change anything.
I want to be exactly as I am. I have a very strong feeling that people cannot be replaced and that is the way I approach everybody, that is the way I approach my students, and they know it.
You must know that my work is the work of somebody who lives so long, that's all, and keeps making a record of his own feelings, whether or not his own feelings are more important than things around him.
When I made Changos, teaching in an elementary school. I was making sculpture then. A child came into my studio one day and looked at what I was doing and said, "I never saw a head without a body!" It made me stop and think. I soon expanded completely my visions. Something about the kidssomething honest about them, something functionalthey never do anything to impress anybody. They never make a table that's empty, it always has a plate or a glassthey never make a faucet that's not drippingthey never make a car that's not moving or a train that's not going or people that are not walkingwhich is interesting. They are so much more related to realityand reality is an object in spacewith all the mechanics of this object, whatever the object is, that conquers space or is conquered by space. You see, that is what you need to decide onwhat you are, are you becoming conquered by the space or do you destroy that space and create a new one. And this is the function of an artistanywhere, always was and always will beand if it is not like that, artists would not exist anymore, or they would not function in society as they are expected.
J M Changos y Burritos seems to mark a turning point in your work.
M L I had moved out of the city by 1937 to a little town in the mountains in the middle of nowhere. There I discovered the landscape. I was a city boy, like you, like anybody. I did not see a tree in my life. I didn't know what a tree was all about . . . what life is all about.
J M This period [Maternidad and Figura] in your work is sometimes referred to as your "Surrealist Period."
M L I didn't know anything about the French Surrealists then. You must understand that many of the best poets in the Spanish language are Latin American. They always were good. Poetry, metaphorit's in the Spanish language. See, we can talk in metaphors for three days without repeating ourselves and only a few people would really understand what we were talking about. So my work, at least those prints from the late 1930s, relates to this heritage.
J M How did you get into printmaking?
M L I got into graduate school as a sculptor. One day I just wandered into the print department, and I smelled all that ink and my old ancestors came out. It just hit me. It gets into your veins.
J M How is it that most of your prints deal with the figure?
M L I think the universe is concentrated in a human being. The figure is a vehicle for my expression, the universal.
J M Most of your subjects are members of your family or yourself. Is this because you feel most comfortable with those you know best?
M L Yes, in a way. I feel more comfortable with old shoes. The family still means the human figure and the universal theme.
J M You have done some abstractions.
M L Yes, but always with the figure. You know people do terrible things, they kill each other, terrible things, but still people are the only thing that we have left that are worthwhile fixing, anything else does not matter.
J M Have you done any landscapes? Do you have any interest in them?
M L Yes, I do, I love landscapes, but not as a reproductive medium. I love to walk in them.
J M How about still lifes?
M L I eat them!
J M Why did you give up painting?
M L I never give up anything. When I'm in Mexico I paint and drawsculpture, too. I have fun, I work. I have many projects going down there now. I love to draw. When I draw I need to be in the right mood. Drawing is supposed to be an extension of all your primitive qualities, without the filter of civilization. Many artists are making drawings and transferring them onto the plates, these are not prints.
J M Who are some of the artists you most admire or who have had some influence on you or your work?
M L Everyone who came before me. Picasso to say somebody. To me Mantegna is one of the most important artists; through him you can decipher the Renaissance. Goya, of course, and Schöngauer. You noticed I skipped Dürer; Schöngauer is cleaner, less skillful. Mantegna, Schöngauer and Rembrandt.
I do respect Picasso. The whole man, not only his work. I'd like to have looked inside his ears and know all the little details that made him such a complex man. We still don't really know what type of man he was. When God made the artist, I think he must have fallen asleep, because when he was pouring in the quantity for Picasso he kept on pouring.
Velazquez is the greatest of all. Goya, yes, but I love Velazquez for what Goya is not. He was cool. He never got involved with the observer. He always was involved with the model. He had such respect for human dignity that all his skills as an artist were on the surface. He glorified man. He made the little dwarf, the most moving thing, it tears your heart out. It is not sentimental at all, it is warm and moving. And to do that, you needed to develop a technique of painting which was alien to the Italian technique. During his time all artists used the Italian technique. The Abstract Expressionists had a hell of a lot to learn from Velazquez. Of course, all the great artists learned a great deal from him. And no props, he never used props. I don't use props either, that's one of the things I learned from Velazquez.
J M Did the idea of printmaking appeal to you because of the idea of making works of art available to a larger audience?
M L No, all I care about is the image and trying to find it. Most of the time it is very elusivean image that I can find only through the print. Whether I am stupid or not, I like to find things, I like to sweat. It's somewhere between the back of the plate and the front. I need to go through all of the problems each time to find it.
J M How do you begin to make a print? From the beginning, do you start with the drawings?
M L You see, I'm sitting at the telephone and then the call comes and most of the time it's the wrong number, but once in awhile it's right. No, I draw quite a bit, but I don't want to draw on the plate. My point of view is that you need to draw a lot on paper so you don't do all this footwork on the plate. Copper is too expensive. Besides, she has a personality of her own and she does not want to be finagled or tickled with a pencil, she only loves to be worked with the burin. So you need to draw. The ideas are floating somewhere, somewhere in some corner of our heads and they are very abstract. The maternity room is the paper. That's the first step, and with pencils, five cents, cheap ones, and then slowly it comes. Then you go to the plate when you feel you did all you could. In general, you find the image in the paper but what I find is that I develop on the plate the line and the tonal constrast of the object in space. I get the image to come when she wants to. I like to feel that a plate is like a fish. You see a fish has two curves; they can go up, down, sideways, any way. And that's what I'd like to be. I don't want restrictions of any kind except my instinct and the material I work in.
J M I see you working perhaps like the Abstract Expressionistworking out on your plate everything you want as you gonot stopping until you get it, responding to what is happening on the plate.
M L Yes, let me see if I can explain it differently. All I know is that I have something that's alive. That's all. That's what you call life itself. Something that's living and kicking. I don't care where she goes, or I don't ask where she is coming from. I just try to be as close as possible to this thing that's alive, because she is teaching me. I cannot say I will do that or that; I think the Nazi drawings are a good example. I worked five or six years on them, every day, all day, I knew exactly what I wanted to say, but I never said the day I would finish, that I found. It is not like love and what we try with our children. We have it all mapped outJohnny will be a doctor, Freddy will be an engineer. Well, that is the way prints were made; in reality they were no more than transfers of imitation drawings. It was for a long time.
J M Have you done some woodcuts?
M L Woodcut is a lot of fun. I did some, but you can't do everything. It takes time, and the mood, I suppose. And remember, I am teaching too, this is a full-time job.
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