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[ My Son Leonardo (1959) ]
My Son Leonardo (1959)
[ Bodas de Sangre (1951) ]
Bodas de Sangre (1951)
[ Sol y Luna (1945) ]
Sol Y Luna (1945)
[ Dachau (1946) ]
Dachau (1946)
[ Nazi Drawing #28 ]
Nazi Drawing #28
[ Kaddish #4 (1978) ]
Kaddish #4 (1978)

Mauricio Lasansky:  The Artist on His Art

An Interview with Mauricio Lasansky

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J M Could you comment on the basic intaglio techniques.

M L To me intaglio is everything. What does it say at the top of the New York Times? Under the title? It says, "Anything that's fit to print." That's what intaglio is, any technique that's fit to print. That's really what I mean. Etching is perhaps a classical technique. With Rembrandt he would etch to get his tonality, then to get the real kick he added drypoint. I need to explain graphically the real difference between an etch and a drypoint. That is where the secret is. You should visualize an etched line, take a surface of a copper plate, put a ground which is resistant, cut a few lines, different thicknesses, etch the lines with ten different bites, five minutes, stop out, another five, stop out, and on and on to ten different bites which then vary five minutes each apart. You will end up with ten different tones. Put the ink on the plate, wipe the extra off, put it on the press and print it. Then you will have these ten variations in tone but they will all be the same, like ten sisters—some older, some younger, some smaller and some bigger, but very similar. A unifying tone. Why unifying tone? You have more ink as the line gets deeper, but you still have the same characteristics. But with drypoint it's like plowing a field—it's kind of old fashioned. You keep plowing, and on one side the disk throws the dirt out and on the other side the dirt is thrown out a little higher. One side is a little bigger in weight. That's what drypoint does, it doesn't take any copper anyway. You put the pigment inside the little opening but it also catches on the ridges, too, a little more on one side than the other. When the line is not made by acid and it is made by the hand, it will be different. There will never be two lines just the same. You can't use one without the other, that's why Rembrandt always finished his [etchings] with drypoint. Drypoint is very sensual.

Engraving is a different thing. It just depends on the type of tools. What I use is the Italian burin, it's broad and square. I think some of the best plates done in this medium were made by Bill Hayter; for example, Tarantelle and the Combat.

J M How did yuou happen to cut the edges of the plates?

M L I didn't know then, but now after all these years, I know why. I was trying to work with space and I could not figure out how to put my object in a concrete place in space, and that's when I started to cut the plates—to go into the picture. If you were to touch an object and take your hands and go all the way, all the way on the surface, that's the way I did the plates before. But then, I wanted to touch the sides too, to feel the contours. So I had to work the plates this way to have a tactile feeling for the object in a specific space. It was an interesting approach, you see. I never left it after that. One way or another she always comes back, she still does.

J M The line that cuts through the portrait of Leonardo is from cutting the plate. You did this to set the figure back in space, right?

M L Yes, and I've seen a lot of prints made this way since then, and printmakers have done a lot of that, but I don't think they all know why they are doing it.

J M Why do you use multiple plates? Too much to do one one?

M L The other plates are for colors. A picture is like people—an accumulation of different moments at one time. One day you feel good and look good, another day you look and feel terrible, another perhaps so-so. What I do is an accumulation of all of these.

J M Will you discuss what a state means to you.

M L It's a way of measuring. To me the state is a bearing, a compass, if I am going towards the right direction or the wrong. I try to get to a point; I don't know exactly where it is. The state always does tell me if I am on the right track. In itself, it has no value, except to the observer, you, to try to get closer to how I created my work. It shows you a corner of my personality that even I perhaps don't know, I take it for granted.

I'll tell you what I tell the students, I say, "you keep one print exactly as you have it, and then give me four or five different solutions to the same problem." And boy, when they get to the third, they don't know what else to do, where else to go. And that is the same persistence in my work—see, black, white, wham, the changes are violent! Sometimes you need just to turn around and go the other way, and then come back. You see on this plate [Bodas de Sangre], there is not a spot left except here, of the original white. Technically, I believe that you need to have this original white so you know where you've been. I recommend to students to leave a white. And an important part is what you make out of your black. But the most important part on your plate is the white you can get after you destroy the natural beauty of the plate. The moment you have this white you have a way of measuring.

In the intaglio field it is most difficult to prevent your white from getting dirty; it's very, very difficult technically. I respect paper very much. To me a color print is very much like fresco. It's the same principle, really. You work with the white. Whatever you put on top, the white should always have a presence, always pushing through the color. That's the secret of Velazquez; the luminosity of his painting, it comes from inside. Most painters before him had the light come from outside. His comes from inside, physically. He needed to develop a technique of preparing canvass. His white keeps pushing through the colors, then there's the luminosity.

Anyway, the print should work the same way. You see you must respect the white of the paper but not as a decorative element. [With the recent prints,] I created tremendous technical problems. I need to go to the press four or five times and your white can get dirty. So in this process of trying to keep the white, I print at five levels at one time [as in Quetzalcoatl], physically, five plates, one on top of the other, printed at the same time. And that means I need to use completely different materials, otherwise you pop out the paper. There are tremendous technical problems. You see, I'm getting each time younger and younger, not getting older, it's only my eyes that are not as good as they were. So you see automatically you adjust, your visions too, you don't waste time. I could not do drypoint now if you gave me a million dollars, I could not. I not only don't have the interest to do it, but I just physically could not do it.

J M Would you say that when it comes to an edition a print you end your real involvement with it (the creative process) and then it just becomes a matter of production? Your real involvement is working on the plate?

M L No. Let me make a clarification. That is a hell of a lot of physical work—editioning. The only thing is, being the creator, I play, even with an edition. You will rarely ever find two the same. I get sick and tired and I don't want to. I want to use my time in a creative way, so I keep playing even to the last one. So from a technical point of view printing itself is the experiment or experience continuing. Otherwise I would not do it. I never in my life did anything I don't like to do or that I don't know how to enjoy. I never have and I never will. If I would be dead and buried and I did not feel comfortable, believe me, I would come back.

J M It seems in your work, then, the more difficult it is, the more fun it is for you.

M L You know, I don't whistle when I work, I'm the biggest truck driver you can imagine. If you had a tape recorder when I'm working, I would make a new dictionary of bad words. I swear and I sweat. I enjoy it evidently, otherwise I would not do it, but it is not easy. For me it is like having birth, you go through hell.

J M You said that if you don't put your prints under plexiglass you will continue to work on them, is that right?

M L Yes, I do, otherwise I play. You know, nothing is ever finished. But you are right too, the fun is the riverbanking with the plate. That's really fun.

J M You said that Sol y Luna, Dachau, and For an Eye an Eye are important as preambles to The Nazi Drawings.

M L Yes, it was the same thing, but twenty years too early. I could not do it then—I had to wait. Some people say "Why deal with something that happened so many years ago?" Well, my ideas are like elephants, they take a long, long time to ring the bell and come out.

J M How is it that you made The Nazi Drawings? You were not there to experience it first hand.

M L Some of my best depositions were made in the 14th century, 15th, 16th, 17th, and nobody was there.

I told you at the beginning of this interview, that I am a product of the Depression, and I was fertilized and programmed already; we don't change. We are programmed by the genes or circumstances or a combination of these. And that is what I try to tell the students, that they need to be honest with themselves. Somehow as creative people each one of us is programmed, by inside influences in a larger proportion to outside, sociological influences.

J M You mentioned the other day that your current series of Kaddish prints relate to The Nazi Drawings. How is that?

M L I'm working with a very specific subject, I am working with this concept of the people that were killed, the people in the Nazi drawings. And when I made the Nazi drawings, I made them as an angry young man, I wanted to spit it out, my point of view, no rules, no nothing, an instinctive reaction. I was upset, I wanted people to know that the world was upset. I am the world, so are you! But now you see, I am using the same theme but I want to use it in a positive way, like an old man who is retrospective. I am trying to get people to really think, and use the barbarites we already made in a positive way. This is quite a specific communication. I want to tell something specific, and I want to go straight to the point, and my straight is in the abstract organization of the picture which creates the emotional impact. You will notice in the Kaddish series, they are divided in two, physically. And if they are not physically divided, I make the illusion that they are divided. One is the dove, and the lower part is the figure. Most of them have a mask or use their hands, because I am still ashamed when I think of the suffering all the humans made the people endure. I get embarrassed just thinking of it, so I cover my embarrassment.

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