Etching in Oaxaca
Earlier this year I joined a group of printmakers for a master class in Oaxaca, Mexico, organized by Pratt Fine Arts Center, where I used to teach. Oaxaca City is home to a thriving and impressively innovative printmaking community. The influence of Japanese artist Shinzaburo Takeda, who settled there in 1978 and trained many local artists (among them my friend Fulgencio Lazo), has been felt strongly for years, but printmaking also experienced a resurgence during the protests of the early aughts, attracting younger artists and injecting a more pronounced political element. There are hundreds of small workshops throughout the city, most of which double as galleries and are open to visitors. We studied at Producción Gráfica Zanate, where master printer Daniel Flores collaborates with artists on adapting their work into editioned prints.
I first visited Oaxaca about twenty-five years ago, when I knew virtually nothing about printmaking. That time I mostly just walked around and took in the sights and smells and tastes. This time around I had a purpose, and the privilege of being able to immerse myself in the local art scene. It seemed like everyone was constantly starting new workshops or galleries, collective ventures that felt like bands. (And like musicians, they all played in each others’ “bands”. Also, there are actual bands marching through the streets pretty much every day, usually accompanied by giant puppets.) Galleries full of print work are on every street, in addition to the fact that the outsides of the buildings usually double as print galleries.
I drew inspiration from the constant barrage of art incorporated into everyday life and architecture, one of my favorite things about Mexican culture in general, which is on steroids in Oaxaca. The walls and doorways alone could keep me gaping and processing for months.
For the actual printmaking part, I needed to arrive with at least a sketch of an idea, so I spent the weeks prior working on a little experiment. I’ve been really intrigued of late with how making a print requires so much three-dimensional thinking, that the leap to sculptural work is not a large one. So I started with some little three dimensional models, to see what it was like to move in the opposite direction.
I copied the patterns for the polyhedrons out of a geometry textbook from 1897. All of them fold up into regular solids, but they were more interesting to draw when arranged into irregular shapes.
I based my print on the first of these sketches. Such a line-heavy drawing is of course a natural fit for hard-ground line etching, but we had two plates to work with and, more to the point, a maestro with thousands of tricks up his sleeve and a great eye for which one to pull out for your piece. We worked on our plates for four days, trying out new techniques (like dabbing the wet ground with a plastic bag), periodically pulling a proof and coming back for additional advice on what to do next. Here are some intermediary steps in the process.
The final piece, Desdoblado can be seen on my Prints page.