A Brief History of the Mixografia Printing Process

Rufino Tamayo, Sandías con Manzana, color Mixografia, 1985. Sold May 2, 2019 in Old Master Through Modern Prints Featuring Latin American Art for $22,100.

In 1973, Luis Remba, the owner of the fine art lithography studio Taller de Gráfica Mexicana in Mexico City approached Rufino Tamayo to collaborate on a print. At the time, Tamayo had already worked with other forms of printmaking and wanted to incorporate texture into his printed work. He agreed to work together, but only if they could play with printmaking techniques to create a textured surface. Remba responded by creating a new technique altogether, where the prints were created in relief on handmade paper, adding texture, dimensional and brilliant color to the final product. Realizing they had invented a new form of printmaking, they called it Mixografia. Later, the studio would change their name to Mixografia, reflecting the importance of their achievement.

Here Sarah McMillan, cataloguer in our prints and drawings department, takes us through a brief history of the groundbreaking technique and its lasting impact.

How Mixografias are Made

In order to create a Mixografia print, the artist first creates a maquette, or a preliminary model, with their design. This can be done several ways: as a bas-relief, assemblage or more standard design. From the maquette, a printing plate is made by casting or molding an inverted version of the model.

What makes Mixografia a particularly unique method is the use of handmade paper. After the master printers apply ink to the plate, rather than applying a piece of premade paper, wet pulp (produced in the studio) is placed directly onto the ink. This allows the ink to adhere and bind into the paper, in a similar way as to how pigment adheres into plaster when making a fresco. This process enriches the print’s color while adding its signature texture and dimensionality. Mixografia also creates its own machinery used to create its prints themselves.

Rufino Tamayo

Tamayo was not only the first artist to work with Mixografia, but he was one of the most prolific and worked with the studio on over 80 prints throughout his career. His work in the medium continued his thematic preference of highlighting his Zapotec heritage— the works were simple in composition, often highlighting the sun, moon and earth. The Mixografia technique allowed the materiality of the print to shine—texture and color became the focal point as much as the subject matter.

Rufino Tamayo, Galaxia, color Mixografia, 1977. Estimate $10,000 to $15,000. To be offered in our May 21, 2020 sale of Old Master Through Modern Prints.

Galaxia is the perfect example of this. The schematic constellations are evocative of the crispness of the desert sky at night, while still being graphic in handling. The saturation of the pink fading to purple and blue gives the work an ethereal quality.

Galaxia is a large scale print, but it was not the largest Mixografia ever made. Tamayo was consistently pushing the boundaries of the medium—his work Dos Personajes Atacados Por Perros, is over 7 feet long. It utilized the largest lithography stone ever produced, which is still on display at Mixografia’s studios.

Related Reading: Rufino Tamayo, Innovative Printmaker and Notes from the Catalogue: Latin American Art

Mixografia’s Legacy

In 1980 the studio Mixografia was invited by the University of California, Los Angeles to hold an exhibition of their prints at the university. After the show’s success, UCLA offered to partner with the studio to open operations in Los Angeles, thus broadening its reach and allowing visiting artists who taught at the university to work with the Mixografia printers. In 1984 they opened up their studio in Los Angeles where they continue to collaborate with leading Contemporary artists, such as Frank Stella, Kiki Smith, Helen Frankenthaler and Tom Wesselman.

Helen Frankenthaler, Guadalupe, color Mixografia, 1989. Sold November 21, 2019 in Contemporary Art for $40,000.

Frankenthaler began working with Mixografia in Los Angeles in December 1986. She had been making prints for over 20 years and had experimented with several mediums. Mixografia allowed her to add relief to her printed media, which she did in Guadalupe.

Tom Wesselmann, Still Life With Blonde And Goldfish, color Mixografia, 2000. Sold November 16, 2017 in Contemporary Art for $10,000.

Tom Wesselmann brought his iconic graphic compositions to his practice with Mixografia. Working with them towards the end of his career, and having also experimented with three-dimensionality with his metal cut-outs and assemblage and collage, Mixografia allowed him to experiment with texture and dimensionality in a printed form while also achieving the brilliant colors he is known for.

Over the years Mixografia has produced over 600 editions by 89 artists. The Remba family still operates the studio, and tweaks the method based on each artist’s needs. Its highly adaptable quality allows it to be manipulated and experimented with by many artists to constantly evolve and push the process and method of printmaking.

More from Sarah McMillan: Collecting American Prints: Property from Betty & Douglas Duff, of the Bethesda Art Gallery and A Brief History of the Color Woodcut

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