Marco SÁnchez | Ni de aquí, ni de alla
Written by Miranda K. Metcalf | Published 5 june 2019
I’m not a writer, but I’ve been trying. I want there to be more dialog about contemporary printmaking out there, I want more people to be excited about it, and moved by it. Don’t get me wrong, I like our tribe being small and connected. I feel protective of it, as I say in the podcast every week: shun the nonbelievers. I’m not interested in pleading our case to the uninterested, but I do want anyone who could be converted to hear the gospel. So I started writing about printmakers, twice a month, 2000 to 2500 words. I want there to be more words dedicated to our craft, so I’m making them, and I’m not a writer, but I’ve been trying.
I am lucky enough, though, to know a writer, a real one. She is incredibly talented and generous in spirit and has been a big supporter of PCL since it was just a gleam in my eye across a cocktail glass. She has offered me advice along the way, some of the best of which is don’t write down the center, write just to the left. If you want to talk about something in a meaningful way, don’t serve it on a platter, tell your audience what the garnish is. Don’t tell me about the character, tell me what’s on their bedside table, and let that tell me about them. As most of my writing hitherto has been academic, I’m not the best at following this, but it came to mind when I first started to look at the prints of Marco Sánchez. Sánchez is addressing difficult, emotional and complex concepts, that are close to home for him: cultural identity, border politics, xenophobia, domestic violence, racism… but he’s showing us what’s to the left. When he wants to communicate something about his cultural identity, he shows us a push bike taco stand, when he wants to talk about domestic violence he shows a us a saint-like woman holding his own severed head.
Sánchez was born in Ciudad, Juárez and moved to El Paso, Texas at age 11. While one could use the word ‘migrated’ in this situation it doesn’t seem totally appropriate. Someone living in a border town is always sort of from both places, yet also from neither. Sánchez tells me there’s a saying in Spanish, “Ni de aquí, ni de alla," meaning ‘neither from here or there.’ For those of you not totally up on your Texas geography, Ciudad Juárez and El Paso, Texas are separated by The Rio Grande and a tall steel fence. This is all part of the inherent complexity and interest of border life. Someone can be from both places and neither. It is perhaps this subtlety and life lived in the grey area that makes Sánchez’s work able to veer left and exist in the nebulous.
Like many of the printmakers I speak with, Sánchez grew up drawing, although he never thought of it as art for arts’ sake, rather seeing it as way to make social connections or pass the time. His grandfather, Guillermo Cordero, was a practicing artist with no small degree of success in his own right, and Sánchez’s mother worked as Cordero’s agent, booking shows in Texas and across the Southwest. This meant that up until the age of six, at which point Cordero moved away to Michoacan, the home Sánchez grew up in was filled with his grandfather’s paintings. Cordero worked in watercolor, ink, and tempera, and would mix the yolk and pigment by hand. So all of this was part of the young Sánchez’s experience of art and art making. Yet after his grandfather left and Sánchez grew up, art was replaced by sports, travel, and finding himself. He hardly drew at all between ages 13 and 27.
During this time he was backpacking, bartending, and traveling around Mexico and Latin America seeing Venezuela, Panama, El Salvador, and Cuba. Taking photos, getting into trouble, and watching sporting events like the 2007 COPA America. It was after this event that he and a friend took buses back through Mexico on their way home, and stopped off to visit his grandfather in Zirahuen. He had a studio there, and they stayed for a few days and watched him work. On the third day, his grandfather said to him, “Why don’t you help me in here? Mix some of that paint and start filling in a sky. You used to be pretty good at drawing when you were a kid.”
“But what if I screw it up?” Sánchez asked
“If you you screw it up then I’ll fix.”
This grandfatherly invitation back into the world of art making started Sánchez on a path which led him to starting his formal training at the University of Texas, El Paso, where he first found printmaking. While he finished with a double concentration in painting and printmaking in the end, printmaking sparked something in him from day one. “As soon as I first touched a copper plate, I thought ‘Oh my god, this is beautiful,’” he recalls. Printmaking was just so foreign to anything he’d ever done before. It lacked the immediacy of painting, and Sánchez knew he wanted to dive in to the space and time it provided and never get out.
While his early work was about his cultural identity, Mexican folklore, and his mentors and peers, things have changed as of late for Sánchez, as they have for many Latinx people in The United States. The country at large elected a man to the highest office in the land who has said unfounded, well documented xenophobic remarks which have affected U.S. culture in ways the world is still trying to quantify and comprehend. In the midst of this, Sánchez moved from El Paso, Texas, to Edinboro, Pennsylvania, to pursue his master’s degree. He went from a town of 700,000 to 7,000, from a place that is 70% Latinx to .5%, where he gets the question “What are you?” in bars. This distance from his home and what he knows has only sharpened the dedication to his practice. Growing up on the border, he says there’s a lot of history that isn’t told and not even people who are there know about. There’s a big multicultural presence, mostly Mexican, but Asian and German as well, and he always loved this —having friends from different parts of the world. Moving to a place like Edinboro, while he’s always been a minority, there he is THE minority. The political change in the states and the geographical change in his location has cause his work to shift and take on more of the current politics of America.
The current border issues are close to home for Sánchez. His mother was a social worker, and it was her job to do psychological evaluations for children who arrived at the border. This was years ago, before the atrocities of the child separations were making front page news around the world. Today, just 45 miles outside El Paso there is a processing facility that holds the children taken from their parents upon arrival in America. There are children there of all ages from infant up until 17 years old. Once the child turns 18 they are transferred to prison.
In the middle of all this is when his work shifted from being about his culture and traditions, the things that he’s proud of about where he comes from, his roots, to being what he calls reactionary. When you look at the tradition of Mexican printmaking and the post-revolutionary artists that Sánchez identifies with, he would find himself in good company in this categorisation. Leopoldo Mendez (founder of Taller de Grafica Popular), Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiro were working to form a Mexican identity and reacting against the world in which they found themselves. They made work that could be considered propagandistic because it was so clear and direct in its messaging, but they were also trying to find a voice for Mexico. Sánchez continues this tradition, navigating the murky waters of current American politics through sometimes intense imagery.
His latest work, still in progress, is a large scale woodcut about the femicides of Juarez. Rather than showing us violence against women, however, he’s showing us something just to the left. He’s showing his own culpability as a man from Juarez that he’s trying to come to terms with through the image of a woman holding up his severed head, Judith and Holofernes style. Sánchez grew up seeing abuse towards women in his own community, it’s something that to this day he feels remorse and resentment about. When he sells these images from the edition he’ll be donating the a portion of the proceeds to a woman’s shelter.
He has begun the sticky and complex process of decolonizing his work and moving away from the European aesthetic of an overly finished academic shine. To do this he is drawing on the concept of rasquache or rasquachismo. The terms comes from a Nahuatl word, and while at one point could have been considered derogatory, it is now being reclaimed and has an association with a sense of pride for making do with what you have. He’s going about his art making with a looseness that reflects a tradition of not needing the perfect elements, but instead using what you have — with or without formal training. He’s making shrines to his own invented totems from tires. The creative use of tires is something that Sánchez has witnessed throughout Latin America and while growing up with his father working construction. While printmaking remains part and particle to his practice, he’s moving away from the more academically rigid elements such as editioning, and celebrating the unique texture and tone it can create.
This summer Sánchez will be doing a residency for the month of June at the El Paso Museum of Art and will continue to work with the good people at Horned Toad Press which is also in El Paso. When it’s over, he’ll be heading into Mexico to experience some of the incredible printmaking that is happening all over. I always get antsy when I hear about printmaking in Mexico, it gives me kind of tingling feet and palm sweats when I feel like I’m missing out on something wonderful. It makes me want to empty my savings account, jump on a plane tomorrow, and go live it. I remember an anecdote told by a presenter at SGCI a few years ago, about how when he travels to The States and he’s making conversation even with other academics and tells them he’s a printmaker, most of them are not sure what he’s talking about. “What, you make copies or something?” But when he travels back home to Mexico City and is making small talk with his cab driver home from the airport their will be, “Oh, grafica, of course!” That is the kind of world that I want to live in, where the non believers are the minority and I can share the language of printmaking with even more people.
Sánchez will be visiting Arturo Negrete at Setenta y Cinco Grados in Mexico City before heading farther south to Taller Grafica Libre in Oaxaca. As well as exhibiting the portfolio he organised “Saints, Superheroes, and the Demonised” in Queretaro at La Madriguera Grafica. Some of you may remember this portfolio from SGCI this past March. In Oaxaca alone there are 12 or 13 print shops in the city, tourists can get a passaporte grafica and visit all the shops collecting stamps. Sánchez believes that there are many reasons why printmaking is thriving in Mexico. Among them, culturally, Mexico isn’t as interested in hierarchies as the United States. So this idea that printmaking may be a “lesser” medium while perhaps carried by some, is not of interest to most. Logistically, a nice press in Mexico, of a good size which could print a 40 x 30 inches sheet of paper, will only cost you $2500, making it much more accessible to start something. Whatever the reasons, the medium is more than thriving.
Throughout his travels, Sánchez brings the experiences of growing up on the border wherever he goes. The lived knowledge of life in the in between, the grey areas, and the contradictions. This perhaps allows him to make the work that he does, the work just left of centre — the work on both sides of the fence. His work is comfortable in its ambiguity, while at the same time juggles difficult topics. It makes his images dynamic and intriguing, and invites the viewer to look once and then look again, because the most interesting way to learn about someone is to see whats on their nightstand, and that deserves a closer look.