“This Family of Mexican Print-makers Changed the Art World” by Shana Nys Dambrot, KCET

At the industrial downtown end of Adams Boulevard, the American Dream is thriving, as one family business reinvents the modern art of printmaking.

The history of the Mixografia Workshop is an archetypal story of a family — the Rembas — originally from Mexico, pursuing new horizons for the family business, putting down deep roots and finding success in the U.S. through innovation and hard work, with the next generation growing up in the business before taking over and evolving it. What’s really fascinating is that this story has unfolded inside the upper echelons of the Los Angeles art world — because the Remba family business is inventing an absolutely unique approach to printmaking that has literally changed the game to bridge the span between sculpture and image. From Ruscha to Baldessari, Bourgeois to Tamayo, many artists’ most engaging and popular works have been made at this Los Angeles landmark that you’ve probably never heard of. But with the increased cultural traffic in their industrial stretch of downtown, and the debut of their newly renovated 6,000-square-foot public gallery space adjacent to the production workshop, that low profile is about to get a big spotlight.

Plaza de Santo Domingo, where Taller de Grafica Mexicana was originally located.
Plaza de Santo Domingo, where Taller de Grafica Mexicana was originally located, circa 1970. | Photo: Courtesy of Mixografia.​

The Remba family has been involved in the art business going back three generations, since family patriarch Luis Remba, as a young man, first learned the classic printing techniques at his father’s commercial printing firm in Mexico City. In 1968, the workshop under Luis’ stewardship executed a suite of prints for Pablo O’Higgins for a show at the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes. It was O’Higgins who first suggested that Luis open his own fine art workshop, which he did with his wife Lea. After a few years of popularity among artists like David Alfaro Siqueiros and Leonora Carrington, they began a collaboration with Rufino Tamayo that would change the course of their lives — and art history.

Tamayo was already internationally known for his masterful printmaking, but he had been interested in finding ways to achieve more texture and dimension, to give his prints the quality of presence of objects as well as images — something that with the Rembas’ help he would soon become even more known for. At his instigation and inspiration, the Rembas set off to work to modify conventional lithography to address the issue of surface and depth, looking to collage, painting, and bas-relief for aesthetic effects. What they came up with is a two-part solution. Think of it as a kind of handmade analog cousin to 3-D digital printing. The first involves making a dimensional object from any material imaginable and from it making a reverse copper plate that will be used for printing. The second is the development of a handmade cotton paper capable of enduring this amped-up approach to running reproductions; and in fact Luis and Lea’s son Shaye conceived and built a whole new generation of papermaking machines in 1982. These days, Shaye oversees all the production at the workshop — the proud and brilliant standard-bearer of the Mixografia empire.

Rufino Tamayo, Litho Stone, 1980
Rufino Tamayo working on creating the lithographic stone for “Dos Personajes Atacados Por Perros,” 1983. | Photo: Courtesy of Mixografia.​

Tamayo’s spirit still watches over the workshop, in the form of an impressive display of the mammoth slate used to produce the world’s largest stone litho. The artist went on to produce 80 editions with what had by then become Mixografia’s registered trademark, during nearly 20 years of fruitful collaboration. Nearly 40 years and many miles from those early days, the Mixografia Gallery will be officially opened with a show of new works by longtime Mixografista Analia Saban. Already known for her unique relationship of using commonplace found objects and non-traditional materials, Saban’s anti-Pop, conceptually rich works often depict an earnest ironic appreciation for modern life’s detritus. The new print series “Paper or Plastic?” is a perfect example, in its totally convincing mimicry of a flimsy yet eternally durable generic plastic shopping bag.

Analia Saban, "Have a Nice Day, Thank You! Plastic Bag," 2016
Analia Saban, “Have a Nice Day, Thank You! Plastic Bag,” 2016. | Photo: Courtesy of Mixografia.​

These soon-to-be debuted works hearken to another recent workshop favorite, Dario Escobar’s cheeky “Untitled (Basketball)” from 2013, in the way it too replicates the qualities of a specific real-world object — in this case, the skin of a deconstructed basketball. As impressive as artists like Escobar and Saban’s collaborations with the studio have been, they are but the latest in what has been some 30 years of quietly mind-blowing projects with artists like Tamayo of course, Ed Ruscha, John Baldessari, Lynda Benglis, Louise Bourgeois, Alberto Burri, Robert Graham, Jason Martin, Kiki Smith, Frank Stella, and Rachel Whiteread — many of whom have conceived and executed both realistic and more conceptual, abstract, whimsical, poetic, and even experimental masterpieces. Some highlights include: Baldessari’s “Concrete Couples” (2015) and “A-B-C Art (Low Relief)” (2009); Peter Halley’s “Prison with Smokestack I” (2014); Ruscha’s “Rusty Signs” (2014), “New Wood, Old Wood” (2007), and others; Burri’s “Mixoblack” (1990); Bourgeois’ “Crochet” series (1998); and extensive work with Robert Graham and Frank Romero.

With Luis and Lea as spry and inspired as ever, Shaye joyfully at the workshop helm, and the art world’s thirst for innovation apparently unshakable, neither the Rembas nor Mixografia will be slowing down anytime soon.

Dambrot, Shyna Nys. “This Family of Mexican Printmakers Changed the Art World.”KCET. N.p., 18 Nov. 2016. Web. 24 Jan. 2017.
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