Summer 2006: Fish Printing by Marcelo Balzaretti

Interview with Fish Printing artist Marcelo Balzaretti 
By Jennifer Anderson

     One of the most interesting things about working at Hiromi Paper International is meeting and talking with the artists who come into our store for paper. Last year when Marcelo Balzaretti came in I was excited to see images of his work. He combines very basic, if not primitive, printmaking processes and contemporary video technology, as he uses prints as the cells of an animated sequence. Shown on an LCD screen on the gallery wall his fish print animations, flicker and move like a real fish moving through water. Marcelo lives and works in Mexico, but his work has been shown in various locations around the world including, The Francisco Goitya Museum and Network Mill Gallery in Johnson, Vermont.

The following is an e-interview between us:

Q: What is your training in printmaking and when did you learn about and start making fish prints? 

Answer: I got involved in printmaking in 1997 at the National School of Visual Arts of the National Autonomous University of Mexico after finishing a B.F.A. I started my training with courses in woodcut, etching and engraving. Three years ago, while working on a series of prints from three-dimensional inked matrixes such as reproductions of a sheep’s head, a skull or my own face and body, I found the book “Gyotaku The Japanese Art of Fishprinting” by Yoshio Hiyama and after reading the first pages decided to start working on it.

Q: If I am correct, you make prints and then create animations using those prints. Where did this idea come from and what made you pursue it?

Answer: Since the beginning, I focused my research in a way to bridge the gap between existing conditions in Mexican printmaking and the contemporary art context. I combined medias such as sculpture, printmaking, and cinematography so that one media adds significance to the other by revealing something about the other’s nature.

For example realizing that no matter which workshop they come from, 50 prints from an edition will always have differences. Spread or stacked the prints can easily be seen as a sequence. I display this sequence as a moving image to reveal something about printmaking’s nature: a whole consisting of different moments or each print as unique. Some animations are made from copies printed traditionally as an edition; others are altered intentionally on the plates or inked in different ways. 

Q: I also see your work as an interesting dialogue between cultures and processes. Would you agree with this and if so does it affect your final product?

Answer: In my recent work I explored printmaking's capability to produce an image by inking three-dimensional objects and stamping them on paper. By pushing the printing processes to a confluence zone, the photographic likeness of the so produced image vanishes resulting an almost automatist drawing method.

I started working on three-dimensional matrixes while reviewing printmaking history and discovering the Shroud of Turin, simultaneously a monoprint, relic and icon that served as a departure-point image for the occidental visual culture. When an inked object is registered on a paper or fabric, some areas of the so produced image are almost photographic, while others remain like bold drawing or simple ink blots. I liked the fact that judged for its results, without the need of pushing it to the boundaries or combining it with any other media, the process itself remains in a liminal zone within photography, drawing and printmaking.

After researching the Turin Shroud, I felt Gyotaku fish printing was very close to my work, not only for its apparent similarities, but because I noticed that in his book preface Yoshio Hiyama defends fish printing by comparing it with photography. He attributes artistic value to its ability to exactly register the size of a fish in a beautiful manner. The author conceived Gyotaku as a register method comparable with photography, it means that he found a similar connection to the one I did in the Shroud series.

Fish printing offers me the possibility to continue exploring this process free of prevailing concepts in a way that let me decide a complete new set of references to work with.

Q: Can you speak to the papers you use and why you prefer them?

Answer: I visited Hiromi Paper to get the Japanese papers recommended in the book “The Japanese Art of fish printing” with the aim to develop skill in the different methods described by Yoshio Hiyama, and the quality and variety I found there really haunted me. I spent a day to decide on twenty different papers to use.

Thinner ones are the best to print Gyotaku because they suit the fish volume when wet and doesn’t tear because of the large fibers they are made of. Even though some are almost transparent they still hold ink well, and produce a feeling of an immaterial floating image. (Editors note: We recommend

On the other hand heavier and larger papers are excellent to back different prints and produce larger compositions.