Interview by the curator Ben Gooding, London

BG

Let’s begin by discussing the tools you make which are central to the production of the drawings. These are fascinating objects in their own right, but I’m interested in how they relate to the final outcome. Do you have a sense of what structures will emerge as a result of a particular form, or is there, in some sense, a risk involved with the highly labour-intensive drawing process whereby your investment may result in a ‘failure’? Or do you consider every resultant drawing a valid and rational product of the process?

MM

In 2012 I started using three French curves, templates developed at the end of the nineteenth century and intended for technical drawings in industrial design and architecture. Instead of just using segments of these curves, I used the entire template, rotating it from a single fixed point with intervals of just a few millimetres. The drawing process was very slow, but little by little a figure emerged on the surface of the paper, with vibrating crossing lines around an empty centre. Surprised by these initial results, I felt compelled to experiment with new templates, deconstructing and combining the classical French or ‘Burmester’ curves and cutting the shapes out of cardboard myself.

It is possible to use the same cardboard template for two or three different drawings; by changing the point of rotation, completely unexpected things can happen. In this sense the working process is more intuitive than rational, I can’t control the final development of the drawing, I just keep going, supporting it as it grows. If it doesn’t develop properly, the point of rotation was probably off. In that case it’s better to change the point and start another drawing.

Over time I’ve introduced some changes to the templates and adapted them to other formats. Each new drawing helps me grasp new possibilities; I learn how our perception of things can be relative and manifold. This transformation is evident in the photos of drawings Timelines 23 (2013), Timelines 27 (2015) and Timelines 85 (2018).

Recently, for a Fine Press Poetry book, I began using another kind of template, the theme and highly graphic nature of Sineád Morrissey’s poem, The Italian Chapel, having pushed me in a different direction. I felt it was necessary to somehow relate the process of drawing with the poem’s historical context: a group of POWs trying to construct a chapel, using whatever materials they could find, mostly of military provenance. In the process of this exhaustive research I stumbled across a photo of a gear wheel from a sunken British submarine. I attempted to use its shape as a template, cutting an outline out of cardboard. The circular drawings resulting from it have a pronounced sense of volume, with elements of extreme order contrasting with moments of chaos. There is something industrial about it, but also something organic.

I’m currently working on a series of drawings entitled Lineale, employing another wooden French curve I found in an antique shop. It is just the beginning of a new cycle.

BG

Fascinating! So once you have the form and point of rotation set, you begin the methodical process of repetition. Each time you reposition the form are you aware of the distance of the iteration? Is it a measured or regular integer, or is there a randomness that creeps in? Do you consciously increase and decrease the rate of spin to change the density or perceived ‘speed’ of the drawing? And is there a specific number of times you repeat a form, or do you intuitively feel when a drawing is complete? Presumably you could continue to progress the structure until it completes an entire rotation, so there must be a point at which you choose to stop? There seems to be a lot of variation that can occur in the final structure by altering these numbers.

MM

How the drawing develops mainly depends on the cardboard template. During the working process I try to make very few rational decisions and just observe the drawing, to see if it is growing and opening to the point where it eventually has its own presence. If the distance between lines becomes too narrow, making the drawing darker than the other ones in the series, I can always expand it gradually in order to let the drawing ‘breathe’. The decision to stop making lines depends on the boundaries of the paper. A drawing can expand only within these physical limits, but it can grow inside them, into its own depth.

I would liken this to the paradox of freedom.

BG

I’m also interested in the start and end point of each repeat. You don’t ever ‘complete’ a line, rather you leave a gap or break in the loop and this creates a sort of composition that becomes suggestive of musical notation or constellations of stars. I’m interested to know your thinking behind this, as it would presumably be possible to close the loop and have a seamless finish, but this ‘noise’ seems intentional. Also, the size of this gap seems to be quite deliberate. Rather than single points they become elongated ‘periods’ that become much more of a feature in the drawing.

MM

Some of the gaps in the lines are caused by fibers of the Ganpi plant that naturally occur in the paper. But the ones you mention are just the gap between the start and end point of each line, reflecting the cycle of tracing around the cardboard template. These gaps can form an unpredictable pattern, but sometimes they just disappear in the warp and weft of the drawing.

BG

One of the other interesting features of your work is the void (or series of voids) that lie within each structure and are immediately distinctive for their lack of being drawn. There seems to be some critical relationship between areas of intense activity, which are locations of ‘information’, and these negative spaces that are formed by and out of the process.

MM

The void at the centre of the drawings is a consequence of the drawing process, the rotation of the cardboard template over a fixed point. The lines concentrate near this empty axis, creating a visible contrast that gives the drawing its unique structure. I can’t control these black and white areas, or the patterns made by crossing lines; they simply appear as a vibrating moiré, as visual interferences.

They’re ‘the unexpected’ which form an important part of any artwork.

BG

The implication of time becomes very powerful when one encounters your work. All ‘work’ requires time, but these drawings seem imbued with its presence; the pace that the ink flows from the pen, the process of repetition echoing the ticking by of temporal units, even the physical space between each movement instructs the duration of the making. Can you talk about your thinking with regard to this aspect? Do you work for a certain period every day? Are you aware of this temporal elapse as you draw? Is this duration something you measure in any way or is it simply a necessary but otherwise irrelevant feature of the methodology you employ?

MM

Time, as you aptly pointed out, is at the core of these drawings. Time as a perception of transformation. And transformation as part of a continual flow.

The speed of the drawing process is dictated by the flow of the ink on the surface on the paper. It has to be continuous, not too slow, not too fast, just the right pace. This flow allows sediments of time to accumulate in the drawings, like rock strata.

As you can see, in the drawings no line has more relevance than any other line. This is due to the working process, but it also reflects a desire to maintain a balance, not only during the work itself but also in my daily life, giving equal importance to all the activities I engage in. Cleaning the workshop or making prints, cooking meals or cutting Japanese paper, writing an email or signing the editions – the attention I try to pay to all of these things throughout the day puts me in a peaceful mood, it helps me avoid a state of anxiety that would probably ruin the drawings.

Usually I draw for four hours each day, with some intervals in between to give my eyes a rest and enjoy a cup of tea. It’s not a mechanical activity at all; on the contrary, it’s a very pleasant one, and I try to follow each curve of the template with the whole of my body and mind, delving deep into the drawing.

BG

I often think with drawing one is not making an ‘image’ so much as an ‘object’, and the physical substrate one is drawing onto forms an absolutely vital part of the whole.

You have just returned from Japan and I understand this is where you source your paper from. Can you talk a bit about your ‘pilgrimage’ to the renowned paper manufacturers out there and what it is about this material that is so important to you?

MM

Yes, I totally agree with you, a drawing has its own presence and the materials used in it do have a real significance. In my case, the paper of the drawings and prints plays an active role in the working process, it’s much more than just a supporting surface. The character of each type of paper has different limitations and offers endless possibilities that can only be discovered through the actual practice of drawing.

Many years ago, working for a newspaper in Barcelona, I was given the task of illustrating an article about the negative effects and the pollution caused by the paper industry. I was shocked, not only by the destruction of woodlands, but also by how water and air are poisoned in the process. Even paper recycling uses dangerous, carcinogenic chemicals; suicide rates are high in the surrounding areas, not to mention the effects on the environment. From that point on I felt it was my duty to only use paper manufactured in a responsible way, chlorine-free and sourced from sustainable forests.

Back then, in 2002, I was studying lithography at the Conservatori de les Arts del Llibre in Barcelona, where, due to a collaborative project with artists in Japan, we had a rich supply of handmade paper made from ganpi, kouzo and mitsumata plants. I was very fortunate to be able to use such wonderful paper, so carefully manufactured and with great respect for the environment. Traveling to Japan to visit the workshops of these paper masters in the Aoya valley, I observed how the entire family was involved in the manufacturing process. Grandmother sat on the veranda, removing with a small knife the bark from kouzo branches, behind her a big wood-fired boiler used for cooking the kouzo in water with natural ashes to separate the plant fibres. Inside the workshop, the paper was ‘lifted’ from a sink containing pulp using fine bamboo moulds, pressed for some days, then dried on a warm iron plate. Near the entrance was a fish tank with red carp, and I jokingly asked if they were the workshop mascots. “No, they’re not pets,” answered Hasegawa-san, “they’re here to prove that the water coming out of this workshop is absolutely clean before it enters the river.”

Ever since that first visit we have had an intimate working relationship. Whenever I go back to pick up the paper they’ve custom-made for me, I bring some works of art as a present. Then we talk about the paper and its qualities – its composition, thickness or colour, and the effects these have on my work. Finally, we toast with sake, of course, to celebrate our reunion!

BG

I’m also interested in your experience of Japanese culture. You do seem to enter an almost Zen-like state when you begin to work. and I wonder if this is something you are mindful of or that is at all connected with your time in Japan? The attention and level of awareness you bring to each pen line strikes me as analogous to, for example, the movements one sees in the raked drystone gardens in Japanese temples (Kakiatsume jari)

MM

It is curious how the dry gardens of Zen temples leave a different impression on each observer. Some artists are touched by their austerity and minimalism, others by the symbolism they sense in their composition.

The first time I had the opportunity to contemplate the Ryoan-ji garden, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Kyoto, I noticed how vibrant the lines of white gravel were. The reflection of the light, the cold and warm shadows on the delicate furrows, were rapidly shifting in the early morning. The solid rock garden was in a state of flux and transformation under the changing light.

Maybe the reduction of elements characteristic of these dry gardens opens up a space of serenity and reflection. It seems that contemplation is an important practice in Zen Buddhism, in the search for enlightenment. So much so that decorative gardens are places to commune with the most basic elements of nature – a spiritual experience.

In a similar vein, I wrote the following for The Italian Chapel book I mentioned before: “The impulse to create art comes mainly from a deep need for spirituality. Like the prisoners in the poem, it is an attempt to rebuild on a new foundation our fragile structures, just when they seem on the verge of collapsing. Spirituality does not necessarily mean religiosity. Indeed, the word comes from the Latin spirare, to breathe, and ‘inspiration,’ from the Latin inspirare, means ‘to breathe into.’ There is no inspirare without exspirare, life and death are inseparable, just as the cycles of nature are part of a unified whole.”

2019 | Ben Goodman, London | Maribel Mas, Leipzig

Edited by David Burnett

http://www.saturationpoint.org.uk/Maribel%20Mas.html