Thursday, March 5, 2020

Roberto


A Great Teacher 
Roberto DeLamonica 
1933-1995

I want to tell you about Roberto, who taught at the Art Students League. He taught printmaking, but the structure and discipline he instilled in me have stayed with me all my life and guided my work.





Here is his class handbook, which I still treasure, 20 pages of instructions and recipes;

 

In the file with the handbook, I found my notes for the talk I gave at Roberto's memorial at the League in 1995. 
I quote from it here. 
I began studying with Roberto in 1971.  I showed up for my first day of class expecting to go home that night with an etching but it didn’t work that way.  To study etching with Roberto De Lamonica you had to start at the beginning. First,  assemble your supplies. This meant searching through the most obscure reaches of New York City; automobile supply stores, religious supply stores, shops like City Chemical, Superior Ink, Continental Felt, all  located in neighborhoods that were new to me, so I had to navigate the subway. Then up many flights of stairs to closed doors; you practically had to know a password.  Just reading the addresses takes me back to that time before the age of giant glass towers. 

These shopping expeditions were adventures, especially Superior Printing Ink. First I had to find Lafayette Street. I was met at the door by a shirtless bodybuilder with enormous shoulders and arms and a tiny waist.    He said, “Cccccccccc..cccc..ccCanIhelpyou?” in a painful stutter.  I gave him my list of colors; (these names lift my heart; Cherry Red, Persian Orange, Saturn Yellow, Signal Green, Horizon Blue, ) and he began to open great oil drums, dipping into the glorious color, deftly scooping it into small cans without spilling a drop.   As he worked I looked at the walls covered with the most extreme pornography I had ever seen.  Well, I was twenty-three and hadn't seen much; this was shocking.   It was hard to know where to look.  When I went back to class the monitor laughed.  Visiting Superior Ink was a rite of passage that nobody got warned about.

 Now that we had our supplies we had to cook. 
 The recipe for liquid asphaltum

30% asphaltum powder 
70% turpentine
Heat, stirring constantly.  DO NOT BOIL. It might explode.  [I found this to be true; I turned my attention aside for only a moment and BOOM!]

This was a lot of work but Roberto told us that with what he was teaching us, we could go anywhere in the world and make etchings.

Printmaking is paradoxical; it’s terribly messy, a dirty and toxic medium, but the point is to make a pristine work of art on spotless paper.  Robert was a stickler about clean prints, but he also insisted that we apply the ink with our bare hands.  When asked if we could use gloves he said with disdain, “Make dirty your hands!”

Brazilian born, he gave his excellent English a spicy twist with many elegant what I would call “Roberto-isms.”
He asked his monitor, “What’s the word when you make messy the paper?”
“Careless?”
“Yes.  Never careless your paper.”

My favorite quote is, "If you only have five minutes, get to work.  Do the work, it's money in the bank."

Roberto insisted that we always do our best and that we respect our work by using the best materials.  Even if we were only making a proof, he demanded we use very expensive German Etching paper.  He also insisted that we use oil of cloves as a medium, and use it liberally, so that when I graduated from the League and went to work at Blackburn’s, The Printmakers Workshop, someone walked by and said, taking a deep breath,
“I can always tell a DeLamonica student.”
Roberto’s work went through many changes, from the Day-go colors in his “Go Go Rose of Peace”




to the somber blacks and browns, he brought back from his two years in Australia; from etchings to monoprints, but there were certain constants in Roberto;  his meticulous attention to his craft and his art, the high standards to which he held his students and himself, and his generosity of spirit.  As a classmate said, “There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do for his students.”

The League held exhibits for each class in the gallery every year.  Roberto took charge of how we would hang our show.  The gallery walls were pitted and stained so he covered them with brown paper and insisted that we all put our pieces in wide white mats. This way the show had a coherent look and each piece had its own space. 
Here we all are, celebrating our show.  Roberto is kneeling at the right, elegant as always. I have my hand in front of my face and my dear friend, Susan Cirigliano, is holding my arm. Three other teachers are in the picture; Michael Ponce de Leone behind me laughing, Michael Pellitieri tall in the back row right, and Seong Moy standing beside Roberto.  Looks like a nice party, doesn't it?


I ended my talk by saying,

And now, if you walk into a gallery with beautiful clean prints and think, “Gee, it smells nice in here,” Just take a deep breath and say,

 “Aah, De Lamonica.”


How to Make an Etching

Take a metal PLATE
Cover it with acid-resistant GROUND, a mixture of beeswax, asphaltum, and rosin
Scratch your image with a sharp needle, exposing the metal.

Place the plate in ACID which will eat away (etch) the exposed metal.

Remove the ground from the plate with SOLVENT. (Be sure to rinse off the acid first.)

Rub INK onto the plated then wipe it off, leaving it in the etched lines,

Place the plate face up on the bed of an ETCHING PRESS, place a piece of ETCHING PAPER over it and a FELT BLANKET over that.
Pull the paper off and admire your PRINT.

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