In 1973, I took a solo sojourn to Europe. I found myself in Amsterdam, where I visited the Stedelijk Museum. I saw Goya and Rembrandt prints and was struck by the intensity of the black ink on the paper. Seeing those beautiful prints triggered an epiphany.
After my revelation in Europe, I started to take printmaking at Otis with Ernst Fried, a well-known printer. Fried’s colleague was Manuel Fuentes, who had gone to Tamarind, the LA-based lithography training institute. Fuentes was a student of the influential Serge Lozingot, who ended up being the manager at Gemini G.E.L.
At the time, I was filling my brain with every book I could get my hands on that related to modern and ancient art: Gauguin, Sumerian art, Benin culture, you name it. At the time, I was still going to galleries, trying to absorb whatever I could. I remember seeing a Robert Rauschenberg show at the Newport Harbor Art Museum. The images screen-printed onto canvas just knocked me out. I still have the catalog. Little did I know how close I would eventually get to Rauschenberg.
I interviewed to be a curator at Gemini G.E.L. That didn’t work out. Sometime after that – after I thought I had lost the gig – they called me and asked if I wanted to assist as a printer. I obviously said yes. I expected to work there for two weeks and ended up staying there for 11 years.
My first project at Gemini G.E.L. was with Jasper Johns, with whom I would develop a relationship founded on deep curiosity and mutual respect. Jasper was one of those older, established artists who taught me a great deal of what I now know about printing. To anyone who has had the privilege of knowing him – and to those who do not – he is a giant in his field.
At a certain point, I had to get away from Gemini. I simply wasn’t creating enough of my own work. Back then, I was teaching printmaking in the night education program at Otis. A student by the name of Jim Dahl took my class and later recommended me to Laurence Dreiband, who was then chair of the Fine Art Department at ArtCenter.
ArtCenter didn’t have a print shop in those days. Mr. Dreiband approached me and suggested I teach at ArtCenter. As anyone who’s done it knows, printing is tough, rigorous work. Teaching, for whatever reason, came easier to me.
I learned about color-advanced composition from the likes of Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. Some artists were very free-flowing with their ideas. Some, like Ellsworth Kelly, were more rigid with their imagery. Rauschenberg was anything but rigid. He would make a mistake, and if he thought that mistake was interesting, he’d include it in the project. I would later relay the power of making mistakes to my ArtCenter students.
I’ve been at ArtCenter 33 years now, and I’ve had a lot of wonderful students. In class, I tell stories that hopefully help students make sense of the creative process. One involves going sailing with my brother. To me, sailing is a training experience for creativity and for life. If you make a mistake while sailing, you can cause a terrible accident and possibly sink the boat. But if you strategize and master the elements, it’ll be a smooth ride.
You’ve got to work hard to have a career in the world I’ve been in. Nothing will be handed to you. Watching notable artists like David Hockney and Richard Serra taught me that there’s no such thing as working too hard. Inspiration and a bulletproof work ethic: those are the cornerstones of what we do – and what ArtCenter is about.
Anthony “Tony” Zepeda
Professor/Master Printer at ArtCenter Print Studio
To me, sailing is a training experience for creativity and for life. If you make a mistake while sailing, you can cause a terrible accident and possibly sink the boat. But if you strategize and master the elements, it’ll be a smooth ride.Anthony “Tony” Zepeda