Tidal Wave by June Wayne, Lithograph, 291⁄2 x 221⁄4
By Margaret L. Brown
The art of lithography has experienced a major resurgence in the United States in the second half of this century, the direct result of the establishment of the Tamarind Lithography Workshop in 1960 by artist June Wayne with a grant from the Ford Foundation. “Wayne’s idea was to assist American artists in making prints by training craftspeople in this country to become master printers,” says art historian Arlene Raven in June Wayne: A Retrospective [1997 University of Washington Press, Seattle], a catalog accompanying an exhibition of Wayne’s work organized by Lucinda H. Gedeon, director of the Neuberger Museum of Art in Purchase, NY. The retrospective can be seen at the Los Angeles Country Museum of Art, CA, in November 1998.
“Wayne sought to revitalize hand lithography, a fine art endangered by mechanization, disappearing materials, and the dwindling human resources of skilled hand printers, print curators, and historians,” says Raven. “At Tamarind, Wayne established practices that are now standard in the field, such as the use of an embossed chop mark on each lithograph to identify the artist, master printer, and workshop.”
Tamarind’s original location was on Tamarind Avenue in Los Angeles, CA; in 1970, the workshop moved to Albuquerque, NM, and became the Tamarind Institute, a division of the University of New Mexico’s College of Fine Arts. Over the years, the workshop has produced lithographs by hundreds of the world’s leading artists and has also trained generations of master printers, several of whom have gone on to found other influential workshops such as Gemini G.E.L., Cirrus Editions, Landfall Press, and Graphicstudio.
In 1998, the lithograph marks its 200th year and Wayne celebrates her 80th birthday. We asked her about the history and future of the lithograph in America.
SWA: How did you become interested in printmaking?
Wayne: I was trying to work out a complex problem in a painting and thought I might be able to see the solution if I shifted to another medium. I lived a short distance from the only man creating lithographs in California, so one day I dropped by his workshop. It was serendipity—I fell in love with lithography.
SWA: What attracted you to the medium?
Wayne: In all art, I’m interested in the relationship between the sensual and the cerebral. Lithography combines these opposites: working with a sensual slab of stone while mentally calibrating the physical affinities of its porous surface with the ink and paper. I compare this pairing of the sensual and the cerebral with falling in love—it’s both physical and mental.
SWA: What was your purpose in founding Tamarind?
Wayne: Before Tamarind, lithography in the United States had not caught on with artists. We hadn’t built up a reservoir of master printers accustomed to working with artists like that which exists in Europe. Today we take this artisan reservoir for granted—if you want to make a monumental bronze, you go to a foundry. If you want to create a lithograph, you go to a workshop. But in the first half of this century, these resources were not available.
I wanted Tamarind to become a model for other workshops. By bringing artists into contact with printers in a protected environment, they could learn from one another. Another goal of mine was to develop physical materials—ink, paper, and stones—suitable for lithography and to create a unified terminology for artists and printmakers.
SWA: What’s your favorite Tamarind story?
Wayne: I have many great memories, most of which I don’t share because I respect the privacy of artists and printers. But I will tell a wonderful story about sculptor Louise Nevelson. She was working in the studio and had left strict instructions with the front office not to interrupt her for any reason. There she was, this flamboyant character smoking a black cigar and wearing a floor-length sable coat, when the administrator came in with a look of concern and announced a call for her from South America. The artist grabbed the phone. “Yes, this is Nevelson … You want to commission me for a large sculpture?” she asked. Suddenly, with a violent motion, she held the phone out in front of her and addressed it as if it were a person: “Say, can’t you see I’m working?” she yelled at it, then slammed it down.
SWA: What’s the future of lithography in this country?
Wayne: I’m wrestling with that question right now as I prepare a keynote speech I’m giving at a major printmaking symposium next year. How will lithography progress—will it thrive? That is a question facing all the arts. Every art form is fundamentally fragile, and they are all reeling as our country moves away from appreciating the sensual experience of the arts to speeding along the information superhighway. Art education in the schools is suffering from years of neglect and has become focused on computer graphics. And we live in an anti-art political climate.
To postulate the future of lithography in the face of these monumental problems is almost impossible. A compact-disk recording deprives the listener of the music’s subtleties, yet our society has accepted that loss. Is this society capable of valuing the beauty of an oil painting or a stone lithograph over a computer-generated image? I don’t know.
Lithography will have to battle it out. It may be of interest to only a small group of people who are attracted to the medium’s intimate communication. I think the heart of lithography will continue to beat steadily in the future, although it may go unnoticed by many.
Featured in November 19997