The pioneering Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Los Angeles is the subject of a new exhibition at the San Diego Museum of Art. Titled The Magician and the Mechanic: Tamarind Lithography Workshop, the Early Years, the exhibition presents 57 lithographs by innovative artists—both established and emerging—executed at the workshop during its first few years of operation from 1960 to 1964.
The prints on display are drawn from SDMA’s collection with additional works generously lent by the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, all of which were donated to their respective museums by San Diego residents Martin and Enid Gleich. Curated by SDMA curator of contemporary art, Betti-Sue Hertz, the exhibition includes works by such names as Josef Albers, Richard Diebenkorn, Rufino Tamayo, and Louise Nevelson.
“The Tamarind Lithography Workshop has had a deep and lasting impact on the methods and techniques of contemporary printmaking and encouraged a whole generation of artists to explore the unique qualities of lithography. Through the efforts of the workshop’s visionary founders, interest in lithography greatly expanded, resulting in the establishment of other workshops throughout the United States,” says Hertz.
A non-profit organization, Tamarind was founded in 1960 by artist June Wayne with a mission “devoted to the stimulation and preservation of the art of the lithograph.” With funds provided by the Ford Foundation, the workshop allowed artists to explore new techniques in lithography and offered a master-printer training program, both of which were designed to increase the quality and quantity of lithography in the United States. The primary focus of the Tamarind Lithography Workshop was to nurture the collaborative spirit between artist and master-printer, which the program’s founders regarded as fundamental to producing exemplary lithographs.
Working in a variety of styles, including abstract expressionism, geometric abstraction, and poetic figuration, numerous artists at the workshop achieved a range of imagery not before available by experimenting with new materials and techniques, thereby expanding the possibilities of the medium. Among the better-known artists featured in the exhibition are Josef Albers, Louise Nevelson, Sam Francis, John McLaughlin, Rufino Tamayo, and Richard Diebenkorn. Artists less known to us now, but innovative in their time, also represented are Romas Viesulas, Glen Earl Alps, Tetsuo Ochikubo, and Karl Schrag.
While some artists were accomplished printmakers, others, in spite of their achievements in painting or sculpture, had little or no experience with lithography. Josef Albers’s aesthetic intrigued the Tamarind workers because it was anti-lithographic in the most profound sense, demanding an almost machine-like precision. Louise Nevelson all but bypassed the norms of the medium when she used a direct transfer technique with found objects. Other artists brought fresh ideas to the workshop from their previous experiences abroad. Sam Francis, who had worked in Paris and then Japan where he encountered the traditional haboku or “flung ink” style, created challenging multicolor prints based on his gouaches and oil paintings.
As Clinton Adams, one of the program’s early administrators, stated: “The test of the value of the Tamarind program to artists and to lithography is that while few American artists made lithographs in the 1950s, there are few in the 1960s who have not done so.” The Tamarind Lithography Workshop continued in Los Angeles until 1970 when it was reestablished as the Tamarind Institute at the University of New Mexico, which continues to host programs and workshops based on the original mission.
This exhibition has been made possible in part by the generous support of the City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture, the County of San Diego Community Enhancement Program, the California Arts Council, Martin and Enid Gleich, and members of the San Diego Museum of Art.
A Special Evening with Tamarind Founder June Wayne
June Wayne will be at the Museum to discuss her experiences at the Tamarind Lithography Workshop on Thursday, March 6 at 6:00 p.m. Following her lecture, she will introduce her Academy Award-winning documentary film about the workshop: Two Stones for Takemitsu (1973). Tickets to this special event are $6 for members and $10 for nonmembers.