Brooke Alexander Gallery

Print Publishing In America
by Judith Goldman

 

The history of American print-making is old and fragmented. The earliest prints were engravings after advertisements, paintings, historical documents, and broadsides. They spread the word, carried political announcements, conveyed artistic information. In the 19th century, Winslow Homer's wood engravings illustrated the news for Harper's Weekly, and James Audubon's lithographs classified birds and quadrupeds. Print-making was a pragmatic medium, and until the late 19th century, when photography had assumed the print's reportorial functions, few American painters made prints to be art.

Although American painters, among them George Bellows, Stuart Davis, Childe Hassam and John Sloan produced impressive prints throughout the first half of this century, graphics remained a non-mainstream activity. A spurious distinction reigned between art and craft, and printmaking bore the designation of craft. Serious painters considered graphics a commercial art and a minor art, and the rare occasions when a major painter, like Milton Avery, created major graphics, always came as a surprise. To most American painters, particularly to the Abstract Expressionists who believed painting was an immediate, emotional, subjective act, printmaking, with its fragmented, time-consuming procedures, as an anathema.

Prior to 1960, America had few printmaking facilities. New York City housed Robert Blackburn's Printmaking Workshop, a cooperative studio where artists rented space by the day, week, or month; the educationally-oriented Pratt Graphics Center, founded by wood engraver and book illustrator Fritz Eichenberg; the custom print shop Charles Miller & Son, where Ashcan artist John Sloan had worked; and the then fledgling Universal Limited Art Editions in West Islip, New York, created by Tatyana Grosman. During the war years, Stanley William Hayter's Atelier 17 had exposed painters like Jackson Pollock and Robert Motherwell to etching and engraving. And graphic studios thrived at universities, like Yale, Smith and the University of Iowa; but until the late 1950s, if a non-New York artist without a university affiliation wanted to make a print, he had to go to Paris, as Mary Cassatt and James McNeil Whistler had done a century before.

Two women- Tatyana Grosman and June Wayne- created America's printmaking renaissance. Russian born, daughter of a print publisher, Tatyana Grosman left Russia for Japan in 1918. Returning to Europe, she studied in Dresden, Germany, where she met painter Maurice Grosman. They married, moved to Paris, living there until 1940, when they escaped Nazi-occupied France by crossing the Pyrenees on foot. Arriving in New York in 1943, the Grosmans settled in Greenwich Village. They were poor. He painted; and she cooked and spent spare time at New York's libraries, nurturing a fantasy about artist's books. After Maurice Grosman suffered a heart attack, Mrs. Grosman, afraid he would be unable to paint, began (in 1957) Universal Limited Art Editions. Working out of a small gardener's cottage which has since expanded every which way, going on instinct, intuition, informed by a love of paper and print, Mrs. Grosman invited artists who had never made prints before to try lithography. Artists reacted cynically. Robert Rauschenberg said the second half of the 20th century was no time to begin writing on rocks. But when artists resisted, the diminutive, determined Mrs. Grosman coaxed and cajoled them. She fed them large lunches and sent lithographic stones to their painting studios. She never took no for an answer. One artist inevitably led to another. Painters Larry Rivers and Grace Hartigan urged Helen Frankenthaler to attempt lithography. Mrs. Grosman invited Jasper Johns to make prints. Later Johns encouraged Jim Dine to work at U.L.A.E.

The results were staggering, among them Stones, 1957-59, a collaboration between the late poet Frank O'Hara and painter Larry Rivers; A la Pintura, 1968-72, a poem by Rafael Alberti, illustrated with soft ground etching and aquatints by Robert Motherwell; the lithographic suite 18 Cantos, 1963-64, by Barnett Newman, and numerous lithographs, etchings and woodcuts, by among others, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Lee Bontecou and Robert Motherwell. Graphics from U.L.A.E. began and continue to set the standard for quality in printed art.

Meanwhile, in California, whenever painter and tapestry artist June Wayne wanted to make a lithograph, she had to travel to Paris. On one of those trips she met W. McNeil Lowry, head of the Ford Foundation, who was looking for a project to fund in the arts. Ms. Wayne explained that the lithographic art was dying, that there were few lithography workshops, even fewer master printers. On her return to the United States, Ms. Wayne sent Lowry a proposal, and in 1960, with the aid of a two million dollar grant from the Ford Foundation, Ms. Wayne founded the Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Los Angeles.

Tamarind's goal was to preserve the art of lithography by training master printers as artisans and collaborators. They succeeded beyond their wildest ambitions. Tamarind studied every aspect of lithography. They issued reports on papers, on light fastness, on business methods, on how to acquire print inventories, on how to cost a lithograph, and on the health hazards of the medium.

The timing was perfect, even inspired. In the early 1960s, the images of America's artists literally came off the print press. Andy Warhol blew up photographs of celebrities from Elvis Presley to Jackie Kennedy. Robert Rauschenberg layered painting with newsprint, put real objects in pictures, a bed, a tire, a goat, a quilt. Jasper Johns' subjects - flags, targets, numbers - had linear structures. James Rosenquist's source was oversized billboard advertisements; Roy Lichtenstein's built painting with the line of comics and cartoons.

It was also the best of economic times. Print revivals occur and the demand for printed pictures increases whenever there is a moneyed middle class. It happened in 16th-century Antwerp, in 18th-century England and in 19th-century France. The economy was high in 1960s America; the middle class was mobile. New York had finally taken the crown from Paris and was the indisputable capital of contemporary art. Art suddenly had a large, new audience. The painting market boomed and as paintings became expensive, the demand for prints, still moderately priced, increased.

Simultaneously, Tamarind's trained master printers left to set up their own workshops across the country. Jack Lemon, now director of the Landfall Press, built a workshop in Kansas City, another in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Kenneth Tyler, director of Tyler Graphics in Bedford, New York, helped found Gemini G.E.L. in Los Angeles. Irwin Hollander opened Hollander's Workshop in New York; Jean Millant set up Cirrus Editions in Los Angeles. To a very large extent, Tamarind laid the foundation for America's printmaking renaissance.

Today every large American city houses graphic studios, and making prints has become an easy option for the artist, often an important extension of his work in other media. Each artist uses graphics differently. With prints, Jasper Johns extends the concerns of paintings. By repeating an image, he reexamines and recreates it. Robert Rauschenberg does everything imaginable with graphics. Signs, initiated as a cover for Time magazine, but rejected, reflects the turbulent 1960s; while Buffalo quietly ponders an image found by enlarging a photographic negative. Give her any graphic media, and Helen Frankenthaler can paint with it; Jack Beal charges his inky lithographs with a sensuous, intimate, old-fashioned flair.

Focusing on almost twenty years of American prints, the array on exhibit is impressive. The quality and range of printed images has probably not been equaled outside of 1980s France. Part of the credit must go to the publishers. They do not make the art, but they are another kind of artist: daredevils and impresarios, they invite artists to print, underwrite the project, act as editor, confidante, guide and salesman. The range of publishers is as broad as the artists now working in graphics. Prints published at Gemini G.E.L. during Kenneth Tyler's regime, reflect the sleekness of an industrial aesthetic; the smooth surfaces, tough printing, blended color roles suggest the hard blues of California swimming pools, the landscape of Movieland. These days, Gemini's technological bravado is less evident. Images are quieter; printing is softer.

The prints Tyler now issues under his new imprint Tyler Graphics Ltd., Bedford New York, have changed too. Tyler has turned his technological enthusiasm and wizardry to old, handmade procedures, like papermaking, and is coaxing artists to try their hand with colored paper pulp. Rainbows of subtle blacks, tactile surfaces, a love of paper and a timeless quality continue to mark prints bearing the imprint of U.L.A.E.; while prints from Parasol Press and Crown Point Press reflect the silent precision of minimal aesthetics. Other publishers have determinedly avoided having a look. Brooke Alexander decided against having a workshop because he was afraid that having a house printer might mean having a house look. He matches artist and printer, publishes what interests him, searches for images with content. So does Marian Goodman at Multiples, Jack Lemon at the Landfall Press, Garner Tullis at the Institute for Experimental Printmaking. This exhibition celebrates America's painter-printmakers; it also celebrates the taste, style and conviction of their publishers and patrons.


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This essay was written for the exhibition catalog of Print Publishing in America (1980), organized by Judith Goldman and Carolyn Alexander for the United States International Communication Agency (October 1979 - October 1980)

 

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