Monday, January 9, 2012

Proof: The Rise of Printmaking in Southern California

Pacific Standard Time brings us Proof: The Rise of Printmaking in Southern California, an exhibition dedicated to the growth and rise of printmaking from the 1950’s on. While there are many forerunners involved, Proof pays homage to June Wayne, American printmaker and founder of the Tamarind Lithography Workshop. Tamarind is recognized for establishing a renaissance in printmaking and the graphic arts amongst the 20th century American avant-garde. Wayne hoped to create a pool of master artisan printers in the United States who would legitimize all forms of printmaking as valuable approaches to art making. Proof is a powerful reminder of the impact works on paper truly possess. Printmaking may often be seen as a traditionalist art form but it has only begun to breach the surface of contemporary art.

Proof highlights contemporary printmaking artists but also illustrates the didactic principles of process deeply rooted in printmaking. Tamarind in particular is noted for its emphasis of the workshop institution with an artist and printer training program, as well as educational outreach that emphasized the nature of printed work. It insisted the advantages of collaboration: a trained printer did the printing, while the artist was responsible for the creative impulse. Although this approach if often used, Stanley William Hayter of Atelier 17, NYC, will blur the boundaries when he begins teaching artists how to print their own work. These dichotomies will remain consistent in printmaking even into the present, where we see print workshops like Gemini G.E.L or Crown Point Press producing works by Ed Ruscha, Richard Serra and John Baldessari.

It is delightfully shocking to observe the then controversial lithograph from Bruce Conner titled Cancellation, 1969. In this lithograph, the artist wanted to edition a “cancelled” stone. In printmaking, once a matrix has been cancelled it is not to be printed again. Ironically, when Conner was met with opposition from the master printer at Tamarind, June Wayne stepped in an argued that she was amused by the concept and that the stone was to be editioned regardless. She believed in Conner’s vision in pushing printmaking to a conceptual level: the context of the art became the idea, thus, the print became concept.

Proof embodies the sophistication and grandeur of the graphic arts. There is something to be said for the presence this exhibition fronts. Sink your jaws into velvety aquatints or visceral mark making. For any print enthusiast who wants to rekindle their love for works on paper: this is an exhibition not to be missed. Proof will be on exhibit at the Norton Simon Museum until April 2, 2012.

By: Lindsay Buchman