PRINT August 1962


ON A SMALL RESIDENTIAL, picket-fenced street (named after a leguminous tree called Tamarind) adjacent to Moos Body Shop and Collision Works, sits an austere, light-grey, one-storied edifice with green-striped awnings. Less than a stone’s throw away, Santa Monica Boulevard buzzes with the heavy traffic of the hundreds of industrial activities indigenous to an exploding metropolis.

From the parking lot of Pierce Brothers Mortuary almost directly across the street, one can barely make out the number “1112” and an adjoining notice below reading “Tamarind Lithography Workshop, Inc.” Inside the door, the glare of sunlight left behind hazes one’s vision, but not enough to blur out the sober atmosphere of efficiency.

This is the door through which, in the past year and a half, have walked such artists as Francois Arnal, William Brice, Jules Engel, Matsumi Kanemitsu, Misch Kohn, Rico Lebrun, Carl Morris, Raymond Parker, Bernard Rosenthal, Richards Ruben, Joyce Treiman, Estaban Vicente, Ulfert Wilke, Emerson Woelffer, Adja Yunkers, and many others.

Tamarind’s environment has been aptly described by Frederick Wight, Director of the UCLA Art Galleries, in this way: “In the front building, we enter a reception room and an office. Then comes a large storage, display, work area, clinic white, where no spot can pass for an accident. Here the prints are signed, recorded, catalogued, and can be seen—and here is the kitchen too as a concession to living, since no one leaves for lunch. The tubular lighting and white walls somehow give the impression of day and night shifts, as though there were nothing more important to be done than make prints, and there is a certain cool tension in the air. Outside again, we cross a green-planted patio for outdoor eating or rest in the open, and then we are in the workshop building itself, with its hand-presses, its stones in steel-rollered racks, the electric lift, shelves of hand-made papers. This is a work area for collaborating artists: the scene again is all white and the walls are enlivened with impressions of prints in progress.”

The driving force behind Tamarind, the co-ordinating energy which makes its pulse beat, is painter and printmaker June Wayne. When, in 1958, Mrs. Wayne wanted to execute a series of lithographs based on the poems of John Donne, she found it necessary to go to Paris to have the work done because she was unable to find adequately skilled hand-craftsmen here. During her stay in France, she conceived the idea of a non-profit center in the United States to train artisans and to initiate artists into the technique of drawing lithographs on stone. When her own lithographic project was completed, she immediately went to work developing a plan for a workshop in Los Angeles, with headquarters in her own studio. The result was a three year grant from the Program in Humanities and the Arts of the Ford Foundation.

Measuring the scope of her complete immersion in Tamarind, W. McNeil Lowry, Director of the Foundation’s Program, has noted: “At the core of every efficient artistic endeavor is the drive, the motivation, the almost fanatical determination of a true professional artist or artistic director. In this instance I am speaking, of course, of June Wayne, and I can emphasize what I mean most quickly by saying to you that if Mrs. Wayne had not been in Los Angeles, Tamarind would not be in Los Angeles, even though on other counts Los Angeles could also be considered an appropriate place for a lithographic workshop seeking to provide the artist with master printers and technical resources in a particular professional environment. Even from the distance of New York, I could tell you much about the pressures and the stringencies, the constant emphasis on standards, the delicate and tortuous demands upon interpersonal relations which are found in an artistic workshop where artisan must be married to artist in a common search for new aesthetic and technical levels. None of this can be achieved anywhere in the absence of a single driving and talented force, the willingness to sacrifice all one’s energy, even that reserved for one’s own creative output. It is taking nothing at all from the other talents and personalities in what is intrinsically a cooperative enterprise if I say that in the most basic sense Tamarind is June Wayne and June Wayne is Tamarind, whether she weary or not, whether she always like it or not! This is what art is about; it is about the individual professional artist or artistic director. At its most basic levels, it is not about money, or facilities, or public acceptance; it is about the surge of artistic drive and moral determination.”

Tamarind was established on December 1, 1959, after eight months of anxious preparation. A staff of experts had to be assembled, rare and almost extinct lithograph stones were located in various cities of Europe and brought to Los Angeles, obsolete hand-presses were found and restored to working condition, rare papers and fine inks (made to order) were secured. Finally, on July 1, 1960, the first artist was awarded a fellowship to make lithographs at Tamarind. With a dateline reading, “Wednesday, A.M., July 20, 1960,” the following release was at long last mailed out to museums, galleries, the press, and other sources of dissemination throughout the United States. “A long-range program to restore the art of lithography as a medium for creative printmaking by American artists was announced jointly today by the Ford Foundation and Tamarind Lithography Workshop.” The release explained that the project was financed by a grant of $165,000 for three years, then, with a sense of understated drama, continued, “. . . Tamarind Lithography Workshop opened its doors today to the first of the fellowship artists selected by a national panel of art experts.”

The manner in which these fellowships are awarded is as unique as the whole idea of Tamarind itself. A distinguished Panel of Selection numbers among its members some of the most prestigious names in American art—in many cases, specifically connected with printmaking. They include Clinton Adams, Dean of the College of Fine Arts at the University of New Mexico and a noted printmaker and printer; Ken Callahan, well-known artist from Seattle; John Entenza, Editor of Arts and Architecture; Ebria Fienblatt, Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Los Angeles County Museum; Alfred Frankenstein, art and music critic on the San Francisco Chronicle; Gustave von Groschwitz, Senior Curator of Prints at the Cincinnati Art Museum; Harold Joachim, Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago; Douglas MacAgy, Director of the Dallas Museum for Contemporary Art; Peter Selz, Curator of Painting and Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York; Benton Spruance, artist from Philadelphia; James Johnson Sweeney, Director of the Houston Museum of Fine Arts; and Carl Zigrosser, Curator of Prints at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Individual members of this mighty panel nominate artists. No direct applications are ever received. The nominations are circulated in order to get a consensus of opinion from each of the other panel members. Comments and observations are solicited on the chosen artists, and those who receive the best response are contacted to see whether they are interested in entering this concentrated world of lithography.

If the answer is yes, then negotiations are set up to accommodate them. But it is not always so simple a question as “what artist would like to do what and when?”. Very often an artist simply cannot take off two whole months to come to California to work. Others are afraid to travel. Still others are not in the least bit interested in working at a new medium. Quite often an artist of stature will be concerned with saving face and display considerable anxiety about how well he might or might not be able to adjust to a new medium. This psychological problem is at least partly due to uneasiness in regard to certain aspects of the collaborative environment at Tamarind.

American artists are largely “do-it-yourselfers.” They generally command one medium well, rarely two and hardly ever three. Consequently, the idea of working with a team of people is sometimes alarming to them. It is not too much to presume that many ask themselves such questions as, “What if I run into a dry period?”, “What if I just don’t feel a sympathy for lithography?”, “Will they laugh at me if I fail?”, “What will the others think?”, etc., etc. It has taken a long time, with the help of the many artists who have already passed through Tamarind, for word to get around through the grapevine that this workshop is, in fact, a good place to work; that no one lurks behind doors waiting for the opportunity to criticize. In reality, the opposite is true. The only people there are there to help.

Dr. Wight opens up his introduction to the catalog for a recent Tamarind exhibition at UCLA by saying, “A lithograph ideally is a collaboration between an artist and a printer (who is an artist at printing) in the same sense that a tapestry is a collaboration between an artist and a weaver. It is no accident that in this exhibition, every lithograph bears the embossed chop of the printer with whom the artist worked.” (The symbol for the Tamarind chop, appropriately enough, was taken from the Alchemist’s sign signifying “stone”.)

With all artists, collaboration is an infinitely personal experience. An artist and a printer may get on very badly for the first two days, then work like angels forever after—once they get to know each other. Or they may get on very well initially, and then have a personality clash as a result of some technical or esthetic crisis, or for almost any other reason.

To date, it has been a healthy experience for every artist who has worked at Tamarind. As a result, the reluctance to accept a grant has pretty much vanished. Now the pressure is the other way around, and, more people want to get in than can possibly be accepted.

There is another important criterion, in addition to a high level of previous performance, that the Executive Committee and the Board of Directors consider in nominating candidates for fellowships at Tamarind. This is the matter of what a particular artist’s style is likely to add to the “know-how” of Tamarind. For example, a situation in which three very good artists were working on the identical esthetic problem at the same time, no matter how they excelled, would not be considered desirable. Tamarind seeks diversity because the artist, aside from the other contributions he makes, is a part of the raw material used in the training of printer-artisans. Consequently, one of Tamarind’s main goals is to feed as many different kinds of problems as possible to the printer-fellows.

To put it another way, if the Board of Directors were faced with the unlikely choice of three superb artists of one given direction, it would probably select only one of the three, even though the other two might be better artists than a fourth chosen because of his different mode of expression.

Tamarind is not individual-oriented. It is primarily concerned with the development of the art of lithography. The artists and the printers who come to Tamarind are not selected because Tamarind wants to give them something as individuals; rather, Tamarind is concerned with what they, as individuals, can contribute to the art of lithography. Of course, the recipients benefit from their fellowships, but that is not the prime function of this experimental workshop. Tamarind does not hide the fact that it is opportunistic in behalf of the art of lithography. This, in turn, lends to their program a certain objectivity beyond what is ordinarily found in most fellowship programs.

Another aspect of this selfless opportunism is seen in its attitude toward “guest artists.” Very often important, or at least “interesting” artists, pass through Los Angeles. (Mrs. Wayne is besieged with requests from all sorts of people to visit Tamarind. “Most of these are turned down,” she says, “. . . because it interferes with our work.” If there happens to be a printer available for a few hours at the time one such artist happens by, that artist may be invited to make a lithograph. “While we are not permitted to give a fellowship to an English or a French artist,” says Mrs. Wayne, “we are able to make a friendly gesture to artists of other countries who might be passing through Los Angeles by offering them our facilities, and later, including examples of their work in the Tamarind Collection.” She goes on to say that “this is how Turnbull came to do a print with us, and if Henry Moore comes to town, as we expect he may this coming year, we will ask him to make a print with us.”

There are no cut and dried rules about how an artist must work, or for that matter, prepare himself for work at Tamarind. This unwritten rule is scrupulously observed. It correctly assumes each artist to have different needs, temperaments and work habits. No attempt is made in any way to dictate or influence what an artist is going to do. He is advised, however, to spend some time thinking about his coming stay at Tamarind.

If he has made paintings or drawings that inspire him to explore an idea in lithography, he is encouraged to bring such material to the workshop so that the entire staff can acquaint itself with what he was thinking about and doing before his fellowship.

If there is one key man who must ultimately answer the awesome assortment of technical questions confronting Tamarind daily, it is Technical Director and master-printer, Bohuslav Horak. Having taken his apprenticeship at the School of Applied Art in Prague, Horak worked for six years as a lithographer for one of the most modern printers in all Central Europe, the Melantrich Works. Afterwards, he set up his own lithography workshop near the Boulevard Montparnasse in Paris, where his experience was enriched through associations with a variety of different kinds of artists.

Horak is a hulk of a man who carries his thin-rimmed spectacles high on his nose, and has an infectious Slavic air of confidence and a jovial smile which, added to his economic gesture and robust frame, make for an incongruous half-professorial, half-artist impression.

If one were to wander into Tamarind on a certain day last June, he would have encountered three well-known artists, who, true to Tamarind’s short tradition, brought with them three distinct personalities, approaches, philosophies and moods. These artists were Josef Albers, Richard Diebenkorn and Karl Schrag. It is interesting that none of them wielded any particular esthetic influence on the other. As a matter of fact, one of them, Albers, never even worked in the main workshop; for him there was hardly any physical contact with the others except for a polite “hello” or the exchange of a few social niceties.

These men are established artists in their own right and if they did share anything in common, it was their devoted intensity to the problems at hand. They provided an especially healthy working experience for the printer-fellows, who were forced to cope with totally different esthetic demands. In effect, this challenge is the heart of the Tamarind concept: developing the capacity to understand, resolve and execute whatever technical or stylistic problems are engaged.

The original impulse of the moment is particularly important to Diebenkorn, who tends to work freshly and directly, allowing no opportunity for external interruptions between his intent and his execution. Tamarind fellowships usually last two months because experience has shown that this is the length of time it generally takes for an artist to get completely absorbed in, and find himself, in lithography. Unfortunately, Diebenkorn’s stay was not for a full fellowship, due to other commitments. He was just beginning to feel at home in environment when he had to leave (although he did execute over a dozen lithographs), and he went away wanting to stay on and do more.

The Albers esthetic intrigued the Tamarind workers because it is anti-lithographic in the most profound sense. It stretched their muscles in a direction for which they had no precedent. Albers’ engravings are made with machine-tools and when he makes a line, it must be a totally impersonal line which reveals no pulse-beat or “hand,” as it were. He came prepared to work with almost a dozen blueprints on graph paper. These were the “skeletons” for his lithographs. About ten different methods were tried by the working crew and Mrs. Wayne, in attempting to get this special Albers line onto stone.

The basic problem was to create a shifting, boxlike image, one of the optical illusions for which Albers is so well-known, in white against a dark field. This meant, if an image of this kind were to be printed perfectly, that the stone had to be masked in such a way as to leave the white line white. Since these lines have thicknesses of a 16th or a 32nd of an inch, and overlap, and cross in very special ways, the natural intrusion and frailties of the human hand drawing both sides of that line precisely and exactly, presented enormous technical problems. “We tried masking the lines with gum arabic and then filling in around it,” says Mrs. Wayne, “but we could not get a sufficiently precise line because the gum itself tends to flow slightly.” Whereas such an imperfection in the average print means almost nothing, in an Albers it’s like having a cinder in your eye.

“Then we tried covering the entire stone with black and scratching out the white lines, but we found that even less successful,” she continued. “We even tried inking the stone and drawing the line with a dental drill—but that was not effective because the tool destroyed the tooth of the stone, allowing for the possibility of a heavily charged roller (with which the ink is supplied) to pick up small bits of black, causing another kind of linear imperfection.”

Cellophane tape, used in map-making, was tried next. This is a pressure sensitive tape that comes in the same narrow widths required for this touchy job. The design was masked out with these tapes, then black was painted in and around the image. To their amazement, the Tamarind people discovered that machine-made tapes are just as imprecise and unreliable as hand-drawings.

These experiments continued for almost four weeks. Countless hours were spent making minute corrections by hand. “We ran four Albers editions, but did not really fulfill the perfection of the Albers standard,” Mrs. Wayne observed wryly. “To this moment we still have not managed to do by hand what Albers says is really more appropriate to other media. We were aware, and so was he, of the unreachability of creating by hand something which ought to be done by mechanical means, but we tried because we wanted to see how far we could push the medium technically.”

The remarkable way in which Albers employs color, stimulated Mrs. Wayne to investigate the matter further after he left Tamarind. She borrowed one of his paintings (one of the “Homage to the Square” series) from the Ferus Gallery, and the staff studied it carefully. They noted that an important characteristic of his color is derived from the surface he works on. Consequently, if he were to make an “Homage to the Square” in lithography, there would probably be a significant loss of color potency, and other related qualities, because of the smoothness of the paper.

So an experiment was set up; a transfer rubbing of the same masonite that Albers paints on, was made; then it was printed in white ink on white paper as a ground; finally, the “Homage to the Square” was overprinted. The result was an extraordinary “proof” (Tamarind will not, of course, present it as a work by Albers, for it is not) which, as an exploration into a technique that Albers may one day wish to utilize, may prove an invaluable step towards a greater understanding of his potential in the medium.

Like most Europeans, Albers is used to the collaborative concept of working, and has a wonderful capacity for teamwork. The Tamarind staff became very close to something like an orchestra under his conductorship. His way of working could also be compared to the manner in which an architect uses draftsmen, yet, as creator, remaining ultimately responsible for the end result.

Schrag has a distinguished background in printmaking. He is an alumnus of Atelier 17, under William Stanley Hayter. He is an oldtime printmaker and a superb craftsman who works very freely and, not incompatibly, with a high degree of organization. Some of his prints carry like a major painting—but they are never “paintings,” they are always “lithographs.”

The look of an important lithograph is a look all its own. It is not watercolor and it is not printmaking in the picky, detailed, overworked sense. It is itself, and possesses a unique look somewhere between a gouache and, perhaps, a woodcut. Schrag is a true printmaker and his prints have this property. He is accustomed to the discipline of separating colors and imposing one over another.

As a rule, the painter’s tendency is to overpaint one stone with another in order to correct himself, just as he would paint over an area if he didn’t like it in a painting. The individual stones of a good lithograph should work together as harmoniously as the individual instruments in a good string quartet. The degree to which all the stones are absolutely integral is the degree to which a print “sings” and has that dynamic quality which makes it stand out as a “true print.” To do this requires a skill which comes from a way of thinking that printmakers are used to. This is naturally to their advantage when they enter lithography. On the other hand, for this same reason, because they know and feel this, printmakers often do not see possibilities that painters, coming to the medium with fresh innocence, do. Hence, painters frequently improvise and come up with effects or ideas that only they are likely to stumble upon in the process of learning.

The cross-section of Albers, Diebenkorn and Schrag, is not untypical of what goes on at Tamarind all the time. “Each artist is a law unto himself,” says Mrs. Wayne. “We try to learn all we can, to get under his skin, see his problems, and implement them as he would wish them implemented. Our printers become his hands, they are just tools like brushes or rulers or found objects. The artist must feel his printer as one of these objects, the only difference being that the printer is a person with crotchets and talent and moods and fatigues and spurts of inspiration. When artists become accustomed to their artisans, they learn to work with them just as they learn to understand that a bristle brush does something different from a sable brush, though each has it own function; he learns how to use the personality of the man he is working with. Tamarind is unique in the United States in its nurturing of this kind of collaborative effort, and it is probably the only place in the world where collaboration is consciously being undertaken as a goal. Collaboration is normal in Europe but they have long since stopped thinking about it. We understand it as something essentially alien to the American artists’ way of working. He is a loner, and for that reason we represent a profound departure in habit pattern for the American. That it is working as brilliantly as it is attests to the soundness of the concept.”

Arthur Secunda