History of L.A. Printmaking

by Cara Rifkin

In order to better understand the printmaking community that we are building here with L.A. HandPrints, we must take a look back at how this art form became an integral part of Los Angeles’ contemporary art scene.

Workers in WPA Print Shop, 1940

Workers in WPA Print Shop, 1940

While the history of printmaking dates back to the Chinese woodblocks and the European engravings from centuries ago, prints were first introduced to Southern California with the Printmakers of Los Angeles.  Founded in 1914, it was the first printmaking society in the area and paved the way for similar groups.  The WPA even opened the Los Angeles Printshop as part of the Federal Art Project in 1936.

Printmaking classes began to crop up at academic institutions in the L.A. area.  After World War II, the G.I. Bill allowed for many young artists to attend these recently established printmaking programs at schools such as USC, UCLA and Otis Art Institute.  These schools covered many types of printmaking, from engraving to etching to intaglio.

At the same time, Lynton Kistler was at the head of L.A.’s lithography community.  His studio, Kistler Lithography Co., served the local printmakers and experimented with new forms of printmaking.  It was the first lithography studio in the city and on the West Coast.  Many students worked with Kistler to master the art of lithography, including artist June Wayne.

 

June Wayne

June Wayne

Wayne went on to establish Tamarind Lithography Workshop in 1960.  She welcomed all kinds of artists and printmakers, creating a community that represented different styles, backgrounds and levels of expertise.  The separation that had once existed between artists and printers was no longer present, as Wayne used lithography to bring the two sides together for collaboration.

While Tamarind influenced new studios throughout Southern California and beyond, it most notably had an impact on printmakers Ken Tyler and Jean Milant.  Both alumni of Tamarind, Tyler and Milant founded Gemini G.E.L. and Cirrus Editions, respectively.

These two workshops pushed L.A. printmaking to new levels, but they did so in different ways.  Gemini attracted many New York artists, such as Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, to make prints out in L.A.  Cirrus, on the other hand, catered to local printmakers like Ed Ruscha and John Baldessari.

Ed Ruscha, "Made In California" 1971, lithograph

Ed Ruscha, "Made In California" 1971, lithograph

 

Despite Tamarind’s relocation to New Mexico, Gemini and Cirrus are still operating in L.A., and many other studios were founded to serve the local printmaking community.  Self Help Graphics, for example, is an arts center for L.A.’s Latino printmakers.

Thanks to the innovation of Lynton Kistler, June Wayne and countless other printmakers, Los Angeles has become the epicenter for contemporary printmaking.  And now that we are aware of this community’s rich history, we can use L.A. HandPrints as a way to carry on its tradition.