Proof: The Rise of Printmaking in Southern California

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Thanks to the Getty initiative, Pacific Standard Time, we learn of countless innovations and inventions that originated in Southern California after World War II. The Norton Simon Museum has focused on printmaking, something that is now so commonplace we take it for granted. Curator Leah Lehmbeck traces the history beginning in the 1930's with the stunning woodblock prints made by Paul Landacre or nature scenes by Conrad Buff made in his WPA-funded Los Angeles Print Shop, both near Echo Park. Artists supported by the GI bill attended art schools around LA. and print programs opened at UCLA, USC, Otis, Pasadena Community College and UC Irvine. Ebria Feinblatt founded the print department at the LA County Museum of History, Science and Art in 1948. Fred Grunwald left a collection of exquisite prints to UCLA and established the Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts.

However, the most important element was the establishment of Tamarind Lithography Workshop by artist June Wayne, who had studied with Lynton Kistler, who had the only fine art lithography studio west of the Hudson River near MacArthur Park. Wayne learned that the technical knowledge required to produce lithographs or etchings was being lost. She solicited a grant from the Ford Foundation to train master printers to work alongside artists to produce limited edition prints. This is a venerable tradition in Europe but it had not evolved in the United States.

The studio opened on Tamarind Avenue in Hollywood in 1960 and over the next decade technical director Clinton Adams trained scores of master printers including Ken Tyler, who founded Gemini in 1965 and Jean Milant who founded Cirrus in 1970.

These three studios allowed artists to embrace printmaking as an art form with equal status to painting, sculpture or drawing. As multiples, however, they were affordable and made contemporary art available to a broad public.

Most of the prints in this stellar exhibition were drawn from the collection of the Pasadena Art Museum, which became the property of Norton Simon after he assumed the debts of a bankrupt PAM in 1974. The museum owns a nearly complete set of prints produced by Tamarind and 70 are on view including a monumental red, gray and olive abstraction by Louise Nevelson.



Louise Nevelson (American, 1899–1988), Untitled, 1967
Lithograph, Overall: 43 x 46 in. (109.2 x 116.8 cm)
Printed by Anthony Ko, Published by the Tamarind Lithography Workshop
Norton Simon Museum, Anonymous Gift, 1969
© 2011 Estate of Louise Nevelson/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


Both Gemini and Cirrus are known for helping an artist realize his or her ideas, no matter how unorthodox in the realm of printmaking. Gemini initially solicited artists from New York such as Robert Rauschenberg, who produced Booster in 1967. At his suggestion, they used an x-ray machine to represent the interior of his entire nude body, a six-foot tall print that was the largest to have been produced at that time. Claes Oldenburg's Profile Airflow is the silhouette of a car in three-dimensional polyurethane relief on top of a lithograph.



Claes Oldenburg (American, b. 1929), Profile Airflow, 1969
Molded polyurethane relief over lithograph in aluminum frame
33½ x 65½ x 4 in. (85.1 x 166.4 x 10.2 cm)
Printed by Ken Tyler with Richard Wilke, assisted by Ronald Adams, published by Gemini G.E.L.
 Los Angeles County Museum of Art, gift of the Marmor Foundation in memory of Dr. Judd Marmor
© 1969 Claes Oldenburg and Gemini G.E.L.
Photograph © Museum Associates / LACMA / Art Resource, NY


Cirrus concentrated on Los Angeles artists, working with Ed Ruscha to make a silkscreen of the Hollywood sign with the glamour-appropriate foodstuffs of Pepto Bismol and caviar. John Baldessari used found photographs in shaped arrangements constructed by custom frames.

The entire show underscores the ways in which the evolution of printmaking during the 1960's and 1970's corresponded with the rapid expansion of the contemporary art scene in L.A. Prints by L.A. artists were marketed around the world, extending an awareness of their work. The prints made by New York based artists served as an introduction to an L.A. audience. Equally important, at Gemini in particular, artists from L.A. and New York got to know one another as peers. Proof offers further proof of L.A.'s lively art history.

Proof: The Rise of Printmaking in Southern California is up at the Norton Simon Museum of Art, Pasadena, through April 2, 2012.

Edward Ruscha (American, b. 1937), Pepto-Caviar Hollywood, 1970; Screenprint with Pepto Bismol and caviar. Sheet: 14 7/8 x 41 5/8 in. (37.8 x 105.7 cm). Printed by Jean Milant and Jane Aman, published by Cirrus Editions; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Cirrus Editions archive, purchased with funds provided by the Director's Roundtable and gift of Cirrus Editions. © Edward Ruscha Photograph © Museum Associates / LACMA / Art Resource, NY