Tamarind Lithography Workshop, founded in Los Angeles in 1960 by artist June Wayne with a Ford Foundation Grant, was a cornerstone of the 1960s American print renaissance. Wayne was awarded the grant for her project to train both artists and printmakers in traditional lithography. The medium had lost its domestic prominence after World War II, and artists who wanted to work in the art form had no choice but to print in Europe. Wayne designed programs to bring together artists and printers-in-training for several months and have them work closely with each other during all stages of the printmaking process in order to learn, experiment, and achieve a high standard of quality. In just a few years Wayne attracted dozens of artists to Tamarind, including Ed Ruscha, Ken Price, Bruce Conner, Leon Golub, and, not least, John McLaughlin, whose prints are on view in the Art of the Americas Building.
McLaughlin was invited to work at Tamarind as guest artist in October 1962. He returned for a longer stay as a Tamarind Fellowship Artist from April until the end of July 1963. In some respects, he was a logical choice for the print shop because he lived and worked in Dana Point, CA, not far from Los Angeles. However, most artists active at Tamarind worked in a figurative, Pop, or Abstract Expressionist style, quite different from McLaughlin’s solid rectangles and crisp lines. This geometric style became known as Hard-Edge Abstraction and later fell under the heading of Minimalism. McLaughlin looked back on his experience at Tamarind with mixed feelings. He was not hugely receptive to the collaborative aspects of printmaking and decided not to work in lithography again. Despite his reservations, McLaughlin’s time at Tamarind was productive and his prints helped prove the suitability of lithography for all styles of art.
During the ten years that Tamarind Lithography Workshop was located at 1112 N. Tamarind Avenue in Hollywood (before moving to the University of New Mexico in 1970), it helped revitalize lithography in the United States by training master printers in the intricacies and possibilities of the medium. These printers went on to start their own print shops, which catered to a growing field of artists interested in lithography and, in turn, they trained their own apprentices. Two of the largest and most innovative print shops in Los Angeles can trace their lineage back to Tamarind. Jean Milant, a Tamarind-trained printer, opened Cirrus Editions in 1970 and works with people as diverse as John Baldessari, Bruce Nauman, and Vija Celmins. Perhaps the best known press to come out of Tamarind is Gemini G.E.L., founded in 1966 by master printer Ken Tyler. Gemini invited artists from New York, like Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, and worked with L.A- based artists like Edward Kienholz. Today it is considered to be one of the premier printers and publishers of lithographs in the world. The vibrant Los Angeles print scene we know today has its roots in the work made at Tamarind, such as the lithographs of McLaughlin currently on view at LACMA. A retrospective of John McLaughlin’s work is planned for fall 2016 at LACMA.
Sienna Brown, Wallis Annenberg Curatorial Fellow, Prints and Drawings