In 1960 the medium of printmaking was languishing under the brush strokes of Abstract Expressionism. There was no market for prints and nowhere to learn the technique.
Tamarind founder and artist June Wayne was determined to save the medium from extinction.
This month the University of New Mexico-housed Tamarind Institute is celebrating 60 years of that legacy. The institute will release a decade of lithographs online each month, beginning with the 1960s, at tamarind.unm.edu.
Wayne opened Tamarind (named for its Hollywood, California, street location) in her own home studio, supported by the painter and printmaker Clinton Adams as associate director and Garo Antreasian as master printer. Both would eventually move on to teach at the University of New Mexico.
The trio invited artists to do short residencies at what was then called the Tamarind Lithography Workshop, where they would work with master printers and learn their techniques. Wayne launched Tamarind with a national focus.
“I think printmaking in general had somewhat fallen out of favor,” Tamarind director Diana Gaston said. “I think it was just a lack of availability, a lack of workshops, a lack of printers. Lithography had morphed over the 20th century into a more commercial process.”
After 10 years in Los Angeles, and the demise of its initial Ford Foundation grant, Tamarind moved to Albuquerque under the direction of UNM professor Adams with nonprofit status.
First housed in a building on Cornell Drive, it moved to its more expansive current space at 2500 Central SE in 2010.
Today Tamarind stands as the only printer training program of its kind in the world.
Over the years, renowned artists ranging from Louise Nevelson to Ed Ruscha, Fritz Scholder, Jim Dine, Ruth Asawa, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith and Kerry James Marshall have put press to page at Tamarind. Today it houses thousands of archival prints and welcomes an average of eight working artists to its studio annually.
The controversial and prolific Luiseño artist Fritz Scholder was a Tamarind regular.
“He was one of the first artists Tamarind worked with when we moved to Albuquerque,” Gaston said. “He had been teaching at IAIA (Santa Fe’s Institute of American Indian Arts) and gaining some national prominence.
“He took to lithography and made some unbelievable prints,” she continued. “I think it was partly his love of color; lithography has such potential for color exploration. Part of it is the transparency of the ink.”
Pop artist Jim Dine created a series of Pinocchio figures in 2010’s “Fragile Boy.” Dine is known for series on paintbrushes, hearts and robes.
“Pinocchio is a favorite subject of his,” Gaston said. “He’s done it in painting and sculpture.
“He’s taking these subjects that are so familiar,” she continued. “He’s handling it in a very dark way. There’s an almost menacing quality. It’s not just the beautiful childhood story that we know.”
Contemporary artist Kerry James Marshall uses his art to comment on the history of Black identity. His “Memento,” 1996, includes winged images of the four girls who died in the 1963 Alabama church bombing soaring over portraits of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.
“There’s this reference to all the significant figures of the Civil Rights Movement and rendering them in an almost worshipful tone,” Gaston said.
Renowned for his use of text, former sign painter and fellow Pop artist Ed Ruscha created a series of silhouettes, including a dancer, coyotes and rabbits.
Ruscha rendered his 1986 “Dancer” in flounced darkness.
“He’s looking at how pop culture influences our world,” Gaston said. “It almost looks like a spray-painted silhouette.”
Nigerian American Toyin Ojih Odutola featured her brother in her 2014 “Birmingham” triptych.
In 2012, Odutola participated in the project “AFRO: Black Identity in America and Brazil” at Tamarind. The Birmingham series was created when she returned to the workshop a few years later.
“She’s a monumental painter now,” Gaston said. “She had a big exhibition at the Whitney recently.”
“She draws the highlights, almost the texture of skin,” Gaston continued. “She renders the skin as much as the face. That reference to Black skin and the Black body is integral to her work.”
The late sculptor Ruth Asawa lived in a California Japanese internment camp with her parents during World War II. While she was a student at North
Carolina’s Black Mountain College, she created a series of crocheted wire sculptures. At Tamarind, her “Chair,” 1965, features similarly woven patterns resembling wicker. Asawa’s work was most recently chosen for a U.S. postage stamp.
The Tamarind Institute will continue presenting a series of virtual programs with Quick-to-See Smith, Ellen Lesperance, Paula Wilson, and Dave Takach, founder of Takach Press throughout the fall, along with a new video series titled “Behind Closed Drawers” with gallery director Nancy Zastudil.