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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Diana Gaston is coming home while the international art world watches.
Gaston has been on the job for just over a month as the director of the Tamarind Institute.
In the position, she becomes just the fourth director of Tamarind in its 55-year history.
“These are big shoes to fill,” she says with a laugh. “But I’m fortunate enough to know all three previous directors. And it’s like I’m coming back home because I used to work at the UNM Art Museum years ago.”
First an artist draws an image, in reverse, on a fine-grained limestone or an aluminum plate. For a one-color lithograph, this will be the only drawing. Each additional color will generally require a separate drawing on a different stone or plate.
Artists use the same kinds of tools they would to make images on paper or canvas. However, since the basic principle of the hand lithographic printing is the natural repulsion of grease and water, the crayons, pencils, and washes used in lithography have a high grease content.
Once the artist has finished drawing with the greasy black pigments, a professional master printer takes over and chemically treats the stones and/or plates to stabilize the image for printing.
The printer first sprinkles resin on the surface to protect the drawing, then applies talc, which helps the chemical etch lie more closely to the tiny grease dots that compose the drawing.
A solution of gum arabic and nitric acid (called an “etch”) is applied to the stone and left for about an hour to combine with the greasy particles and the calcium carbonate of the limestone. Often a second application of gum arabic is applied before the original drawing materials are removed with a solvent and asphaltum is rubbed in.
This process causes the image area, now barely visible on the stone, to accept the printing inks, and, at the same time, causes the stone’s blank areas, when moistened with water, to reject the inks.
At the press, the printer sponges the stone or plate with water, uses a roller to apply ink, and prints a series of trial proofs for the artist to consider. The printer continues to make proofs with different color and paper combinations until the artist is completely satisfied with the result. This final proof is signed by the artist as the bon à tirer (“good to pull”). Using this as a standard, the printer prints the edition, comprised of a limited number of individual impressions.
Gaston was at the UNM Art Museum, where she was curator of prints and photographs from 1989-1993.
All three directors fulfilled much of Tamarind’s original mission to revive fine art lithography in the United States.
She follows in the footsteps of June Wayne, who founded Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Los Angeles in 1960.
Then Clinton Adams, who is credited with moving Tamarind to the University of New Mexico in 1970.
And most recently, Marjorie Devon, who expanded the scope to an international level.
A lithograph is an original image created by an artist who works closely with a master printer. A press is used to transfer drawings from stones or metal plates to paper. Although the term “lithography” may refer to commercially reproduced images, such as those on posters or in magazines, fine art lithography is a hand process used to create original works of art that can be printed multiple times.
Gaston comes to the Tamarind after working in Boston for 12 years, where she managed Fidelity Investment’s corporate art collection.
As a corporate curator, she traveled widely, establishing a network of artists and galleries across the country, Canada, the United Kingdom and Asia.
She is a champion for works on paper, which is evident in the number of Tamarind lithographs she acquired for Fidelity during the past 12 years.
“There seems to be a renewed interest in lithograph,” she says. “It’s a very painstaking process. There are so many intricacies in getting a lithograph to come to life. I’ve also noticed the interest for lithography is coming from the international community.”
One of Gaston’s goals as director is to get the Tamarind more recognized in the local and regional community.
With the majority of the attention coming from international artists, she wants to market closer to home.
“We’re in the backyard and most New Mexicans don’t know that we exist,” she says. “That’s one of my first tasks I have to tackle.”
As director, Gaston is also overseeing the various programs at the Tamarind. The Printer Training Program is one of the most coveted programs when it comes to lithography.
The one-year intensive gets less than 10 student printers a year for the program and is highly competitive.
“After this, they are on their way to becoming a master printer,” she says. “It’s a lot of work.”
Gaston isn’t the only new face at the Tamarind. Joining her in new positions are Brandon Gunn and Valpuri Remling.
Gunn is the education director, while Remling is the master printer.
Remling is still getting used to the title sinking in.
“There are times I feel like I’m still an apprentice,” Remling says. “It’s overwhelming at times, but I enjoy developing the relationship with the artist. We have to build the relationship quickly and earn trust with each other.”
Remling works with the visiting artists on their projects and is also in charge of the 70-plus inventory of stones used for lithography.
“They all have their own personality,” Remling says. “Some don’t take to colors very well, others do.”
Gaston says in the past month, everything has been a whirlwind and her staff at the Tamarind has been more than gracious.
“I did have some overlap with Marjorie,” Gaston says. “So I got a chance to see how things were done.”
As for the big job she has ahead of her, Gaston is still mapping out many of her goals.
“My biggest is to continue to expand the audience in lithography,” she says. “We’re working with some of the best artists in the world and challenging them.”