Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History Essays

The Postwar Print Renaissance in America

In 1940, the pioneering and innovative British printmaker Stanley William Hayter (1980.1117.1) arrived in New York from Paris, where he had opened an experimental print workshop called Atelier 17. Like many fellow artists living in the French capital and elsewhere in Europe, Hayter crossed the Atlantic seeking refuge from the harsh realities of war. Eager to re-create his shop in New York, Hayter established a second Atelier 17 at the New School for Social Research. He taught an introductory intaglio course to novice printmakers and offered his expert advice to more experienced artists working independently at his shop. Hayter encouraged a communal atmosphere at Atelier 17, where both emerging and established artists often worked side by side. His knowledge of intaglio techniques and his devotion to original printmaking attracted countless artists, from the famed Surrealist Joan Miró to the young Abstract Expressionist Jackson Pollock (1975.647.4). While Hayter’s experimental techniques made a significant contribution to the medium, his most lasting legacy was his enthusiasm for the original print. His passionate proselytizing encouraged a shift in thinking about the print—from a medium valued for its reproductive capabilities to a medium capable of fostering innovative artistic expression.

Hayter returned to Paris in 1950 and Atelier 17, after a string of successive directors, closed its doors in New York in 1955. Its spirit, however, lived on in countless print shops that flourished in the United States throughout the postwar period, from Universal Limited Art Editions (ULAE) to Tamarind, from Crown Point Press to Gemini G.E.L. A veritable print renaissance, American artists gathered at these shops to create prints much like their European counterparts had done with verve since the nineteenth century. Many formidable alumni of Atelier 17 went on to direct university print shops while others, such as Robert Blackburn, established their own independent studios. In addition to running his highly esteemed shop, Blackburn served for a brief stint as the first master printer at ULAE.

Founded in 1957 by Tatyana Grosman in West Islip, New York (1974.657.3), ULAE set the standard for postwar printmaking in America. Bringing together the most recognized artists of the day with highly skilled master printers, Grosman aimed to publish artist’s books and prints in the tradition of fine European ateliers. Her tenacious spirit and complete dedication to the artist won over even the most tentative printmakers. While a number of established artists, skeptical of the print medium, had rejected invitations to work at ULAE during its formative years, younger artists such as Jasper Johns (69.701.2) and Robert Rauschenberg (66.592.35) blazed a path to the burgeoning shop and influenced others to follow. Their innovative and committed approach to printmaking was critical to ULAE’s early success. By challenging prevailing notions of artistic subjectivity and originality in their choices of subject matter and mediums, Johns and Rauschenberg helped to remove the stigma once associated with printmaking.

Like Grosman on the East Coast, June Wayne championed a print revival on the West Coast. With the help of fellow artists and printers Clinton Adams and Garo Antreasian, Wayne established Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Los Angeles in 1960. Together they successfully achieved their mission of restoring the art of lithography to the United States by training hundreds of master printers and introducing an equal number of artists to printmaking. Irwin Hollander, Ken Tyler, and Judith Solodkin are among many celebrated alumni who went on to launch individual print shops throughout the country. As young apprentices at Tamarind, they were paired with invited artists such as Richard Diebenkorn, Ed Ruscha, and Vija Celmins to execute an editioned lithograph. The creative relationship between artist and printer at Tamarind was considered a sacred one and mutually beneficial. While visiting artists benefited from working intimately with a printer, the printers, in turn, learned to adapt their skills to suit varied artistic sensibilities.

Following in the footsteps of ULAE and Tamarind, other print shops opened throughout the country. Each had its own area of expertise, from intaglio printing at Crown Point Press in San Francisco to lithography at Gemini G.E.L. in Los Angeles, Landfall Press in Chicago, and Graphicstudio in Tampa. Eventually, most of these shops would diversify their specialties to offer artists a range of processes with which to experiment.

When traditional methods such as etching and lithography no longer sufficed, artists turned to commercial print techniques not readily available at fine-art print shops in the early 1960s. Pop artists such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and James Rosenquist discovered that commercial techniques such as silkscreen and offset lithography best suited their large-scale work, which was drawn largely from mass media and consumer culture. Warhol first experimented with silkscreen as early as 1962 in his works on canvas. Shortly thereafter, he began to use his iconic images of celebrities like Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor or familiar consumer products like Coca Cola and Campbell soup cans (1972.724.3) in his editioned prints. While the ever-savvy Warhol established Factory Additions to print and publish his own work, other artists turned to emerging publishers like Tanglewood Press and Multiples, Inc. to broadly distribute their prints.

Since the print explosion of the 1960s, artists continue to be intrigued by the varied techniques, processes, and theoretical implications associated with printmaking. Once bound by the limitations of traditional methods, artists today have a seemingly endless number of options to achieve a desired result. With master printers continuing to experiment with technical processes, interested artists are provided with the latest advances in printmaking, such as the use of digital technology. These advances, exemplified in Nest/Trees by Kiki Smith (1999.64), further blur the boundaries between artistic mediums in much the same way that offset lithography and silkscreen did a generation ago.