The University of Arizona Museum of Art and Archive of Visual Arts

Entering Mainstream – Lithography of the 20th Century

Luis Jimenez  Fiesta, 1985

November 21, 2009 – February 21, 2010

The term lithography comes from the Greek, lithos “stone” and grapho “to write”, thus “to write on stone”. The process of “chemical printing” (as the inventor called it) is just that: “writing (drawing) on stone”. Lithography was invented by Alois Senefelder in Austria in 1798 and patented as a printing medium in 1799. Originally devised by Senefelder as a process for printing theater scripts, it saw dramatic investigation and innovation in the early 19th century as both a commercial printing process and as a means for artists to print directly from their drawings to make limited edition prints. As the process was refined by the printing industry, most notably through the invention of offset lithography by Ira Washington Rubel in 1903 (the most common commercial printing process used today), the popularity of stone lithography faded. Certainly there were artists printing their own work, both in the US and abroad, but the availability of master printers who aided artists in producing lithographs declined dramatically.

The renaissance of stone lithography in the 20th century in America can clearly be attributed to artist June Wayne (represented in this exhibition) who in 1960 founded the Tamarind Lithography Workshop, Inc. in Los Angeles through funding from the Ford Foundation. Her persuasive proposal to the Ford Foundation sought to “rescue” an important artistic process by training a new generation of master printers to collaborate with interested artists and to train artists to maximize the creative potential of lithography. The workshop’s definitive text on lithography, The Tamarind Book of Lithography: Art & Technique, by Clinton Adams and Garo Antreasian catapulted their efforts to an international audience and became the bible for artists and art school programs interested in lithography. Following a decade of success and three Ford Foundation grants, the program moved to the University of New Mexico where it became the Tamarind Institute of Lithography under the direction of the authors of the text, Adams as Director and Antreasian as Technical Director.

With the supply of lithographic stones (particularly large ones) diminishing and the costs of stones increasing due to the new demand and limited supply, master printers began to look at industry’s use of metal plates as a substitute. Of the many metals tried, aluminum plates emerged as the preferred substitute. Pre-grained and relatively inexpensive, these plates offered all the versatility of stone with only minimal variations in preparation and printing methods. As a result, it became substantially less expensive for master printers, artists and art schools to establish lithographic studios.

The effect of well-trained master printers setting up commercial workshops and art school programs in lithography was dramatic in the 1970s and 1980s. As even more technical and critical books were published on the subject, lithography and the prints produced piqued the interest of more art schools, artists, dealers, museums and collectors in the US and abroad. The net result created an explosion of interest and a renaissance in the fine art of lithography.

The University of Arizona Museum of Art is fortunate to have an extraordinary international collection of lithographs from the 20th century. This exhibition was developed to showcase the range and diversity of creative possibilities in lithography from the pre-war era to the explosive expansion of interest in the medium after 1960 when lithography entered the mainstream as an exciting medium for contemporary artistic expression

Charles Guerin, Former Director