For more than half a century, the Printmaking Workshop has fostered creative graphic work by thousands of artists. It has been a catalyst within the international printmaking community, “seeding” other institutions, schools, and workshops, including The Lower East Side Printshop in New York City, The Asilah Workshop in Morocco, and even the first Namibian printshop established for black artists in post-apartheid South Africa. The Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop Collection and Archives provides a unique record of these many artists and their diverse processes and is a powerful graphic chronicle of artistic movements, intangible exchanges, theories, and practices over the past fifty years.
Elizabeth Catlett was born, raised, and educated in Washington, D.C., before leaving to work and study in Mexico, where she permanently settled in 1949. She studied at Howard University in the 1930s and was a member of the Taller de Gráfica Popular in Mexico from 1944 to1966.There she produced such works as The Negro Woman print series (1946–1947), dedicated to the identity of black women over time. Bread, first printed in 1952, celebrates the concept of agrarian reform in Mexico in the form of a smiling child eating bread in a wheat field.
Elizabeth Catlett (b. 1915), Bread (or The Right to Eat), 1968. © Elizabeth Catlett/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Linocut. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (30)
Roberto DeLamonica, the first Brazilian artist to win a Guggenheim Fellowship (1965), taught printmaking at the Museum of Modern Art of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and the Art Students League in New York from 1967 to 1995. In a 1986 interview with artist Renée Lerner, he said: “I have always leaned towards Onirism . . . as expressed by Odilon Redon and Paul Klee. Onirism is the school of art which describes a world that you don't see. . . . I always had the tendency to describe, not the conventional, not the formal, but more the magic world that I think exists.”
Taiwanese artist Shiou-Ping Liao studied during the 1960s at the Tokyo University of Education and the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, before moving to New York in 1969. He has taught printmaking at the National Taiwan Normal University and the Culture University and in Japan at the Tsukuba University, where he set up a printmaking studio. During the 1980s and 1990s, he continued to teach in China and in the United States. For Liao, who lived close to a Buddhist temple as a child, gates and doorways are a common artistic theme.
Before working as a master printer at the Printmaking Workshop, Sudanese-born artist Mohammed Omer Khalil studied at the School of Fine and Applied Art in Khartoum and at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence, where he first became interested in printmaking. Cinnamon was made in Morocco for the Festival of Asilah in which he has participated annually since 1978. During that year, Blackburn was first invited to come to the festival, along with several other artists, including Camille Billops. Khalil continues to oversee the Asilah print workshop which is modeled on Blackburn's Printmaking Workshop.
Versatile artist Camille Billops, also known as cofounder of the Hatch-Billops Archives of Black American Cultural History in New York, created multiple versions of this work, including one in red, white, and blue. Combining image and text to explore notions of race, identity, and nationalism, Billops includes a reverse image of a Japanese poem which begins: “The blue-eyed black face and the slant-eyed kinky-haired/ dancing between gardens of racial purity; eating sushi and corn bread and listening to funky koto music. . . .”
Richard Nelson studied engraving with Swiss-born artist Dadi Wirz (who had served as Master Printer for Atelier 17) while Wirz was visiting Nelson's Texas University. Nelson also worked in Paris at Atelier 17. From 1977 to 1995, he worked, taught, and studied with Robert Blackburn at the Printmaking Workshop until 1995. Nelson is also an engineer and accomplished musician who plays the harpischord, guitar, and sitar. This whimsical image of harpsichordist, organist, and conductor Gustav Leonhardt (b. 1928) comes from a suite of engravings depicting musicians.
Puerto Rico-born artist Diogenes Ballester worked at the Printmaking Workshop during the 1980s. He remembers an atmosphere rich in the exchange of ideas, and discussions of culture, politics, and art in “our native countries . . . [which] were very spontaneous and free.” In 1998, the artist served with Robert Blackburn on the jury for the twelfth San Juan Biennial of Latin American and the Carribean held in Puerto Rico.
Sculptor/printmaker Melvin Edwards and poet and performance artist Jayne Cortez have collaborated on many projects, such as the 1994 publication Fragments, which included photographs from Edwards' Lynch Fragment sculpture series. Edwards, who was first invited to come to the Printmaking Workshop in the early 1970s, credits Robert Blackburn for providing his earliest opportunity to create prints and considers him a pioneer in the field of printmaking. Edwards and Cortez worked at the Printmaking Workshop up through the 1990s.
John Biggers often drew inspiration from the art and culture of Africa and the American South. Born in North Carolina, he studied under Elizabeth Catlett and Charles White at Hampton University. In 1949, he founded the art department at Texas Southern University where he taught until 1983. In this work, the star-shaped string from mouth to mouth (also seen in his 1972 drawing Three Generations) can be read as the oral transmission of knowledge from person to person and across generations. Biggers called his use of dynamic, geometric shapes “sacred geometry.”
By Brooklyn-born Puerto Rican artist Juan Sanchez, La Lucha Continua ( thestruggle continues) comes from a series of lithographs, published by the Exit Art Gallery. The Taíno Indian word “Guariquén” can be read as “Look, come, and see” and “Rican/Struction” is borrowed from Salsa percussionist Ray Baretto. Shown are a glimpse of a girl in her first communion dress and a devotional card of Saint Martín de Porre. The text reads: “May we, the third world, first world brothers and sisters, be delivered from democracy's prisons. May our spirit ring true.”
Born in Harlem, Ringgold has been a feminist, art activist, and charismatic educator since the 1960s. Her rich body of work includes paintings, murals, performances, sculptural objects, costumes, publications, wall hangings, and quilts. Ringgold created her first quilt in 1980 while collaborating with her mother, a fashion designer and dressmaker. Since then, she has become renowned for her narrative “story quilts.” Ringgold created prints at the PrintmakingWorkshop during the mid-1980s; some were also printed on canvas and later incorporated into quilts.
Aspiration is based on a gouache painting made in commemoration of the eightieth anniversary of the NAACP. Early in his illustrious career, Lawrence was part of the thriving art scene in Harlem alongside Robert Blackburn. He studied with Charles Alston and Augusta Savage and was active in the Artists Union and the WPA. In 1940, he moved into a building on 125th street where Blackburn, William Attaway, Romare Bearden, Ronald Joseph, and Claude McKay already lived. He taught at Black Mountain College, the Art Students League, and the University of Washington.
Jacob Lawrence (1917–2000), Aspiration, 1988. Lithograph. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (41) The Library of Congress does not have permission to display this object.
William T. Williams aspires to create visual masterpieces that will appeal to audiences of all races and backgrounds. Like many artists who have worked in the Printmaking Workshop over the years, Williams gained inspiration from African art, especially textile art. He brings an organic and textured feel to this richly exuberant untitled print..
New Orleans artist Willie Birch uses brilliant colors and a storyteller's keen eye to portray a young man being photographed in cap and gown on his graduation day. According to the artist, the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York, was the inspiration for this scene. By placing his protagonist in a place known at the time for street violence, the artist underscores the joy and victory of the moment and conveys hope for a brighter future. As an artist and teacher, Birch is concerned with the empowerment of children and advocating for them through his work.
With Only the Gods refers to the plight of Haitian refugees who set off in small boats to immigrate to the United States and were intercepted and held at the U.S. Naval base in Guantanamo, Cuba. The artist recalls “they couldn't go back or forward” and in her image, has placed gods at either end of the boat to protect the people on their uncertain journey. This is one in a suite of complex drypoints Humphrey produced at the Printmaking Workshop on this theme in the 1990s.
The symbolic power of landscape has been a common theme in the work of New York-based artist Kay WalkingStick. A member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, WalkingStick remarks: “I view myself as an Indian woman who is part white. But I would hope that these works elicit a response in the viewer that is deeper than racial or cultural differences. . . .” WalkingStick has been painting and teaching since the 1950s and is best-known for her richly colored and densely layered diptych paintings that reference natural forms.
Ed Fausty came to the Workshop to make collotypes, an antique, photomechanical process. Fausty remembers: “I had no printmaking experience at all . . . the nature of the collotype plate is such that one minute a given plate might take no ink and print all white, and another it might take so much that it would print all black . . . I had been at the workshop a few days when Bob drifted over and looked down at the press as I tried once again. And at that very moment, as I rolled the ink on, a beautiful full-toned photographic image appeared before us. That was my first success!”
Romanian-born printmaker Ana Golici first visited the Printmaking Workshop in 1988. Impressed with her lithographs, Blackburn showed her a selection of large stones and invited her to choose one and get to work. At this time, she was also rapidly absorbing information through books on art, science, photography, and nature. In 1999, Golici gained access to a scanning electron microscope, which allowed her to photograph the surface of a flea enlarged 750 times. The surreal landscape in Flea (one in a series) brings the viewer nearer the molecular level of a vast universe.
This work is from a series by South African-born artist Rudzani Nemasetoni that incorporates imagery from identity documents for hmself, his family, and art world figures including RobertBlackburn and Bill Wright. The series explores issues of transient, shifting, and denied identities. In this work, the artist's last name is seen misspelled on his cancelled passport, a problem which started with his birth certificate and followed him into adulthood. The majority of works in this series refer to people who were working at Blackburn's studio in 1996.
Suzanne Scherer and Pavel Ouporov met and began collaborating in 1989, as students at the Russian Academy of Fine Arts in Moscow. Scherer recounts: “In 1992, shortly after moving to New York City, we were fortunate to find Bob Blackburn, who gave us the opportunity to continue our love of printmaking.” This diptych, one of the earliest works the artists produced at the Workshop, is part of a series investigating funerary customs. It includes funerary prayers in Old Russian and in English.
Susan Weil met artist's book publisher Vincent Fitzgerald while working at Robert Blackburn's Printmaking Workshop. When he asked which writer's words they could imagine making images for—she and fellow artist Marjorie Van Dyke both thought of James Joyce. In the resulting collaborative work, Joyce's forty “epiphanies” were divided into four sections with Weil treating planes and death, and Van Dyke—dreams and games. The death section, seen here, was inspired by this passage: “That is no dancing. Go down before the people, young boy and dance for them . . .”
Susan Weil (b. 1930) and Marjorie Van Dyke (b. 1950), James Joyce's The Epiphanies, 1987. Page 1 - Page 2 - Page 3 - Page 4 - Page 5 - Page 6. A Vincent Fitzgerald Project Illustrated portfolio with etching, photo etching, lithography, collage, cutting, and handwork. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (50)
In 1956, the Printmaking Workshop faced the imminent threat of closing its doors because of a lack of funds. At this point, artist Chaim Koppelman made a critical decision that transformed the studio into a seven-member artist cooperative with annual dues to help support the workshop. Blackburn credits him with saving the Workshop in this troubling time. Koppelman came to the Printmaking Workshop from Hayter's Atelier 17. This work is related to a sequence of color lithographs entitled Closeness and Clash in Couples and Domestic Life.
This work by Boston artist John Wilson comes from a Printmaking Workshop portfolio “dedicated to the Black Experience” with texts by Romare Bearden and Edmund Barry Gaither, and prints by Emma Amos, Benny Andrews, Vivian Browne, Eldzier Cortor, Mohammed Khalil, Norman Lewis, Vincent Smith, and Wilson. Wilson's body of work includes a group of prints based on the writings of Richard Wright and a powerful series of graphic portraits of Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as a bronze sculpture of the civil rights leader for the United States Capitol.
In her work, Emma Amos often addresses issues of feminism, politics, culture, and her own personal history. Born in Georgia, she studied in Ohio, London, and New York. She was the only woman in the Spiral artists' group (1963–1966) that included Charles Alston, Romare Bearden, Ernest Crichlow, Norman Lewis, and Hale Woodruff. Sand Tan, printed at the studio of Kathy Caraccio, is from a series of prints created by the artist to represent strong-looking, beautiful black women. Amos first came to the Printmaking Workshop in the late 1960s.