Tamarind Institute

This interview was conducted between Brackett Creek Exhibitions (Tessa Granowski) and Valpuri Remling, the current Tamarind Workshop Manager and Master Printer on February 23, 2023 over the phone in connection with the Paul Harris Tamarind Institute show at Marinaro Gallery Annex, opening March 31, 2023.

Brackett Creek Exhibitions: How did Tamarind start and what was its influence?

Valpuri Remling: June Wayne founded Tamarind in 1960 with funding from the Ford Foundation. At the time, the West Coast was really lacking in collaborative lithography shops. There’s a wonderful map from the Norton Simon Museum that shows the print studios on the West Coast in 1960 and then how many were around after Tamarind Institute. As for influence, if you look at the books and guides on how to do lithography, Tamarind wrote the book.

BCE: Where is Tamarind now?

VR: It is now in only its third location in sixty-three years. It started in Hollywood in June Wayne’s studio, and then in 1970 moved to become part of the University of New Mexico, and since then has moved across the street to a different building, where it still is today. It is kind of funny because where we are is a really challenging climate to make lithography prints. It is just so dry! We say if you can make the prints here, you can make the prints anywhere.

BCE: Does the lithograph always start with a drawing?

VR: No, it definitely doesn’t have to, although sometimes it can. It is not a coloring book that makes the layers—there are just so many ways that you can use materials to make marks for lithography. You can use digitally made files as well as have a very painterly approach. But lithography is still a very direct and expressive medium—in most cases the artist makes the marks directly onto the matrix.

BCE: How do you choose which artist you work with?

VR: There’s a couple of ways that happens. We can go to one of the big art fairs or see a show somewhere, we can travel to find interesting artists, reach out on their website, or reach out to their gallery first to start talking with them. Sometimes the gallery thinks it is a great idea and sometimes they don’t think a print would be effective. The key is really to find an artist at a state when they are still approachable and to do a studio visit. That’s where we can assess how a print could happen with them.

BCE: What are your concerns with artists specifically when it comes to collaborating on a print?

VR: There are two things when we’re thinking about working with an artist. We don’t want to copy or recreate what’s in their studio already, but we have to add an element. So, we are asking:

1. What kind of action do they have in their work?
2. What is this visual aesthetic in their work?

Take for example the artist Ellen Berkenblit. Her work, the “action” was not difficult to think about, but many of her works contain a profile of a woman looking to the right. So, when we were making the print, we didn’t want to force Ellen to create the work backwards and the result be reversed. Instead, we had to figure out a way for her to create the work as she already would, and then we create another step so that the final product is also facing to the right, not the left.

But it is really about the printer figuring out in the artists’ studio what kind of tools we can use to suit the artists’ hand, or how to find that common thread within their work and bring that to the lithography studio. Some are really appliers and others are removers. Some may be painters, textile artists, or digital artists, and we have so many different methods that can fit with any of those methods. It’s less what lithography can do, but instead what you can do within lithography to make it look like the artist’s work.

BCE: What are the steps to becoming a master printer? How did you become a print master?

VR: Tamarind Institute’s program is two years. I studied at Tamarind Institute in 2007-2009, and then I went back to Finland and worked at a lithography shop with two other Tamarind trained printers. Most master printers have a fine-arts degree or background, otherwise really, how would they become involved in lithography? And then it just involves studying and working in print shops for a number of years. I have been the print shop manager for 8 years, and the master printer before me was the manager for 27 years. What is unique about Tamarind is it is the only place you are trained as a printer to specifically work with artists.

BCE: How was lithography used prior to fine art printing?

VR: Lithography was a very useful commercial print medium because it can mimic other artistic mediums and be almost mass-produced. Print shops used to produce really high editions—with a one-hundred minimum—and the shops would be running 24/7. Nowadays we produce editions much lower, and thankfully don’t have to work around the clock.