In “Report from Havana: Printmaking and the “State of the Art,” Steven Daiber gives the readers of Cuban Art News an “up-to-the-minute look at an influential medium in Cuban contemporary art.” In this excellent article, Daiber (director of the US-based print organization Red Trillium Press) reflects on the current state of printmaking in Cuba as a form of artistic expression, as well as the history of some well-known printmaking studios and artists’ print collectives. Read the complete article at Cuban Art News.
[. . .] The conditions are good for printmaking in Cuba, says Anyelmaidelin Calzadilla Fernández, director of printmaking at the Academia Nacional de Bellas Artes San Alejandro, the acclaimed art school that recently celebrated its 200th anniversary. “My main concern,” Calzadilla Fernández said, “is that the younger generation of engraving graduates are not interested in teaching classes, and that we do not have digital media capabilities, which are the modern means of printmaking.”
Many of the current generation express a similar concern that the younger generation of artists is not enamored with printmaking as an honored art form. Instead, they say, the younger generation is influenced by digital media and the lure of traveling off the island for success, gravitating to other visual art forms that offer greater opportunities (and money).
Even so, there is an active printmaking scene in Havana. The Taller Experimental de Gráfica de La Habana, the most well-known Cuban print shop internationally, is on Callejón del Chorro in the Plaza de la Catedral. It was one of the first buildings to be restored in the 1980s, under the guidance of Dr. Eusebio Leal, when Havana became a UNESCO World Heritage city. Yamilys Brito is the first woman director in the workshop’s 57-year history. Under her leadership, over the past two years there has been an effort to repair and improve the structure of the workshop. Walls and ceilings have been redone, along with new lighting and wall design in the gallery.
I was fortunate to visit Havana this past spring, while a number of the XIII Habana Biennial exhibitions were still on view. At the Taller de Gráfica, the group show El taller de grabado y su circunstancia (The Engraving Workshop and its Circumstance) reflected the impact of the US embargo and the Trump Administration’s Cuba policy on the printmaking community, including acute shortages of materials.
There were two common refrains in my first week in Havana: “There is no chicken in the markets,” followed by “There is no paper available for printing.” The chicken did return to the stores by the end of the week, but no paper or inks.
Cuban artists rely on travel opportunities to supply their printmaking needs, returning from abroad with paper and inks. Or foreign friends might bring an occasional tin of ink or a few sheets of paper. With the Trump Administration’s new regulations, those options are becoming rarer. But one strength of Cuban art is its standing up to adversity with humor and resolve.
In his exhibition essay, critic and curator David Mateo underscored the Taller de Gráfica’s longstanding strengths: “the sense of belonging, the intellectual and cultural commitment which has allowed the Taller to overcome deep pitfalls, to stay afloat and excel in times of storms, deprivation, or absolute pragmatism.”
Not surprisingly, the printing presses are from a different era, well used and repaired often. With its gently arching press bed, my favorite etching press at the Taller de Gráfica reminds me of the waves along the Malecón—difficult to print with, but a stoic machine. When traditional printmaking inks are not available, fast-drying offset inks find their way into the printer’s palette and are adapted to intaglio, woodcut, and lithography. In 2006 I personally printed a series of silkscreen prints using blue offset ink. It took over a year for the offgassing solvents to finally leave the prints, but I had the most beautiful transparent images.
In the history of printmaking in Havana, we cannot ignore the importance of the Taller de Serigrafía René Portocarrero on Calle Cuba. Perhaps less known to the visiting tourist community, Portocarrero was founded in 1982 as the premier silkscreen print shop of Havana. It has four active silkscreen presses, a screen wash room with a vacuum press for photo lithos, and two galleries for exhibitions. Because silkscreen lends itself to commercial applications, the artists working at the Taller Portocarrero often complete government commissions as well as creating editioned prints for artists.
Sharing the space is an active letter-press operation with platen presses, a linotype machine, and a monster of a paper guillotine with a nearby set of barbells. (You need muscles to prepare the fly wheel on the guillotine, as the motor in broken). There is nothing more beautiful than watching the blade trim a stack of paper when you have powered the machine yourself. [. . .]
[Image above: Ibrahim Miranda, “Lágrimas negras,” no date, Courtesy Couturier Gallery. Accessed via https://cubanartnews.org/2019/10/05/report-from-havana-printmaking-and-the-state-of-the-art/]
For full article, see https://cubanartnews.org/2019/10/05/report-from-havana-printmaking-and-the-state-of-the-art/