Ed Ruscha and Jim Dine at the Tamarind 50th Anniversary

Tamarind Fabulous at 50 Anniversary Gala
Blog by Dave Dorsey, Photos by Donna Rose, CEO and Founder of Art Brokerage Inc.

Jim Dine and Ed Ruscha  Dave Hickey and Ed Ruscha on stage at Tamarind 50th Anniversary  Jim Dine receiving bathrobe from Tamarind director Marjorie Devon
Left: Jim Dine and Ed Ruscha at Tamarind 50th Anniversary.
Middle: Dave Hickey and Ed Ruscha on stage at Tamarind 50th Anniversary
Right: Jim Dine receiving bathrobe from Tamarind director Marjorie Devon

Those who attended the 50th anniversary celebration of June Wayne's founding of the Tamarind Center at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque this month treated themselves to not only an inspiring symposium devoted to fine art lithography but also a privileged glimpse into the minds of three giants from the world of art: Jim Dine, Ed Ruscha, and Dave Hickey. I was lucky enough to be invited to attend the gala by Donna Rose, CEO and founder of Art Brokerage, who has been a close friend of Ruscha’s since the 60s, and it was a rare treat to be among a group of master fine art lithographers, dealers, and collectors honoring a school that has dedicated itself to keeping this exacting art alive and well over the decades. Dine, Ruscha and Hickey weren’t the only luminaries in attendance. Master lithographer, Garo Antreasian, made an appearance and Tamarind founder June Wayne was honored and spoke about the future of printing. Also in attendance was master lithographer Ed Hamilton of Ed Ruscha's Hamilton Press, who was trained by June Wayne.

Many of the world’s finest contemporary printers also came from Mexico, South Africa, Finland and Germany: Plinio Avila Marquez, Mark Attwood, Kalle Berg, Helsinki Litho, Sarah Dudley. Institute director Marge Devon presented awards to both Dine and Ruscha for their achievements in printing, and the whole event culminated in a lottery in which those who donated to a fundraiser were able to take their pick of prints by artists such as Dine, Kiki Smith, and many others. Once the crowd packed itself into the little gallery, groans and applause went to through the room whenever a particularly coveted print got nabbed by the holder of a low number. A few hours later, the gala came to a reluctant close with a bash that offered salsa lessons to the venturesome—in which Marge Devon essentially demonstrated her eligibility for a cameo appearance on Dancing with the Stars, if not Mission Impossible. She did an amazing job on all fronts: organizing the entire event, introducing her star speakers, while making sure everything unfolded smoothly.

Personally, what I found most interesting were the talks by Dine and Ruscha. What, if anything, tied the two of them together, was a fascinating thread: that the essence of art, despite all the commentary written about it through the ages, remains mysterious and immune to explanation. Hickey is America’s most important art critic on the strength of a single, slim book, The Invisible Dragon. He interviewed his long-time friend Ed Ruscha, who rose to fame alongside Warhol, Lichtenstein, Thiebaud and others in the 60s and has become a key figure in the history of 20th century art. At one point, Hickey pointed out that Ruscha’s work doesn’t need to be explained, which is convenient, Hickey suggested, since Ruscha’s work can’t be satisfactorily explained. You simply have to live with it long enough to understand instinctively how the artist transforms commonplace phrases into tiny cultural koans.

Ruscha improvised on Hickey’s suggestion that the provenance and meaning of great visual art remains resistant to analysis, describing how much of his own work comes to him as the hint of a notion that rises up from the subconscious and keeps nagging him to grapple with it—and that he then follows the scent until he arrives at the sense of an ending, without needing to fully understand why the finished work has a pulse. Often, he said, he makes progress by accident and that a successful work of art can be as much of a surprise for the artist as it is for the viewer. While Hickey tended to veer into a variety of funny, spontaneous asides about art and American life, Ruscha had the air of a centered, quietly thoughtful guru with nothing to prove, speaking of his work with unpretentious Midwestern simplicity and candor.

Donna Rose and Dave Dorsey  
Left: Donna Rose, CEO and founder of Art Brokerage and artist/writer Dave Dorsey at the
50th Anniversary of Tamarind Press Gala in Albequerque, New Mexico, 2010. (photo by Sharon Goodman)
Right: Tamarind publishing founder June Wayne and Donna Rose founder of Art Brokerage

Interviewed with great precision and knowledge by Ruth Fine, Jim Dine came at this same notion of mystery from a different direction. He’s a charismatic speaker, full of fascinating stories about print-making at his studio in Washington state, as well as working with various printmakers in Europe, one of whom was as devoted to making pastrami as he was to pulling prints. What was most striking in his reflections was how he looks at print-making as an essentially physical discipline. He’s a man with a stocky, muscled frame, who looks as if he could quarry marble as well as carve it. Dine reminded his audience how much the creation of art remains, in a sense, an almost athletic skill. “I draw every day. I’m constantly trying to get my hand to do what I want it to do.” Like the performance of music or the act of cooking, both drawing and printing for Dine are a way of manually wrestling with stubborn and resistant tools and mediums. He said that after he sold his first painting, the first thing he did with the money was to buy new tools at a hardware store: hammer, pliers, the usual blunt instruments found in a contractor’s belt. The beauty and power of manual tools remains central to his discipline—for him, he said, he’s always wanted someone to tell him why a hammer’s beauty isn’t as significant as the Venus de Milo’s. There’s romance in his talk even about the routine mechanics of making art and how mastery doesn’t dispel but only deepens the mystery of the process.

“One of the ways I erase a copper plate is that I use different grits of carborundum on my grinder. As a teen, I saw that I had a desire to cut wood. I knew I could do this. I’ve always been dyslexic and left-handed, and therefore I could look at a plate and visualize what the print would look like, in reverse, which was magical. I worked at the Cincinnati Art Museum in 1954 at one of the biennials of color lithography. I was able to touch prints and it was a central experience of my life. I’ve never stopped printing.“

The key word here is touch. And Dine clarified that stone lithography is as much about craft as art. Dine reminded his audience that the nature and meaning of art, and especially the discipline of lithography—like love—remains, in large part, an inexpressible, physical transaction. It all goes back to the taproot of drawing, a movement of the human hand, and printmaking is more intimately linked to drawing than to painting. The meaning and power of art for Dine derives as much from the body as it does from the mind. When Ed Ruscha creates a print that isolates the phrase Cold Beer, Beautiful Girls, he gives it the alluring, yet slightly oppressive weight of a commandment about how the American male must seek pleasure.

-Dave Dorsey

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Donna Rose
CEO and Founder of Art Brokerage