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Printmaking Rediscovered

Fought from 1910 to 1920, the Mexican Revolution overthrew the thirty-year dictatorship of Porfírio Díaz and established such far-reaching goals as land reform, literacy programs, and integration. The spirit of reform was accompanied by a new appreciation for the art and culture of the indigenous peoples of Mexico, launching a national art movement that wholly embodied the Revolution’s ideals.

This era witnessed a broad-based revival in printmaking that developed alongside the better-known public mural program. Formally trained artists shed their academic styles and aimed their prints at under-educated segments of the Mexican populace, whose own daily routines and familiar surroundings furnished the true-to-life subjects of artists’ prints.

A new generation of idealistic young artists [was] eager to participate in the creation of a new, broadly democratic national identity for Mexico.

Over the course of the 1920s, Mexican artists adopted a full range of printmaking techniques. Woodcut was the first method to be taken up. The low cost of materials, the ease of distribution, and the association of the medium with the recently rediscovered popular prints of José Guadalupe Posada made the woodcut especially attractive to a new generation of idealistic young artists eager to participate in the creation of a new, broadly democratic national identity for Mexico. Lithography and various etching techniques only became popular with Mexican printmakers after specialized courses in these methods were introduced at the art academy in Mexico City in 1929–30.

The Taller de Gráfica Popular: Prints for the People

The Taller de Gráfica Popular (Graphic Workshop of the People) was founded in Mexico City in 1937 by a group of activist artists who were committed to the use of prints to influence public opinion and improve social conditions. To achieve this goal, the Taller distributed large editions of flyers, posters, and newssheets addressing the urgent issues of the day, as well as limited-edition prints and portfolios depicting scenes of everyday life. The Taller quickly gained wide recognition for the forceful subject matter of its prints and soon attracted the participation of artists from throughout Latin America, and from Europe and the United States.

As an organization committed to the betterment of the lives of the people, the Taller used its artistic creations to communicate revolutionary ideals to the public. Some of the workshop’s prints advocated wide distribution of its own flyers as an effective way to combat unfair practices. Other prints targeted specific abuses, such as foreign ownership of Mexico’s oil fields, or the aggressive propaganda campaigns waged by right-wing newspapers and radio stations.

At the close of World War II, the artists of the Taller decided that one way for Mexico to combat the threat of foreign domination in the atomic age would be to remind the nation of the heroic legacy of the Mexican Revolution. In 1945, the Taller initiated an ambitious project to illustrate the history of the revolution from its beginnings in 1910 to the present day in a series of eighty-five linocut prints by sixteen artists. When completed in 1947, the prints were published in an edition of 550 copies as a portfolio titled Estampas de la Revolución Mexicana (Prints of the Mexican Revolution).

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