Printmaking society celebrates 60 years

The Los Angeles Printmaking Society is celebrating its 60th anniversary with a monthlong exhibition at Mixografia Press in Downtown LA. 

Running through Saturday, Nov. 12, the biennial, 22nd National Print Exhibition features innovative, modern artists from around the country selected by this year’s juror, Kenturah Davis, who teaches at Occidental College.

In 1973 LAPS held its first National, just a decade after the organization’s inception, staged at the LA Municipal Art Gallery.

This year’s National honors mother and daughter Betye and Alison Saar, the former being an early member of LAPS and renowned LA artist.

The LAPS is an artist-run nonprofit started in 1962 by Paul Darrow and Connor Everts. The post-war energy at that time drew artists and students studying art on the GI Bill, creating an intellectual and artistic boom.

Darrow and Everts settled in the LA area after having served in WWII. Mary Sherwood Brock, the LAPS 22nd National Exhibition chair, said the two “were always in shows together, but they never met. They would be alphabetically listed in the catalog and see each other’s names on the poster.”

After years of showing in the same circuits, the pair finally met in 1962 and quickly became friends. That same year LAPS was born. They created LAPS intending to educate and popularize the art of printmaking, creating community and education around the craft.

During this time, like many early members who were either working artists or professors, Darrow and Everts were teaching art, Everts worked as an itinerant professor, and Darrow taught at Scripps College in Claremont.

Everts lived in Torrance, and Brock recalled that he was a “real character.” In addition to teaching, Everts was a longshoreman and had a studio in an old grocery store next to the railroad line in Downtown Torrance. Meanwhile, Darrow lived in Laguna Beach, but the group had no problem driving to each other during a time when freeways were traffic free. They called themselves the “freeway fliers.”

In the early years, printmaking was an unknown art. Many LA-area professors who were tasked to teach classes on the subject had little knowledge. 

“The schools were either completely new or they had equipment that had not been used in years,” Brock said.

“So, equipment was sitting in corners and hallways; beautiful presses were under sheets and stuffed in garages.”

Another key figure at this time was artist June Wayne, who started the iconic footprint studio Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Hollywood, which housed many early LAPS workshops and exhibits. Workshops like Tamarind and Gemini G.E.L. were collaborative spaces, different from past workshops, and encouraged modern and avant-garde expression that would influence the direction of the LA art scene.

“Printmaking put LA on the map in terms of art. … So much of the roots of what LA is all about is intricately involved with our organization,” Brock said.

Wayne was instrumental in reviving the art of printmaking in the United States. To learn traditional printmaking, she traveled to Europe and brought back printing techniques, the idea of the apprentice system, and the art of lithography. 

Other early group members included artists Ynez Johnston, Emerson Woelffer, Leonard Edmondson, Guy Maccoy, Dick Swift, Tom Fricano and Betye Saar. Early on, LAPS received support from generous benefactors: Ebria Feinblatt of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Ken Ross, who served on the Los Angeles Arts Commission; and Esther Lewis, who had gallery and studio space on two floors of a Downtown office building.

LAPS emerged during the cultural revolution and civil rights movement of the ’60s, and members were heavily inspired by personal and political expression. Everts used his art for national and cultural reflection and was described by an LA publication as “a Bohemian with a cause.” In 1964, Everts was charged with obscenity in reaction to a drawing he made in response to the then-recent JFK assassination during his show, “Studies in Desperation,” at Zora Gallery. 

What started as a postwar, local organization run by two artists in LA has grown into an international society with members from across the globe. 

LAPS has been a crucial aspect in shaping LA’s artistic identity and continues to do so, running multiple cutting-edge exhibits every year. After 60 years, LAPS has thrived as a solely artist-run organization, depending on community support and volunteers who run operations and events. 

Giving back to the community that has allowed LAPS to grow and thrive is at the forefront of its mission. LAPS annually provides grants to three to four printmaking students through its Foundation Scholarship Grant Award. After students graduate, LAPS supports emerging artists with jobs and apprenticeship opportunities through its extensive network. Although they no longer have the two-floor studio on Spring Street, LAPS hopes to have a physical meeting space for future members. 

The 22nd National Print Exhibition

WHEN: Various times through Saturday, Nov. 12;

artist talk 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 29

WHERE: Mixografia, 1419 E. Adams Boulevard, LA

COST: Visit website for information