Long Live Print: Tirada exhibit shows 50 years of printmaking

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LIKE BOOKS, newspapers, and magazines that struggle to survive the digital and paperless world, print, as a form of art, is also confronted by the same dilemma — and more.

Besides dealing with digital, printmaking as an art form is concerned with other things: the quality of print as a work of art, the reproduction of prints, and the regard of the printmaker as an artist.

These issues are discussed and on view at Tirada, an exhibition that celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Philippine Association of Printmakers (PAP), now renamed as the Association of Pinoyprintmakers (AP), which aims to promote the art, push for its continuous development, and establish it as a major visual art medium in the Philippines.

On view at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) until July 15, Tirada is a term used by printmakers that means to hit or to pull off or remove a piece of work in a series of multiples. “It also means effort and labor, a decisive action,” said curator Dr. Patrick D. Flores in his curator’s notes.

Founded in 1968, PAP, now AP, paved the path for print to be regarded and accepted as a medium through the factors that make it as such: its technique, technology, and tenacity.

Tirada occupies CCP’s Bulwagang Juan Luna (Main Gallery), Pasilyo Guillermo Tolentino (3F Hallway Gallery), and Pasilyo Vicente Manansala (2F Hallway Gallery).

PRINT AS ART
The history of printmaking started in China when paper was invented around AD 105. But printmaking as an art form only gained popularity in the Philippines in the 1960s. Printmaking requires the transfer of an image to the paper through contact with wood, a plate, screen, or rubber.

Or, it can be through sand. One of the works on exhibit is Raymundo Albano’s entry to the 9th International Biennial Exhibition of Prints in Tokyo, Japan in 1974 and 1975. Called Step on the Sand and Make Footprints, the floor installation encourages people to step on a sand-filled box to see their footprints. The work received an Honorable Mention by the international jury. The late artist said “A foot print is still a print.”

Printmaking produces multiples. Because of this nature, printmaking has been vital in popular culture in relation to comics, graphics, mass media, photography, and advertising. Think Andy Warhol’s prints of Marilyn Monroe and the Campbells soup cans. Warhol’s prints remain relevant in popular culture. But in high culture, there is much regard — some might say obsession — with one-of-a-kind art. So how does printmaking, which is by nature reproducible, reconcile with high art’s focus on singularity and originality?

“A P100 bill may all look the same, but each has a serial number. Each bill is original. The same goes in printmaking because each has edition, a number,” AP president Benjamin T. Cabrera told BusinessWorld at the sidelines of the exhibit opening on May 23. Mr. Cabrera said demand for prints is so low in the Philippines that printmakers do not make many editions anyway.

“The artist determines how many editions he or she has to make. In the Philippine context, especially in the annual CCP exhibition, print has morphed with other art forms like installation and paint. But the idea of originality, or of editioning, is not appropriate in the Philippine context because the buyers here are small. The idea that print has democritized art is only true in Western countries,” he said.

“Editioning” is market driven. “Gagawa ka nang madami, hindi naman mabibili. At saka, bakit tayo nagco-concentrate sa bentahan, hindi sa quality ng gawa na na-achieve ng printmaking process? Isang mission-vision namin is to propagate the technique. At basagin ang mga konsepto tungkol sa maraming kopya at na papel lang siya. Eh, kung tutuusin, mas mahal ang papel kaysa sa canvas,” said Mr. Cabrera. (You make many copies, but they will not be bought anyway. Also, why should we concentrate on sale, and not on the quality of the work that can be achieved with the printmaking process. One of the items in our mission-vision is to propagate the technique. And to smash the idea that there are multiple copies and that they are just on paper. If you think about it, paper is more expensive than canvas.)

Imported paper for printmaking costs P300 each sheet, while a canvas of the same size costs less.

PRINTMAKING AS A TECHNIQUE
As Mr. Cabrera said, one of the missions of AP is to educate people about what printmaking is and what the processes are behind the creation of the art works.

“In printmaking, you always have three painstaking steps: designing, inking, and printing. A true printmaker must experience the entire process,” he said.

The AP studio located behind the Folk Arts Theater at the CCP complex is open to anyone who wants to see how printmakers work. Only five printmakers can work in the studio simultaneously because the printers occupy considerable space.

“Painters often have their own sanctuary. But printmakers need machines and you work with the other artists where it allows you to exchange techniques and share skills. There is also respect for other artists because it is communal. Respect their space and clean your working space,” said Ambie Abaño, one of the 140 artists whose work is part of the exhibition.

Among the other artists whose works are shown in the exhibit are National Artist Benedicto “BenCab” Cabrera, Romulo Olazo, Roberto Chabet, Pacita Abad, Marina Cruz, Pablo Baen Santos, Mauro “Malang” Santos, Fernando Zobel, Mark Justiniani, and Cian Dayrit.

For Manuel Rodriguez, a pioneer and mentor of Philippine print, a graphic artist is both a painter and a sculptor, and a technician. Dr. Flores quoted Mr. Rodriguez in the curator’s notes, as saying: “A graphic artist has to exercise and imagine more than a painter… You must know how.”

Mr. Cabrera added: “There is an element of surprise in printmaking. Hangga’t ‘di mo nira-run sa press, ‘di mo alam ang itsura (Until you have run it in the press, you do not know what your work looks like).” Echoing Mr. Rodriguez, he said printmakers must know and study the techniques first before they can make art.

And despite the rise of digital prints, artists’ believe that printmaking should remain traditional.

“Digital print is not handmade but is determined by a computer. It is digital printing. The stand of the group is that printmaking must be traditional,” said Mr. Cabrera.

This is not a position taken in the Philippines alone, but printmakers from Thailand, Indonesia, and Australia share the same stand, he said. Australian artists for instance, are going back to the traditional printmaking where you can feel and smell the ink.

Sa computer, flat eh,” said Mr. Cabrera. — Nickky Faustine P. de Guzman