Wayne Kline

This interview was originally published in ART PAPERS March/April 1992, Vol. 16, issue 2.

In the second half of the 20th century, printmaking is enjoying a revival, spurred in part by middle-class collectors. Specialized workshops such as Bob Blackburn’s in New York, Lou Stovall’s in Washington, DC, and the Brandywine shop in Pennsylvania began to be established in the’50s and ’60s. The Tamarind Lithography Workshop has contributed immensely to America’s interest in printmaking. The workshop is a breeding ground for master printers of lithography. Because of Tamarind, workshops today are more plentiful, the equipment is more easily accessible, and master printers are more readily available. Atlanta is fortunate to be the home of Rolling Stone Press, founded by Tamarind master printer Wayne Kline.

Mildred Thompson: What is your educational background?

Wayne Kline: I went to undergraduate school at the Atlanta College of Art. In 1975 I took my first course in lithography under Norman Wagner. I fell in love with lithography as soon as I studied it. I went to Florida State for grad school after showing my portfolio to some people in Miami—they said they were more oriented to traditional imagery and they did mostly etchings, but that I should go see William Walmsley in Tallahassee, so I met him and showed him my work. He was enthusiastic and said I should apply to study there. It just worked out perfectly. After that, I went to Tamarind because I wanted to learn what they knew about lithography that I didn’t know, not so much with the idea of becoming a master printer, to start my own shop or anything. It just seemed the most logical step in the evolution of my printmaking skills in lithography.

Thompson: Can you tell something of how Tamarind began, its purpose, its philosophy?

Kline: Tamarind Institute was started by June Wayne in the late 1950s. At that time there were only about six very old men in this country who were capable of doing fine art collaborative lithography. June Wayne wanted to do prints in that vein and found she had to go to Europe to do it, and so she approached the Ford Foundation and they gave her a $10 million grant. For the first few years, Tamarind was in Los Angeles, inviting printers, painters, and other artists from New York. They moved to Albuquerque in 1971 and are now connected with the University of New Mexico. Their purpose was to revive the art of lithography printmaking on a professional level; they train artists to be professional printmakers and their standards are very high. The Master program trains the master printer to collaborate with other artists, in the European tradition. These printers then go out and establish print shops on their own. It’s a very successful program.

Thompson: Is its major purpose to train the master printer? Are these printers committed to training other artists in the methods and techniques of the hand printed lithograph?

Kline: We are trained to collaborate with other artists in the production of fine art lithographs. One of their concepts is that master printers, too, can be gainfully employed by producing these prints in either a shop of their own or someone else’s.

Thompson: What percentage of these Tamarind students establish their own workshops?

Kline: I don’t think it is a great percentage. It’s very difficult to do and there isn’t very much need for it outside the major art centers. A lot of these printers go out and find jobs in shops that have come into being since 1960. It takes a great deal of money to even begin to set up a shop. You have to have stones, presses, rollers, and the whole support system that is necessary. For an individual printer to come up with those kinds of funds is very difficult.

Thompson: There is the Bob Blackburn studio in New York. Bob is one of our national treasures. He has been promoting the art of printmaking for over forty years. Many of America’s best known artists have worked with him. And then there is the Brandywine shop in Pennsylvania. Do you know of any other graphic studio workshops like you have here?

Kline: Oh yes, but bigger than this. Gemini, in Los Angeles was one of the most successful and still is. Ken Tyler, who went through Tamarind and was one of the studio managers there, later became the first printer at Gemini. They had financial backing from two doctors who funded everything, but Ken Tyler did all the work. They were printing with all the superstar artists. They were rolling off the prints and Ken would say, “We’re printing G-bills, boys,” because that was the starting price. There is another shop much smaller like mine that Cappy Kuhn from Tamarind set up in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, although she does primarily contract printing where the artist, publisher, or gallery pays for the prints. The collaborative printer works with the artist to produce the prints. Once they are printed they go into the hands of the artist or the publisher for distribution. What I’m doing here is quite different from that, because I have more of an interest in producing art—because I am an artist also, and one of the reasons I actually got into having the business was as much for me to have the facilities to continue making my own prints as to work with other artists who I thought were very good. It is a joy to work with artists in the creation of fine art prints.

Thompson: How did you set up shop? Did you get a grant or did you get a private personal loan?

Kline: Initially, I got a loan from my parents for $5000, and a year or so later they kicked in another $2000 to keep things rolling. My former professor in graduate school Robert Fichter bought my printing press for $6000. He leases it to me for $50 a month and in 1994, it will be paid for. My major professor William Walmsley donated the stones. I got a lot of help from a lot of different people—it was done on a shoestring budget.

Thompson: So now you invite artists to come in to make fine art lithographs and it does not matter if they have had previous experience or not. Is your main purpose to expose them to the medium?

Kline: Yes, to a certain extent. I don’t think I’m exposing them to the medium so much as exposing the medium to them. I think that lithography is such an incredible medium in terms of its potential that it’s exciting to get artists from all different aesthetics and different fields and bring them in and give them the opportunity without putting any restrictions on their imagery and just let them create and respond to the medium. Something exciting always comes out.

Thompson: Do you find that this is a one time experience for the artists, or do they continue, come back to make more prints?

Kline: It varies with each artist. Some really like the experience and want to continue; some come back. But because of the lack of facilities, unless they work here or in another studio it’s difficult for them to continue.

Thompson: Yes, it’s difficult to find these facilities, if the artist isn’t connected with a school, and many schools don’t have the equipment—it’s almost impossible to do etching or lithography. I am very pleased that you are in Atlanta. You have a great setup here. You are certainly an asset to Atlanta’s cultural community.

Kline: Most definitely, I think if you’re going to have an international city you need at least one shop of this nature, not only for lithography but etching, silkscreen, for all of the fine art print media.

Thompson: You have received a grant from the local arts councils?

Kline: Yes, I received an individual artists’ grant from the Fulton County Arts Council to develop a series of prints I had started for a show at New Visions Gallery titled “Diverse Impressions: Atlanta Printmakers.” The grant was to develop these images with the intent of demonstrating the creative potential of lithography in terms of printing these images on different colored papers and inks, varying the sequence, and manipulating the various elements. There are no editions, though there are a few prints that are very similar. The whole point was to use the lithographic medium to show what can be done without using the traditional repetitive methods. Each print—about 90 to 100 in all—is a unique lithograph, a unique original.

Thompson: Have you done this kind of experimentation before?

Kline: Yes, this work grew out of my whole experience in lithography, but especially my work in graduate school where I was hitting my stride. A lot of it is based on technique, like bleed prints, where the image covers the entire page. I see no need to leave a border around the print. Since about 1975 I’ve been researching new ways to make color prints. I also use multiple sheets of paper, combining different sizes of paper for the same print.

Thompson: These seventy or so prints that you have just completed—are there any plans for a public exhibition of them soon?

Kline: There are no plans to show them in the immediate future.

Thompson: They really should be shown to the public. It would be educational for people to see them—the whole process from black and white to color, the variations in the images.

Kline: Yes, it would work that way. I have hung them here like that. When you first come in the door you see the very first prints and then the gradual progression. I know that they are hung here in an unorthodox way, free hanging from the ceiling, but it’s the way you hang things in a print shop when you are doing the actual printing. It’s like a clothes line where you pin the prints up.

Thompson: This gives the impression of a great celebration. When one walks in there is an air of excitement. The prints are like beautiful flags or banners. Because they are not framed or clamped against the walls, there is a certain intimacy that the viewer seldom experiences.

Kline: This way you can really see the surface quality. I hate to put prints behind glass because it sets up a barrier and you lose very exquisite qualities of the surface.

Thompson: These are all very colorful prints. Do you always work in color?

Kline: Yes. Color was one of the things that drew me to this medium. The fact that you could draw on a stone, or paint on a stone, transfer photographic images. There are so many image-making possibilities. You draw everything in black and after you proof and process it, then you can wash that out and print it any colors you choose. The quality of the color is unique—because of the enormous pressure, the colors are pressed into the paper, and this is unlike any other medium. In this series, for example, I was also experimenting a lot with color. I used a lot of colors that I do not normally use in my palette, strictly with experimental expectations. You can only pre-plane the use of color to a certain extent, even after fifteen years of experience. You think it’s going to come out in a certain way but when you roll that stone up and put that paper down and pull that print off, often it’s a great surprise.

Thompson: Each of the printing techniques has its own peculiarities that makes it what it is: the chemistry, acids, fats, metals, stone…When you are working are you aware of using the special technical characteristics peculiar and unique to lithography? For example, we have used lithography since its beginning to make repetitive images, often with no regard for the process. For me, it is a crime to use the medium in this way.

Kline: Right, I would never use the medium in that way—to use it solely as a reproductive vehicle. It’s a blessing and an attribute of the process that if you are a good capable printer you can get more than one impression, but each impression is unique because of all the variables involved. I definitely use the creative potential of the medium and the unique image-making characteristics that are inherent and do not exist in any other medium.

Thompson: Does your working so closely with other artists take away from your own productivity, or does it add? Do you have enough time to continue your own development?

Kline: No, I don’t. Running this business is pretty much a one person operation, and lithography always takes longer than you anticipate. My working with other artists comes through because of a print collectors’ society I’ve established where people can buy prints at greatly reduced pre-publication prices. I love working with other artists; it has afforded me such an opportunity to get on a very personal level and build relationships. It’s interesting to be nearby when the artists are creating images. This is usually a very private practice and because of that, a lot of artists cannot work collaboratively. They are sometimes not secure enough in their own art, or maybe their personalities, to allow that openness to occur. I try to choose artists for whom I have a very high level of respect, and all these experiences have been good up to this point. I am getting an intense education on one level, indirectly, by being exposed to all of this, observing these artists creating. It is a privilege. The artist on the other hand gets a very intense course in lithography. That’s what this collaborative relationship is all about.

Thompson: Your print collectors’ society—how do you go about selecting the artists and how does one become a member of the society?

Kline: I started the society in 1984 with four artists. I try to get groups of artists whose works are very different from each other’s, so that the collectors will have a selection from a wide range of prints, and also to demonstrate the potential of the medium. Different artists are bringing different concerns to it.

Thompson: Are they all Atlanta-based artists?

Kline: No. I’m focusing on artists from the Southeast, partially because no one else is publishing these artists and there are some very capable and good artists in this area. New York publishes New York artists, and California, California artists, so I thought it was important to make a workshop of this kind available down here.

People who want to join the print group pay a certain fee up front. This year there is a $500 minimum and in return they are able to buy prints for three times that amount—they may purchase $1500 worth of prints which may be selected from 14 different artists. The artists range from internationally recognized artists to very young local emerging artists. The prices of the prints generally range from about $350 to about $700; however, I’m starting to work with older artists who are more established and have wider reputations, and their prices are necessarily higher.

Thompson: Do you have people who buy memberships year after year, or is it usually a one time purchase? How would you describe the collector?

Kline: It’s very difficult to describe “the collector.” We don’t have very many people who fit that term down here in Atlanta, particularly people who have an interest in collecting regional artists. But there are several who have kept up a membership from the beginning. There is one collector who purchases two subscriptions each year; one set of prints he keeps for himself and the second set he gives to the museum. This is good for the museum, and it’s good for the artist to get the exposure, and it helps me also.

Thompson: Are most of the memberships individuals, or institutions and corporations?

Kline: There seem to be more and more corporations taking subscriptions now; in the beginning there were more individuals, but the private members live in normal housing, and once their walls are filled, after buying maybe seven prints, they feel that they don’t need any more prints. Of course, a real collector goes on and continues to collect. This print society is a good vehicle for someone who is just starting to build a collection.

Thompson: Who are some of the artists in the 1991-92 group?

Kline: Don Cooper, Michael Ellison, Jim Herbert, and Stephanie Jackson. Not all, but most are from the Atlanta area. Others are Barbara Schreiber, Ruth Laxson, Chris Walker, Kathy Yancey—and then there are artists from Tallahassee; Arthur Deschaise who has international acclaim; Russ Warren, too, from North Carolina. So I’m trying to branch out and bring in artists from all over the region. It’s an exciting group.

Thompson: Do they all come here and work in your workshop?

Kline: Generally they do. Most of them have had no experience in lithography, so they need to be in close contact with me for learning the techniques.

Thompson: What are your long range plans as far as your own work as well as your collaborative work with other artists?

Kline: First and foremost, I have to finish remodeling this building. After this building is finished, I will have a ground floor of 2500 square feet. The shop where the printing occurs will be about 670 square feet, there will be a gallery space of about 800 square feet, and it will be called “The Rolling Stone Press—A Lithography Atelier.” We will exhibit all the different print media but we will continue to make only lithography. I hope to do exchange shows with other print shops and exhibit fine art prints done by artists from all over the country. I hope that everything will be finished by May ’92 and we can start the whole program then. We’ll see.