Graphic arts have been part of Puerto Rican culture since the beginning of the 19th century when the first printing presses were established to produce small engravings, lithographic scenes, and portraits used in newspaper and old manuscript illustrations.
It was not until late 1940s and the beginning of the 1950s when the graphic arts, especially the poster, were conceived as a feasible means of artistic expression. In May 1949, the first governor elect of Puerto Rico, Luis Muñoz Marín (1898-1980), created a division in the Department of Public Instruction, named the División de Educación de la Comunidad (DIVEDCO, Division of Community Education).
DIVEDCO was established with the purpose of educating the community by publishing books, movies, and variety of educational programs related to the island’s cultural heritage and sociology. Muñoz Marín recruited the help of U.S. photographer Edwin Rosskam to manage the Division. Later on, Jack Delano, a well known photographer, and his wife, Irene Delano, a graphic artist, joined them; they took over the Division’s units of cinematography and graphics, respectively. These units within the Division served as a type of school that gave artists an opportunity of relating with the production of movies, photographs, paintings, and graphics. The programs sponsored by the Division needed an effective means of communication to inform the public about the programs; the medium would be the Puerto Rican poster.
The Puerto Rican artistic poster came about from the rich artistic environment that prevailed. Artists used traditional folklore: Spanish and African roots tied into the Taíno heritage. At the beginning of the 1950s, many of the best known Puerto Rican artists were called experiment with techniques and mediums; among them, Antonio Martorell, Julio Rosado del Valle, Rafael Tufiño, Félix Bonilla, Antonio Maldonado, and Lorenzo Homar. Later, under Homar’s directorship, artists produced excellent serigraphy and graphic illustrations for many of the publications and programs that the Department of Instruction sponsored.
The process of serigraphy was selected for the production of posters because there were no materials, machinery, or electricity in many of the island’s regions. Serigraphy also provided a flexible medium for the artist. Each artist produced posters from beginning to end, which included creating the preliminary sketch, cutting the stencil, and mixing the inks until they obtained the impression.
The Division established a flexible policy that allowed each artist to progress individually while at the same time acquiring experience from collective work. As painters, they transfer onto a poster through the serigraphy method, the qualities that come from the artistic mediums they work with. The paintbrush trace is often noticeable when they transfer the sketch through the sieve and then to paper. These artists looked for a means of expression that was also a reflection of the pliant situation and would serve the county’s social needs. To accomplish it, the design included community icons.
One of the most significant characteristics of the Puerto Rican poster was the knowledge the artist had regarding the topics they represented. For example, in the exhibition poster, the artist interprets the patriotic image according to the style of the artist whose work is exhibited. This conscious imposition limits the freedom of expression of the artist as an individual, but allows one of the main purposes of the poster to be fulfilled: that the message reaches the observer directly using a frame of reference that is associated with the theme.
Letters are an essential part of the design. Artist try making it an essential part of its composition, and many times, it becomes a patriotic image as well as a literary one. If it is a ballet poster, the letters can dance; if it is a concert poster, letters can move rhythmically. Consequently, each poster is not only a commercial object; it is also a work of art.
The Division’s posters had covered diverse: they announced movies that DIVEDCO prepared to educate the people on housing problems, hygiene, and health. When the government established the Institute for Puerto Rican Culture in 1955 to promote national culture, the poster shifted from an educational to a cultural function, promoting music, archeology, literature, theater, and architecture programs. Lorenzo Homar joined the Institute and established a workshop that trained young artists in artworks. They learned to make linoleum, wood engraving, serigraphy, which were used in pamphlets, and announcements, poster and book illustrations. Engraving and lithography were also taught but to a lesser degree. During this time, the Puerto Rican poster received international recognition when seventeen were selected in 1960 to be included in the International Poster Exhibition in Ontario, Canada. Since then, the Puerto Rican poster has continued to flourish and is one of the most significant artistic expressions in Puerto Rico.
Tió, Teresa. “Imágenes de cultura” El cartel puertorriqueño, Fundación Puertorriqueña de las Humanidades.
Library of Congress.
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: August 28, 2014.
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