PUERTO RICAN SILKSCREEN POSTERS, 1952-1983
Historical Context

The birth of the silkscreen poster in Puerto Rico as a medium for artistic expression as well as for persuasion was coincident with the creation of the Taller (workshop) de Cínema y Gráfica de la Comisión de Parques y Recreo Público in San Juan in 1946. This governmental agency arose out of the social justice movement that, among other things, concerned itself with the deplorable living conditions of largely illiterate people living in the barrios of the countryside. This agency was mandated to promote awareness for issues pertinent to health and sanitation, politics, and social relations by the production of films, posters and illustrated books that were brought directly into the barrios. The director of this workshop was Irene Delano, who believed that the silkscreen poster offered the most economical means of communication since lithography and photomechanical reproduction required costly equipment. The silkscreen posters produced in the Taller were printed by hand, often by the artists who designed them, and comprised large, simple images printed in flat colors.

In 1949, the Taller de Cínema y Gráfica was absorbed into the newly-created Taller de Gráfica of the División de Educación. Under the leadership of Irene Delano, it employed a number of young Puerto Rican artists who had studied art abroad. They carried back with them to Puerto Rico a new artistic vision rooted in the contemporary artistic culture of the United States, but one that focused on the cultural identity of Puerto Rico. One of these artists Lorenzo Homar succeeded Delano and directed the Taller de Gráfica of the División de Educación from 1952 to 1957. He soon became the most artistically influential of the graphic artists working in the silkscreen medium in Puerto Rico.

In 1955, as a result of the independence movement and the strong nationalist sentiments that it generated, a second government-sponsored organization was founded. The Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña was created to foster a genuinely Puerto Rican cultural identity, as opposed to one derivative of the United States, by the establishment of art schools on its grounds and by the promotion of theatrical and dance performances, art exhibitions, and festivals, among other things. With the establishment of the Instituto, its Taller de Gráfica also was formed to produce posters that publicized these events and activities, but also that could train future generations of graphic artists. Lorenzo Homar left the Taller of the División to head the newly-formed Taller de Gráfica of the Instituto de Cultura. There he cultivated an atmosphere of collaboration and experimentation, whereby the technical limits of the silkscreen technique were broadly extended. Graphic artists working in the Taller of the Instituto under the tutelage of Homar, such as Jose Alicea, Rafael Tufiño, Antonio Martorell, and Luis Alonso, produced posters that came closest to mimicking the nuances of color and texture more characteristic of painting.

During the decade of the 1960s there also developed a revolutionary, or counterculture, stream especially evident in posters produced in the Taller Alacrán, an independent collective workshop started by Antonio Martorell. Other independent workshops followed, and a rich and productive dialogue was constantly in evidence. The period during which Homar directed the Taller de Gráfica of the Instituto, 1957 to1973, coincided with the golden age of the poster in Puerto Rico.

The decade of the 1970s was one of crisis for the workshops. The increase in prosperity felt throughout the island gave rise to new issues that the Taller of the División de Educación was not prepared to address, such as drug addition, delinquency, and promiscuity. But a more critical factor in the demise of the artist-produced poster was the almost universal diffusion of television with its potential for communication and persuasion. Governmental support for both the Taller of the División de Educación and the Taller of the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña dwindled as the physical structures that housed these workshops deteriorated. With the closing, first of the Instituto de Cultura in 1986 and then the Taller de Gráfica of the División de Educación in 1989, the production of government-sponsored, artist-produced posters dwindled. Artists once active in these workshops opened their own workshops for commissioned works, or turned to other forms of artistic expression.

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