Graphic Witness: visual arts & social commentary
Graphic Witness home page
El Taller de Gráfica Popular
by Michael T. Ricker
part 1 || part 2 || part 3 || part 4 || Volantes populares


After the dissolution of Trienta y Trienta, the next significant artistic publishing movement to arise in Mexico was the group known as LEAR, the Liga de Escritores y Artistas Revolucionarios, or League of Revolutionary Writers and Artists. Established in 1934, LEAR, by virtue of its literary component, was more involved in both politics and publication than its predecessor. Its primary publication, Frente a Frente (Front to Front), made powerful and direct statements, particularly against Fascist aggression in Spain. In this way, the trend towards direct criticism of contemporary Mexican politics was approached carefully by the circuitous route of world politics. Relatively short lived, LEAR was disbanded in 1937, the year that the Taller de Gráfica Popular was founded.
LEAR publication
TGP: The Workshop for Popular Graphic Art

Created during the benevolent administration of President Lázaro Cárdenas, the Taller de Gráfica Popular (TGP) gained a foothold that would allow a freedom of political expression previously unknown. It didn't hurt that many of the workshop's efforts were in honest support of the Cárdenas administration. Cárdenas is remembered for nationalizing Mexican oil and providing some protection, if not outright support, for the Communist Party in Mexico.

Founded in 1937 by Leopoldo Méndez, Luis Arenal and Pablo O'Higgins, and drawing on the failed experiences from Trienta y Trienta and LEAR, the TGP created a manifesto and organizational plan with the intention of imparting a stability to the organization that was lacking in the previous efforts. With a specific agenda and a core group of talented artists, the TGP moved rapidly to establish itself as the premier political publishing movement of the Twentieth Century.

[left: 1957 exhibition poster "Mexican Life and Drama
20 years in the life of the TGP"]

Focused on its own continued existence, the TGP was careful to give due attention to its artistic and literary contributors. It was the first political publishing workshop in Mexico to create works of art for sale (under the auspices of La Estampa Mexicana or The Mexican Print) in order to maintain its financial stability. Carefully thought out and well organized, the TGP avoided many of the pitfalls of earlier efforts. Even with a good plan and the dedication of its members, the TGP had a difficult time. Moving its facilities on several occasions, it flirted with financial failure at every turn. The essence of its survival was its continuous production. From the printing of the first volante in 1937 until its gradual demise as a productive workshop in the 1970s and 1980s (it exists today, but only as a pale vestige of its former self), they would create thousands of works for a multitude of purposes.

In the workshop, posters (carteles) and flyers (volantes) were created in a variety of mediums and techniques. The financially disadvantaged nature of the workshop drove them to create works by the least expensive means available. Employing used presses, they relied on original lithography, linoleum cuts and handset type to create much of their graphic output. Ironically, it was this effort to economize, resulting in the employment of original printmaking techniques, which makes the works especially collectible to this day. Even if they could have afforded an expensive offset press, it would have been nearly impossible to move it from location to location in Mexico City, Although, from time to time, they did 'farm out' printing tasks to firms with offset equipment.

back to part 1 || part 2 || part 3 || part 4 || Volantes populares

©2002 Michael T. Ricker