The Taller Experimental de Grafica (TEG) was headed for the trash heap when the famous Latin American poet, Pablo Neruda, convinced Ernesto Che Guevara to save it for its artistic potential.
The TEG is a graphic arts studio for used for printmaking. The Galería del Grabado, located in the building, sells art created by the artists working in the TEG.
History of Printmaking in Cuba
Engraving in Cuba was imported from Europe and was closely linked to industry (tourism, sugar and tobacco) – and the creation of stamps for the Catholic church.
Francisco Javier Baez was the first artist known to work with graphic arts for religious purposes. His illustrations include prints of saints and other icons produced between 1762 and 1828. He was succeeded by other artists of the nineteenth century including Federico Mialhe, a Frenchman who created lithographs for the book, “La Isla de Cuba Pintoresca”, (The Picturesque Island of Cuba) completed in 1838. It included more than 25 lithographs depicting landscapes that provide a lasting image of colonial Cuba.
The tobacco industry made extensive use of printmaking. The Lithographic Company of Cuba (1906) introduced the printing of cigarette packs, cigars, and decorated boxes of snuff.
The Association of Engravers of Cuba was founded in 1949. The Association created an exhibition “Woodcuts Cubanas” that featured eleven engravers. Among the prominent artists were Carmelo Gonzalez, Armando Posse, and Ana Rosa Gutierrez.
Spanish companies including Partagas and Romeo & Juliet and especially large German tobacco companies including H. Upmann or Gustav Bock – used lithography and printmaking for cigars. Bock is the person first credited with using printed cigar bands as a branding and authentication method for cigars.
The Lithographic Company of Cuba fell into decline after the industry adopted new methods of industrial printing including offset printing. The engraved stones were then used as trenches and barricades for military exercises and tactical exercises of Fidel Castro’s National Revolutionary Militia.
In response to the destruction of artistic materials with a rich history, a group of artists including Orlando Suarez, Amable Mouriño and José Venturelli (a graphic and communist artist of Chilean origin) and the printer master Israel de la Hoya set about to rescue the remaining stone lithographic presses. The presses were to be melted down to extract metals.
Jose Venturelli related the plight of the materials to his compatriot, Pablo Neruda, the famous Latin American poet who happened to be visiting the island nation about the time of its planned destruction. Venturelli’s idea was to create a graphic center to house the legacy artifacts of the lithographic of history of Havana. Neruda wrote to Ernesto Che Guevara (the then Minister of Industry and Chairman of the National Bank of Cuba) to authorize the transfer and use of the machines and stones for artistic purpose. Che agreed and on July 30, 1962 created the Taller Experimental de Grafica in Havana.
Isolina is a Cuban artist working at the TEG as a printmaker.
Born in Guantanamo in 1956, and now residing in Havana, Isolina is one of Cuba’s most prolific and successful artists of her generation, according to Michelle Wojcik, whose art gallery Galería Cubana, represents Isolina in the U.S.
Isolina’s work has been applauded for its stunningly rich colors and textures, in addition to the underlying deeper social observations. Her printmaking reflects a strong influence by the traditional religion of Afro-Cuba, Santeria. The bodies of the figures in her work are filled with the intimate elements of their lives — plants, coins, feathers, architecture, lace, or buttons (to name a few) are imprinted on their bodies.
In 2016, Michelle Obama visited El Taller Experimental de la Gráfica during the historic presidential visit to Cuba. Isolina greeted Michelle on her visit to the Taller.
For more than 40 years the cooperative-studio has housed the country’s top printmakers, like Isolina, who make amazing art with limited resources. ( “Taller Experimental de la Gráfica” tel. 07/864-7622, firstname.lastname@example.org, Mon.– Fri. 9am–4 pm).