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Alumni Feature: Brandon Gunn


As education director at the prestigious Tamarind Institute, Brandon Gunn trains students to become the best lithographers in the world

Brandon Gunn graduated from BYU empowered to continue exploring and combining multiple personal interests in a powerful way. Rather than pursue a one-dimensional career, he learned he could be an artist, a master printer and a teacher simultaneously. With the strong technical and conceptual foundation provided by his undergraduate education at BYU, Gunn went on to receive an MFA in printmaking at Illinois State University, followed by an intense two-year study of lithography at Tamarind Institute in New Mexico to become a master printer.

As a graduate student, Gunn learned to love collaborative printing. Every week he spent 20 hours in the workshop, making prints for artists invited to work in the print shop. When it came time to apply for jobs, Gunn included an application to the Tamarind Institute, which he had discovered through BYU professor emeritus Wayne Kimball. Gunn described the institute as “really competitive, and the only school like it in the world for printmaking,” so he was excited to receive a letter of acceptance to the eight-person program. “I was over the moon,” Gunn recalled. “The thing I thought I had no chance at was the one I’d gotten.”

The learning curve was steep in the beginning. Gunn went from working on four or five projects per semester in graduate school to completing 18 projects in the first semester at Tamarind, which he estimated required 60-70 hours of work per week. “Tamarind really increased my technical skills [in lithography],” Gunn said. “It also increased my desire to work with other people in printmaking.”

During Gunn’s second year at Tamarind, when the number of students was reduced from eight to two, he created lithographs for well-known professional artists, including Jim Dine, Willie Cole and Polly Apfelbaum.

After teaching printmaking and collaboration for eight years at Concordia University in Quebec and then Indiana University Bloomington, Gunn was asked to return to Tamarind, where he has served as the education director for three years. In this current capacity, Gunn is responsible for preparing first-year students to become the best printers in the world. He also teaches them how to collaborate with artists to make lithographs.

“In a sense they’re technicians, but technicians of the highest caliber,” Gunn said. “Ones that can not only provide the techniques and expertise their artists need to create a print, but can also understand the needs of the artist, the ideas that the artist is working with, and how to make them comfortable working in this medium, which takes a lot of interpersonal finesse.”

When collaborating with an artist who may or may not have a background in printmaking, students provide the technical expertise while the artist maintains control of the conceptual vision and aesthetics. Unlike other printmaking processes, the surface for lithography is flat. And because lithography is based on the fact that oil and water repel each other, artists can draw naturally on a prepared surface using pencils, crayons or water-based materials with a high grease content.

First, the artist creates an image on the prepared surface, which the printers will process and print, creating proofs for the artist to review. After a back-and-forth process of proofing to determine the final aesthetics, colors and composition, the printers receive the artist’s approval to print and then make anywhere from 10 to 100 prints in a single edition. Gunn maintains a personal art practice in addition to his work at Tamarind, where he explores personal interests and ideas—usually through printmaking, but occasionally through photography or sculpture. His current interest in space, particularly hidden space, has evolved slowly since graduate school.

“All of my work starts with that conceptual foundation and builds around that,” Gunn said, “which means I’m always changing the techniques I use and the way I express ideas.”