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El Taller de Gráfica Popular
by Michael T. Ricker
part 1 || part 2 || part 3 || part 4 || Volantes populares


The volante or flyer has a venerable history. A single small sheet, pulled by hand from a portable press provided a way to disseminate information quickly and discreetly. No great facility was needed and modest amounts of paper and ink were consumed. When there was need for secrecy, or simple economy, the flyer was the communication medium of choice. For the Mexican people, the volante has a great history. Perhaps the first flyers were religious pages, printed in Spain and introduced into the new world to promote the conversion to Christianity. From the Eighteenth Century to the mid Twentieth Century, the flyer was an indispensable means of communication. In a land always lagging in communication technology, the illustrated flyer provided a valuable service. In the tradition of Honore Daumier, artists such as Manuel Manilla and José Guadalupe Posada (among others) used the volante to entertain and amuse, as well as inform.
[left: volante by Posada] Printed on gaily colored sheets, these pages were sold for pennies on the streets, particularly during festivals or fairs. Current events and public personalities were rendered as the interaction of animated skeletons or calaveras, a graphic extension of puppet theater. Always close to their mortality, Mexicans did not see these sheets as morbid or frightening, but rather as a celebration of a life that could be all too fleeting.

For the Taller de Gráfica Popular, the volante was a primary form of communication. While the first volante * [right] produced by the TGP was illustrated with a lithograph, the vast majority of the one hundred and ten volantes produced by the TGP between 1937 and 1969 were illustrated with linoleum cuts or zincographs (a form of relief printing related to the technique used by Posada for the majority of his work). Virtually all were printed in black ink on colored paper stock virtually identical to the paper used by Posada. Not only economical, this paper also kept the line of continuity established between the TGP and Posada. Linoleum was favored because it was readily available and very inexpensive.
[left: volante by Alberto Beltrán]
The stones for lithographs were scarce (and unwieldy), and wood suitable for woodcuts substantially more expensive than linoleum, and did not stand up as well to long printing runs. Since the volante always had written text, relief printing was preferred, since the linoleum block or zinc plate, when built up to the same height as type, could be printed simultaneously with the type. When a lithograph is used as an illustration the sheet must go through two presses, a litho press for the image and a letterpress for the text. The volante was clean, simple and direct. Its small size made it readily displayed in a small space. Since they were cheap to produce, a larger edition was practical.
* In this 1937 volante, Méndez illustrates a quote by Lázaro Cárdenas, referring to the vital role a united working class can play in ending imperialist wars; freely translated: "a peace conference of free workers demonstrates their combined energies and their rejection of false freedoms invoked to conceal the private agendas held by captains of industry." The Nazi war machine, meanwhile, marches across Europe.
[see also additional information on volantes]


The cartele or poster was a much grander effort than the modest volante. Carteles were intended to attract attention from a distance, announcing something of public importance. Almost 250 carteles were produced from the founding of the taller in 1937 up to the mid 1960s. Many of the early carteles announced meetings or conferences, such as those created for the series of anti-Fascist and anti-Nazi conferences held in the late 1930s. Worker's organizations were also promoted using carteles. Grand images of workers united in their fight for rights and privileges stand side by side with posters pleading for bread and minimal comforts for the populace. Some carteles warned the populace against fascist infiltrators sent to Mexico by Franco, while others instructed the people how to survive bombing attacks. While some artists were frequent contributors to the production of carteles (in addition to the two by Méndez shown here, Beltran, Chávez Morado, García Bustos, Mexiac, Mora and Zalce were the most prolific), others, for various reasons, made only occasional contributions.

Many of the most intriguing carteles are quite cryptic. To fully understand them requires an in depth knowledge of the political situation at the time they were made. What was painfully clear in Mexico in the 1940's is now somewhat clouded by the passage of time. Add to this the difficulty of deciphering colloquialisms and dated catch phrases and even the most Spanish literate individuals can have a fun time interpreting the contents of the more complicated carteles. It can only be imagined that, when these carteles were created, they were as easy for the populace to understand as our generation understands the recent political scandals within our own society. In 50 years will the average citizen understand a reference to Monica Lewinsky? What a cartele that would make!
[above: "Cubiertos" by Chávez Morado; " Los Tranviarios..." by Leopoldo Méndez]

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

©2002 Michael T. Ricker