Hidden behind a store in the Vila Madelena neighbourhood of São Paulo, lies Gráfica Fidalga, a small letterpress workshop, which has the honour of being one of the last surviving printers of traditional Lambe-Lambe posters. Used as a cheap form of advertising, the posters were typically used to promote rock, funk, pagode or forró shows, as well as circus, theatrical and political events.
Gráfica Fidalga uses an old German stop-cylinder machine, manufactured in 1929 and lovingly kept in shape by its owners. Before its current use, this machine was responsible for printing books. Other machines acquired from the same publisher were converted for use as die cutters, for hot foil stamping, punching cylinders and so on: only this one is still working with type.
The type used is almost all woodblock, with the biggest size taking up a whole poster sheet with one letter. To create an ad for a show, the printers often use several sheets, glued side-by-side. All the woodtypes were handmade specially for Gráfica Fidalga, making the workshop a treasure trove of amazing type designs, a bit rustic, but with the coolest shapes.
The paper used for the posters is usually lightweight with a soft colour. This paper will then be glued on all kinds of walls and surfaces using a white pva glue or wheat paste dissolved in water. After they’re glued, the posters are then ‘licked’ with a big brush to give them more durability. This is where the name comes from – Lambe-Lambe meaning, approximately, ‘lick-lick’.
During the 70s, 80s and 90s, these cheap poster ads were all around the city, glued on each corner and wall. It was an illegal form of advertisement, a cheaper alternative to modern billboards. The printers would furtively glue the posters up after midnight, sharing the walls with students making political protests. Sometimes they had problems with the police, but the authorities were generally very tolerant with them (not so with the students).
But Lambe-Lambe is becoming a lost art. First came new graphic studios using silkscreened prints instead of typographic ones. These new prints were bigger, brighter and best (or worst) of all, were full of images designed on computers. They had much more appeal for the general public than the old-fashioned typographic, two-coloured Lambe-Lambe. Then came the Clean City laws introduced in 2007 (see cr June 07). Prompted by the visual chaos of the city’s numerous unofficial poster sites, the mayor of São Paulo effectively prohibited outdoor advertising. Today, Lambe-Lambe, though loved by many of the city’s designers and artists, are an increasingly rare sight.
At the Choque Cultural gallery, we have used Lambe-Lambe posters as invitations for our shows since our launch in 2003. We loved them for their imperfections and dirt – they are so charismatic compared to modern posters.
Choque Cultural (meaning Culture Shock) started as a poster publisher. Over the years we have put out more than 150 editions, in many different techniques, papers and sizes, made by more than 80 different artists.
In 2004, Choque opened a gallery space in São Paulo, showing its print collection, collective and solo exhibitions and making collaborative projects. The gallery is in an old, small house, with three floors in a residential neighbourhood. All the walls are painted, drawn on, scratched, carved or filled with paper and stickers by the invited artists.
We try to mix shows from old masters and famous painters with work from new talents. We also try to partner with galleries and art institutions all around the world. So, for example, in 2006 we swapped artists for a month with Fortes Vilaça, which is a well-respected art space in São Paulo. We got important contemporary Brazilian artists to do special projects inside Choque’s space, while Choque’s roster of artists got the chance to experience a more traditional gallery space. We’ve also done exchanges with NYC gallery Jonathan LeVine, which invited Brazilian artists such as Speto, Zezão, Titifreak and others to New York and brought names like Shepard Fairey, Shag, Gary Baseman and Tim Biskup to São Paulo, and a similar project with British gallery Ocontemporary.
In 2007 we produced our first book, the Book of Monsters, an experimental publication that explored the limits of art printmaking. Each page was designed and printed by a different artist.
With demand for Lambe-Lambe declining, we thought we could help Gráfica Fidalga change their business. The letterpress workshop had so much potential and we wanted see if we could change the quality of their printing by commissioning posters, art prints and special books from them.
Over several years we developed the know-how to start making prints using Gráfica Fidalga’s letterpress machine: all we needed was to change the paper, inks and some procedures. After making a few artists’ prints with the letterpress, we decided to start a bigger project: a whole book, made with woodcut prints only. We knew that this would be hard work for all of us, but it was the right time to do it: we would soon be exhibiting work from a bunch of ‘gauchos’ (people from southern Brazil) in a group show at Choque Cultural gallery. They are all good illustrators, from either graffiti, tattoo art, comics, graphic design or from the fine art scene. Some of them knew woodcuts and others would be trying them for the first time, but everybody had a style which we thought would work very well.
The woodcuts were commissioned and the artists turned in some amazing works, some of them simple, others complex, rustic, sophisticated – each artist had a different approach to their woodcut. Rather than the usual hand-set type the machine could be adapted to print the woodcuts.
We designed the book, Xiru Gravuras, to be printed in exactly the same way as the Lambe-Lambe posters. The books have the same lightweight papers in their pastel colours (light blue, pink, yellow and green) and the same ink (black, red, dark blue, green, orange). The print-makers explored blending the colours in the printing to get the characteristic ‘degradeé’ effect, where graduated colours blend together. They swapped colours throughout the press process so that each print has an exclusive colour. We ended up with a limited edition of 400 books, numbered, with handmade binding and a hard cover.
In producing the book, we wanted to dignify the work of Carlinhos, Maurício, Carlão and Cláudio and their old machine by making some cool artworks. Through the work of Gráfica Fidalga, we hope that Lambe-Lambe and the old art of hand typesetting can keep on living.
Lambe-Lambe prints are available at choquecultural.co.uk
Text edited by Tristan Manco, co-author of Graffiti Brasil