Nearly 20 years ago I wrote an essay about Mauricio Lasansky in which I argued that his pathway as an artist was characteristic of the one followed by most developing Abstract Expressionist painters. The Abstract Expressionists, who emerged as such in the late 1940s and early 1950s, made art which was both abstract and visibly expressionistic through personalized paint handling or evocative colors. These artists, by and large, put the United States on the international art map for the first time.
Typically, the Abstract Expressionist was impacted by being an immigrant (or child of immigrants), the Great Depression, Hitler's rise to power, the Spanish Civil War, World War II and the Holocaust. Understandably, the art which grew out of such difficult circumstances was characterized by the utmost seriousness and solemnity. Aesthetically, most such artists first came under the influence of Cubism and then Surrealism before emerging with a mature abstract style.
While Lasansky's experiences and development were quite similar to those of the Abstract Expressionists, he never did fully abandon the recognizable image at that time but rather reaffirmed and used it as one of the most powerful instruments to express his vision. I argued that the reason he did not abandon the image was because the extreme spontaneity and the huge fields of color characteristic of Abstract Expressionism were at odds with the fundamental properties of printmaking.
At the time Lasansky decided to stay with figuration in the late 1940s he seemed the odd man out. The momentum was with abstraction, and even into the late 1970s, abstraction was considered by most to be the only route to art world adulation.
But around 1970 figurative art began a slow, inexorable return to acceptability. In 1970, the then Abstract Expressionist, Philip Guston, stunned the art world by re-introducing recognizable images into his paintings, images that bespoke the overt expression of sensibility. By the end of that decade, many artists were making paintings which were figurative and expressive. Thus, in the broader historical context which has now come into existence, and in which figuration has regained a significant amount of interest, Lasansky's work should be reconsidered. (Lasansky has explored abstraction occasionally in recent years, but the preponderance of his work remains figurative.)
There is another way in which the changes in the art world make it appropriate to reconsider Lasansky's work. In recent years, social and political subject matter has become a driving force in a great deal of the most challenging art. This is as shocking a reversal as was the return to acceptability of figurative art. The accepted dogma, especially since the ascendancy of Abstract Expressionism, was that art and politics do not mix.
Lasansky always has maintained an interest in political art. One finds it in his prints as far back as the 1930s, again in a work from the mid-1950s such as España, in the Nazi drawings from 1961-1966, and again in drawings in the past ten years or so.
An artist who makes work which human beings will continue to find enriching for many decades, and more, is an artist who has remained true to his or her own vision, whether or not that vision is part of art world momentum. It is because Lasansky stuck to his vision that so many of his works continue to enrich.
Reprinted from Expressions XIV (Des Moines, IA).
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