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[ Image:  Self-Portrait (1945) ]
Self-Portrait (1945)
[ Image:  Estudio para un Retrato (Lady with Flower) (1940) ]
Estudio para un Retrato (Lady with Flower) (1940)
[ Image:  La Rosa y el Espejo (1941) ]
La Rosa y el Espejo (1941)

Mauricio Lasansky:  The Artist in Print

A New Direction in Intaglio

THE KEY TO LASANSKY'S IMPACT on the contemporary prinitmaking scene is his dual strength as an artist-innovator and as a teacher.

I saw Mauricio Lasansky's work for the first time in the late summer of 1946 when, acting as the juror at the Art Salon of the Iowa State Fair, I awarded his engraving, Self Portrait, first prize. Soon afterwards, I approached him with a proposal for an exhibition of his work; he said: yes—but only if it were to be a joint show of his students' work together with his own. This exhibition, A NEW DIRECTION IN INTAGLIO, characteristically, has been developed as a group show: of the 166 pieces in the exhibition, only 42 are by Lasansky and 120 are by his present or former students.

Lasansky, from the start, treats the student as a mature artist. Has this attitude yielded results? After only three years of teaching in the United States at the State University of Iowa, over a dozen former students are now working independently and are teaching printmaking in various colleges and universities throughout the United States. Consistently for the past several years, we are told, well over fifty percent of all prizes in important juried print exhibitions in the country have been awarded to Lasansky and his former or present students.

Lasansky believes that the artist should derive inspiration freely from all sources—past and present. Does such an approach—if it is accompanied by disciplined hard work and imagination—result in eclecticism? I think not. Certainly, in this instance the production is fresh and unacademic. Lasansky himself spent over a year as a Guggenheim Fellow at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York studying the prints of old as well as modern masters. Then, for eight months, working at Hayter's Atelier 17 workshop, Lasansky (an accomplished virtuoso of the dry point) was introduced to the burin. The combined inspiration in New York—from the study of Finiguerra, Mantegna, Goya, Picasso and from the direct contact (through Hayter) with Chagall, Lipchitz, Rattner, Matta, provided the necessary intellectual stimulation and conceptual crystallization that Lasansky needed.

One important element that characterizes the work of Lasansky and his students is diversity: variety of expression. Lasansky's own work has no frozen "style". He accounts for this, in part, by his further artistic derivation, freely and consciously, from Miro, Modigliani, Rouault, and also (he is perfectly honest about this!) from his students and his own children. "Each subject must have its own characteristic mode of expression," he says.

Even in his early beginnings, at the age of 20 years, Lasansky's work possessed a wide range of themes and expressive qualities—although similar in technique. While he did some intaglios in metal, for the most part these first mature works were relief wood-cuts—thematically inspired by the Spanish Civil War and by his emotional response to the comic and tragic events of everyday life: conception, birth, play, love, death, and he was stimulated by the writings of Dostoyevsky, Garcia Lorca, Cervantes and the paintings of El Greco, Goya, Modigliani, Picasso. Changos done in 1936, has a two-dimensional, primitive, decorative quality. The Latin romantic tradition of his native country reveals itself in his early dry-points: Auto Retrato, 1939, anticipates the tremendous baroque plates like La Rosa y el Espejo on which he worked for two years—shortly before he decided to come to the United States.

Lasansky's first plate done in the United States, Doma, 1944, is "abstract" in quality—revealing some of the technical innovations acquired in Hayter's workshop. El Cid is the product of numerous experiments in lithography. But his social consciousness—further inspired by Picasso's Guernica—finds complete expression in his Dachau (1946) which Lasansky considers a key plate in his present development, and in the monumental For An Eye An Eye series of four plates produced over a period of two years.

It is through Lasansky's portraits—of himself, his wife, his son, and his daughter—that it is easiest to grasp his creative and technical genius. As Lasansky says, "The portrait holds for me a significant place in the scheme of things as do my major social themes, I regard them as a source from which evolve the social themes. The portraits are a real experience . . . they are images which reflect my thoughts about the particular person and my thoughts about life in a larger scope." It is for this reason that the exhibition contains so many portraits done by the students; at some time during his studies, almost every, student does a portrait of himself or of a close friend.

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