by William Friedman and Ann Wittchen
Published as an introduction to the catalogue for a US Information Agency-sponsored traveling exhibit of the work of Mauricio Lasansky and his students, coordinated by the Albright Art Gallery of Buffalo, New York. After a preliminary opening in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the exhibit was shown throughout Latin America for an extended period.
In 1958, Mauricio Lasansky's print España received the Posada Award in the first biennial Inter-American Exhibition of Painting and Prints in Mexico. The print serves well as the window through which we may view the larger body of his work. There is evoked here the sum of what he feels and believes, and . . . his way of working and his attitudes toward that work.
We think immediately of Goya, and Lasansky would not object. The plate for España was done after the return from his only stay in Spainmade possible by a Guggenheim Fellowship (his third) for the year of 1953. But there lay behind Lasansky also 13 years in North America, most of them spent not in the artistic melting-pot of New York City but in the heart of the Middle West. The orientation and subject matter of his art have remained what they were in the beginningthose of a Latin American, mature in the Spanish cultural traditions of Argentina. Yet his imagery, and mastery of the means of recording it, have come to fruition in Iowa.
Would the outcome have been the same in his native environment? Lasansky thinks not. He would be the first to acknowledge the depths of his roots in Latin culture. But he believes that it has been particularly possible, at the State University of Iowa, to achieve certain goals of which he dreamed in his early years. In that free air, his own art has flourished without denial of its origins, and he has been able to transmit his values and beliefs to his students with such effort that he has been a mjor influence upon the younger generation of printmakers throughout the entire continent.
The son of a printer who had come to Argentina from Lithuania, Mauricio Lasansky was born in Buenos Aires in 1914. His early interests were in drawing, engraving, and music. Then he worked in sculpture, earning First Mention in the Mutualidad Fine Arts Exhibit in Buenos Aires when he was 16, and a Third Prize in the same exhibition the following year. He began his formal art training at 19, studying simultaneously in three media: painting, sculpture, and engraving. His first professional work was done two years later in 1935, as a painter, with Luis Barragán, whose sister, Emilia, he later married. That same year he received his first award for engraving in the Mutualidad exhibitionfor the best work in that medium. From then on, Lasansky's interest focused on printmaking, and mainly on the methods of intaglio.
Regardless of the medium, Lasansky's main preoccupation has always been the human figure, which, through significant gesture, carries and communicates the artist's emotional responses to what are for Lasansky some of the important events of life: conception, birth, love, play, death.
Within this broad range he makes excursions into varying degrees of abstraction, and one cannot dismiss such pieces as El Cid, Sol y Luna, and Time In Space as mere side-trips. These compositions remain a sort of figure art though they are not strictly portrayals of the human body. The abstract images are never rigid nor geometric, nor is there lost the emotionally provacative linefluid, calligraphica record, if not a description, of a human gesture.
Variety of expression has been typical of Lasansky's work from the beginning. He believes that inspiration may be derived from any source whatsoever. He has no frozen "style"; each subject has its own characteristic mode of expression. This is evident in the early works. Changos, with its direct, primitive mood and comic overtones, is expressed in two-dimensional terms with almost unrelieved use of short strokes of the burin. More complex states of mind, and with them the sophistication and refinement of dry-point techniques, are explored in the romantic Autoretrato of 1942 and again in the Baroque image of La Rosa y el Espejo.
Thought he ventured freely into the various human situations of the culture in which he grew upboth that of the country people and the complex Latin-Romantic culture of the Argentine citiesit is, fundamentally, with Garcia Lorca and Goya that Lasansky makes common cause. This is not in the spirit of imitation, but rather because he finds in their works corroboration of his own strong reactions to the basic experiences of human life. Theirs is an art of humanity and one of strong social conscience. But always the human event is shown in terms of the inner, personal reactions of the individual. This does not imply a withdrawal from contemporary external events. The print Dachau is Lasansky's statement of the horror of man's inhumanity to man, as is the Guernica that of Picasso. But as with Picasso, the image itself, though provoked by a specific event, refers far beyond day by day politics to a more universal truth about relations among men.
Such statements often (in Bodas de Sangre, Firebird, and Sagitarrius) take a form like those of Goya's, of composite dream imagery. Elsewhere they assume the shapes of certain figure studies of Picasso; these served Lasansky as a vehicle for his own personal statement in the monumental series, For An Eye An Eye, he was not quite finished with it; there remained in him the further statement of El Pájaro.
Dealing as they do with the values of the spirit, such pieces as Pieta and Near East have been called religious works. Certainly they arein their evocation of feelings apart from the immediate, materialistic pursuits of living. But it is a religiosity free from the restrictions of any specific ritual or dogma.
The intensity of feeling arises out of human relationships. In Nacimiento en Cardiel, birth in a family links man to an experience higher than that of himself, and the event partakes of the qualities of a nativity. If reference to religious subjects conveys these states of emotion, Lasansky uses it. But it is the spirit of man in his humanness that evokes reverence, and this has its origins with the individual.
The great number of portraits in Lasansky's work reflects this feeling. Believing in the individual, he depicts those he understands best his children, his wife, himself. In the latest works, the life-size portraits of his daughter, Jimena, and himself (where we are reminded of the great isolated figures painted by Velasquez), it is not the mere size of the figure which becomes monumental; it is the spirit of the person portrayed. Even so, these works are statements about humanity rather than personal anecdotes. Lasansky says, "The portrait holds for me as significant a place in the scheme of things as do my major social themes. I regard them as a source from which evolve the social themes . . . they are images which reflect my thoughts about the particular person and my thoughts about life in a larger scope."
It is to the larger scope that the print España relates. While a personal vision, its concern is with the higher aspirations of men as social beings and their destiny as a group.
Lasansky's work is plainly in the tradition of Latin America and those aspects of its culture which have their roots in Spain. We see this in the imagery which combines the intense, personal, inner dream with the great themes of man's struggles in his relations to other men; in the Romantic and Baroque complexities of the Italo-Spanish personality; in the concern with the deep, close life of the family; and in the values, above all else, of the spirit. Thus Lasansky's art, though transplanted, has fulfilled the implications present in its beginnings.
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