Printmaker Offers 'Strong Direction'
Rarely does a local gallery offer museum-quality work by an artist who has established a place in art history, but such an exhibition is on view through Dec. 22 at the Eyesound Gallery, 105 N. 50th St.
The newly opened art space is presenting 23 prints by Mauricio Lasansky, who taught printmaking at the University of Iowa from 1945 until retirement in 1984.
This show begins with two portraits from 1948 and 1950 and continues to the present with "Maria J.," a full-length portrait of his ballet-dancer daughter.
Mention's of Lasansky's contributions to 20th century printmaking can be found in nearly every book on the subject. He was one of several major printmakers to emerge in the 1940's from Stanley William Hayter's influential Atelier 17 in New York.
"Their recognition and understanding of the rich history and development of great prints since the 15th century and the force of their own creative vision have given a strong and lucid direction to modern prints in the United States," Una E. Johnson writes in American Prints and Printmakers.
Lasansky reached the peak of his influence in the 1950s, although he continues to to create new prints at age 76.
"This little place in Iowa City was quite a catalyst for the evolution of printmaking in this country," Lasansky said in a phone interview from his home there. "As the word was passed around, we got very good students from all over the country."
In the 1960s, Lasansky and his peers who were predominantly printmakers, were by better-known artists in other fields who began doing prints as well.
Lasansky remains convinced that 1945 to 1960 was the "great period" for printmaking in this country. What has happened since, he said, represents only a "fragment" of the explorations happening during those years.
"People are now preoccupied with selling and making a name," he said.
Ms. Johnson notes in her book that works of Lasansky and his peers "maintain stability and quality in a time when startling change, new symbols and artificially established prices are fashionable. Often a 'famous' signature on a large print brings status rather than aesthetic enjoyment to the owner or collector."
Besides his extensive body of work, Lasansky has made his presence felt through the hundreds of students who carry on his tradition in universities and studios across the country. These include Tom Majeski at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and John Thein at Creighton University.
Besides studying under Lasansky at the University of Iowa, Thein also served as his printer in 1973 and 1974. Thein is involved with the Eyesound Gallery.
Like Hayter, who placed great emphasis on the process of preparing the metal printing plate, Lasansky has stressed experimentation, pushing back the technical boundaries of printmaking.
Thein said that Lasansky helped enlarge the scale of prints, which for centuries were intimate in size. This scale can be seen here in an elegant print such as "My Daughter Maria Jimena," 1959, a full-length, 7-foot portrait.
Lasansky has also achieved nuances and luminosity in his colors by layering them through the use of multiple plates, Thein said. Prime examples of this sense of color can be seen in "Amana Girl in Red," 1967, or "Louis Pasteur, " from the early 1980s.
In many of his works, Thein said, Lasansky employed a system of interlocking plates and an array of printmaking techniques that would come together in complex compositions. Lasansky reached his zenith in this area with his "Quetzalcoatl," which used 54 plates and required four printers working six days a week for a month to complete an edition.
This show includes two similar works in a semi-abstract style from the 1970s "Kaddish No. 4" and "Kaddish No. 5" that employ a still-impressive 22 different plates.
During his first years in the United States, Lasansky was markedly influenced by Pablo Picasso in works, for example, from his "Eye for an Eye" series of 1946 to 1948. But the prints here show little of Picasso's impact.
Throughout his career and in this exhibition, Lasansky has concentrated on traditional figurative imagery, often depciting himself or members of his family. Although his works show an awareness of the many artisitic movements of the 20th century, his work was never swayed by them.
Lasansky said he always has been interested in what he called the "untouchable aspect of the human behavior." Lasansky titled a current show of his works at the Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Museum of Art, "A Vision of the Human Labyrinth."
"I'm always very curious anout the labyrinth that each individual lives regardless of his economic or intellectual level. As you know, a labyrinth means that there is always a way out," he said.
Lasansky was born in Buenos Aires in 1914 and was an established printmaker in Argentina by the time he received his first of five Guggenheim Fellowships to study in the United States in 1943. Two years later, he was asked to form a print department at the University of Iowa.
"I could not go back for political reasons," he said, "I needed a job."
He was offered positions in Chicago; Santa Fe, N.M.; and in Iowa City. To decide which one to accept, Lasansky consulted the president of the Guggenheim Foundation.
"He said, you know Chicago. You saw the movies of Al Capone. In Santa Fe, they talk in Spanish almost as a first language. But Iowa, wow, that's America. So I said OK, that's where I'm going."
He said he only planned to stay a year, but he found himself spending his entire career there.
Over the years, he has received more than 160 honors and awards. His works have been seen in more than 180 solo exhibitions in 35 countries and are housed in 140 museums and public collections worldwide.
Since he retired in 1984, Lasansky said he is working twice as hard as before.
"There is always a mountain behind the last one to climb," he said.
Unlike a scientific advancement which is soon surpassed by another more recent discovery, he said, an object that is truly a work of art is timeless no matter when it was created.
"A work of art is completely present and active, regardless of when it was done, regardless of the style, regardless of anything. That is the big mystery of art, at least to me anyway."
Reprinted from The Omaha World-Herald,
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