Lasansky's Printmaking Virtuosity on Display in Purchase
FOR a printmaker of Mauricio Lasansky's stature and age, 15 images make a niggardly retrospective. But the show, which remains at the State University's Neuberger Museum in Purchase for the winter season, is a kind of trial run not for the 74-year-old artist but for its curator, Roxanne Sexauer, who is an master's degree candidate in the university's department of visual arts. It comes with the written blessing of another prominent printmaker, Antonio Frasconi, who is a distinguished professor in the department and who, like Mr. Lasansky, was born in Buenos Aires.
It is a lucky student who gets this museum in which to practice and Ms. Sexauer makes the most of her opportunity. She chooses prints that clearly demonstrate Mr. Lasansky's virtuosity in all the intaglio processes, includes an intelligible display of tools and plates and provides an introductory essay that is for the work of a fledgling curator uncommonly lucid.
With a father who was an engraver and printer of banknotes, Mr. Lasansky got a flying start, technically speaking, yet his success did not really begin until after 1943. This was when he obtained a Guggenheim grant, on the recommendation of Francis Taylor, the director of the Metropolitan Museum and left Argentina for New York.
Upon his arrival, the artist signed on at Stanley William Hayter's Atelier 17 in Manhattan, where he met the Abstract Expressionists-to-be Jackson Pollock and Adolph Gottlieb, as well as immigrants from Paris, such as Matta and Jacques Lipchitz.
At the same time, the artist began working his way through the Metropolitan's print collection, where he saw, among other things, original prints by Picasso. The Spanish master was probably never more influential than during the 1940's and if the fractured forms of his "Guernica" period now seem theatrical and mannered, they were evidently the answer to artists groping for a means of expressing the inexpressible.
Picasso's effect on Mr. Lasansky is obvious in the black and white intaglios, such as "Sol y Luna" (1945), with its writhing Surrealist female beset by open-mouthed horses, and the more or less abstract "Dachau," which is one of the large prints produced at the University of Iowa. It was here that the artist founded a graphic-arts program and taught for about 25 years.
"Dachau" and the "For an Eye an Eye" prints are tools de force of etching, engraving, aquatint, burnishing and scraping of this there is no doubt. But as statements about carnage they, like "Guernica," are less than shocking. It's the same with "Espana" (1956), where shadows part to reveal a monk-like figure suspended over a horse and an infant lying on the ground.
Nevertheless, this work, which owes something to Goya and Velázquez and was the result of a visit to Spain, is said to have acted as a catharsis for the artist's feelings about the Spanish Civil War.
A major influence on Jos Luis Cuevas, Leonard Baskin and other romantic realists of the time, Goya is a presence in all of Mr. Lasansky's later art, notably the "Nazi Drawings" of 1966. None of these pencil and watercolor works is in the show, but some idea of their style can be gained from the color intaglios, "Portrait of a Young Artist" (1965), "Old Lady with Hands on Her Face" (1969) and even the recent "Madame Curie."
Glazed on by means of separate plates, color appears as early as 1947, the year of "My Boy," a portrait that recalls both Modigliani and Picasso. But not until the 1970's does it become integral to the design. This was the decade in which, Ms. Sexauer says, the artist took a more reconciliatory attitude toward the theme of war: "His palette brightened and his prints became larger and lighter in tone and message."
Put another way, the designs are full of symbols alluding to concentration camps-Nazi helmets, stigmata on a man's upraised hands, numbers stenciled Jasper Johns-style and so forth, but again there is little evidence of passion or conviction. It seems that, since Goya, the only artists to freeze the blood with war images have been those behind cameras.
Although reproductions indicate that Mr. Lasansky began his career under the influence of the Mexican Social Realists, the earliest print in the show, a scene of lovers lying dead on an island, is couched in a gentler, more attenuated style of Expressionism. The distance between this modest picture and the large intaglios is immense and must have grown larger still since 1982, when the artist started a series of drawings about the victims of the so-called Argentine death squads.
No examples are in the show, but Ms. Sexauer reports that the largest of them measures 6 by 9 feet. It would appear that with these works, Mr. Lasansky is staging at least a spiritual return to his homeland. Otherwise, and despite his presence in the Bronx Museum's "Latin American Spirit" show, he has been more European than either South or North American.
Reprinted from The New York Times (December 18, 1988).
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