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 Mauricio Leib Lasansky  (1914 - 2012)

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Lived/Active: Iowa/New York / Argentina      Known for: portrait printmaking and Nazi-themed drawing

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Ad Code: 3
Mauricio L Lasansky
from Auction House Records.
Self Portrait
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Printmaker Mauricio Lasansky was born October 12, 1914 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the son of an engraver of bank notes who taught him to make his first zincographs, linocuts, and dry points. At the age of 19, he began to study painting, sculpture and printmaking at the Escuela Superior de Bellas Artes there. Lasansky is one of the few modern artists to have worked almost exclusively in the graphic media. He is considered one of the "Fathers of 20th Century American Printmaking." He was also adept at drawing, primarily ink.

His earliest influences were mostly literary, including such writers as Dostoyevsky, Lorca and Cervantes. He saw paintings by Goya, El Greco, Modigliani, and Picasso at the local museum, but since Argentina had no graphic tradition, his knowledge of prints was limited to the 16th and 17th century biblical woodcuts brought to his country by Catholic priests.

Working at first within the Latin romantic tradition, Lasansky produced prints which portrayed people caught up in the tragic-comic events of real life, including the Spanish Civil War. His style varied among expressionism, surrealism, pastoralism, and poetic romanticism. Notable among his earliest prints are his portraits of his wife, Emilia, who is rendered in a surreal romantic style.

In 1936, at the age of 22, Lasansky was already the director of the Free Fine Arts School in Villa Maria, Cordoba, Argentina. In 1943, he received a Guggenheim Fellowship to study the print collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, where he looked at all 150,000 of the museum's prints. He met and worked with a number of European artists who had fled to the United States from their war-ravaged countries.

Renewal of the grant in 1944 allowed Lasansky to work at Stanley William Hayter's Atelier 17 (Hayter was himself well known as a printmaker) where he focused on intaglio printing. In 1945, Lasansky was appointed lecturer in printmaking at the University of Iowa, where he established the first MFA printmaking program in the country. To this day, it serves as a model for many university departments led by former students, including UCLA, Tulane, Michigan State, Texas, Minnesota, Kansas, Illinois and the Cleveland Institute of Art.

Many of Lasansky's prints are quite large and in color, the imagery ranging from figurative to semi-abstract, family members posing as models for a number of works. While Lasansky can be playful, he is best known for his social commentary, including his "Nazi Drawings" and "Kaddish" prints. Lasansky employs an essentially terse artistic style of relatively flat, somewhat simplified shapes that he works extensively during the actual process of developing the substance of the image on the copper plate.

The intaglio printmaking process, for which Lasansky is so well known and innovative, involves the incising or cutting into a metal plate by means of engraving (direct cutting) or the biting of acid into the plate through a protective layer of asphaltum that has been drawn upon where the effect of the acid is desired. In either case, when ink applied to the plate is wiped off, it remains in the incised lines and areas, resulting in the printed image. The term "intaglio" is derived from the Italian "intagliare": to engrave, and "tagliare": to cut.

In 1959 Lasansky created the first ever oversize metal plate print, a Self-Portrait, 66 7/8" x 20 9/16". Life-size figures on canvas were common, but life-size figures etched and printed from a metal plate had never been attempted. This major printmaking innovation was the result of Lasansky's concern that his figures be as close to life as possible. Because he used printer's inks as a painter used paints, the larger format seemed logical. Self-Portrait was immediately followed by several life-size portraits: My Daughter Maria Jimena, La Jimena, and My Wife and Thomas.

Lasansky has also made portraits of many of the world's famous people, featuring, among others, Goya, Einstein, Verdi, da Vinci, Curie, Tolstoy, Darwin, Michelangelo, Freud, Pasteur and Lincoln.

Lasansky received five Guggenheim Fellowships, six honorary Doctorate of Arts degrees and numerous prizes and special honors. His work is represented in more than one-hundred public collections and virtually every major museum in the United States including the Chicago Art Institute, Museum of Modern Art, Library of Congress, as well as the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy and Museum of Contemporary Art in Madrid, Spain. There are major holdings at the University of Iowa Museum of Art and the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art.

Internationally recognized, he has exhibited throughout North and South America, Europe and Russia, with over 200 shows in 35 countries, including many retrospectives.

While he retired from the University of Iowa in 1986, Mauricio Lasansky still lives (2003) and works in a large space in Iowa City that includes a ground-floor gallery, second-floor art studio and third-floor apartment. Lasansky has an extensive collection of African and post-Colombian art just off his studio. The stairs from the third-floor apartment connect with this room, and the artist spends about an hour each morning looking at the pieces before moving into the studio to work.

Matthew Baigell, Dictionary of American Art
Peter Hastings Falk, Editor, Who Was Who in American Art

Time Magazine, December 1, 1961
Dictionary of Contemporary American Artists, Paul Cummings

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Following is The New York Times obituary of the artist:

Mauricio Lasansky, Master Printmaker, Dies at 97
Published: April 7, 2012

Mauricio Lasansky, an Argentine-born master printmaker, who was equally well known for a series of drawings depicting the horrors of Nazism, died on Monday at his home in Iowa City. He was 97.

The death was confirmed by his son Phillip. At his death, Mr. Lasansky was Emeritus Professor of Art and Art History at the University of Iowa, where he established its program in printmaking, long regarded as one of the country's finest, after joining the faculty in 1945.

Although Mr. Lasansky was considered a wizard of printmaking technology, "The Nazi Drawings," as his series is known, used plain paper and ordinary pencil ? the most humble, universal materials possible, he explained. Made over a six-year period and completed in the mid-1960s, it spans 33 images, tinted with washes of brown and rust.

The images depict a spate of depredations: in one, a Nazi officer wears a helmet that appears fringed with teeth, as if the skull of one of his victims were superimposed upon it; in another, an infant with stick-like legs emits an open-mouthed howl.

"The Nazi Drawings," now on long-term loan to the University of Iowa Museum of Art, has been exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and elsewhere.

As a printmaker, Mr. Lasansky was known for the grand scale of his images (some approach 4 feet by 8 feet), his vivid color and the complex layering of multiple techniques ? including engraving, etching, drypoint, electric stippling and aquatint ? in a single work.

His largest prints comprised as many as 60 discrete plates, each contributing a section of the image, and required many trips through the press. He used specially milled paper, made in France from a recipe he devised, that could withstand the repeated stress his methods entailed.

His prints are in the permanent collections of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Brooklyn Museum and elsewhere.

Mauricio Leib Lasansky was born in Buenos Aires on Oct. 12, 1914. His parents were Eastern European Jews; his father, who had made his way to Argentina via North America, had worked as a printer and engraver at the United States Mint in Philadelphia. He later gave young Mauricio his first instruction in those arts.

The younger Mr. Lasansky studied at the Superior School of Fine Arts in Buenos Aires. In 1936, at 22, he was named the director of the Free Fine Arts School in Villa María, in Argentina's Córdoba Province.

In 1943, Mr. Lasansky traveled to the United States on a Guggenheim fellowship. Settling in New York, he made a deep study of the prints ? more than 100,000 ? in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

He also became involved in Atelier 17, the printmaking workshop founded by the eminent English artist Stanley William Hayter, begun in Paris and moved to New York during the war. (Other artists associated with the workshop in New York included Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock.)

With the rise of the dictator Juan Perón in the mid-1940s, Mr. Lasansky chose not to return to Argentina. He sent for his family and soon afterward accepted the post at Iowa; he later became a United States citizen.

Mr. Lasansky's wife, the former Emilia Barragan, whom he married in 1937, died in 2009. He is survived by four sons, William, Leonardo, Phillip and Tomás; two daughters, Rocio Weinstein, known as Nina, and Jimena Lasansky; 10 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

In 1967, when "The Nazi Drawings" was exhibited at the Whitney, Mr. Lasansky spoke with The New York Times about the work's long, difficult gestation: "The Hitler years were in my belly, and I tried many times to do the drawings," he said. "But I was too worldly about them, too aesthetic. The trouble was, I thought of them as art. But then I decided, the hell with it. Why don't I just put down what I feel? The fact is that people were killed ? how cool can you play that?"

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Mauricio Lasansky was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina on October 12, 1914. He studied at the Superior School of Fine Arts in Buenos Aires. He was in charge of two provincial art schools there when Francis Taylor, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art found him. Taylor was so impressed with his work that he arranged for Lasansky to come to the United States on a Guggenheim fellowship in 1943. Once in New York City Lasansky sent for his wife and children, and in 1952 he became a United States citizen.

He took a job teaching at the University of Iowa in 1954, one of three offers he received on the same day. As a teacher, he made the graphic arts department one of the best. In his own work, he has always been an experimenter. In some of his early prints, there is the same emotional quality found in the German expressionists. He flirted with Cubism, fell briefly under the Surrealists' spell, was for awhile strongly influenced by the shredded image of Picasso. In his work, there is always an air of mourning. The world that Lasansky pictures is one that is perpetually dying and people there must watch and grieve.

Written and submitted by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California.

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