Leonard BaskinAmerican, 1922-2000
Leonard Baskin is widely considered one of the preeminent figures of 20th century American Art. Creatively active for over five decades as a sculptor, printmaker, painter, illustrator, critic, book publisher, and educator, Baskin represents a consistent, powerful, and important voice for humankind both visually and intellectually.
Very early in his career, Baskin came to the conclusion that sculpture was the medium best suited to expressing fundamental human states such as grief, love, hope, and dignity. Its very monumentality makes it an art of witness, not ideology. For expression of a more direct political nature, in the late 40’s Baskin turned to printmaking, the perfect medium for a young man with Communist sympathies. Prints were cheap, easily distributed, and their message could be plain. Text might even be cut directly into the block as was done with many of Baskin’s earliest works
Leonard Baskin spent the first half of his career famously exploring the technical and emotional possibilities of black and white, (as Jose Yglesias has written, “his blacks deeper than velvet, his whites—more gleaming than sunlight).
With its intricate network of sinewy anatomical lines, delicate and twisted, Baskin found in wood engraving a way to depict both the inner maelstrom and the outer physicality of the human form at once. As his command of the medium grew, Baskin allowed his line to speak for itself, but he has never abandoned his political commitment. “Art,” he has said, “is content, or it is nothing.” The artist must be committed to making a statement. “Photorealism is the same thing as minimal abstraction. Both are unwilling to say anything about the nature of reality, about their own involvement with reality...” Baskin is nothing if not willing to offer his own opinions.
Baskin almost single-handedly revived the Monumental sized woodcut as an art form, but he was also comfortable working on a miniature scale. He mastered the techniques of lithography, engraving, color block prints and monotypes. The range of his print work over a fifty-year career is truly astounding.
It was in mid-career that an unexpected explosion of color burst like fireworks over his previously black sky.
With his expressive immediacy, innovative palette and sense of design, Baskin has become recognized as one of the century's masters. Baskin received numerous honors, among them a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Gold Medal of the National Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Jewish Cultural Achievement Award. He had many retrospective exhibitions, including those at the Smithsonian, the Albertina, and the Library of Congress. His work is in major private and public institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the British Museum, and the Vatican Museums.