Mauricio Lasansky, one of the “Fathers of 20th Century American Printmaking” and the man Time Magazine referred to in the nineteen-sixties as “the nation’s most influential printmaker” was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1914. As an artist whose success has been widely recognized, his work can be found in private collections and over 140 museums nationwide, as well as in Europe and Latin America. He has had over 250 one man shows in 35 countries and received six honorary doctorates of arts degrees. Yet it would be difficult to understand the extent of his influence in the world of printmaking without giving full credit to his role as a teacher.
Mauricio Lasansky, Roy Seiber, and an unidentified man, Iowa City, 1955. Lasansky’s Fang Harp (lot 282) is visible in the background. The arrangement is possibly a reference to Pablo Picasso’s painting Three Musicians
Lasansky grew up and lived in Argentina until his late twenties. As a teenager he dedicated himself to music and studied at the National Conservatory. It was during this period of music studies that he discovered the plastic arts of painting, printmaking and sculpture. He abandoned music by his late teens and enrolled in the Superior School of Fine Arts. By the age of twenty he defined his vocation as printmaking. During these early years of training, Lasansky suffered from a lack of contact with older more developed visual artists and an insufficient amount of formal training. This forced him out of necessity, to discover and develop his own method for working with the copper plate. Within a matter of a few short years he began to teach. In 1942 while serving as the Director of the Taller de Manualidades in Cordoba, he met Francis H. Taylor, the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, while Taylor was in Argentina on a mission for the United States government. Taylor, impressed by Lasansky and his work encouraged him to come to New York to study the print collection at the Metropolitan and championed him with the Guggenheim Foundation for a grant. Lasansky received his first of five Guggenheim fellowships in 1943 and came to the United States. Taylor later stated that ‘It took an ‘Indian’ from South America to have the perseverance and guts to look at every print in the Museum.’ His second Guggenheim in 1944 provided him with the opportunity to have his wife and children follow him to the United States and, for him to work with Stanley William Hayter at the Atelier 17, which had become part of the New School for Social Research during World War Two. By the end of the war Lasansky with his family by his side, had to chose between returning to the Argentina of future Dictator Juan Domingo Perón or the universities of the United States, he chose the latter. In 1945 Lasansky was hired to organize a graphics arts/printmaking program at the University of Iowa, where he taught for the next forty years until his retirement in 1985. When hired the University’s goal was for him to commit to admit at least twelve to fifteen aspiring printmakers a year. By 1947 there were already 110 students in the program and by 1949 the university had to limit the number of selections a year in order for the programs not exceed a total of 120. Although the total number in the program varied over the years, the numbers were always at the maximum allowable. His ability to convey a message is clear from his art work yet his influence and staying power in the world of printmaking is certainly a testament to his sensitivity and depth as a teacher. This legacy is apparent from the hundreds of students he taught and the subsequent impact of their work as printmaking teachers in more than 500 schools of higher education in the United States and Canada.
Throughout his career Lasansky consistently pushed the boundaries of intaglio printmaking in order to meet the requirements of his image making. A master of his craft, he always maintained that technique, while necessary, served only to support the image. Art Digest in a 1944 review of one of his first one-man shows in the US stated that ”Lasansky treats this graphic medium with all the serious respect usually accorded to and reserved for oil painting.” Combining innovative technique and monumental scale Lasansky was one of the first to create prints from metal plates in a large format. Many as large as 4 by 8 foot in scale were comprised by more than 50 individual plates fit together almost as if they were jigsaw puzzles, within a matrix of complicated layering and the use of vibrant colors, each final impression requiring multiple runs through his press. Lasansky stated when asked why he created such large scale prints: “I have never liked to make the human small, the falseness it implies bothers me. To miniaturize borders on fantasy and art is reality. I am a muralist in printmaking through a profound desire to work on human scale.”
Mauricio Lasansky teaching, 1937-38, Cordoba, Argentina
One of Lasansky’s crowning achievements were his seminal works The Nazi Drawings completed between 1961 and 1966, a series of 33 pencil drawings using collage and ink washes. Always concerned about human dignity, these works were Lasansky’s reaction to what he saw as the “unleashing of bestiality” during the holocaust, mans own indignity to man, as he called it. These drawings were first exhibited in the spring of 1967 at the opening of the Whitney Museum of Art along with works by Andrew Wyeth and Louise Nevelson.
When asked for an artist statement for one of the last seminars he presented, Lasansky gave this quote from the Dogon people of West Africa, which he found in Le renard pâle, Paris 1965: “The sign is eternal, the thing is temporal.”