Leonard Baskin

Leonard Baskin

Leonard Baskin

Leonard Baskin

Excerpt

SCULPTURE. At forty, Leonard Baskin can look back on a career that began slowly and with many a strange detour, only to take wings suddenly and to soar to international prominence. In a letter which I received from him in 1953, the year that was most clearly marked by signs of widespread recognition, he said: 'Although it has been my prints which have won for me all this praise, my [real] and profound concern is for sculpture.' He was then working on the large Man with Dead Bird (Museum of Modern Art) which he began in 1951 in Babylon, Long Island, and finished in 1954 in his studio on Titan's Pier, South Hadley, Massachusetts. Despite some unresolved passages, especially in the movement of arms and hands, this piece marks Baskin's entrance into the ranks of major modern sculptors. He had done a good deal of sculpture before, ever since his early studies with Maurice Glickman at the Educational Alliance. Yet he had run into difficulties of various kinds. Attracted by wood from the beginning, he occasionally found his efforts thwarted by faulty conditions of his raw material. More important was that his early admiration for Rodin and Epstein caused him to think in terms of complex formal relationships and subtle surface effects which were unsuited for the projection of strong, simple messages. With the Man with Dead Bird , Baskin had found the laconic language of forms that he needed to convey his thoughts. It does not diminish the merits of this style if we recognize that it, too, is indebted to earlier artistic trends. While many of Baskin's contemporaries were frantically busy demonstrating their artistic independence, Baskin studied diligently, and indeed collected, the artistic records of the past. Like the great masters of the Renaissance and Baroque, he absorbed a variety of impressions and today commands a knowledge of the art of the past rarely matched even by art historians. There are some favorites, beginning with the Egyptians whom he first encountered as a boy in the Brooklyn Museum; he saw them again, as well as the Sumerians, in Paris and London during his year abroad in 1950-51. A visit to Pisa during that year was made memorable by the discovery of Giovanni Pisano and Tino da Camaino. Besides the study of originals, he derived enduring stimuli from books. His admiration for Barlach stems from a first encounter with the German sculptor in books seen at the New York Public Library. The unquiet tranquillity of death-masks was first experienced by Baskin in the pages ofBenkard Das Ewige Antlitz --and has haunted his art ever since. All these encounters served to release in him the demonic forces of his own creative energy. Sustained and enriched by a vast historical awareness and erudition, Baskin's art is thoroughly contemporary and entirely his own. It is an art committed to the propagation of a few basic themes, for which he has fought with words as well as works. These 'themes' are comprehensible only in terms of twentieth-century situations, political and social as much as artistic. Baskin's imme-

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