Leonard Baskin


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Graphic artist and sculptor. Committed to the expression of moral and tragic themes through figurative imagery, he is remembered especially for expressionistic woodcuts. Although his art reverberates with major themes of twentieth-century art and thought, Baskin maintained a personal course independent of stylistic trends. Male figures and birds provided the major vehicles of his vision of life as a tragic but heroic journey. Although his work is not issue-oriented, he remained motivated by a social mission: sympathetic representation of the human condition. Born in New Brunswick, New Jersey, Baskin moved to New York with his family when he was seven. He spent two years at New York University before transferring to Yale University, where he studied from 1941 to 1943. He then served in the U.S. Navy before continuing his studies in New York at the New School for Social Research (now New School), where he earned a BA in 1949. In 1950 he went to Paris and in the following year to Florence for further study. From 1953 until 1974 he taught at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. After a ten-year interim in England, he returned to teach in nearby Amherst at Hampshire College, remaining on the faculty until 1994. He died in Northampton, where he made his home. Early in his career, he was known primarily as a sculptor, mainly of figures that symbolized man's existential anxiety, poignant suffering, and inevitable demise. Later his prints and drawings extended these themes with even greater psychological subtlety, as in the 1958 woodcut Tormented Man, which juxtaposes a man's head with a bird in an image of ambiguous tension. Strong contrasts of light and dark provide drama, while linear elegance suggests ephemeral beauty. Baskin's interests extended not only to the illustration of books but also their total design and fabrication. To serve these ends, in 1942 he founded Gehenna Press, which at the time of his death had published more than a hundred limited edition books of great sumptuousness and sophistication.

Subjects: Art — Literature.

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