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Leonard Baskin

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Leonard Baskin
Contemporary (post 1945) Sculpture
(New Brunswick, NJ, August 15, 1922 - June 3, 2000, Northampton, MA)

Leonard Baskin was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey on August 15, 1922, to Rabbi Samuel Baskin and May Guss Baskin. Religious themes as well as mythological symbolism and images of human nature have been entwined throughout his career, serving as the subjects of many of his works. Baskin became intrigued by Greek history, philosophy and mythology at an early age and now the central object of many of his sculptures and paintings is the sibyl, the prophetic female from Greek mythology. Baskin studied sculpture with Maurice Glickman at the Educational Alliance, New York City, from 1937 to 1943. He had many influences at that time including Ossip Zadkine, Henri Laurens, and Alexander Archipenko. He studied at New York University's School of Architecture and Fine Arts from 1939-41 and the School of Fine Art from 1941-3. He received his M.A. from the New School for Social Research in 1949. Baskin studied in Paris at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in 1950, then in Florence at the Accademia delle Belle Arti in 1951. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1953 and a medal from the American Institute of Graphic Artists in 1965. In 1949, he began to make wood engravings, and his attitude toward the nature of man grew more generalized, but no less moralistic or didactic. In style these works are closest to German Die Brucke prints. At this time he studied abroad at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere, Paris, and the Accademia di Belle Arti, Florence. During this period, he got extensive familiarization with the Great European Collections, many which helped release in him the sculptural images he has since used. Baskin began teaching at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts as professor of sculpture in the early 1950s, and worked as a publisher after founding the Gehenna Press. Baskin is an Expressionist and believes art must convey some moral insight about the human condition to the viewer. His friend Rico Lebrun, the muralist, challenged him to address one of the most significant subjects of this century: the Holocaust. The result is an ongoing series of drawings that attempts to capture the horror of that black period of human history. In this series and in his other works, Baskin's often-flawed human bodies reflect his own pessimistic view of the state of humanity. Perhaps Baskin's best known image is the bird, either as subject matter in itself, or as a form of life emanating from humanity, as a caricature of perceived human ills. The human form also figures prominently in Baskin's work. "The link between Baskin's images is his humanism. His sculpture of the human figure depict the grace and mystery of woman, pay homage to man the individual. Other works, in sculpture and on paper, portray the evil side of humankind. Although Baskin treats the frailties and injustice of humankind in all media, his caring for human beings and the human condition is ever present." His depiction of Jewish and Greek heroes conveys his interest in Ancient Greek literature and the Bible, while the monumentality of his works reflects the influence of Ancient Egyptian and Sumerian art. He prefers to sculpt with wood, because it adds to this monumentality by forcing a sculptor to craft larger and more powerful forms. Baskin's sculpture, watercolors, and prints are in the permanent collections of most of the world's major art galleries and museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, the Vatican Museum, and the Smithsonian. Leonard Baskin's main focus throughout his life was sculpture: "My sculptures are memorials to ordinary human beings, gigantic monuments to the unnoticed dead: the exhausted factory worker, the forgotten tailor, the unsung poet... Sculpture at its greatest and most monumental is about simple, abstract, emotional states, like fear, pride, love and envy... Over the years I have developed a series of images of predatory birds and vicious human beings as well as producing a bizarre motley of iconic devices that say...BASKIN!"


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