Mauricio Lasansky, an Argentine-born master printmaker who was equally well known for a series of drawings depicting the horrors of Nazism, died on Monday at his home in Iowa City. He was 97.
The death was confirmed by his son Phillip. At his death, Mr. Lasansky was emeritus professor of art and art history at the University of Iowa, where he established its program in printmaking, long regarded as one of the country's finest, after joining the faculty in 1945.
Although Mr. Lasansky was considered a wizard of printmaking technology, "The Nazi Drawings," as his series is known, used plain paper and ordinary pencil - the most humble, universal materials possible, he explained. Made over a six-year period and completed in the mid-1960s, it spans 33 images, tinted with washes of brown and rust.
The images depict a spate of depredations: in one, a Nazi officer wears a helmet that appears fringed with teeth, as if the skull of one of his victims were superimposed upon it; in another, an infant with sticklike legs emits an open-mouthed howl.
"The Nazi Drawings," now on long-term loan to the University of Iowa Museum of Art, has been exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and elsewhere.
As a printmaker, Mr. Lasansky was known for the grand scale of his images (some approach 4 feet by 8 feet), his vivid color and the complex layering of multiple techniques - including engraving, etching, drypoint, electric stippling and aquatint - in a single work.
His largest prints comprised as many as 60 discrete plates, each contributing a section of the image, and required many trips through the press. He used specially milled paper, made in France from a recipe he devised, that could withstand the repeated stress his methods entailed.
His prints are in the permanent collections of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Brooklyn Museum and elsewhere.
Mauricio Leib Lasansky was born in Buenos Aires on Oct. 12, 1914. His parents were Eastern European Jews; his father, who had made his way to Argentina via North America, had worked as a printer and engraver at the United States Mint in Philadelphia. He later gave young Mauricio his first instruction in those arts.
The younger Mr. Lasansky studied at the Superior School of Fine Arts in Buenos Aires. In 1936, at 22, he was named the director of the Free Fine Arts School in Villa María, in Argentina's Córdoba Province.
In 1943, Mr. Lasansky traveled to the United States on a Guggenheim fellowship. Settling in New York, he made a deep study of the prints - more than 100,000 - in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
He also became involved in Atelier 17, the printmaking workshop founded by the eminent English artist Stanley William Hayter, begun in Paris and moved to New York during the war. (Other artists associated with the workshop in New York included Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock.)
With the rise of the dictator Juan Perón in the mid-1940s, Mr. Lasansky chose not to return to Argentina. He sent for his family and soon afterward accepted the post at Iowa; he later became a United States citizen.
Mr. Lasansky's wife, the former Emilia Barragan, whom he married in 1937, died in 2009. He is survived by four sons, William, Leonardo, Phillip and Tomás; two daughters, Rocio Weinstein, known as Nina, and Jimena Lasansky; 10 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.
In 1967, when "The Nazi Drawings" was exhibited at the Whitney, Mr. Lasansky spoke with The New York Times about the work's long, difficult gestation.
"The Hitler years were in my belly, and I tried many times to do the drawings," he said. "But I was too worldly about them, too aesthetic. The trouble was, I thought of them as art. But then I decided, the hell with it. Why don't I just put down what I feel? The fact is that people were killed - how cool can you play that?"
by Mark Jenkins
A master printmaker who expanded the craft's range and stature, Mauricio Leib Lasansky was known for using diverse techniques and multiple plates -- sometimes as many as 60 -- to make a single finished piece. But among his best-known projects is "The Nazi Drawings," a series of stark pencil drawings.
Born in Argentina in 1914, Lasansky spent much of his life in Iowa City, where he established the University of Iowa's printmaking program. His father (a banknote engraver) and mother were Eastern European Jews, and that heritage inspired Lasansky's deliberately artless Nazi renderings. "The Hitler years were in my belly," he told the New York Times in 1967, when those drawings were exhibited at the Whitney Museum.
After pursuing both music and sculpture, Lasansky turned to printmaking at the Superior School of Fine Arts in Buenos Aires. At just 22, he became director of the Free Fine Arts School in Villa Maria in Cordoba, a city he found provincial. His early prints were near-monochromatic and starkly representational, although produced with a variety of formats, including etching, drypoint, zincography and linoleum cuts.
Lasansky's 1930s and early-'40s work has often been linked to European Surrealism, but he has said he was unfamiliar with the style in those days. Instead, he took inspiration from Latin American literary verse. "Poetry, metaphor -- it's in the Spanish language," he once explained.
In 1943, Lasansky received a Guggenheim fellowship and traveled to New York to scrutinize all 100,000-plus prints in the Metropolitan Museum of Art's collection. Among the ones that impressed him most were Goya's aquatints and etchings, whose depth and range of color he later emulated. In addition, he was influenced by Picasso, Rembrandt and two 15th-century masters: Andrea Mantegna and Martin Schongauer.
The Argentinian also studied at Atelier 17, British artist Stanley William Hayter's intaglio printmaking workshop, which moved from Paris to New York during World War II. Among Atelier 17's other participants at the time were Marc Chagall, Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock. Lasansky's young American peers moved to abstraction, and he experimented with that as well. Yet he continued to depict the human form, often making portraits of himself and his family, as his style became both looser and more layered.
Rather than return to Juan Peron's Argentina, Lasansky became an American resident and, later, citizen. He took a faculty position at the University of Iowa in 1945, hired for just one year. He stayed until he retired in 1985, and was still based in Iowa City when he died 27 years later, at age 97.
He also maintained a second home in Mexico, which inspired both new artistic themes and, most likely, the brighter hues of his later work. After the stark "Nazi Drawings," Lasansky's's style became more vivid, with a spontaneity that suggested drawing. Yet his prints took so many trips through the press that the artist had to devise a formula for especially sturdy paper, milled for him in France.
As his work became larger and more colorful, Lasansky experimented with new ways to add texture to the image. The printmaker studied sculpture as a teenager, and some have seen the lingering effects of that interest in the way he worked copper plates, which he considered works of art in their own right.
Although his prints are held in many major museums and other collections, Lasansky is not as well known as his influence and achievement seem to merit. That's partially because he was a printmaker rather than a painter, although his large prints rival epic canvases in power and presence. But it's also because he spent much of his time establishing and expanding Iowa State's printmaking studio, as well as teaching.
As an instructor, Lasansky's goal was to convey established techniques while encouraging individual expression. "I have a very strong feeling that people cannot be replaced," he once said. "That is the way I approach everybody, that is the way I approach my students, and they know it."
After the initial one, Lasansky received four more Guggenheim Fellowships, as well as six honorary Doctorate of Arts degrees and many other honors. His influence is widespread, since dozens of his students became printmaking teachers.
What he taught them was how to reach "a moment of truth," he said in one interview. "You work like hell, maybe two years on the plate or painting and for two minutes this fullness, this universe, this whatever-you-want-to-call-it, comes true. This is what keeps you working."
Lasansky: Printmaker. foreword by Carl Zigrosser, essay by Alan Fern. University of Iowa Press, Iowa City, IA. 1975.
Made in America 50 Years of Printmaking by Mauricio Lasansky, introduction by Greg G.Thielen, Springfield Art Museum, Springfield, MO.1994.