Printmaker Mauricio Lasansky, whose retrospective is at the National Collection of Fine Arts, is an eminent teacher and a superb technician.
Lasansky believes that "technique is no more than a good vocabulary, not an end in itself," and his exhibition proves it. It is an unappealing show.
Technically he is amazing. Most prints are small pictures, but Lasansky's "Quetzalcoat" (1972) is more than 6 feet tall. Its techniques include engraving, etching, drypoint, soft ground, reverse soft ground, electric stippling, aquatint, lift ground, scraping and burnishing; it wasn't made from one plate, but from 54.
The only thing that's wrong with this colored, cluttered print is that it isn't much to look at.
Most American prints, prior to the 1940s, were technically conservative. That is the case no longer, thanks, in part, to Lasansky. Since he established the print department at the University of Iowa, 120 of his students have taught printmaking in colleges. An instructor of instructors, Lasansky, 62 has had great influence.
But a different sort of influence is apparent in his show. His images are not original. They are borrowed from his betters.
Lasansky was raised in Argentina. His early works - with their suffering madonnas, prisoners and marching troops - recall the proletarian propaganda of the Latin muralists. He then became a surealist, and filled his prings with floating windows and transparent women. When he came to the United States in 1943, he began to imitate Picasso and Stanley William Hayter, his Manhattan teacher. His later figures have huge round saucer eyes.
Though Lasansky (whose father was Lithuanian) became a U.S. citizen in 1952, his evil popes and maudin children, his martyrs and his fury burros, continue to recall that mix of savagery and sentiment that characterizes so much Latin art.
Lasansky, as a young man, was dedicated student. The catalog tells us he looked at every print in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. "He was not the first person who wanted to examine all 150,000 of them, but he was the first person actually to do it."
Students who wish to learn about grounds, acids, tools, combinations of techniques and manipulation of techniques, will learn much from his show. A number of his drawings are on sale at the Haslm Gallery on P Street. "Mauricio Lasansky: A Retrospective Exhibition of His Prints" will close at the National Collection on May 22.