Leonard Baskin: Monumental Woodcuts

Very early in his career, Baskin came to the conclusion that sculpture was the medium best suited to expressing fundamental human states such as grief, love, hope, and dignity. Its very monumentality makes it an art of witness, not ideology. Forexpression of a more direct political nature, in the late 40s Baskin turned to printmaking, the perfect medium for a young man with anti-Capitalist sympathies. Prints were cheap, easily distributed, and their message could be plain. Text might even be cut directly into the block as was done with many of Baskin’s earliest works.

With its intricate network of sinewy anatomical lines, delicate and twisted, Baskin found in wood cuts a way to depict both the inner maelstrom and the outer physicality of the human form at once. As his command of the medium grew, Baskin allowed his line to speak for itself, but he has never abandoned his political commitment. “Art,” he has said, “is content, or it is nothing.” The artist must be committed to making a statement. “Photorealism is the same thing as minimal abstraction. Both are unwilling to say anything about the nature of reality, about their own involvement with reality…” Baskin is nothing if not willing to offer his own opinions.

Baskin almost single-handedly revived the Monumental sized woodcut as an art form, but he was also comfortable working on a miniature scale. He mastered the techniques of lithography, engraving, color block prints and monotypes. The range of his print work over a fifty-year career is truly astounding.