A unique perspective from a family art man | AspenTimes.com

A unique perspective from a family art man

Stewart Oksenhorn
Aspen Times Weekly
The triptych "Geronimo with Flag," acrylic on canvas, is part of an exhibit of works by Iowan Tomas Lasansky, showing at Magidson Fine Art. (Courtesy Magidson Fine Art)

Tomas Lasansky was born into a privileged position in the art world. The members of the Lasansky family who are prominent in the arts only begin with his father, the Argentinean-born Mauricio Lasansky, who is considered one of the fathers of American printmaking. The 50-year-old Tomas counts uncles and great-uncles on his mother’s side who were noted painters and sculptors, and five siblings who range from sculptors to arts professors to dancers. His paternal grandfather was not an artist, exactly ” but he was so masterful as an engraver that the U.S. government brought him from his native Lithuania to Philadelphia, to print currency.

Beyond the artistic atmosphere that surrounded him, there was his perspective on it all. Lasansky is the youngest of six children ” the oldest is some 20 years Tomas’ senior ” and from that vantage point, art was not only a constant, it was fun and a way to bond with his family members. Lasansky says there was never any pressure on him to create; the word he uses is he was “invited” to work on the various projects undertaken in Iowa City, which the Lasanskys called home.

So at 4, Tomas helped one brother make a steel sculpture of a horse and rider 10 feet tall ” big enough that, when it was sold, a wall had to be knocked out of the house to relocate it. Lasansky later spent 10 years helping his father make prints.

“Growing up was fabulous,” said Lasansky at Magidson Fine Art, where his first solo exhibit in Aspen opens Saturday, Feb 23. “We had this old Victorian house and everyone used it as a studio. I had a basement full of anything I wanted ” pottery, wax, steel, prints. I used to hold classes for the neighborhood kids.”

Those surroundings have left Lasansky with some particular tendencies. For one, the diversity of his early influences is evident in his current exhibit. The show features paintings, drawings and prints, but each individual piece is a dynamic world in itself. One multimedia collage, “American Dignity,” is an image of an American Indian with elements of paint, pencil, and cut-up samples of Lasansky’s past prints. “Painted Face” incorporates bubble wrap and bamboo curtain. Several of the new paintings were made in a variation of Jackson Pollock’s drip style, except Lasansky actually threw the paint, and controlled the splashing enough to create large-scale images of Abraham Lincoln and Albert Einstein.

“I have more ideas than I have time to do them. I’m always trying to come up with different ways to do things,” said Lasansky, whose one boundary ” so far ” has been to stay in the field of representational work.

The array of solid materials from his childhood has also given Lasansky an affinity for texture. His work may appear flat ” the current exhibit is all wall-hangings ” but a close look reveals layers of thick paper, a technique where the paint is built up into three dimensions, and printed surfaces like wallpaper that suggest thickness. Currently, Lasansky has his eye on a laser machine that can cut through steel, allowing him to incorporate metal patterns into his work.

Lasansky is ambivalent toward printmaking. The traditional printing method, which results in a series of identical pieces, is too reminiscent of an assembly line. But printmaking, he says, is in his blood and when he spent a big chunk of time not long ago with his father, he was drawn to the printing studio. Lasansky made prints of Lincoln, but like his father, now 94, Tomas messed with tradition by moving the plates around and adding unique drawn elements to each piece.

Lasansky’s focus on iconic faces of people known for humanitarian deeds stems not from his early surroundings, but from a specific incident. For six years, his father worked on his Nazi Drawings, which eventually became part of the first exhibit at the new Whitney Museum in New York City, along with work by Louise Nevelson and Andrew Wyeth. The Nazi Drawings wreaked emotional havoc on his father. “It drained him so bad that after a few weeks, me and my brother and sister had to pose for him, so he could do something sweet,” said Lasansky.

It was another example of Lasansky’s unique perspective on making art.

“Being youngest helps,” he said. “You get to see everyone else’s mistakes.”