Woodcut. 36in. x 78in. 1955.
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. M. W. Whitlock Jr.
On the occasion of Leonard Baskin’s death in 2000, gallery owner Richard Michelson recalled the breadth of the artist's talents in an essay published in the South Carolina Review:
“There was Leonard Baskin the writer, with his searing comments on important and often overlooked artists, and Baskin the maker of books, whose Gehenna Press set the standard against which all fine press books are measured. There was Baskin the Caldecott-honored children's book illustrator, and Baskin the watercolorist whose explosion of color burst so unexpectedly, in mid career, like fireworks over his previously black sky. There was Baskin the printmaker, who reinvented the monumental woodcut, and at the core was Baskin the sculptor, who in the estimation of many, was the preeminent sculptor of our time.”
Baskin was at odds with the artistic trends of his time, producing socially conscious, figural works at a time when Abstract Expressionism reigned supreme. Greek mythological personages, predatory birds, specters of death, and characters from the Old Testament recurred throughout his interdisciplinary works, in stark contrast to the sterile color fields of his contemporaries. Baskin once said “Life is calibrated by death,” and in this quote there is an insight into his seemingly dark and brooding contrarianism. The artist was what might colloquially be referred to as an “old soul”. All of his favorite artists were citizens of the 19th century, renaissance, or medieval era. And his work too, had an accordingly pre-modern flavor…ranging in intensity from drawings that could be mistaken for transliterations of cave drawings to his revival of the long-dead “monumental woodcut” style.
In Hanged Man, as in all of his works, there is homage to the opacity, morbidity, and clunkiness of pre-modern art; and notes of death, despair, and bleakness. But just as in Baskin’s quote, this bleakness is a calibration for a larger and more profound affirmation of life. Monumental works like Hanged Man, Hydrogen Man, and Peace Man reflected Baskin’s despair over what he saw as the evils of the modern age – the destruction of the natural environment and brutality of global warfare. However, Baskin never potrayed these deleterious forces in their own right. In the artist's work, the human figure always remained a central theme - suggesting the possibility of collective redemption and healing.
SAM is funded in part by the Chapman Cultural Center, INC and its donors, the County and City of Spartanburg, and the South Carolina Arts Commission which receives support from The National Endowment for the Arts.