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The Hanged Man

Leonard Baskin
SAC 1979.01



36 x 78 inches

92 x 198 centimeters

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. M. W. Whitlock Jr.

about the work

In The Hanged Man, as in all of Baskin's 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, “Life is calibrated by death,” 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.

about the artist

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.

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