Los Angeles

Leonard Baskin

Sabersky Gallery

In the “Famous Artists Series” a new subject matter seems to have liber­ated Baskin from the compositional cliches and Perils-of-Pauline psychol­ogy which marred some of his previous graphics. Abandoning the characteris­tically flayed figures and monstrous beings which had become Baskinisms, the portraits reveal skills which span almost all of Wolfflin’s famous polari­ties of form. Baskin, aware of the rich tonal variations possible with lithog­raphy’s greasy line, chose to epitomize the aged Rodin’s profile by emphasiz­ing the indomitable geometry of the sculptor’s aquiline nose, in contrast to his wrinkled and hoary head which wearily dissolves within the supporting cushions.

In the etchings (with the exception of a disappointingly Beethovenesque rendition of Goya), Baskin struggles to “behold the man” inside each counten­ance’s peculiarities. The penetrating series on Eakins indicates that Baskin recognizes a great deal of himself in the earlier realist. Small details of clothing are very important. A bird­eyed Salvatore Rosa examines the world from the security of his squinched-up collar, while a single line hesitantly meandering down the shirtfront of Anonymous 17th Century Poet sums up the transitory character of life in its rumpled caress. The print of Sou­tine is related to the artist’s own self­portraits. But instead of writhing under the ugliness which the man saw in himself, Baskin captures in particles of form, the wisdom and compassion ravishing those tiny vulnerable eyes, eyes totally unable to objectify their perceptions no matter how deeply they try to recede into the painter’s skull.

Among the woodcuts, with marvelous dog-faced braggadocio Velasquez looms out of lavish blacks while Mabuse seems caught behind a Dostoyevskian tangle of tortuous form. The etchings of trees and birds that complete the present exhibition are weaker in quality, rely­ing on the technical richness of the medium to compensate for a lack of authority in the formal handling. Yet overall Baskin merits a round of bravos for his recent works. Their quality of form and depth of content preempt our pleasure in bestowing kudos. The etching of Soutine is its own laurel.

Rosalind G. Wholden

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