Thursday, August 11, 2011

"Self Portrait as Priest" by Leonard Baskin

I came upon this striking portrait at the La Salle University Art Museum today. They have quite a few prints by Baskin and Charles Wells on exhibition this summer. I'm familiar with Baskin's incredibly detailed and distinctly-creepy wood engravings, so I was surprised to see this woodcut, a fairly naturalistic portrait featuring a large area of inky, black woodgrain. With a heavier and much more economical use of line than seen in his engravings, Baskin's skills as a master draftsman come through. His uniquely expressive lines give life to the ear, mouth, and eye. His face turns back, an already severe expression made even moreso by the stark contrast between solid black and white areas and a handful of strategically-placed lines that pull the chin tight. It is an expression of authoritative judgment.

What are viewers to make of this, considering Baskin was the son of a Rabbi and included many Jewish themes in his huge body of work? So much of Baskin's art makes dark statements about the human condition. Is this portrait the artist attempting to illustrate feelings of contempt for the worst inclinations of people?

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