‘Master of today’ humanizes American history icons

STEPPING OUT Jackson Hole News&Guide

Wednesday, August 4, 2010 

Tomas Lasansky creates layered portraits

of historical icons in his massive works like “Painted Face V.”

Who: Tomas Lasansky

What: Icons and Muses show

When: Reception 5-8 p.m. Tuesday; show hangs

           through August

Where: RARE Gallery, 60 E. Broadway

Web: Raregalleryjacksonhole.com


By Katy Niner

   At a time when most artists turned away from the figure, Tomas Lasansky focused his full attention on the complexcontours of the human form, and most recently, the faces of American icons.


   “The universe is concentrated in a human being,” Lasansky has said. “A picture is like people — an accumulation of different moments at one time.”


  This month, RARE Gallery is hosting a show of his iconic images of Native Americans. A reception for Icons and Muses is from 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesday.


   A comprehensive book on Lasansky’s prolific career, due out in October, bears the same title as his Jackson show. From 1979 to 2010, Lasansky has produced more than 2,000 pieces including prints, drawings and paintings, according to an essay by art historian Joseph S. Czestochowski in the forthcoming book.


  “In summary, Tomas Lasansky is a humanist who has created eloquent, visual statements that are fresh, sensitive, pragmatic and romantic,” Czestochowski writes.


   Also in the book, his son Rory Lasansky writes an essay as intimate as the works themselves, describing his father’s artistic route and process. Creativity coursed his childhood: His father, Mauricio Lasansky, is a preeminent printmaker and founder of the Iowa Print Group. The youngest of six children, Tomas Lasansky grew up drawing, while his siblings sculpted, threw pots, wrote and danced. At times, every room in the house — including the kitchen and bathrooms — was converted into a studio or stage, according to Rory Lasansky’s essay.


   Lasansky continues to immerse himself in his art. In his Iowa City, Iowa, studio, with blinds drawn and doors locked, he seals himself off from the world for days on end, Rory describes. Fluorescent lights blazing, he often works all night, mining the surface of unfinished portraits with drypoint needles, burins, pencils, paintbrushes. When he finally does collapse asleep, usually in paint-peppered clothes and hair, he will have finished multiple works.


   Inspired by Jackson Pollock, Lasansky has developed an innovative “splatter” technique — based on color intaglio printmaking — of flicking and throwing paint onto canvases blocked by paper templates. Sometimes, paintbrush never meets canvas. Further borrowing from printmaking, he imprints textures on the surfaces of his paintings.


   The splatter paintings also incorporate collage drawings and impasto painting techniques. Many of his paintings’ backgrounds bear bold images of the American flag, inspired by another abstract impressionist, Jasper Johns.


   Since the mid-1990s, Lasansky has channeled his passion for American history into portraits, with a focus on Native American leaders.


   Transcending representation, his impassioned process finds personality in personages: Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Buffalo Bill, Walt Whitman, Sitting Bull, Geronimo. Even before he begins painting, he will refer to his library of history books. As an artist, he is mindful of the photography of Edward S. Curtis, the paintings of George Catlin and the contemporary work of American Indian artists like T.C. Cannon and Fritz Scholder.


   Lasansky is “truly a master of today,” said Hollee Armstrong of RARE. The gallery also features expressionist portraits by his wife,

Charlie Emmert Lasansky.