Leonard Baskin was born in 1922 in New Brunswick, New Jersey. He studied at New York University, Yale University, the Academie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris, the Accademia di Belle Arte in Florence, and the New School. Baskin taught at Smith College from 1953 to 1974 and at Hampshire College from 1984 to 1994. His first solo exhibition was held at Grace Borgenicht Gallery in 1953. He has had retrospectives at the Smithsonian, the Albertina, and the Library of Congress. He founded and ran the Gehenna Press for fine books until his death. Baskin passed away in 2000.
Baskin is known for his sculpture and graphic arts, especially monumental woodcuts. He was committed to figurative art in a time when the art world focused on abstract expressionism. His work emphasized portraiture and the human condition, often malformed, exaggerated, and animal-like. Common themes include natural history, the Hebrew bible, Greek mythology, and poetry. As the son of a rabbi who grew up in a Jewish community in Brooklyn, Judaism and the Jewish Orthodox community are commonly featured. He was a frequent collaborator with many writers, especially Ted Hughes. Baskin’s work is included in the collections of most major institutions in the United States. He is recognized as a key contributor to the revitalization of fine art presses in addition to his distinction in sculpture and woodcut.
On his subject matter:
“Our human frame, our gutted mansion, our enveloping sack of beef and ash is yet a glory. Glorious in defining our universal sodality and glorious in defining our utter uniqueness. The human figure is the image of all men and of one man. It contains all and can express all.” —Leonard Baskin