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Artists Ibram Lassaw

Ibram Lassaw

American Sculptor

Movements: Abstract Expressionism, The New York School and Abstract Expressionism

Born: May 4, 1913 - Alexandria, Egypt

Died: December 30, 2003 - The Springs, East Hampton, New York

Quotes

"When working on a piece of sculpture I see only the immediate reality of the particular forms and colors that confront me . . . The moment of working to me is an engagement in life. The sculpture itself is REALITY, not an interpretation of reality."
Ibram Lassaw
"Direct sensual experience is more real than living in the midst of symbols, slogans, worn-out plots, cliches - more real than political - oratorical art."
Ibram Lassaw
"I never argue with the medium."
Ibram Lassaw
"It's what's there, not what is implied."
Ibram Lassaw
"Whenever something becomes a representation, I know I must carry it farther. I want my sculpture to be only its self, not something to be looked through in order to find the associative image."
Ibram Lassaw

"The sculpture itself is reality, not an interpretation of reality."

Synopsis

Ibram Lassaw, one of America's first abstract sculptors, was best known for his open-space welded sculptures of bronze, silver, copper and steel. Drawing from Surrealism, Constructivism, and Cubism, Lassaw pioneered an innovative welding technique that allowed him to create dynamic, intricate, and expressive works in three dimensions. As a result, he was a key force in shaping New York School sculpture.

Key Ideas

Rather than communicating a specific idea or representation, Lassaw sought to present a structure that was meaningful purely in itself and did not intend for his works' titles to shape audience interpretation of his sculptures.
Drawing on an interest in the internal structures found in nature, cosmology, astronomy, and technological construction, Lassaw aimed to entice viewers to lose themselves within his sculptures' complex interiors. This creation and enclosure of internal space later became prevalent in Minimalist sculpture.
Through his commitment to an intuitive construction of space and unconsciously driven application of melted metals, Lassaw developed an aesthetic similar to the instinctual painting compositions of his Abstract Expressionist peers, such as Jackson Pollock, who relied on a kind of trance-like automatism to structure their compositions.

Most Important Art

Milky Way (1950)
Milky Way is notable for signaling a new direction in Lassaw's mature style. With this work, he moved away from his rigid framed forms, reminiscent of Mondrian's Neo-Plasticism, to a more organic structure. His previous efforts using wire and plaster were often unstable, but he found a more effective solution in creating Milky Way by dripping melted plastic onto wire. Noting the lack of permanence of this work, Lassaw took the crucial step toward creating similar sculptures with bronze, silver and other metals. A fan of science fiction from a young age, Lassaw titled many of his sculptures with cosmological references, such as Milky Way. Yet, he chose the majority of his titles arbitrarily, with no intention of defining the sculpture's meaning with its name.
Plastic metal composition - Denise Lassaw Collection
More Art Works


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Biography

Childhood

Ibram Lassaw was born in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1913 to Russian-Jewish parents. After briefly living in Marseille, Naples, Tunis, Malta, and Constantinople, his family settled in Brooklyn, New York, in 1921. Lassaw was very interested in art from a young age and worked in clay from the age of four. He also created animals and figures using pieces of tar from the street. The history of art fascinated him, and at age 12, he started amassing an extensive collection of clippings and art reproductions, eventually filling 33 scrapbooks.

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Early Training

Ibram Lassaw Biography

Lassaw had his first formal training in 1927 with classes at the Brooklyn Children's Museum, which later became the Clay Club (now the Sculpture Center) taught by Dorothy Denslow. At the Clay Club until 1932, Lassaw learned modeling and casting, skills that he refined during his year at the Beaux Arts Institute of Design (1930-31).

In 1931, he also spent a year studying at City College of New York. Continuing to expand his interest in all forms of art, he pored over many issues of the influential Cahiers d'Art, through which he learned about the art of the Cubists, Futurists, Constructivists, Dadaists, and Surrealists. He became particularly interested in the use of new and unconventional materials to create artwork, as well as in the concept of sculptures that either contained or were structured by open spaces.

Mature Period

Lassaw had started to experiment with abstracted forms in the previous years, but 1933 marked a definitive shift toward open-space based abstracted sculpture. The first of these open-space sculptures were created between 1933 and 1934, made from plaster on wire armatures. Beginning in 1933, Lassaw also became involved with the Works Project Administration (WPA) Federal Arts Project and similar organizations. He co-founded American Abstract Artists in 1936 and later served as the organization's president from 1946 through 1949. During this time, Lassaw was working with a broad range of materials, maintaining his interest in untraditional media, particularly those that referenced technology, such as steel and iron. His sculptures from this period ranged from ornate and baroque to rectilinear and precise. Three of his open-space works, Sculpture (aka Pot Jumping Through Hoop) (1935), Sculpture (1936), and Sing Baby Sing (1937), all made using plaster and wire, were exhibited at the first group show of the American Abstract Artists, at the Squibb Gallery, in 1937. None of these works survive.

By the late 1930s, Lassaw moved from plaster or wood on wire to sheet metal and hammered forged steel. He also created shadowbox pieces that integrated illumination. In the 1940s, he began concentrating on rectilinear shapes, but his artistic focus was interrupted by army service; from 1942 to 1944, he served in the U.S. Army in Virginia, where he learned to weld while fixing army vehicles.

Ibram Lassaw Photo

Beginning in 1946, following Lassaw's discharge from the army, the artist created a series of hand-painted "projection paintings." These miniature Abstract Expressionist paintings were applied to 2x2-inch glass slides that, when viewed through a projector, cast an array of colored-light images. Unlike abstract paintings, which could be rotated on the wall and viewed from four different perspectives, Lassaw's "projections" could be rotated and turned around, offering the viewers eight different possible vantage points. By 1949, Lassaw stopped producing these paintings and devoted himself almost entirely to sculpture, but he would revisit the medium later in life.

Lassaw's return to sculpture also marked his moving away from purely geometric shapes towards biomorphic forms. He began integrating additional media, such as plastic and Plexiglas, also adding dye to the sculptures to integrate color. In 1949, Lassaw became one of the founders of The Club, the informal, but influential, discussion forum of New York School artists that included Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline. By the early 1950s, he had purchased oxyacetylene welding equipment and identified the ideal medium for his mature style: using molten metal, he created sculptures "drop by drop," a method in which the red-hot metal, brought to varying degrees of temperature and consistency, was carefully directed through a funnel-like device. The resulting product was a type of spontaneous and instinctive sculpture similar to the action painting of his New York School peers. Lassaw had his first solo exhibition in 1951 at the Kootz Gallery. That same year, he sold his first major sculpture to Nelson Rockefeller, who eventually purchased ten more Lassaw works, all of them pendants. Lassaw continued expanding his welding work, adding color by treating the metal with additives, and integrating minerals and semiprecious stones. With the help of gallery owner Samuel Kootz, who facilitated most of Lassaw's commissions, the artist regularly showed works in group shows and enjoyed almost annual solo exhibitions at the Kootz Gallery right up until the gallery's closing in 1966.

Late Period

Ibram Lassaw Portrait

Lassaw created his first public commission in 1953, Pillar of Fire for Congregation Beth-El in Springfield, Massachusetts, and completed others including a wall sculpture, Clouds of Magellan, for Philip Johnson's Glass House (1953), Pillar of Cloud for Temple Beth-El in Providence, Rhode Island (1954), a monumental sculpture for the entrance of the New Arts Building at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri (1959), and Elysian Fields for the New York Hilton Hotel (1963). Having purchased land in The Springs, East Hampton, in 1954, Lassaw moved there full-time with his wife in 1962. Other New York School artists frequented the area such as de Kooning and Pollock.

Lassaw taught at Duke University, University of California, Berkeley, Southampton College, and Mount Holyoke College during the 1960s and 1970s. While sculpture was his primary art form, Lassaw also continued to produce lithographs, drawings on paper, photographs, "projection paintings," and jewelry. By the mid-1990s Lassaw's eyesight had deteriorated to the point where he could no longer weld metals, but this did not stop him from working in other media. Lassaw remained in The Springs on Long Island and continued to work, even producing paper drawings right up to the late morning of December 29, 2003, less than 24 hours before his death.

Legacy

Lassaw's innovative welding techniques, manipulation of diverse materials and fascination with creating space through sculptural forms distinguished his work from that of his contemporaries and predecessors, while at the same time connected him to the aims and concepts of Abstract Expressionism. He was a crucial part of the New York School, both artistically and socially, and instrumental in garnering attention for sculptural Abstract Expressionist work.

Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Ibram Lassaw
Interactive chart with Ibram Lassaw's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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Artists

Alberto Giacometti
Alexander Calder
Buckminster Fuller
Julio Gonzalez
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy

Friends

Willem de Kooning
Jackson Pollock

Movements

Constructivism
Surrealism
Cubism
Neo-Plasticism
Abstract Expressionism
Ibram Lassaw
Ibram Lassaw
Years Worked: 1927 - 2003

Artists

Herbert Ferber
Theodore Roszak
David Smith

Friends

Harold Rosenberg

Movements

Abstract Expressionism

Original content written by Rachel Gershman

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

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Useful Resources on Ibram Lassaw

Books
Articles
Videos
More
The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.
biography
Three American sculptors: Ferber, Hare, Lassaw

By E.C. Goossen

works
Ibram Lassaw, Space Explorations: A Retrospective Survey, 1929-1988

By Ibram Lassaw

Ibram Lassaw: Deep Space and Beyond

By Ibram Lassaw

Ibram Lassaw, 90, a Sculptor Devoted to Abstract Forms

By Campbell Robertson
The New York Times
January 2, 2004

'I Want My Sculpture to be Only Its Self,' Says Ibram Lassaw

By Erika Duncan
The New York Times
December 18, 1994

Ibram Lassaw: The Sculptor as Explorer

By Roberta Smith
The New York Times
September 11, 1988

Perspectives and Reflections of a Sculptor: A Memoir

By Ibram Lassaw
Leonardo
1968

Source of Creativity: Discussion with New York School Artists of the 1950s

Conversation with several Abstract Expressionist artists, including Ibram Lassaw

La Voce della Luna presenta Ibram Lassaw

Interview with Ibram Lassaw in Italian
July 23, 2008

Matera: Antologica dedicata all'artista USA Ibram Lassaw

June 14, 2008

public art
Elysian Fields (1963)

Hanging metal sculpture in New York Hilton Hotel
1335 Sixth Avenue
New York, NY

The Glass House (1953)

Hanging relief sculpture in Philip Johnson's Brick House
199 Elm Street
New Canaan, CT

Surrealism
Surrealism
Surrealism
Perhaps the most influential avant-garde movement of the century, Surrealism was founded in Paris in 1924 by a small group of writers and artists who sought to channel the unconscious as a means to unlock the power of the imagination. Much influenced by Freud, they believed that the conscious mind repressed the power of the imagination. Influenced also by Marx, they hoped that the psyche had the power to reveal the contradictions in the everyday world and spur on revolution.
ArtStory: Surrealism
Constructivism
Constructivism
Constructivism
Russian Constructivism emerged with the Revolution of 1917 and sought a new approach to making objects, one which abolished the traditional concern with composition and replaced it with 'construction,' which called for a new attention to the technical character of materials. It was hoped that these inquiries would yield ideas for mass production. The movement was an important influence on geometric abstraction.
ArtStory: Constructivism
Cubism
Cubism
Cubism
Cubism was developed by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque between 1907-1911, and it continued to be highly influential long after its decline. This classic phase has two stages: 'Analytic', in which forms seem to be 'analyzed' and fragmented; and 'Synthetic', in which pre-existing materials such as newspaper and wood veneer are collaged to the surface of the canvas.
ArtStory: Cubism
Minimalism
Minimalism
Minimalism
Minimalism emerged as a movement in New York in the 1960s, its leading figures creating objects which blurred the boundaries between painting and sculpture, and were characterized by unitary, geometric forms and industrial materials. Emphasizing cool anonymity over the passionate expression of the previous generation of painters, the Minimalists attempted to avoid metaphorical associations, symbolism, and suggestions of spiritual transcendence.
ArtStory: Minimalism
Abstract Expressionism
Abstract Expressionism
Abstract Expressionism
A tendency among New York painters of the late 1940s and '50s, all of whom were committed to an expressive art of profound emotion and universal themes. The movement embraced the gestural abstraction of Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, and the color field painting of Mark Rothko and others. It blended elements of Surrealism and abstract art in an effort to create a new style fitted to the postwar mood of anxiety and trauma.
ArtStory: Abstract Expressionism
Jackson Pollock
Jackson Pollock
Jackson Pollock
Jackson Pollock was the most well-known Abstract Expressionist and the key example of Action Painting. His work ranges from Jungian scenes of primitive rites to the purely abstract "drip paintings" of his later career.
ArtStory: Jackson Pollock
Futurism
Futurism
Futurism
Futurism was the most influential Italian avant-garde movement of the twentieth century. Dedicated to the modern age, it celebrated speed, movement, machinery and violence. At first influenced by Neo-Impressionism, and later by Cubism, some of its members were also drawn to mass culture and nontraditional forms of art.
ArtStory: Futurism
Dada
Dada
Dada
Dada was an artistic and literary movement that emerged in 1916. It arose in reaction to World War I, and the nationalism and rationalism that many thought had led to the War. Influenced by several avant-gardes - Cubism, Futurism, Constructivism, and Expressionism - its output was wildly diverse, ranging from performance art to poetry, photography, sculpture, painting and collage. Emerging first in Zurich, it spread to cities including Berlin, Hanover, Paris, New York and Cologne.
ArtStory: Dada
Willem de Kooning
Willem de Kooning
Willem de Kooning
Willem de Kooning, a Dutch immigrant to New York, was one of the foremost Abstract Expressionist painters. His abstract compositions drew on Surrealist and figurative traditions, and typified the expressionistic 'gestural' style of the New York School.
ArtStory: Willem de Kooning
Franz Kline
Franz Kline
Franz Kline
Franz Kline was an American abstract painter and one of the pioneers of Abstract Expressionism. His signature black-and-white abstractions were inspired by Japanese calligraphy, and inspired a later generation of artists who created Minimalism.
ArtStory: Franz Kline
The New York School and Abstract Expressionism
The New York School and Abstract Expressionism
The New York School and Abstract Expressionism
The New York School is a reference to Abstract Expressionism movement, which was the tendency among New York painters of the late 1940s and 1950s, all of whom were committed to an expressive art of profound emotion and universal themes. The movement embraces the gestural abstraction of Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, and the color field painting of Mark Rothko and others. It blended elements of Surrealism and abstract art in an effort to create a new style fitted to the post-war mood of anxiety and trauma.
ArtStory: The New York School and Abstract Expressionism
Alberto Giacometti
Alberto Giacometti
Alberto Giacometti
The Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti created semi-abstract sculptures that took up themes of violence, sex, and Surrealism. His famous later work is characterized by towering, elongated figures in bronze.
ArtStory: Alberto Giacometti
Alexander Calder
Alexander Calder
Alexander Calder
Alexander Calder was an American artist who made important contributions to abstract sculpture, hanging mobiles, and Kinetic art. His work reflects both modern and Surrealist influences.
ArtStory: Alexander Calder
Buckminster Fuller
Buckminster Fuller
Buckminster Fuller
Buckminster Fuller was an American architect, designer, inventor and writer. He is best known for his designs of geodesic domes, such as the ones at Disney's Epcot Center and the Montreal Biosphere.
Buckminster Fuller
Julio Gonzalez
Julio Gonzalez
Julio Gonzalez
Julio Gonzalez was a Catalan-Spanish sculptor and painter. His best known early works were Synthetic Cubist paintings, and later in life turned to bronze and iron welding, creating many famous abstract sculptures. In 1927 he introduced Picasso to oxy-fuel welding and cutting techniques, and became one of the artist's closest confidantes.
Julio Gonzalez
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy was a Hungarian painter, photographer and teacher at the Bauhaus School. Moholy-Nagy was influential in promoting the Bauhaus's multi- and mixed-media approaches to art, advocating for the integration of technological and industrial design elements.
ArtStory: Laszlo Moholy-Nagy
Neo-Plasticism
Neo-Plasticism
Neo-Plasticism
Neo-Plasticism was the guiding philosophy behind the art of Dutch painter Piet Mondrian and many of his peers in the De Stijl circle. Articulated by Mondrian in 1917-18, the approach stipulates the strict use of only horizontal and vertical lines; the primary colors red, yellow, and blue; and white, gray, and black.
Neo-Plasticism
Herbert Ferber
Herbert Ferber
Herbert Ferber
Herbert Ferber was a twentieth-century American sculptor and painter, loosely associated with the Abstract Expressionist school. best known for his sculptural work, Ferber used welded and soldered metals to create open, abstract forms, which often evoked themes of conflict and spatial struggle.
Herbert Ferber
Theodore Roszak
Theodore Roszak
Theodore Roszak
Theodore Roszak was a twentieth-century Prussian-born American painter, sculptor, teacher and violinist. Roszak's work tended toward Constructivism then eventually Expressionism, but the majority of his work employs some form of abstraction.
Theodore Roszak
David Smith
David Smith
David Smith
David Smith was an American artist who combined Surrealism and formal abstraction in his sculptures. His early works, small and with a craft-like aesthetic, give way later on to giant constructions of welded and burnished steel.
ArtStory: David Smith
Harold Rosenberg
Harold Rosenberg
Harold Rosenberg
Harold Rosenberg was a critic, art historian, and curator who published important works on modern art and culture. He was a leading exponent of Abstract Expressionism, and coined the term "Action Painting."
ArtStory: Harold Rosenberg