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Ibram Lassaw Photo

Ibram Lassaw

American Sculptor

Born: May 4, 1913 - Alexandria, Egypt
Died: December 30, 2003 - The Springs, East Hampton, New York
Movements and Styles:
Abstract Expressionism
"The sculpture itself is reality, not an interpretation of reality."
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Ibram Lassaw Signature
"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."
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Ibram Lassaw Signature
"Direct sensual experience is more real than living in the midst of symbols, slogans, worn-out plots, cliches - more real than political - oratorical art."
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Ibram Lassaw Signature
"I never argue with the medium."
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Ibram Lassaw Signature
"It's what's there, not what is implied."
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Ibram Lassaw Signature
"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."
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Ibram Lassaw Signature

Summary of Ibram Lassaw

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.


  • 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.

Biography of Ibram Lassaw

Ibram Lassaw Photo

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.

Progression of Art

Sculpture in Steel (1938)

Sculpture in Steel

After experimenting with plaster, rubber and wire, Lassaw began working with steel, which became a frequent medium for the artist, along with other metals. Sculpture in Steel, composed of biomorphic forms, reflects the important influence Surrealists such as Alberto Giacometti and Joan Miró had on Lassaw. This sculpture, Lassaw's first crafted from welded sheet metal, also reveals the distinct influence of Alexander Calder's mobiles. Around this time, Lassaw was also creating shadowbox sculptures and other works shaped around similar rectangular frames, beginning to develop pieces that depended on and created empty space as a structural element.

Steel - Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Milky Way (1950)

Milky Way

Milky Way is notable for signaling a new direction in Lassaw's mature open space style. He considered it his breakthrough sculpture. Here Lassaw was able to work without the rigid framework he had used to support more delicate organic forms. Previous efforts to work in this style has failed due to the use of structurally poor materials such as plaster and metalized compounds. The work is made from a plastic-metal paste which could be applied and shaped by a palette knife over sturdy wire before it hardened. Although this was not the most perfect material for sculpture, Milky Way still stands strong sixty-six years after it was created. Lassaw had a life long interest in all sciences and astronomy, and he used titles with cosmological references because he wanted viewers to experience the work directly without the conceptual baggage a recognizable name would have.

Plastic-metal compound - Denise Lassaw Collection

Kwannon (1952)


In 1951, after making his first sale, Lassaw was at last able to buy oxyacetylene welding equipment to create sculptures in metal. This work, which followed the morphology of his first 18 welded sculptures was created by first bending and shaping galvanized wire and then fusing molten bronze in layers to build up thickness and strength. The title, Kwannon is the Japanese name for the Buddhist Goddess of mercy and compassion.

Welded bronze and nickel-silver - Museum of Modern Art, New York

Counterpoint Castle (1957)

Counterpoint Castle

Lassaw continued to expand his explorations and variety of space textures using copper tube shapes which he made and covered with bronze, with the thin wire shapes. Lassaw used various metals for their colors but in Counterpoint Castle he added the use of acids to turn some areas of the sculpture blue.

Bronze and copper - Denise Lassaw Collection

Banquet (1961)


Banquet exemplifies Lassaw's use of a technique he developed in which molten metal is built up by fusing globs of metal together, similar to the accretion of stalagmites. The work grows spontaneously, as Lassaw has written, "The work is a 'happening' somewhat independent of my conscious will. The work uses the artist to get itself born." Some people think sculptures like Banquet look like coral, however that was not Lassaw's intention. The morphology of Banquet and the morphology of coral, like other crystalline structures found in nature may appear similar.

Bronze, bronze alloys, and steel - National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian, Washington, D.C.

Vortex F (1979)

Vortex F

In addition to the sculptural works for which he is primarily known, Lassaw also produced many drawings, lithographs and works on canvas and paper, much of which demonstrated a spatial interest similar to that of his three-dimensional works. The forms created by empty space in Vortex F are as important, if not more important, than the lines themselves. Here, as in many of his works, Lassaw combined geometric and biomorphic shapes, drawing the viewer's eye into the maze-like composition.

Acrylic on paper - The Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, NY

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Content compiled and written by Rachel Gershman

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Ibram Lassaw Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Rachel Gershman
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 05 Dec 2013. Updated and modified regularly
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