The second artist is a twentieth century master--Leonard Baskin. The darker, more tragic themes that run through Baskin's work were a barometer for the absurd and catastrophic events that marked the past century. Baskin, in my opinion, was the main reason that relief prints retained a viable place within the late twentieth century (that is relief prints of the more classical, highly crafted variety, not the cruder forms favored by the German Expressionists, which have their own aesthetic charm). The most prominent contemporary printmaker to continue Baskin's legacy is my friend Barry Moser. His style is somewhat different, but Barry learned the craft of wood engraving directly from the master.
The second piece of art I purchased for my collection was actually a Baskin print. This wood engraving entitled Death Among the Thistles evoked the same sublime cultural and spiritual angst as the above mentioned works. The agony of the moon-like face in a field of thorny thistles alludes to a torture and pain far worse than mere physical anguish. Baskin was able to present the intangible spiritual weight of the past century in pieces like this.
I have contemplated this piece for about a decade now. I would look at it almost daily to study both the deftness of the artist with the medium and the aching quality of the tortured figure. I always thought that thistles would be an interesting subject for a print, but never knew when I would really make that happen in my own work.
I decided that I would call this piece Life Among the Thistles. Baskin could get us to feel the weight of the tragedies of the twentieth century in his works. The desperation is right there on the surface. What I wanted to show was that life is really a huge field of metaphorical thistles. The events of our lives produce moments of deilcate beauty coupled with pain. We get pricked, scratched, and scarred. That is part of what it means to be human. Without those painful times to contrast with the joyful times, the joyful times would not be so precious.