Artwork Detail

Hydrogen Man
American, 1922–2000
75 x 37 13/16 "
Gift of Arthur and Sheila Prensky, 1984
WU 1984.13.10
A multidisciplinary artist who worked in sculpture, painting, illustration, and bookmaking, Leonard Baskin first gained recognition in the 1950s for his monumental woodcuts, including Hydrogen Man. In this print black lines and curves form the internal musculature of a mutilated man with partially obliterated limbs. The large scale of the work fits the vastness of its implications; Baskin produced this apocalyptic vision in response to the United States’ explosion of the Castle Bravo hydrogen bomb in 1954, which resulted in significant radioactive contamination. Tested at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands, the bomb was the most powerful nuclear device ever detonated by the United States. Baskin, who was the son of a rabbi and firmly believed in the responsibility of art to deliver moral and social content, upheld figuration as the only means to express the trauma and angst of the human condition. He maintained in his work a steadfast dedication to the human figure even throughout the heyday of American Abstract Expressionism in the 1950s. [Permanent collection label, 2016]