From Bergara to the Bronx
The life and work of the sculptor Lorenzo Ascasibar (Elgeta, 1930) is analysed in a very interesting book by Miguel Angel Elkoroberecibar, recently published. "I have dedicated my life to sculpture and sculpture has given me life," says Ascasibar as he reviews his career, a legacy of more than 700 works of art distributed between the Basque Country and the United States.
He who is considered to be one of the greatest exponents of Basque figurative sculpture of the second half of the 20th century, or the man whom the US specialist magazine Art in Stone predicted in 1965 was destined to become one of the best creators of religious sculpture in the United States after considering that his St. John in St. Raymond's Cemetery in New York had the qualities of a modern Michelangelo, is a real stranger to the general public.
Beginnings in Bergara and Bilbao
Lorenzo Ascasibar, a lover of drawing and woodworking, joined the company Erostarbe Hermanos in Elgeta at the age of 16, where he took his first steps in wood carving. He learned to handle the gouge with the ornaments of the furniture of the time, but soon realised that he wanted to move on and work figuratively. He was told that there was a very good carver in Bergara: Jesús Okina. He turned to him to complete his craft. With Okina he did modelling, carving and drawing. He was his first teacher and the one who directed him definitively towards figurative art.
Bergara artists such as Miguel Okina and Simón Arrieta were also decisive in his apprenticeship.
Under the guidance of Jesús Okina, he visited the workshop of the sculptor Julio Beobide on numerous occasions. Beobide saw talent in him and encouraged him to apply for the New Artists Competition. He listened to him and in 1949, at the age of 19, he won first prize, which was his first step as a sculptor.
He continued his apprenticeship at the Museo de Reproducciones in Bilbao. He was a disciple and collaborator of the great sculptor Higinio Basterra, a turning point in his training and future professional dedication.
At the end of 1955 he moved to Madrid. But just before leaving, a milestone in Lorenzo Ascasibar's artistic career took place. On 11 September 1955 his first public monument was inaugurated in Aramaio: Vicente Goikoetxea.
His is the shrine
of Saint John, N.Y.,
built in honour of
President John Kennedy,
on the first anniversary
of his death
Vermont, Connecticut and New York
In January 1958, encouraged by the sculptor José Borlaf, he left for the United States. He was accompanied by two other sculptors: Félix Rubio and Ángel Barbero.
He left for America with nothing, with his hands in his pockets. He did commercial work to survive and managed to earn more money with larger works. He travelled to the USA with clear ideas, he felt the need to leave in order to look for new prisms and also to find an economic return on his work.
He worked mainly in the states of Vermont, Connecticut and New York. He made sculptures and monumental pieces for cemeteries and public places. Among others, the memorial dedicated to Cristóbal Colón in Stamford (Connecticut); the three statues on each side of the Triangular Pylonde at the main entrance to Saint Raymond's Catholic Cemetery in the Bronx in New York.
But undoubtedly one of his most significant is the Saint John's Shrine, erected in honour of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy on the first anniversary of his death. It was a great recognition of his work and the opportunity for him to be commissioned for more works. After this work Ascasibar became very famous and gained great prestige.
Return to Euskadi
He returned to the Basque Country, to Vitoria-Gasteiz, in the first half of the 1970s. He began to produce mainly Basque-themed works. He gradually eliminated the accessory, increasingly simpler forms, but expressing the maximum. His line is classical, but updated, always figurative.
In this last stage he made small bronze figures, as well as busts and large figures in different materials, especially bronze and wood.
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