Hundreds of books line the walls, thick printing paper hangs from the ceiling, prints in progress are pinned to the walls, a new project leans on an easel next to an impressive collection of colored pencils and paints. A day bed with ruffled sheets is not far from his workspace, ready for resting between long hours of work, as Diego Lasansky often draws late into the night in his Iowa City office, nibbling on toast for meals.
At 21 years old, the Iowa City artist already has made a name for himself. But that name is not all that new to the art community, especially in Iowa City.
Many in Lasansky’s family are artists, but perhaps the most famous is his Argentine grandfather, Mauricio Lasansky, a world-renowned painter, printmaker and professor at the University of Iowa, best known for his large scale prints and “The Nazi Drawings,” a project that depicted the brutality of Nazi Germany. Mauricio died in 2012 at the age of 97.
Diego closely followed his grandfather’s footsteps, enrolling in the UI’s art program just months after his death. He’d completed only three years of high school, but already knew what he wanted to do.
His father, Phillip Lasansky, an art dealer and owner of the Lasansky Corp. and its gallery, remembers his youngest son telling him there was “no way” he’d trudge through another year of high school.
He’d already spent most of his life surrounded by art. At just four years old, Diego drew with his grandfather. Growing up, Diego and his brother, Emiliano, were taken to art museums instead of Disney World.
In 2002, Diego started assisting his uncle, Tomas Lasansky, another painter and printmaker who taught him the techniques of the trade. It wasn’t long before Diego picked up his own pencil and paintbrush.
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Although Diego said he was never “pushed to do art,” being around it so often and intimately led him to quickly choose it as his career.
“I would love to say it’s in my blood, but really it’s because I was given the proper tools to make art,” Diego said.
Phillip said it was his “duty as a parent” to provide those tools, opportunities and environment to support his children in whatever they chose to do. It just so happened that they both chose art — Emiliano studied music at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., and will go on to grad school to refine his skills as a jazz bassist — but he never pressured them.
In fact, Phillip emphasized the opposite: If they were going to become artists, he explained, they needed to develop their own passion.
“If they’re going to sustain it, it has to come from their gut,” he said.
Diego graduated this year with a bachelor of fine arts degree. His work, which blends traditional with modern printmaking methods, has been featured nationally and internationally.
And he’s won awards. He took first place at the Figge Museum’s eighth-annual college invitational in Davenport in 2016, second place in the 73rd Audubon artist annual exhibition in New York City in 2015, second in the ninth-annual California open juried exhibition in Santa Monica that same year and many more since 2013.
He’s also published a book and opened his first solo exhibition — “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” — at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art in April. That exhibition will run until Oct. 2 and displays his work from college, including self-portraits, drawings, paintings and a series of prints that show the time-consuming and complicated printmaking process.
Although you can see the connections to his family’s work — quite literally, as a collection of his grandfather’s prints are displayed just a few yards away in the museum — Sean Ulmer, the museum’s executive director, said visitors can pick up on Diego’s distinctive vision and voice.
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And this could be just the beginning for the young artist, who works in his grandfather’s Iowa City studio on the same 200-year-old French press.
“He’s extremely driven and very dedicated to his craft,” Ulmer said. “He has very high standards for everything he makes.”
Ulmer expects this is just the “first of many solo exhibitions” for Diego.
“He’s a rising star in the art world with extraordinary talent,” Ulmer said. “If this exhibition is any indication, I see great things for him in the future. He has a long career ahead of him.”