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Lamis in his studio, 1970.
Leroy Joseph Lamis was born in Eddyville, Iowa in 1925. After serving in the Army in 1943, Lamis took courses at UCLA, including Modern Art and American Folklore, and made his first sculptures out of metal. He completed his degree in art at New Mexico Highlands University in 1953. Lamis then moved to New York where he enrolled at Teachers College at Columbia University and taught art at a high school in Locust Valley, Long Island, which was attended by the children of sculptor Richard Lippold. Through Lippold, Lamis had his first direct contact with the Constructivists he so admired, though he had corresponded with Naum Gabo since 1951. At this time Lamis made small sculptures and jewelry. Receiving his Master’s degree from Columbia University in 1956, Lamis began teaching at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa. There Lamis experimented with various industrial materials and found objects, welding figures out of sheet iron and I-beams and creating both static and kinetic works using prisms. Lamis exhibited these works in a one-man exhibition in 1957 at Clark College in Dubuque, Iowa.

In 1961 Lamis accepted a position to teach art and design at Indiana State University, where he would continue to teach until 1989. In Indiana Lamis made his first plastic cube out of Plexiglas in October 1962. He had experimented with plastic as early as 1958-1959 and found the cube an ideal use of this new material. With great skill and patience, he sawed Plexiglas into precisely sized pieces and carefully glued them together. The build up of cubes within cubes created infinite reflections and varying densities of color within a single shade of pre-fabricated color. In these works Lamis strove for perfection in his execution and to create an art of contemplation. He crafted works with great technical precision aiming at surfaces free of “the artist’s hand.” The reflective and refractive properties of Plexiglas enabled Lamis to investigate perception and space as the concentric or twisted shapes he created change with viewpoint and source of illumination.

In the spring of 1963 Lamis traveled to New York to seek gallery representation. With a construction under each arm, he walked into The Contemporaries Gallery which was showing Richard Anuszkiewicz’s work at the time. His work was enthusiastically accepted and Lamis showed with The Contemporaries through 1964. He was then represented by Staempfli Gallery from 1965 to 1974 where he had solo exhibitions in 1966, 1969, and 1973. Lamis also showed with Felix Landau Gallery in Los Angeles, Gilman Galleries in Chicago, and Galerie Denise René in Paris. Lamis’s first New York museum success came with his inclusion in the 1964 Whitney Museum’s annual exhibition of sculpture. He went on to exhibit in the Whitney’s sculpture annuals in 1966 and 1968. Lamis knew and corresponded with some of the leading contemporary artists and traded works with George Rickey, Richard Anuszkiewicz, Harry Bertoia, and Anthony Hill during the 1960s. During his three to four trips to New York per year to deliver his newest work, Lamis visited artists working in related styles, particularly George Rickey, to discuss developments in their work. Between 1962 and 1978, Lamis executed 230 Plexiglas constructions. In his most productive years, 1963 to 1967, he created 144 works. He averaged 60 to 70 hours per construction, meticulously cutting the Plexi and gluing the pieces together with a syringe without any assistants or help from fabricators.

Lamis’s inclusion in the Museum of Modern Art’s The Responsive Eye and Martha Jackson’s Vibrations 11, both of 1965, placed Lamis as one of the top American Op sculptors. Lamis saw his work as a continuance of Constructivism conveyed through the economy and precision of his cubes. The artist’s 1969 solo exhibition at Staempfli Gallery in New York traveled to four museums across the country: Speed Art Museum, Louisville, KY; Herron Museum (now the Indianapolis Museum of Art), Indianapolis, IN; Des Moines Art Center, IA; and La Jolla Museum of Art (now the Contemporary Art Museum of San Diego), CA. A solo exhibition at Dartmouth College was held in 1970 after Lamis had a 10-week term as Artist-in-Residence there. In the 1969 exhibition A Plastic Presence organized by the Jewish Museum in New York and the Milwaukee Art Center (now the Milwaukee Art Museum), Lamis was featured within a wider range of sculptors working with plastic in Minimal, Op, and Constructivist styles. Lamis was the subject of a retrospective at the Sheldon Swope Art Museum in Terre Haute, Indiana in 1979. It was an extensive exhibition with 69 works shown dating from 1956 to 1979. Lamis’s retrospective was followed by an exhibition of his new sculpture at the Swope in 1982.

In the late 1970s Leroy Lamis returned to metal sculpture, this time in aluminum. These works have a sense of figures or totems that recall his 1950s sculptures. In the 1980s, Lamis devoted his time to programming computers to create groundbreaking art. With computers he could virtually construct abstract images rather than physically building them, an idea he continued to develop until 1992. Utilizing early forms of IBM PC basic computer language, which he taught himself to program, he created over 30 kinetic films of abstract patterns. Lamis created 12 sculptures similar in form to his late 1970s aluminum works with the addition of computer monitors that played three to five minutes of programming. The print-out stills of his computer generated imagery from 1985 to 1987 recall Josef Albers’s graphic work of the early 1940s. Lamis used one of these computer generated drawings as his contribution to the American Abstract Artists’ 50th Anniversary print portfolio in 1987. Lamis retired from Indiana State University in 1989.

Works by Leroy Lamis can be found in the following museum collections: Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY; Brooklyn Museum, NY; Indianapolis Museum of Art, IN; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; Milwaukee Art Museum, WI; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA; Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase, NY; Swope Art Museum, Terre Haute, IN; Speed Art Museum, Louisville, KY; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN; and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY.

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