"Once I had an American
religious fanatic come into the gallery and he started to cry and pray. He came back in
ten minutes with a Bible for me because he thought I was possessed. He would write letters
to me that I should read Psalm so-and-so and meet the local priest..."
By Steven Cerio
If you believe that gothic serpents, winged dragons, angels, and horned goddesses are
the stuff of legend and myth alone, then you are surely unacquainted with the inhabitants
of the realm of silversmith and sculptor ANDRE LASSEN. A native of Holland, Lassen draws
first-hand influence from the vestiges of Celtic culture that can be found while roaming
the countless foggy Megalithic sites of Europe. These inspirations have fueled his
energies and sharpened his abilities to bring the wildest creatures of his fantasies into
twitching, metallic life.
Lassen began working in metals in the Seventies, creating lost-wax cast silver jewelry.
Since 1981 Lassen has dedicated himself solely to larger-scale works, the largest of
which, "The Gate," stands eight feet tall and nearly seven feet wide. It ushers
forth images from King Arthur and Merlin in rich, cast bronze. Lassen never works in clay,
preferring bronzes and silver which endow his imagery with a rich historical symbolism.
In addition to his heritage in the Gothic arts of Fantasy and Horror, Lassen draws
great influence from Japanese weaponry. He is considered an expert on the subject, working
as a consultant and appraiser to Sotheby's on Japanese swords and armor. From this
immersion in the subject of blade-making, it naturally followed that he would combine that
knowledge with his Gothic and Fantasy themes to create his own series of knives and
daggers. He hand-forges blades in the traditional painstaking Japanese technique, creating
Damascus Steel blades that thrust out from one-of-a-kind wrought sterling silver handles
inlaid with precious and semi-precious stones. Lassen's handmade scabbards are constructed
from toad, lizard, snake, crocodile, and other exotic skins. One of his prize daggers,
"Dragon," is inlaid with onyx, amethyst and hematite, with a scabbard fashioned
from stingray skin.
Lassen is self-taught, without any formal art training. At the age of eighteen he was
rejected by the Academy of Fine Arts in Holland on their mistaken assumption that he did
not have a sufficient amount of talent. However, fifteen years ago the same school offered
him a teaching position.
Lassen himself is quick to admit that his skeletons are not anatomically correct, but
fantasy takes precedence over reality in his work. He leans his energies into focusing his
visions. He chooses to sharply communicate through recognizable figures rather than
through abstraction, drawing more influence from J.R.R. Tolkien than from Alexander
Calder. His figures stand quietly, like sentinels guarding either the gates of Heaven or
of Hell - which is never made clear. He swirls his hallucinations into metallic life,
giving his metals purpose, poise, and new strength - the perfect symbiosis between
symbolism, function and beauty.
Seconds: Why did you go into sculpture and not
painting or writing?
Lassen: That's not completely true. I like to draw and
paint. I found out I'm better at sculpting and it's the medium I like the most.
Seconds: Is it that painting is more creating an
illusion? You are creating objects...
Lassen: Yes, you have more freedom with sculpting than
painting. You can walk around a sculpture from all sides.
Seconds: I've read you made your first dagger at nine
Lassen: We used to vacation with my uncle in Denmark
and he was the local blacksmith. For me, it was a fantastic vacation to spend every day
forging my own toys in the smithery. I was forging swords, daggers, and guillotines. I
loved it. Many years later, Ive picked up forging again. I picked up the equipment and I
found a place where I can do it. For me it is also a way of relaxing. Forging is a way to
get the stress out.
Seconds: Everything you create is functional?
Lassen: Not everything. Quite a few pieces are,
because I like it - the knives, the jewelry, the ashtray. But the mounted skulls or
sculptures, even "The Gate" needn't be functional - it is a great thing to have
on the wall. Now and then a function slips in but I don't mind; function doesn't make it
Seconds: Your work seems to be centered around
violence. What draws you to that?
Lassen: I don't know; maybe it is hidden beeause I'm
not aggressive. I like power in the work - it must be powerful - you build that tension
with aggression. You can also build it up with other images, like skulls, which are very
related to aggression.
Seconds: This may be the same question, but why do you
use skeletons, bones, as opposed to, say, bunny rabbits?
Lassen: Bunny rabbits are very soft and sweet but I'm
not like that. I like strong books and strong films, and that reflects on my work.
Seconds: Sometimes it seems you're mocking death, as
Lassen: Yeah! And a whole series of bronzes. There's a
lot of black humor in it. It's good fun.
Seconds: People have used words like
"frightening" and "horrific" to describe ' your work...
Lassen: It's ridiculous that they are afraid of my
work. Those people would probably be frightened by the bunnies as well. The knives are not
meant to be used to kill someone. If people are afraid of my work, that's their
one-hundred-percent own responsibility. But I don't want to frighten people. If I wanted
to, I would do something totally different.
Seconds: The way your lines flow, it seems you're a
lover of Art Nouveau.
Lassen: Yes, maybe it slips in without me even knowing
it. There were some magnificent sculptors at that time in England and France. It's such a
pity that period was so short. It's one of my most favorite periods. Not everything - I
like mainly the sculptures and jewelry, the painting, the posters - they made some great
posters in those days. Everything was all very tasteful, in a way - erotic without being
Seconds: Where they had a vine, you'll have a bone.
Lassen: Yes. A lot of artists in this period were
focused on Japanese art. There's also a lot of Japanese influence in my type of art. I
don't show it directly, but maybe movement and maybe composition; the composition then
immediately relates to Art Nouveau.
Seconds: What reaction would you want your work to get
Lassen: That it is accepted as art. In Holland, I am
not totally accepted in the art world. A lot of people see me as kind of an outcast. It's
difficult to get shows there, because art has to do with fashion and trends. But I'm not
following trends. If I was a trend follower, it would have been a lot easier for me. But I
like to be accepted.
Seconds: What's the strongest reaction anyone's had to
Lassen: The gallery I have in Amsterdam has very thin
windows and I can hear outside. Not a long time ago, I heard a lady say to her husband,
"This all comes from the devil. This is very evil. You see that man inside? He also
looks very evil." Once I had an American religious fanatic come into the gallery and
he started to cry and pray. He came back in ten minutes with a Bible for me because he
thought I was possessed. He would write letters to me that I should read Psalm so-and-so
and meet the local priest...
Seconds: Why do people associate bones with evil?
LASSEN: I have no idea. Maybe it has to do with being
afraid of death. I don't know any explanation other than fear of mortality. In all my
work, there we no signs of Black Magic - nothing. I've been doing skulls and bones for
fifteen years and honestly, I'm bored with it. But people expect it and I get commissions
to do it, but I love to do many other things, not just skulls and bones.
Seconds: Are you working on other projects now that
people wouldnt think of as typical of your work?
Lassen: Well, you can always can tell it's my work.
Last year, I designed some furniture; actually, I'm working now on it. I had some
furniture made by the best wood carvers in Indonesia, Bali - a cabinet that looks, like a
big armored angel and you can open the angel and there's your stereo.
Seconds: What other shapes are you interested in?
LASSEN: I have a very good idea to do an
erotic dagger - no skulls - and the shapes and lines will be Art Nouveau. A marvelous
erotic dagger, nothing rude - not pornography. Very nice, very delicate.
Seconds: You get a lot of your inspiration from Celtic
myths and legends. What inspiration do you get from reality?
Lassen: Nature has inspired me enormously. It's
Seconds: You've a mentioned Boris Valkio and Frank
Frazetta as influences.
Lassen: That was a long time ago, with my earlier
bronzes that had a lot of action in them - but nothing technical, just movement.
Seconds: Were you interested in Celtic imagery as a
LASSEN: No, that came in the mid-seventies, when I
read a lot about the Stone Age and Bronze Age. The Bronze Age is immediately related to
the Celts. Then later you come to the Iron Age, and you get the Germans and Vikings. I've
gotten a lot of inspiration from these cultures without adopting their ornamentation. I
don't use Celtic ornaments in my work, but the type of jewelry they made is great. How
they stylized animals is fantastic.
Seconds: You've described your work as fantasy.
Where's the line between fantasy and reality?
Lassen: I work realistic. My work is not abstract.
Realistic means you see what I am doing. You recognize what I have made. It is not even
stylized. It is realistic. All the elements are real -snakes, frogs, etc. But how I
combine the elements is the fantasy; such combinations don't exist in nature, just in your
mind. It can possibly exist in the future, and then it is Science Fiction. Sometimes it is
called Surrealism, but I prefer to call it Fantastic Realism.
Seconds: Could you tell me about your swordsmith work?
Lassen: It's difficult to find the right steel. You
can also use iron nowadays, there are all different types of elements in the steel you
buy. The old steel was much easier to fold over and weld together. It was purer. What is
important is high-carbonate steel. I use old files. I'm not sure of the carbonate content;
it is not written on it. After each folding, you lose a lot of carbonate. If you make a
blade out of a file and you harden it and you drop it, it will break. It is too hard. I
chop the file up and put it together with slices of low-carbonate steel, which is a lot
softer, or iron. You wind them up with wire, weld a bar on it to hold it, and then it goes
in the fire. You turn it till it is white hot and sparks are coming off. You take it out
of the fire and hit it, then the layers are welded together if you have done the job
correctly. Then with small hammers you hammer it out to a bar, you cut a groove, and you
fold it, double it. That is your first fold. It is still red hot. You use borax, a kind of
melting powder, in between the fold. Then it goes back to the fire, repeat the same
process, it comes out, you hit it, then hammer it out gently, and then fold it in the
other direction. And this you can repeat up to fourteen times, depending on what you like.
I like a very fine structure of the blade. Usually I forge a "U" profile and put
in a layer of softer steel. It goes back in the fire. I weld it together then I hammer the
blade out to give it the actual shape. You have a blade with hard skin and a soft inside.
This blade cannot break; at the most you can bend it. And this is, in fact, like the
Japanese technique - also similar to the technique used with the Indonesian blades, but
the other way around. There the inside is hard and the outside is soft. When hardening the
blade, I make a solution of 32% clay, 32% sandstone powder and 32% charcoal powder and I
mix it with water. The sandstone powder makes the clay fireproof and the charcoal powder
makes the clay glow so you can see the color when it's heating. I cover it with a thin
layer on both sides of the blade, let it dry, and then put a thicker layer on - but not
more than two or three millimeters, and not on the edge of the blade, so it will be a lot
thinner. When it's dry, it goes in the fire. You heat it up until both sides are bright
yellow and then you plunge it in warm water, not cold. After polishing, you see a
beautiful hardened edge and the back of the blade still remains soft.
Seconds: Do you ever ruin one?
Lassen: With my skill, one out of three. With people
who have a lot more skill than I have, like Japanese swordsmiths, nearly every blade comes
out good. They still make them in the traditional way.
Seconds: How did you become a consultant to Sotheby's
on Japanese armour?
Lassen: I've collected Japanese swords since 1971. In
1973, I met a Japanese man who was a sword collector and appraiser. He started to teach me
what to look at, and I came into that world. I started to know the value of the items.
That's how it began. Later, I started consulting with local auctions. That went on, then
Sotheby's came to my shop with a couple of swords asking for an appraisal. Eventually I
also started doing descriptions for their catalogs. One came from the other. I do it now
for three auction houses, one of them being Sotheby's. But it is only occasionally.
Seconds: You were talking about furniture before.
Weren't you working on some installations for a biker bar?
Lassen: Yes, I was commissioned to do a private bar.
It's not really a biker bar; it's for a man who imports motorcycles from the States to
Holland. He's building a new house and wants to have this bar in his house. Actually, the
bar will be his living room for his partners and friends. Unfortunately, it won't be a
public place, but I'll make sure it is well-documented.
Seconds: Most artists have extra ideas that dont fit
with the continuity of their work. Do you have any ideas like that? Like that bunny
Lassen: I'm open to everything hut I'll always give it
my own twist. You'll say, "Okay, it is a bunny dagger, but there is something 'funny'
about it." I'd love to do a bunny dagger, it is so over the top. I think I'll do a
pink scarab with turquoise gemstones, very beautiful and gay. I'd love to do it, but
nobody would understand it.
Seconds: What will your future work be like?
Lassen: I have a painter friend who's about
seventy-two. He started with lots of Horror in his work. He told me the older he became,
the more the Horror faded away. He's become softer and softer. Now, he's drawing little
elves and things like that. I hope that will not happen to me.
Inquiries regarding AndrČ Lassens daggers, sculptures and furniture may be
1012 GA Amsterdam, Holland
Tel: Int'l + 31 6 262 587 98
or his agent:
Leslie Barany Communications
226 East 27th Street, Suite #3D
New York, New York, 10016, USA
Tel: (212) 684-2225
Fax: (212) 689-6494