http://www.ohio. com/entertainment/68165902.html One of art s great modern masters lives in Northeast Ohio,Message 1 of 4 , Nov 1, 2009View Source
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One of art's great modern masters lives in Northeast Ohio , quietly working away, as he has done with a great and steady discipline for nearly 81 years.
Julian Stanczak, who along with Richard Anuszkeiwicz and Bridget Riley stood the art world on its ear in the 1960s and 1970s with something called ''Op Art,'' has never slackened his pace, never retired.
Rather, in his home in Seven Hills he continues to paint his brand of abstraction as though the world had never looked away.
Look away it did in the 1980s and 1990s, when newer work came on the scene. But Stanczak kept turning out his linear veils of optical puzzlers right along, pursuing, as he puts it, the ordering of energy.
''Any deception, any light creates energy, and I am ordering — what? — energy,'' Stanczak says in a revealing video filmed by the Columbus Dispatch, now playing on YouTube and in the Cleveland Museum of Contemporary Art gallery, where Stanczak's exhibit, Recent Work, is on view through Jan. 10.
Curated by Indra K. Lacis, MOCA's Emily Hall Tremaine Please see 'Recent', E7
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Curatorial Fellow, the show consists of three series of 16-by-16-inch acrylic-on-wood panels — Parade of Reds (2006-2008), Continuous Line + Black (2005) and Continuous Line + White (2005) — plus 10 acrylic-on-board, black-on-white paintings of such optical intensity that the viewer at first believes they are three-dimensional.
In recent weeks we have marveled over the complexity of the prints of Chuck Close and his perseverance despite early learning disabilities and more recent physical disabilities.
For a continuation of that kind of triumph, try this show and stand in awe not only of Stanczak's achievement, but also of the sheer determination that enabled him to overcome his own experiences.
Stand in front of his 50-panel work Parade of Reds (2006-2008) and allow your eyes to be led from one panel to the next. Try to absorb it all. You can't. Move back, move forward, put your nose almost to the surface of a panel and watch how the unbelievably thin line changes from lavender to fuchsia to scarlet and then to coral. Now stand back and you'll swear that line is the same color from top to bottom, but your eye has just proved that it's not.
It's this sort of perceptual sleight of hand that puts Stanczak in a class by himself. His work is poetic; it is musical. You think of flowing water, cellos, symphonies and elegies of color-as-idea.
From impressionism' s first experiments with light and color, cubism's portrayal of simultaneous multiple perspectives, Jackson Pollock's exuberant drips and Paul Klee's whimsical musings, the history of modernist painting has used abstraction as a method for exploring painting's formal properties.
Twentieth-century artists explored the dichotomy between the flat space of the painting surface and the perception of three-dimensional space therein, and gradually made painting itself the subject. Stanczak's paintings fall solidly within this approach, using color and line to suggest form and each element to define the whole.
He was born in Borownica , Poland , in 1928, and his family traveled with the Polish Army-in-Exile in 1939 through Tehran , Iran ; India ; and Pakistan . In 1940, he was taken to a concentration camp in Perm , Siberia , where he endured the harrowing experiences that permanently cost him the use of his right arm at age 13.
In 1942 he was reunited with part of his family at a Polish resettlement community in the East African jungles of British Uganda. It was there, as he told Lacis, amid ''the powerful geometric shapes, the bright intense colors and strong oppositions, '' that he began to paint, earning his first exhibit at the Stanley Hotel in Nairobi , Kenya .
As he recalled for Brian Sherwin, writing for Myartspace in 2008, ''the transition from using my left hand as my right, main hand, was very difficult. My youthful experiences with the atrocities of the Second World War are with me, but I wanted to forget them and live a 'normal' life and adapt into society more fully.''
In 1948, his family was reunited with his father in England ; two years later, he emigrated to the United States , and earned his B.A. from the Cleveland Institute of Art.
In 1956, he earned his M.F.A. from Yale University , studying with Josef Albers and Conrad Marca-Relli. That same year he became a U.S. citizen.
We can see the evidence of Albers' teachings, something to which Stanczak readily admits.
''In the classroom, Albers gave nobody comfort of support. He taught by confrontation, anxiety, breaking down conventionalism, and by his European untouchable attitude of Herr Professor.''
Similar to the military's method of breaking down recruits in order to rebuild them in the military mold, Stanczak said, Albers and Marca-Relli systematically dismantled their pupils' assumptions to reconstruct their working methods.
Albers and Marca-Relli ''honestly didn't teach you anything,'' he told Harry Rand in his essay for the 1990 monograph Julian Stanczak: Decades of Light. ''They took away, they emptied you from any hope or illusion.''
During this period of search for a direction and style, Stanczak came under quite a bit of pressure from his peers.
''Everybody was trying to push me to paint from my experience,' ' he recalls in the video. ''Why do you drown in a misery of your own problems? Who cares how much you suffered? Everybody suffers.''
So Stanczak began the arduous odyssey of jettisoning emotional associations and suppressing whatever romantic or literary baggage crept into his work. His solution: to excise all figuration and any subject matter external to the act of painting and simplification of forms.
''In the search for art, you have to separate what is emotional and what is logical,'' Stanczak told Sherwin. ''I did not want to be bombarded daily by the past. I looked for anonymity of actions through nonreferential, abstract art.''
After teaching at the Art Academy of Cincinnati and marrying the artist Barbara M. Meerpohl, in 1964 he was appointed professor of painting at the Cleveland Institute of Art. His first exhibition in New York was held that year. Titled Julian Stanczak: Optical Paintings, it was the exhibit that gave the Op Art movement its name.
''Op Art!'' Stanczak exclaims in the YouTube video. ''I didn't know I was making Op Art. I was trying to understand how I saw, how we see altogether. I was possessed by my work and my ability, or lack of it, to see. I didn't choose it. It chose me. It's almost a curse.''
His works are in the collections of more than 60 art museums throughout the United States and abroad, including New York 's Museum of Modern Art , the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Akron Art Museum .
Stanczak's importance includes his approach to art, which is more philosophical, more grounded in the quality of the question.
''What is art?'' he asks rhetorically. ''That was always a question. Buddhists will say it was a state of nirvana.
''Thinking about art and the religious, it's a sublimity, it's an elevation. We are looking for freedom of pain, of life. Nature is the answer to everything. Whenever we are lost, nature has an answer.''
He retired from the Cleveland Institute of Art in 1995 after 38 years of teaching. And in 2004, Stanczak returned to the New York art scene with his first one-person exhibition there in 25 years.
All this time he has maintained an international presence in contemporary painting through his technically meticulous, visually stimulating and association- rich paintings that explore the psychology of sight through the physical juxtaposition of colors and the manipulation of spatial perception.
He isn't swayed by side issues. Since he found his approach, he's stuck to it, discovering among his myriad thicknesses of line, the elements of spatial relation, the mutability of forms, vibrations of color, transparencies that are mere apparitions, and planes that change so subtly that we can't tell where the transformation begins or ends.
Stanczak presents us a world that seems solid and stable only to have it shift on its own foundations and reveal another, less certain reality.
''There are a lot of temptations to do something else, landscape or something else, but then it is entertainment, not the idea of clarification of something for yourself,'' Stanczak explains. ''I don't have the time for entertainment. So I am anxious, but it's not because I couldn't do it, but time is the issue.
''I just want to understand life and humanity farther than I can. But time runs away. I don't have much left.''
With that in mind, take the time to see this show. It's a stunner by a master who just won't fade away.
Among the remaining events being held in conjunction with this show is Harmonic Hues, a free Cleveland Institute of Music performance at 7 p.m. Nov. 11.