Op artist Julian Stanczak, was born in eastern Poland, (Borownica), in 1928. He is recognized as a Polish-American painter/printmaker, and currently lives in Cleveland, Ohio. As for his education, it came after a long period of travel during and after WWII. Stanczak migrated from a Siberian labor camp, where he lost the use of his right arm, and had to re-train himself to paint with his left hand. He spent some time with the Polish army-in-exile in Persia and then migrated to Africa where he lived in Uganda. Later on, he moved to London and eventually came to the United States in 1950 where he started his artistic studies. Stanczak received his B.F.A. degree from the Cleveland Institute of Art in 1954, and then went to Yale University to study with Josef Albers, where he received his M.F.A. degree in 1956.
In addition to being an artist, Stanczak taught at the Art Academy of Cincinnati 1957–64, and he taught Painting for thirty years at the Cleveland Institute of Art, 1964-1995. He once said… " In the search for Art, you have to separate what is emotional and what is logical. I did not want to be bombarded daily by the past,- I looked for anonymity of actions through non-referential, abstract art."
How many of us can be recognized as having an art movement named after our work? Stanczak’s first major solo show in New York was held at the Martha Jackson Gallery(1964) and was aptly called Julian Stanczak: Optical Paintings. It was the phrase that named the Op Art movement. He was included in MOMA’s The Responsive Eye exhibition, and later went on to make the surface of his paintings seem to vibrate through wavy lines and complementing color palettes. Stanczak used repeating forms to create an art of his experience; useding varying transparent color ranges with a formal geometric grid. From his explorations he continued to expand the dialog already begun with Josef Albers, Richard Anuskiewicz and Illinois Op artist Hal Rogoff.
By 1966 Bridget Riley, Stanczak, Rogoff and Anuszkiewicz, were all creating color op art though Stanczak's compositions were the most complex of all of the color practitioners. Taking his cue from Albers' book Interaction of Color, Stanczak created various spatial experiences with color and geometry. Color has no simple systematized equivalent, but it can derive from the electromagnetic scale in multi-dimensions that correspond to the magnitudes expressed in musical pitch energy. Stanczak arranged patterns upon patterns so one would see them as them as a series of transparent layered color screens.
The Origins of Op Art
Walter Gropius’ Bauhaus alternative school of Architecture and Applied Arts, with its disciplined style based on geometric shapes of the cube, the rectangle and the circle was conceived with the idea of creating a educational community of artists. When the Nazis shut down the school, many of its artists and teachers fled Germany for Hungary and the United States. Victor Vasarely, long considered the the ‘father’ of Op Art, trained at the Budapest school.
The development of 20th c. art to separate itself from representational imagery through de-emphasis of a traditional image or natural spatial concerns as was found in Cubism and Abstract Expressionism propelled the idea of flat, patterned optics and the move toward geometric shapes and Minimalism. Studies on the mathematical/scientific basis of perception
( how the eye and brain work together to perceive color, light, depth, perspective, size, shape, and motion, and how their functional relationship - how the retina ‘sees’ patterns and the brain ‘interprets’ them) had been going on since the 1800s, had a resurgence in the 1950s and 1960s. Confusion between these two creates a visual stimuli and an optical ‘vibration’, like how some colors placed next to neutral greys appear to create new colors, or an echo of another color, an after image, etc.
Op Art can also be seen as having evolved from Kinetic Art . The use of repetition, pattern and line, often in high contrast or complementary colors, was one way Op Artists used to create this illusion of movement. The overall effect let the viewer see a vibration as the eye tried to separate the color complements. Image-wise, the geometrically-based nature of Op Art is almost always non-representational. However, despite this, Op artists made use of the traditional perspective techniques to allow for an accurate representation of the natural world in order to create the illusion of depth/space.
Stanczak's contribution to the Op Art movement is significant and has worked from within the bounds of personal tragedy, to lock it firmly in the past and capably create a new illusion of one's perspective/perception. The tragedies of his early years in Siberia and the physical trauma of re-training himself to create with his left arm left its mark, but he did not let it dictate his ability to work, nor did it stop him from making work that is technically and mathematically perfect. His paintings and screenprints strongly align themselves with his peers and we can appreciate his antecedence at a time when younger artists like Paul Kuhn and Eve Leader are exploring the nuances of Neo-Geo abstraction.
Stanczak’s Selected Honors and Permanent Collections:
1966 - "New Talent" by Art in America magazine
1970 - "Outstanding American Educator", Educators of America
Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York
Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Centrum Sztuki Studio im Stanislawa I. Witkiewicza, Warsaw, Poland
Corcoran Museum of Art Washington, DC
Hirshhorn Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee Wisconsin
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Boston, Massachusetts
Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC
Tamayo Museo de Arte Contemporaneo, Mexico City, Mexico
Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England