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Cinematheque

About . History . Julian Stanczak . Bruce Checefsky Essay 

Boundary Formations and the
Tease of the Familiar

CIA Reinberger Gallery Director Bruce Checefsky wrote this essay on Julian Stanczak in 2011.

The Responsive Eye exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1965 was the seminal exhibition of Op Art and included works by Julian Stanczak and Ed Mieczkowski among a list of Who’s Who of geometric and perceptual abstraction–Josef Albers, Ellsworth Kelly, Frank Stella, Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, Richard Anuszkiewicz, Bridget Riley, and others. 

Stanczak, whose work has been the subject of several recent exhibitions organized by the Danese Gallery in New York, is a true colorist, and doesn’t consider himself the “Father of Op Art” as so many have pegged him. “Visual investigation through human perception” better describes his creative vocation, and what a ride it has been. After 60 years of non-referential, abstract art, Stanczak’s work remains wonderfully mysterious even in his most recent paintings. His intricate language of music and poetry of colors exist like a metronome with a fixed aural pulse where the ‘boundary of formations and the tease of the familiar’ define his visual quest.

While possibly a true democratic art form, optical art or perceptual painting relies heavily on perception, giving it vigor and a youthful glow in absence of any identifiable subject material. Pulsating colors and repeating thin lines undulate in figurative rhythm like shapely dancers in a psychophysiological experience. Serial music and experimental film shared similar comparison in the early 60s, but Stanczak’s work has matured since then, remaining tantalizingly playful and important. 

The multiple panels of Constellation in Red, Constellation in Yellow, and Constellation in Green remind us that physically speaking, we exist as human beings in apparent proximity to other human beings. A pattern quickly emerges, and like a skillful troupe of ballroom dancers, we revel in the architecture of movement, keeping a close eye on the space that separates and defines us. Stanczak’s synthesis of art, science, and technology is humanistic and passionate, balancing a repertoire of color and poetry like a maestro who has yet to discover that his feet actually do touch the floor.

Ed Mieczkowski, a founding member of the influential hard-edged, geometric abstraction movement Anonima in the early 1960s—along with Frank Hewitt (who also taught at CIA) and Ernst Benkert—followed a rigorous, self-imposed program of painting exercises to explore the effects of color on visual perception that eventually led to The Responsive Eye exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. After four decades of producing paintings, drawings, and sculptures, his jewel-edged compositions—like a refreshing optical effect on perpetual motion—are dazzling kaleidoscopic and seductively challenging. 

Mieczkowski relies heavily on various drawing systems to examine the conjunctions of technology and visual art, adding to his reputation as a celebrated painter of expressionism and geometric abstraction. His work asserts itself straight out of the cultural canons of Leonardo daVinci, Uccello’s obsession with perspective, and to a certain degree Johannes Vermeer and the camera obscura. He poses the question of how to imply space in a painting, borrowing bits and pieces of influence from universal Darwinism, the transition from subject matter to abstraction in the work of Mondrian, and the biophysics work of neuroscientist and Nobel Laureate Gerald M. Edelman.

He synthesizes a wide range of influences, transporting his mental archive with vivacious accuracy, treading narrow passages of time and creativeness with formidable presence. Mieczkowski’s most recent drawings, punctuated by airy colors cut with the highest rank of experimentalism, are a conscious attempt to reanimate abstraction; he breathes new life into an almost shadowy flatness hovering over Jackson Pollock. 

Mieczkowski’s crystalline abstractions, augmented by a mastery of line, transcend perceptual motion with effortless charm and spirit.

—Bruce Checefsky

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