CIA Faculty Emeritus Frances Taft wrote this essay to accompany a 2008 exhibition of works by Julian and Barbara Stanczak.
I feel honored to have been asked to write the introduction for this exhibition celebrating the work of a great artistic couple—Julian and Barbara Stanczak. Both are colleagues and dear friends, which should make it easy to write about them, as artists, as teachers and as compelling human beings. Still I found it quite difficult because I care so much about doing justice to them and their work. I know their art will speak for itself and so I shall say a little about them and their particular approaches to art.
They are a pair, married 45 years, in an artistic and symbiotic relationship, but their art is very different. They follow separate paths as they approach their work. In my teaching I embrace the idea that there are two major sources of inspiration for the visual arts—the world outside, the world we perceive; and the world inside, where ideas are conceived. The natural world is part of that outside world we know from our own visual experiences, the expanse is immense, from great mountain ranges to tiny microscopic cells. Today we include in the natural world visible to us the telescopic and the microscopic. We have greatly enlarged our total visual world. When we move into the human mind, the possibilities are again infinite. We have seen how the human mind has vastly expanded that inner universe giving expression to the intangible ideas we can neither see nor touch. These concepts range from the purely mathematical to the psychotic.
For me, Barbara and Julian’s work represents these two paths, these dissimilar sources of inspiration. Barbara finds in nature subjects that inspire her. She contemplates, selects and separates this material from the natural world and manipulates it to give it new life and the power to express her ideas. Whatever she selects, be it a rock, a tree or a shell, she dignifies it, simplifies it and transforms it into a work of art. Barbara responds to the wonders of the natural world and her work seems to be a glorification of that natural world.
Julian, in his art, seeks perfection of form through a disciplined use of color and line with which he is able to create space, movement and light on a two-dimensional canvas. His knowledge of the basic elements of form and his great skill in manipulating them makes it possible for him to see in his own mind the endless possibilities of what this art vocabulary is capable of saying.
Julian was born with immense talent, the genes of a genius, which showed themselves early in both music and mathematics.
Despite the abuses he suffered, he has translated his concepts into a highly evocative art form. This took great determination. Hard work and persistence are qualities we find in both Barbara and Julian. Barbara was born to a long line of artists, craftsmen and philosophers. She was also born into war-ravaged Germany. Nothing was given to her beyond her genes and her belief that an artist could do anything with her hands if she could visualize it in her mind. She arrived in the United States with one suitcase which was filled with pigments for her grandfather whom she had come to assist in finishing his fresco commissions. The clothes she brought were on her back. She had a student visa and the skills to help her 93-year old grandfather, who was going blind, in his work. Barbara went on to the Art Academy in Cincinnati where Julian was one of her many teachers. She took all courses available to her. In 1963 she married Julian and in 1964 they moved to Cleveland. Barbara went on studying and getting degrees, and in 1974 she came to teach at the Institute.
After Julian’s rise to prominence in 1964 based on his one-man show at Martha Jackson’s Gallery, Barbara spent hours helping with his shows, his catalogues, his prints, his records and his public. Her own painting became secondary, but she never stopped working. As time went on her painting began to incorporate more and more varied materials and slowly began to escape its two-dimensional boundaries. She evolved into a sculptor, working primarily with stone and wood. Sculpture itself is hard physical work, especially when one relies on hand tools.
A labor of love is created by both perception and sensitivity combined with stamina and persistence. Her teaching at the Cleveland Institute of Art, which continues today, reflects this same sensitivity and persistence.
Julian’s life shares in those qualities. His childhood was a nightmare from the time he was 12 and his family was wrenched from their homeland, Poland. They were sent to Siberia, in cattle cars, to an area in the Ural Mountains where the snow was six feet. Despite all this, Julian’s remarkable intellect was emerging in mathematics and in his mastery of Russian in the local schools. In this period he endured both encephalitis and pneumonia, suffered a breakdown, and a severe beating left his right arm useless. Julian, up to this point, was right handed. The story is long and complicated, but in 1942, 5,000 Polish exiles found themselves in Africa and it was here, at age 14, that Julian first began to paint. In 1948 he had his first one-man show.
Between 1948 and 1950 his family was reunited in England and in 1950 they emigrated to the United States. Julian enrolled in the Cleveland Institute of Art where I was teaching art history. He was an outstanding student, eager, appreciative and intense in soaking up everything we had to offer.
In 1998 in my catalogue for his retrospective he wrote: “To my favorite teacher, Franny.” For me nothing in my 58 years of teaching has meant more. He went on to study at Yale with Josef Albers, reacting favorably to Albers’ great discipline, and a new world of possibilities opened for him. He shut the door on war, brutality and misery and has persisted ever since in his quest for aesthetic perfection. There is great clarity, even in works of unbelievable complexity. He seeks, and I feel succeeds, in treating our responsive eyes to universal visual truths.
As teachers, as well as artists, Barbara and Julian’s legacy will be legendary; two highly intellectual individuals who have given great thought to the form and meaning of visual expression and the same intensity of thought to their teaching. Through this exhibition we salute their spirit and their stamina.
The CIA Masters Series represents artists who are not just accomplished professionals in their field, but individuals who have helped define their fields.