Julian Stanczak has been exploring art for over 60 years. He is considered by some to be the father of Op Art. However, that is a title that Mr. Stanczak is not very fond of. I found Mr. Stanczak to be extremely humble considering the mark he has made in the world of art. Julian is an artist who does not permit ego to overshadow his work.
Julian's art is an exploration of what it is to see- his work challenges the viewers perception through his mastery of color. His art can be viewed as a journey into the miracle of sight and an amplification of discoveries in that journey. This understanding of color is only matched by the seriousness in which he creates his art- a life long journey that he continues to explore. His ongoing contributions to the artworld are considered to be one of the most significant since the American Abstract Artists movement.
Mr.Stanczak's art can be observed in several major public and private collections throughout the world- including: The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, NY), Museum of Modern Art (New York, NY), and the Smithsonian American Art Museum (Washington, DC). Julian's art can also be found in the collections of several colleges and universities- Princeton University, Dartmouth College and the University of Illinois, just to name a few.
Brian Sherwin: The Op Art movement was named for your first exhibition in New York. Held at the Martha Jackson Gallery in 1964, the exhibition was titled Julian Stanczak: Optical Paintings. Can you recall how you felt having had an art movement named after your work? How does it feel to be the father of Op Art?
Julian Stanczak: I don't consider myself the "Father of Op Art" and I hated the title of my first one-man-show in New York. I was shocked by the terminology "Optical Painting" because it diminishes the seriousness of the artist's search, the hard work and convictions - regardless of the visual form that it might take. Martha Jackson used the title as a means of provoking the media to respond,- and they did! So it was clever politics... I never did nor ever will consider myself "Father of Op Art"!
Optical Art existed through millennia as the visual investigation of human perception. With the years, I learned to accept the terminology and I adopted my philosophy: now the name attached to me is just a name.
BS: Mr. Stanczak, may we discuss your youth? Can you reflect on your past and explain how it shaped your future in art? At the beginning of World War II you were forced into a Siberian labor camp, where you permanently lost the use of your right arm (You happened to be right-handed.). In 1942, at the age of 13, you escaped Siberia to join the Polish army-in-exile in Persia. How did these early experiences of struggle and war influence your future work? Also, how did you make the transition of having lost the use of your right arm to painting with your left-hand?
JS: 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 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.
In visual art, there are two important elements: 1. boundary formations and the tease of the familiar, and 2. the poetics of color. I am juggling both of these visual quests for the past 60 years and I am finding echoes through-out history of these same concerns.
BS: Many people would stop working after loosing the use of their main hand. I actually know a few artists who stopped working after enduring such a tragedy. They never got over it. Considering the experiences of your youth and the loss of the use of your right arm... all of the obstacles you had overcome... would you say that your work is about survival? Was that a key element to your growth as an artist?
JS: All human chosen preoccupations are about survival!
BS: Can you tell our readers about some of your other influences? For example, has music inspired you?
JS: All the arts feed on one another and help clarify the quest. The greatest influence I find in the parallel of art,- the creative richness of nature. I greatly admire Far Eastern Sumi painting, Egyptian figures, Monet's colors, and Van Gogh's abstractions....
BS: You received your Master of Fine Arts from Yale University School of Art and Architecture in 1956. Who were your mentors at that time? How did they influence or inspire the art you have become known for?
JS: Conrad Marca Relli and Josef Albers were my teachers at Yale. One would clabber me and the other would protect me from clabbering myself. They took away everything I thought I knew- and at the end,- through self-confrontation,- they offered much and I found myself whole. I learned to love my teachers.
BS: Mr. Stanczak, in the early 1960s you began to make the surface plane of your paintings vibrate through your use of wavy lines and contrasting colors in works such as Provocative Current (1965). These paintings gave way to more complex compositions constructed with geometric rigidity yet softened with varying degrees of color transparency such as Netted Green (1972). Can you recall the progression of your work? Was it an issue of trial and error... or did you map out the progression of your work?
JS: Anything one designs to follow in one's art, through working many pathways offer themselves as visual possibilities. This awareness of possibilities leads you: you weigh and analyze and project mentally the validity of those possibilities and with truthfulness you decide if these should be yours. You syphon out what fascinates you, which you modify and they in turn enrich the direction in which you should go.
BS: In addition to being an artist, you have also been a teacher, having worked at the Art Academy of Cincinnati from 1957 to 1964 and as a Professor of painting at the Cleveland Institute of Art from 1964 to 1995. How did you find balance between being an art instructor and a working artist? Also, were you inspired by your students?
JS: Teaching and having a regular income was a necessity for me. Teaching makes you crystallize your ethics and concepts. Having fragile young minds around you, full of anxieties, is challenging. To be of assistance and help and recognize surprises (each of us is so different) one has to tune into their state of mind. This unveiling of new creative life/energy is the reward.
BS: Mr. Stanczak, your most recent work has been creating a large-scale series, comprised of square panels on which you examine variations of hue and chroma in illusionistic color modulations. Are you working on anything at this time?
JS: Yes, and I still have lots of work to do... I am a colorist and I do not dwell any longer on the resolution of the unknown - which is color! Physical problems, acquired through age, make large paintings impossible - but I work on small panels and bring them together into a new totality. These are the constellations that I work on now.
BS: Finally, is there anything you would like to say to younger artists? Do you have any suggestions or advice for them?
JS: Don't look for art outside yourself,- you can only find it within yourself.- and most likely,- you are already stepping on it!
I would like to publicaly thank Mr. Stanczak for allowing me the time to ask him a few questions. I would also like to thank Neil K. Rector, Krzys Stanczak, and Barbara Stanczak for their help in making this interview happen. You can learn more about Julian Stanczak by visiting his website: www.jstanczak.com
Take care, Stay true,