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Julian Stanczak: 1928 - 2017

It is with the saddest regret that Mitchell-Innes & Nash announces the death of Julian Stanczak. He died at age 88 in Seven Hills, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, his hometown since the early 1960s. He first came to wide public recognition when he was included in the enormously popular exhibition The Responsive Eye at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1965, which greatly contributed to the public awareness of the Op Art movement.  The phrase “Op Art” itself was first used in print by artist-critic Donald Judd in his review of Stanczak’s exhibition at the Martha Jackson Gallery, in 1964, titled “Julian Stanczak: Optical Paintings.”  While Stanczak is often associated with Op Art, Judd recognized that Stanczak’ s paintings have a “painterly expressiveness” and, thus, grew out of personal experience as opposed to Op Art’s basis in perceptual science and mathematical stratagems.

Julian Stanczak’s early life was marked by enormous personal struggles. Born in Borownica, Poland in 1928, Stanczak and his family were forced into a labor camp in Siberia during World War II, where they survived extreme working conditions and near starvation. Stanczak escaped but was greatly weakened after contracting encephalitis and ultimately lost the full use of his right arm. He taught himself to paint with his left hand. After escaping from the camp at age 14, he joined, then deserted, the Polish army-in-exile. Stanczak wandered alone in the Middle East before rejoining his family in Teheran, Persia (Iran). Stanczak spent most of his teenage years in a Polish refugee camp in Uganda, where he started to make artwork inspired by the stunning light and atmosphere of Africa: a type of hypnotic chromatism that would later influence his works. He attended Borough Polytechnic Institute in London, England between the years of 1948 and 1950. In 1950, Stanczak immigrated to the United States, where he studied at Yale University under Josef Albers and Conrad Marca-Relli and where he received his M.F.A in 1956. Albers’s teachings on color theory and the precision of geometric forms would become fundamental to the development of Stanczak’s mature style and method. Fueled by his own personal history of shifting geography, the perceptual effects of Stanczak’s paintings can range from a subtle vibrant glow to an electric, rhythmic oscillation. In 1954 he received his Master of Fine Arts from the Cleveland Institute of Art, where he was a professor of painting from 1964 to 1995.

Stanczak’s work has been included in exhibitions in the U.S. and internationally from 1948 to the present day. Important group shows include The Responsive Eye at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1965; Paintings in the White House at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., 1966; and Ghosts in the Machine at the New Museum, New York, 2012. Significant surveys of his work include Julian Stanczak: 50 Year Retrospective, Cleveland Institute of Art, Ohio, 2001; Line Color Illusion: 40 Years of Collecting Julian Stanczak, Akron Art Museum, Ohio, 2013; and From the Collection: 1960-1969, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2016-2017.  

From May 18 to June 24, 2017, Mitchell-Innes & Nash will have its second exhibition of Stanczak’s work, to be titled “Julian Stanczak:  The Life of the Surface, Paintings 1970-1975.”

His work is included in the collections of more than 80 museums, including Albright Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo; the Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh; the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, DC; Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Gallery, Washington, DC; and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Julian Stanczak is survived by his wife, artist Barbara Stanczak, daughter Danusia M. Casteel, and son Krzys M. Stanczak.