Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Julian Stanczak

Julian Stanczak, Untitled, 2004.

I went to the opening of Robert C. Morgan's "The Optical Edge" at the Pratt Manhattan Gallery tonight. From the press release: "Curated by internationally renowned artist, critic, historian and author, Robert C. Morgan, Ph.D., “The Optical Edge”, surveys four decades and two generations of painters whose experimentations with color, light and form have helped shape the influential Optical Art Movement beyond its early interpretations in the 1960s."

The show packed a surprisingly big punch considering how ambitious the theme vs. how little space Mr. Morgan had to work with (two medium-size rooms). Highlights included an early Richard Anuszkiewicz, a really terrific shaped canvas by Gabriele Evertz, two solid tondos by my good friend Gilbert Hsiao (one of the few artists I can think of who can really negotiate a circular canvas - no small feat), and one of Sandy Wurmfeld's rigorous spectral investigations, which was in a tall vertical format (most of the work I've seen of his is in landscape orientation).

But the real highlight for me was meeting Julian Stanczak (what a character!). He had two pieces in the show: a painting from 1966, and a group of small canvases from 2006. There was no diminution in quality, and despite similar objectives the newer paintings were not simply rehashes of earlier work. Stanczak paints light as well as the Impressionists and the Hudson River painters, and paints close-valued haze as well as the Venetians, all with a spartan vocabulary of stripes, circles, squares and curves.

Visit his website to see a wide selection from nearly 50 years of work, and make sure to check out his process videos (here's one of them). The thing that makes his working process border on the miraculous is that he does it all with one hand (his left). Why? Because he was abused and beaten so badly in Stalin's Siberian gulag in the early 40's that he lost the use of his right arm. Where there's a will, there's a way, they say.