Saturday, August 18th, 2018

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Julian Stanczak renowned as key figure in Op Art movement

Julian Stanczak renowned as key
figure in Op Art movement

Julian and Barbara Stanczak at MOCA in front of “Parade of Reds,” 2006-2008. The installation is comprised of 50 panels, acrylic on wood, each measuring 16 x16 inches. Julian mixed 400 shades of red for this piece. (Photograph by Caroline R. Merk)


Best known in the art world as an innovative leader and key figure in the Optical Art (Op Art) movement, Julian Stanczak, the Polish-born American abstract painter, is proudly claimed as one of our local icons. He has garnered international acclaim over five decades of uninterrupted artistic output. Julian Stanczak’s work is shown in art galleries worldwide and is in the permanent collections of more than 60 major art museums in this country, including the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA).
To see just one of Julian Stanczak’s paintings is not enough. One must view many to get a sense of the scope and breadth of Julian’s oeuvre. Each painting is a showcase of precise and flawless execution. His mastery of creating an illusion of depth, along with a sense movement and energy, is unparalleled. The effect can be mesmerizing. With humility Julian says, “If I can capture your time and your attention — that is all I want.”
In Julian’s paintings, color is the element that takes priority. “It reaches our soul faster. Color gives us an immediate reaction, and an energy that enters us so potently,” he says. According to Paola Morsiani, curator of contemporary art at CMA, “Color, indeed, distinguishes Stanczak’s work. His paintings are scientific in method, but their meticulous chromatic articulations confer them a poetic depth.”
“I translate my dreams into reality,” says Julian of his work. However, his dreams were forced to change over the years. In 1940, 11-year-old Julian and his family were taken from their home in Poland to a Russian gulag. He endured incredible hardships, including the loss of the use of his right arm. This, he says, robbed him of his intended pursuit of a career in music.
His family eventually made its way to Africa, via the Middle East and India. The landscapes Julian encountered were like none he had ever seen. From desolate deserts to lush jungles — these sights moved him and inspired him to capture what he saw. “I am so much in love with nature,” he says. His early drawings led a Jesuit brother, who was chronicling life in the Ugandan refugee camp, to ask him to illustrate the journal and to decorate the church they had built.
In 1948, Julian left Africa for England and enrolled at the Borough Polytechnic Institute in London. Two years later, he came to America to continue his studies at the Cleveland Institute of Art, followed by an MFA from Yale in 1956. Later, as a professor at Cincinnati’s Art Academy, he met a student who was to become his future wife. Barbara, nee Meerpohl, was born in Germany into an intellectual and artistic family. She came to the U.S. at age 18 to assist her grandfather, who was 93, in completing a fresco he was commissioned to paint in Cincinnati. She already had studied art and excelled in it.
Julian and Barbara moved to Cleveland when Julian was invited to join the faculty at CIA. Barbara pursued a BFA and MFA in German Literature, Art History and Art Education from Case Western Reserve University. She is a notable and accomplished sculptor in her own right. Julian retired after 30 years at CIA, whereas Barbara continues to teach Foundation Design courses. As academics, they have influenced and inspired scores of aspiring artists.
Julian is currently preparing pieces for an exhibit opening in September at his “mother gallery” in Manhattan, the Danese Gallery. Barbara is looking further into the future, April of 2011, when the Canton Museum of Art will feature an exhibition of her work.
The couple has two adult children, neither of whom pursued art as a career. Daughter Danusia is a naturalist in the Summit County Park System, having inherited a great love of nature from both her parents. Their son, Krzys, is a stem cell researcher at UCLA. As a scientist, his propensity for precision may well have come from his father, whose work exemplifies this trait, albeit in a different context.

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