The New York gallery scene has a way of offering up nice coincidences. Now on view at Danese gallery is a four-decade survey of grid paintings by Julian Stanczak, perhaps the canonical painter of Op Art (the term was coined for one of his shows in the 1960s). Born in Poland in 1928, Stanczak now lives and works in Seven Hills, Ohio. There’s a move that has one of those only-in-America rings to it, especially when you consider that, in the interim, Stanczak passed through Iran, India, and Pakistan as a refugee with the Polish Army-in-Exile in 1939, was interned at a Soviet concentration camp in 1940, and lived in a Polish resettlement community in the jungles of British Uganda in 1942. He emigrated to the United States in the 1950s and earned a BA from the Cleveland Institute of Art and an mfa from Yale, where he studied with Albers and Conrad Marca-Relli, and became a citizen in 1956.
The Op of Stanczak’s art is as much alchemy as science. Even with their taped lines and checkerboar d patterns, his compositions can be magically powerful—emotive rather than emotional work from an artist who lost the use of his right arm in Siberia. His grids, with layers of carefully graded squares and lines, are built up so that the optical effects are maximized while the mechanics are tucked from view. Stanczak is less interested in revealing the process of his art than in presenting a product with the greatest punch and sparkle.
Most of the paintings here are constructed around a central axis. The colors radiate and rotate out of the heart of the work, sometimes pushing out, sometimes drawing us into perceived space. The grids, mean while, stitch the work together, containing the pulsating colors in their weave and giving the compositions a classical order.
Now in his eighties, Stanczak offers up two new red paintings that are the best and most assured works in the Danese show. In Echo 1 and Echo 2(both 2010), he dispenses with his more fussy pattern systems and creates two warm and glowing works with subtle touches. At a time when the art world seems to listen more than it looks, here are paintings that are unabashed in their high-definition glory.