Kesha Williams Manager of Digital Communications
A survey of the work of three artists—Julian Stanczak, Brent Kee Young, and Judith Salomon—now on view as part of In Honor of the Cleveland Arts Prize offers the opportunity to appreciate the intersection between Cleveland’s leading college of art and design and one of the nation’s top art museums. All three artists have taught (and two still are teaching) at the Cleveland Institute of Art for more than three decades. Inspired by geometry and the possibilities of line and form, their innovative work celebrates connections between art and science.
Flow 1971. Julian Stanczak (American, b. Poland 1928). Acrylic on canvas; 121.9 x 91.4 cm. Bequest of Shuree Abrams 2009.295
The elder statesman is Julian Stanczak, a painting faculty emeritus. Now 82, he retired from teaching in 1995 and is considered in many circles northeast Ohio’s most important living painter. Optical Art (Op Art), a movement born during the early sixties and a term largely associated with Stanczak, embraced images that create an illusion of perceptual motion through the confrontation and contrast of colors. His first exhibition in New York, at the Martha Jackson Gallery in 1964—Julian Stanczak: Optical Paintings—helped to name the movement. As one of the movement’s major painters (along with fellow institute alum Richard Anuszkiewicz), Stanczak was featured in all major Op Art exhibitions, including 1965’s The Responsive Eye at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Born in Poland, in 1940 Stanczak was shipped to a labor camp in Russia where he lost the use of his right arm. He escaped from the camp and lived in Africa and then England before coming to the Cleveland Institute of Art in 1950 as a painting student. “When I came to the Cleveland Institute after spending seven years in the jungles of Africa, I was a bit confused as to what to expect from an art school,” he says. “Viktor Schreckengost happened to be there and was kind enough to show me around. I was impressed. . . . No wonder that Cleveland was called ‘the best location in the nation.’ The physical make-up of University Circle and its cultural offerings encouraged me to learn to give form to my desire to create.” Stanczak excelled, winning a May Show award at the museum and a scholarship for graduate study. After studying at Yale under celebrated color theorist Josef Albers, he returned to the institute in 1964 as a professor. In 1969 he received the Cleveland Arts Prize for the visual arts.
Stanczak uses color on canvas to ignite new ways of seeing and self-discovery: “The understanding of light—which is color—is a fundamental phenomenon that has to be understood, as well as the light that describes for us the three-dimensional clues of the environment. This always was and still is my primary visual concern.” In Flow (1971), the movement of red and yellow tones reminds the viewer of electromagnetic waves. The painting dazzles the eye.
Matrix Series: Catenary Ellipsoid...Bi 2010. Brent Kee Young (American, b. 1946). Lampwork glass; h. 88.9 cm. Gift of Linda Burwasser Schneider 2010.156
When Brent Kee Young came to the institute in 1973, the talented community of colleagues such as Stanczak and Schreckengost was a definite attraction. At 64, Young has been a leading figure in the glass arts movement for four decades. He founded the institute’s glass program and has challenged students to approach the medium in interesting ways ever since. He’s noticed an increased interest and enthusiasm for the medium because of the possibilities of what students can make. The question of creation remains a hook for him as well. Work from his Fossil series was born of his appreciation for the natural environment and celebrates the colors of the American Southwest. Within the walls of these multi-layered, blown glass vessels, the artist has embedded negative relief impressions based on fossil-like images. Three works from this series are part of the museum’s permanent collection.
The innovative ideas continue with Young’s most recent work, the Matrix series, which he began seven years ago. Inspired by the idea of a tumbleweed or root ball matrix, he works small strands of Pyrex over flame to create multi-layered webs of glass that morph into a variety of forms—some of which are geometric studies and others object based. The pieces, generally worked from the inside out, take months to construct. “I create work with the hope that people of all walks of life can look at it and respond to it,” he notes. “I have an interest in geometry that goes back to school years, and I have a continued interest in bringing that forward. Geometry is something that you can see, envision.” The museum acquired the Matrix series piece Catenary Ellipsoid . . . Bi in 2010. In this work, curves meet lines—and line and light define an interesting web that raises questions of origin, end, possibility, and probability.
Young has connections to the Cleveland Museum of Art beyond his place in the permanent collection. He learned of CMA director Sherman Lee’s work while studying Japanese art and ceramics at San Jose State University. Many of the artworks he studied were from the museum’s collections. He was awarded the Cleveland Arts Prize in 1987.
Box (Part I) Judith Salomon (American, b. 1952). Earthenware; h. 41.6 cm. Gift of the Sarah Stern Michael Fund in memory of Oscar Michael Jr. 1983.181.a
Judith Salomon, 58, became a professor of ceramics at the institute in 1977. Her sculptural vessels are an exploration of form inspired by Cleveland architecture, the history of ceramics, Russian constructivism, and even her interaction with students. She changed her approach to color because of how vibrantly and fearlessly her students used it. Box (Part I) is an example of Salomon’s interest in containers and containment. She approached the work much like a three-dimensional painting and collage. Each side of the 3-D canvas reflects an intersection with geometry. Lines meet other lines to form shapes that knit themselves to a patchwork of color. Curves find themselves in conversation with line for the object’s frame.
Salomon, who received the Cleveland Arts Prize in 1990, sees many benefits to having a museum right across the street from the institute. “It’s a teaching museum and we take advantage of it,” she says. “It is very different looking at an object on a two-dimensional slide versus seeing the actual object. Seeing it helps students create their own view.”
Works by these and other winners of the Cleveland Arts Prize are featured in the museum galleries through March 13. The Cleveland Institute of Art’s Reinberger Gallery, also free and open to the public, frequently showcases the work of institute students and faculty.
Cleveland Art, January/February 2011