Tag: verner panton

Julian Stanczak interview on Geoform.net

November 4th, 2011 | 2 Comments

I remember the first time I ever saw a painting by Julian Stanczak in person. It was at the Toledo Museum of Art, several years ago. Standing before And Then There Were Three, in all of its 4-foot-by-12-foot vastness, I literally felt myself being engulfed by the colors and forms before me. Green and red were banging against each other, forming a warm brown, vibrating against several rhythmic progressions of purples.

julian stanczak interview - and then there were three
And Then There Were Three by Julian Stanczak. 48 x 144 inches (122 cm x 3.7 m). 1971. Collection of Toledo Museum of Art. Photo by Faasdant via flickr.

I remember trying to focus on just one color — training my eyes to carefully scan the canvas from bottom to top edge, in a vertical line — and noted how my perception of that singular color changed, based on its proximity to other colors.

The more I gazed at And Then There Were Three, the more I fell into it, as if a gravitational pull had lured me into a radically different (and far more interesting) reality. I couldn’t pull myself away. I was in bliss.

That moment at Toledo Museum of Art changed my thinking about art and how I saw my own art. Julian Stanczak had joined my personal constellation of art superstars.

Ever since, I have followed the arc of Stanczak’s career with great interest. I have enjoyed the resurgence in interest in his work — as evidenced by his inclusion in the Optic Nerve, presented by Columbus Museum of Art in 2009, as well as CLE OP: Cleveland Op Art Pioneers, on view through February 26, 2012 at Cleveland Museum of Art.

The fact that Stanczak is a Clevelander — he resides in Seven Hills, one suburb east of where I grew up (Hint: It rhymes with “pharma.”) — who attended Cleveland Institute of Art around the time my mother did (ca. 1950), makes him even cooler.

Naturally, when Julie Karabenick, editor and curator of Geoform.net, contacted me last week to let me know that she had just posted an interview with Stanczak, I virtually flipped out. At first, I tried to read the interview on my phone, but quickly stopped once I realized how comprehensive it is.

Clocking in at more than 15,000 words (23 pages of 10-point type, without images, expertly led and transcribed by Karabenick), this interview is a definitive, tour de force window into how Stanczak sees his work, his influences, and his creative process. Read the complete interview on Geoform.net here.

“Color Meltdowns”

Several themes continually resurface throughout the interview. Stanczak’s love of color emerges early; he views color as “abstract, universal — yet personal and private in experience. It affects us emotionally, not logically as do tangible things.”

As the interview progresses, Stanczak’s insights take on a gravity not unlike Paul Klee’s near-mystical observations in The Thinking Eye, but with a playfulness and optimism shared by Verner Panton. You intimately sense Stanczak’s love for color, and his deep interest in creating a visual sensation for the viewer, through interactions between colors.

“I want to fuse many colorants and their gradations into a single color experience — a ‘color meltdown,'” he says. “I am interested in the glow of colors as they interact and intermix, as they give to each other. And there are many factors I must consider to achieve the desired meltdown.”

He speaks of his paintings as an “interactive fusion” of colors, where “visual elements lose their individuality for the sake of totality.” Stanczak’s canvases are surfaces upon which colors invite our eyes to mix them into entirely new colors, forming a “haze” or “glow” as they interact.

Nature as the greatest teacher

Unlike anything else, the natural world has challenged and inspired Stanczak to experiment with colors, forms, and its many sensations. The artist expresses an instinctual fascination with the geometry and visual rhythms that permeate life.

“More than any of my teachers, Nature directed me, and I gained more conviction through, for example, observing water reflections, river currents, wood grain or grasses swaying,” Stanczak says. “In many of my studies the rhythmic use of line or shape refers to weather and light.”

During his early teaching career in Cincinnati and Cleveland, in the late 1950s and early 1960s — a time of great isolation for the artist — nature was Stanczak’s one constant.

“With no one to promote my clean geometry, whom could I turn to for some kind of confirmation? — to Nature, as always,” he observes. “I have always felt that Nature harbors the answers to all my questions.”

Josef Albers

Stanczak’s recollections of Josef Albers, one of his professors at Yale, form a particularly fascinating section of Karabenick’s interview. The artist remembers:

At Yale one of the first lessons I heard from Albers was, “I cannot teach you your art!” Albers used destruction as a method of construction in his teaching. Anything you thought you knew was taken away. The principle was not to get attached to anything too early, but to keep looking, searching, and thinking. Albers made endless demands for you to be better, to be a more observant participant in life. You experienced total emancipation from what to do, how to do it and what to think.

[Albers] gave me the courage to explore color beyond the classroom. He gave me the mindset to accept questions as part of life’s energy. My paintings and my search for understanding of color were based on a step-by-step process of observation. My observations might not match those of another person, but they became my foundation to build upon. I was gratified that Albers chose to include one of my pieces in his Interaction of Color portfolio.

Albers emerges later in the interview, when Stanczak drove to New Haven to invite Albers to the opening of his first solo show in a New York gallery — Julian Stanczak: Optical Paintings, at Martha Jackson Gallery in 1964. The exhibition’s title unnerved Stanczak, but particularly rankled Albers.

Stanczak remembers:

I found him aroused, pointing to the exhibition announcement in the paper. Without a greeting he said, ‘Your obligation is to correct that!’ I asked him what term he would use to describe the work, and he said ‘Perceptual painting.’ He was imperative about my responsibility to take action against something like this. I tried, but the term had already entered the public domain.

Stanczak viewed his paintings as an opportunity for “perceptual experience,” not purely optical experience. The latter was, in his opinion, a matter of merely “registering visual actions blindly.” Pattern and illusion — eye-attacking art-making tactics, on their own — never motivated Stanczak the way they did so many of his contemporaries.

Reading Karabenick’s interview is like a walk through time, spanning Stanczak’s life and the art currents surrounding and shaping him. The interview offers remarkable insights into one an artist’s lifelong approach toward color, form, and his highly individualistic art-making process — which undoubtedly has involved many miles of tape.

I consider this interview a gift that will continue to unfold new meanings as I re-read and reflect upon it, in a way very similar to seeing Stanczak’s paintings in person, up close. It is a master class that any artist can attend, and I am thankful for the opportunity to have experienced it.

Line vs. color: Reconciling early Bridget Riley and Verner Panton

February 7th, 2009 | 4 Comments

To be honest, when considering the massive polarity between line and color found throughout art history—between the Poussinistes and Rubenistes, between Ingres and Courbet—I’ve never taken sides. Perhaps it’s because I’ve never taken a life drawing class (and I have no wish to do so), and my early interest in packaging design. I always thought that a colorful stripe, slashing the pictorial plane, perfectly embodies both approaches. And when I first read about Ingres and Courbet’s vehemence for each other, I found their argument somewhat quaint.

Yet, my thinking has evolved considerably of late. For the first three weeks of January, I was immersed in two Verner Panton books: His Vitra Design Museum retrospective catalog and Lidt om Farver (Notes on Colour). The two books have changed how I approach color in my own work; Panton was completely daring in his use of colors, and he shunned white.

Since then, I’ve been reading about Bridget Riley, trying to gain more insight into her radical early Sixties op art paintings. I am completely fascinated by these pieces’ startling originality. They blow my mind—and seem to have been generated from nowhere. In 1959, Riley makes a copy of Seurat’s Le Pont de Courbevoie. Two years later, she paints Kiss, and then Blaze I in 1962. Riley’s works from 1961 – 1965 are all achromatic.

Thus, paring Panton’s turn-of-the-Seventies Visiona environments and Mira-X textiles with Riley’s work just a few years prior offers a plenty of grounds for comparison and contrast. Each is a master of an approach. They share is an art form that is purely optical and dangerously hypnotic. Perhaps most importantly, these works shun intellectual treatment. Dave Hickey’s assessment of Op Art (found in the Optic Nerve catalog) helps explain this: “Op does its own work for whoever will look. It dispenses with the repertoire of knowledge and experience that is presumed to be required to appreciate abstract art. It replaces the elite intellectual pleasure of ‘getting it’ with the egalitarian fun-house pleasures of disorientation, of trying to understand something you cannot … As we stand before Op paintings that resist our understanding, we introduce ourselves to our unconscious selves. We become aware of the vast intellectual and perceptual resources that await our command just beyond the threshold of our knowing.”

For as much as I appreciate Panton and Riley, their approaches are hard to reconcile. Panton was a master colorist, and he mined the optical power of subtle changes in hues, shades and values. But foremost, he was a designer, and he approached color from the perspective of function. “Using colours is like life,” he wrote in Notes on Color. “One must have a goal. The goal can be almost anything—also make the most awful colour combinations.” And he writes elsewhere, “Choosing colours should not be a gamble. It should be a conscious decision. Colours have a meaning and function.”

Verner Pantons Onion pattern

Verner Panton’s Onion 2 textile

Quite the opposite, Riley admitted to struggling with color early in her career. Her early paintings aimed for maximum contrast, which is why she chose black gouache on white paper (or white over black ink on plexiglass for her silkscreens). In the early 1960s, Riley chooses to produce work that is “beautifully aggressive.” As she explains in Dialogues on Art, a series of interviews with the artist, “Contrast is the clash of cymbals, the exclamation mark, the strongest possible means. That I wanted; I felt very much at the time like making an extreme statement, of something violent, something that definitely did disturb.” A complete assault on the optic nerve!

Bridget Riley’s 1965 painting Arrest

I’m charging myself with reconciling the aesthetic principles of Panton and early Riley. That’s where my mind is at right now. I want to produce work that perfectly balances line and color. I want to make works that dazzle the optic nerve, transporting the viewer into the fourth dimension. And if I am working with pattern, I will also be employing a sense of intrinsic structure and compositional order.

Verner Panton’s Remarkable Sense of Color

January 20th, 2009 | 1 Comment »

“I am not fond of white,” Verner Panton wrote in Lidt om Farver (Notes on Colour). “The world would be a more beautiful place without it. There should be a tax on white paint.”

Lately I’ve been reading about Panton—his retrospective book published by the Vitra Design Museum, as well as the aforementioned volume—and I am utterly blown away by how Panton throws himself into using color, and even develops his own color system (in partnership with Mira-X, throughout the 1970s).

Since it is so awash in color, Panton’s color method has inspired me rethink my praxis of — or reliance upon, or addiction to—using white. Looked upon in one way, the selection of white over another color virtually represents a lost opportunity to inject a work with more depth and vibrancy.

For quite some time, I have viewed white as a symbol of purity—a manifestation, or return to, something’s original state. (Perhaps this is a result of being overexposed to cleaning-product ads since birth?) It affords guaranteed negative space in a composition. Further, placed against fluorescent colors, it can make a fluoro red or orange “pop” completely. And it pairs perfectly with black.

Having explored the life’s work of Panton for the past month, however, I’m seeing how white also can be viewed as offering nothing to the visual conversation. It is a “nothing.”

“It saddens me that so many people do not understand that colours are a dimension which can add to the experience,” Panton wrote elsewhere in Notes on Colour. “There is an incredible number of people who fight against the use of colors—but there are also many people who fight against common sense.”

While this line of argument has streamed through my mind, I have been mesmerized by the color charts in Panton’s Mira-X color system. I’ve scanned them from the Vitra volume for you here. The first is Panton’s “version 2” Mira-X system (12 original colors, plus 36 new colors, black and white). Below that is an expanded “version 3” system, (36 additional colors; a total of 86).

I’m truly half-tempted to try to create a color system of my own. Pre-mix all of my paints ahead of time, and rely on those. I suppose it would have a host of fluorescent hues!

In other news: Below are two works on paper I produced over the weekend. These reflect a “Version 2” design of Civvik. The curves are slightly more angular than the original. Again, because they are works on paper, they are experiments. Whether or not I get them “right” is not a consideration. I am merely making.

In closing, the inauguration of President Obama today culminates a remarkable change of spirit within our culture. The way I feel is this: If you don’t get it, you just don’t get it, period.

Rock it fine in ’09

January 2nd, 2009 | No Comments

The holidays have come and gone, and I look forward to getting back into the groove in ’09. Hanging out and celebrating and all that has been fun, but now it is time to get back to business, as if there were no time to waste!

Amid the holiday downtime, I did find time to watch several episodes of the classic anime series Space Battleship Yamato (aka Starblazers). The first series was produced in 1974, and it offers hours of stellar outerspace illustrations and—my favorite part—mindblowing color combinations. I have found so much inspiration in this series. It is so completely outdated and anachronistic by contemporary standards, but I still find it amazing. And the background music for the first series is ineffably strange and beautiful.

The holidays also have allowed time to peruse a couple of books via Interlibrary Loan. One of them is Verner Panton: The Collected Works. Among the many things I admire about Panton, here are two:

1. Panton was trained as an architect, and he saw himself as a designer and architect. But I find this fascinating: According to the book’s introductory essay, “He regretted having brought so few buildings to completion and never having gained a real foothold in the profession he had trained for. To be sure, he made a number of starts. Panton occupied himself again and again with ideas for construction projects, he participated again and again in large architectural and urban development competitions, with considerable expenditure of time and energy—but he did not succeed even once.”

2. Panton is quoted as declaring “Color is more important than form.” While I truly love line, I find a transformative power—almost a chemical reaction—in combinations of color. I’d have to agree.

In closing, while I have written this before, I really do want to post to my blog with more frequency. Yet, I do find it difficult to find the time and energy. I don’t know why this is. Perhaps I should retroactively make “blogging more” my New Year’s resolution? If so, I guess I’m on my way to keeping it. Anyway, I welcome your ideas for blog posts.