Pioneering Cleveland Artist Julian Stanczak Has Died at 88

Julian Stanczak in his studio [David C. Barnett / ideastream]

Internationally honored Cleveland artist and teacher Julian Stanczak died in his suburban home, over the weekend.  The 88-year-old created a formidable career, despite tremendous odds.

One spring afternoon in 2008, Julian Stanczak hovered over a drawing table in his Seven Hills studio and demonstrated the skill that made him a modern art pioneer.  He was painstakingly applying thin strips of white tape on a black canvas.

"If you are making these kinds of paintings and you make any mistakes, people just hate it," he grumbled.  "I hate it too."

Stanczak was a master of optical art - often abrieviated as "op art" - which took the popular culture by storm in the mid-1960s.  These studies in parallel lines and geometric objects created patterns that seemed to warp and pulsate.  A victim of beatings at a Siberian labor camp during World War Two, Stanczak forged a groundbreaking career with only the use of his left hand.  Frances Taft was one of his teachers at the Cleveland Institute of Art.

"Julian was able to turn off the trouble and deep tragedies of the world [through his art]," she says. "Through his art, he could create a world that is controlled and, in terms of aesthetic with the color, is very beautiful."

Julian Stanczak and his contemporaries felt their work was trivialized by the mass media, and many critics dismissed the optical art movement.  But, the Polish immigrant lived long enough to see that critical tide turn, and his pieces went on to fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars in the art market.  He is survived by his wife Barbara - also an artist and a teacher - plus a brother, a son, a daughter, two grandchildren and a great grandson.  

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