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Richard Anuszkiewicz

Reflections III - White Line, 1979

American painter, printmaker and sculptor Richard Anuszkiewicz was born of Polish parents in Erie, Pennsylvania, in 1930. Although his use of bright colors may seem to relate to Polish folk art, he really is a product of the American environment. He drew even as a small child and studied in his vocational high school in Erie with a gifted teacher, Joseph Plavan. It was Plavan taught him the Ostwald system of complimentary colors and the spectrum prism.

Anuszkiewicz won several National Scholastic Magazine competitions, regional scholarships and a national scholarship, which enabled him to go to the Cleveland Institute of Art from 1948 until 1953. It was in Cleveland that Anuszkiewicz began to move away from realism and into design and abstraction.

He won a Pulitzer scholarship in 1953, to study at the National Academy of Design and then went on to study with Josef Albers at the Yale University School of Art and Architecture where he received a Master of Fine Arts in 1955. It was also while he was at Yale that he began to study the psychology of perception and he began to develop his theories on how the eye organizes visual material according to those psychological laws.

His early work resembled the Regionalists of the 1930s and 40s. In his paintings of the late 1940s and early 1950s, he depicted everyday city life. However, in 1955, while still a student at Yale, he made a couple of studies that clearly revealed his future interests in color and line.

In 1957, he moved to New York, where from 1957 to 1958, he worked as a conservator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and from 1959 to 1961, as a silver designer for Tiffany and Co. During this period, he began to produce abstract paintings, using either organic or geometric repeated forms. These led in the early 1960s to asymmetric and imperfectly geometric works and then to more rigidly structured arrangements.

Anuskiewicz’s first show in New York of what are now called “Op Art” paintings occurred at The Contemporaries Gallery in 1960. The Museum of Modern Art in New York purchased one of the paintings from that exhibition. In 1963, Anuszkiewicz participated in shows at the Museum of Modern Art and The Whitney Museum of American Art and was the subject of a complimentary article in Time magazine.

Following the publication of that article, Anuszkiewicz sold 17 paintings in one month. His first one-person show at the Sidney Janis Gallery in New York was in 1965. According to Janis, Anuszkiewicz was in such demand in the mid-1960s that the waiting list of people wanting to buy his work was longer than Jackson Pollock’s, whom Janis also represented. Anuszkiewicz also participated that year in the landmark show “The Responsive Eye” at the Museum of Modern Art. By this time, Anuszkiewicz had firmly established himself as the leader in the Optical Art movement.

Anuszkiewicz has acknowledged the importance of color in defining his subject matter. He often incorporated geometrical networks of colored lines, thus exploring the phenomenon of optical mixtures in these mature works, with which he made his contribution to Optical art. Optical art or Op art refers to the idea of “optical illusion” or of creating the illusion of movement. A pioneer in this non-representational movement, Anuszkiewicz applied pigments directly to the canvas to mix optically instead of blending them on the palette. The strong internal structure of each work is the result not of a rigid system, however, but of a trial-and-error approach to composition. Intensity of color coupled with a warm light condition cause a visually vibrant composition, which, in turn, causes an afterimage to occur.

In his later works, he remained faithful to the approach he established in the 1960s while developing more subtle color modulations and sophisticated geometry.

Sources include:
Anuszkiewicz, Karl Lunde, H. N. Abrams, New York, 1977, p. 13-14
Art News, John Green, September 1979, p. 68
“Richard Anuszkiewicz” Contemporary Artists, 2nd Edition, Szymon Bojko

Submitted by Bitsy Winsdor and Tom Butler, Columbus Museum

Biography from the Archives of AskART.