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Richard Anuszkiewicz Photo

Richard Anuszkiewicz

American Painter, Printmaker, and Sculptor

Born: May 23, 1930 - Erie, Pennsylvania
Died: May 19, 2020 - Englewood, New Jersey
Movements and Styles:
Op Art
Kinetic Art
"I'm interested in making something romantic out of a very, very mechanistic geometry. Geometry and color represent to me an idealized, classical place that's very clear and very pure."
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Richard Anuszkiewicz
"I would like to point out that the image in my work has always been determined by what I wanted the color to do. Color function becomes my subject matter and its performance is my painting."
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Richard Anuszkiewicz
"My work is of an experimental nature and has centered on an investigation into the effects of complementary colors of full intensity when juxtaposed and the optical changes that occur as a result, and a study of the dynamic effect of the whole under changing conditions of light, and the effect of light on color."
3 of 17
Richard Anuszkiewicz
"When you consider where I started from all this work progresses and slowly changes. And you move from one area to the next. It's more drastic when you can jump from, say 1958 to 1968, to see one painting from each period. But if you were to see all of them together, it would be a natural progression."
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Richard Anuszkiewicz
"People thought that I always wanted to shock the eye. I didn't want to shock the eye. I wanted to use colors together that had never been used together before. I'm still doing what I was doing, but in greater depth."
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Richard Anuszkiewicz
"I've taken color a step further than it had been taken by the Impressionists and the Neo-Impressionists."
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Richard Anuszkiewicz
"Art has been a way of life for me. I have never done anything else. Art was something I needed to say. It made life more than existence. I just hope that in 100 years people aren't worried about when I did something, but what I did."
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Richard Anuszkiewicz
"The changes in my work are not dramatic. I prefer to continue exploring what I've laid out for myself."
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Richard Anuszkiewicz
"Like the Impressionists, I want the viewer to mix the colors in his eye. I do not want to mix them on the palette. This way, I get greater intensity of color and greater purity, too...Unlike the Impressionists, however, I've freed such explorations from subject matter and discovered greater freedom in non-objective art."
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Richard Anuszkiewicz
"Subject matter is something that has to come from within you, and everybody has to find it for himself."
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Richard Anuszkiewicz
"My approach to painting is a kind of problem-solving one. I've always set out to experiment with some idea - some visual idea - to solve for myself"
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Richard Anuszkiewicz
"My thesis in graduate school at Yale dealt with the creation of space with line drawing. I explored how the line can be used to create space, and I still do that."
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Richard Anuszkiewicz
"There were two concurrent movements in vogue during that period: Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art which had very strong critical advocates. Well, those advocates helped to bring out the demise of Op Art. What was so hurtful, as far as I was concerned, was that as much as I was given praise and popularity before the movement, once the movement really got on the way I was attacked - and vehemently so. I felt betrayed by my own critics in this country...Also, I feel I've explored areas that hadn't been touched by other artists, including Albers - perceptual ideas that I hope will be lasting...Then there is the matter of optical mixture of color. The Impressionist and Neo-impressionists pioneered the use of color in this fashion, but I think I was the first to explore its possibilities in geometric abstraction with the use of my own color ideas."
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Richard Anuszkiewicz
"Albers used to talk about Cezanne, he used to talk about Klee, and that helped in appreciating the work. For the first time I started appreciating what the Impressionists were doing and I could then appreciate his color ideas - something does happen when you put two colors together, it has an effect. The colorful thing about Cezanne's work was the manipulation of the warm and cool colors. He was putting a warm shade next to a cool shade which sort of charges those colors up.... Then I could also understand Albers' interaction, where a color changes another color."
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Richard Anuszkiewicz
"I think the idea, which again is - I feel - one of the most important things in a work, usually takes more time than the execution."
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Richard Anuszkiewicz
"I sometimes refer to my painting as architectural, because I work out my plan, I work out my idea, and then I go about constructing the painting."
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Richard Anuszkiewicz
"The ideas I work on are essentially timeless. If you're working with present-day matter, your work can grow old and unimportant. Working with basic ideas will always be exciting, and if color or form is visually exciting in any profound sense, it will be that way ten or twenty years from now also."
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Richard Anuszkiewicz

Summary of Richard Anuszkiewicz

Richard Anuszkiewicz is one of the masters of color in modern American art. His oeuvre has developed and evolved over a sixty-year period, but at the root of his approach certain key principles remain, most vitally the capacity of the eye to 'mix' complementary colors presented separately on the canvas. After training with the great Bauhaus artist and teacher Josef Albers at Yale, Anuszkiewicz carried the legacies of geometrical abstraction and tonal harmony a step further than his mentor by experimenting with an unprecedented range of color contrasts. The works he was creating by the early 1960s seemed to bring pigment alive on the canvas, making it vibrate, hum, or float in front of the picture surface. Combining these qualities with the illusory, architectonic and trompe-l'oeil effects of Op Art - a movement Anuszkiewicz helped to define and which, in its suggestion of visual movement, was an offshoot of Kinetic Art - generated a body of work which at once sat within various traditions and had a warmth and spiritual energy entirely its own.


  • Whereas many exponents of Op Art, most obviously Bridget Riley and Victor Vasarely, became famous for black-and-white paintings in which color was a secondary concern to the optical dazzle generated by the construction process, the magic of Anuszkiewicz's Op Art paintings lies in the color itself. A prodigy of color theory, Anuszkiewicz's work has the capacity to bring color alive by placing it in contrast with another for example through his creation of so-called 'film color', whereby a sheen or haze of color seems to sit a few millimeters in front of the canvas.
  • As well as showing his mastery of color, Anuszkiewicz's oeuvre evidences his awareness of line as a compositional tool of surprising versatility. Through precisely striated bands of color, often varying in thickness, length, and spacing, he was able to create the impression of planes or structures tangential to the canvas, so that a set of lines appeared as a distinct form rising up towards the viewer, for example, or stretching away from them to form a recess. The crowning feature of these topographical or architectonic designs, however, and what links them to the effects of Op and Kinetic art, was their visual instability, often seeming to suddenly invert themselves upon viewing.
  • Perhaps reflecting his religious upbringing, Anuszkiewicz's work is notable for its allusions to classical and sacred architecture. He uses symmetrical composition and architectonic motifs to embed subtle allusions to century-old traditions of religious design and iconography in what are nonetheless works of pure, autonomous abstraction.
  • The development of Anuszkiewicz's oeuvre represents a striking thread of continuity from the first days of pure, geometrical abstraction at the Bauhaus to the present day. Inspired by Josef Albers, who learned from the Constructivists and fostered the emergence of Op Art as a teacher, the younger artist has carried the torch for the minimal, precise, and cerebral side of abstract art across the whole of the later-twentieth century and into the twenty first.

Important Art by Richard Anuszkiewicz

Progression of Art

Fluorescent Complement

Fluorescent Complement is an imperfectly geometric work, formed from repeated warm green dots set against a cool background consisting of a blue central circle fading to a soft green. Early in his career, Anuszkiewicz became known for juxtaposing warm and cool colors in this way in order to play with visual perception, creating a sense of hum or vibration. Anuszkiewicz said of his early works: "[t]hese first paintings that I did were very interesting because of the vibrancy of the color and because of this strong complementary action that you got, fluorescent action and then the alter-image because you got a sort of movement, they actually seemed to move. I played that up by using a lot of small shapes...that would not sit still on the canvas."

Fluorescent Complement is one of the first paintings Anuszkiewicz created in the new abstract style he developed after graduating with his MFA from Yale in 1955 and moving back to Ohio. However, in his own conception of this phase of his career, it was important to move away from the direct influence of Albers as well as the realism of his very earliest paintings: "[t]he minute I was released from that restriction, things started to happen for me and I felt good. For the first time I started doing things. I really could not allow myself to fully use color as I wanted until I got rid of realistic subject matter. I started using just shape, and color became the subject." In a 1976 interview with Paul Cummings, Anuszkiewicz spoke about how the Impressionists and Cezanne influenced him by their placement of warm and cool hues next to one another to make both colors appear more lively: "[t]he colorful thing about Cezanne's work was the manipulation of the warm and cool colors. He was putting a warm shade next to a cool shade which sort of charges those colors up... Then I could also understand Albers's interaction, where a color changes another color."

Fluorescent Complement was the first painting Anuszkiewicz sold in New York City, which catapulted him to fame. It was included in his first solo show, at the Contemporaries Gallery. Near the end of the exhibition, with no sales made, Alfred F. Barr Jr., then director of New York's Museum of Modern Art, bought Fluorescent Complement, after which a slew of prominent collectors, such as Governor Nelson Rockefeller, snapped up paintings, almost selling out the show. Anuszkiewicz's mother was proud of her son's accomplishments, but, as Anuszkiewicz later recounted, when she learned of the success of the show, she told him "that if he had stuck to his earlier realistic style, he would have sold more" Barr exhibited Fluorescent Complement at the end of 1960 at MoMA, along with other newly-acquired work, including those of the 'father' of Op Art, the Hungarian-French artist Victor Vasarely. Anuszkiewicz was impressed with Vasarely's work and realized that there were similarities with his own. However, he said that "a major difference between their work was that Vasarely composed his paintings in patterns of light and dark, while his were planned arrangements of colors."

Fluorescent Complement, like Anuszkiewicz's Contemporaries show as a whole, signaled the early stirrings of the Op Art movement in North America. Anuszkiewicz's paintings stood in marked contrast to the emotional intensity of the Abstract Expressionism which still dominated the New York scene. The Contemporaries works placed contrasting colors within centralized geometric constructions to create a shimmering, shifting effect. Stuart Preston, reviewer for the New York Times, noted in retrospect of the exhibition that: "[s]cientific experimentation" generated "color relationships of the most startling character and with the most unexpected optical consequences...These early abstractions, though tightly controlled, have a sprawling energy that makes them a reasoned equivalence for the freewheeling dynamism of the so-called Action Painters."

Oil on canvas - The Museum of Modern Art, New York


Knowledge and Disappearance

Knowledge and Disappearance is a large square painting, approximately 50 by 50 inches, that pulls the viewer into a space that seems alive with movement. Rectangles of warm red and cool gray alternate between figure or ground somewhat in the style of Vasarely's contemporaneous work, seeming to recede into the distance of a central square through the use of linear perspective. The rectangles in the central square are much smaller near its edges, creating a sense of a convex, pulsating far surface, like the chamber of a heart. Anuszkiewicz's two-dimensional art often creates this sense of living physical presence, even causing visual discomfort or disturbance in the process.

Knowledge and Disappearance was one of five paintings of Anuszkiewicz's included in the MoMA exhibition The Americans in 1963, along with Fluorescent Complement. In the catalog for the show, Anuszkiewicz explained his art using scientific terminology in line with the rationalist, post-Constructivist principles of Op Art and Kinetic Art: "[m]y work is of an experimental nature and has centered on an investigation into the effects of complementary colors of full intensity when juxtaposed and the optical changes that occur as a result. Also, a study of the dynamic effect of the whole under changing conditions of light, and the effect of light on color." This motivation has, with subtle changes, continued to drive Anuszkiewicz throughout his career.

Knowledge and Disappearance attracted a mixed reception which suggests that Anuszkiewicz's work was having a significant cultural impact. TIME magazine featured a full-page reproduction of the work in its review of The Americans, describing the work in glowing terms: "stripes or threads of different colors run over a common background to form diamonds and squares that emerge not as solid forms but as ghostly shapes coming out of nowhere. Some have the misty delicacy of a rainbow; others glow like fluorescent light. There is about this kind of painting a somewhat mechanical quality, which Anuszkiewicz himself is fully aware of. But the majority of his paintings are so subtle and sensitive that they divulge their secrets only gradually as the viewer looks. And fortunately, the world of color is one of such limitless arrangements and combinations that each painting has, almost automatically, the freshness and excitement of discovery." The critic Sidney Tillim, by contrast, writing for Arts Magazine in September-October 1965, leveled a complaint often raised against Op Art, that Anuszkiewicz's work lacked emotive appeal or sociological value, representing an "intellectualized and incestuous...offshoot of geometric abstraction."

Oil on canvas - The Philadelphia Museum of Art


Sol I

The Sol series was the first of several sequences of works for which Anuszkiewicz became well-known during the 1960s-70s. This early series consists of five large compositions in acrylic paint, completed over three years, each orientated around a central square or diamond. In Sol I (1965) the inner green square is framed by fine lines of varied spacing set against a bright red background. The lines read like a topographical map and give the illusion of depth, whether one reads them as emanating from the center or streaming into it - or whether the green square appears as the peak or base of the structure. A cerulean blue line runs around the periphery of the painting. In particular, the contrasting lines of complementary colors - green and red - vibrate against each other and create the impression of a strong light source, using the phenomenon of simultaneous contrast, whereby contrasting colors placed next to one another make each color appear more intense.

Anuszkiewicz was fascinated with the compositional form of the square and its "hidden structure," a term used by the perceptual psychologist Rudolph Arnheim in his book Art and Visual Perception. The square was a very amenable form to Anuszkiewicz's explorations, facilitating mathematical precision of construction and a central point of focus. Anuszkiewicz's use of the square format, as in this piece, cultivates a subtle mysticism, because of the works' symmetry and prominent, glowing centers. Of such works he has stated: "I think any time you put something right in the middle of the canvas it gives people a sort of contemplative experience drawing in and coming out. I know I've heard comments about Albers' paintings being very religious and the same thing about mine. Really, it's not religious, it's spiritual... But we all interpret things in our own way anyhow." As this comment perhaps betrays, the influence of Albers seems to be writ large over the Sol series: the concentric square format is familiar from the Homage to the Square series, while the use of adjacent lines to create a topographical quality might remind us of Albers's Graphic Tectonics.

Sol I was one of the paintings exhibited in November 1986 as part of Anuszkiewicz's one-man show at the Sidney Janis Gallery, known for showing some of the most prominent artists in New York during the 1960s. The Sol paintings, and the Janis show generally, heralded the emergence of Anuszkiewicz's signature style, involving crisp edges, bright vibrating colors, and laser-like lines. Writing about such works, Brian O' Doherty of TIME magazine noted how Anuszkiewicz "plays with afterimages, or the way one color engenders the false sensation of its complement on the retina." The New York Times journalist John Canaday called the paintings in Anuszkiewicz's second show at The Janis Gallery in 1969 "dazzling" and "beautiful", despite being "created entirely by calculation" and "executed with mechanical precision" - an approach at odds with Canaday's general maxim that "no painting of real interest can be produced entirely by rule."

Acrylic on canvas


Magenta Squared

Magenta Squared shows Anuszkiewicz's use of modular forms to emphasize and offset color relationships and is a prime example of his use of clean edges, all-over design, and saturated color. It also shows his ongoing interest in the form of the square, and its hidden structures and resonances. The painting consists of four squares of concentric lines whose interacting diagonals - illusory lines created by the arrangement of corners - generate the impression of a large diamond in the center of the canvas, enhanced by a subtle orange-magenta color contrast. This tilted quadrilateral seems to hover above the other four, contributing to a tension between impressions of flatness and depth that confounds the mind and eye.

This painting was conceived, according to Richard H. Axsom, "as a form of collage produced with Liquitex, the brand name for a high viscosity, heavy body, water-based acrylic with a consistency similar to oil paint" that had become available on the market in 1963. Anuszkiewicz and many of his contemporaries found this new medium very attractive for its special properties and fast drying time, enabling them to paint clean, crisp lines. In order to create this work, however, he actually turned to cut-and-paste techniques more generally associated with Dada bricolage than the precision of Op Art. As Axsom notes, Anuszkiewicz first created an underpainting of magenta, then added "a centered orange lozenge tangential to the framing edge." He then created four squares from pre-set Liquitex strips in yellow, light teal, light blue, and orange. A penknife was used cut out hollow squares of varying widths from each color, which were glued to the canvas. The contrasting, diagonally aligned areas of orange and magenta disguised beneath the strips are subtle yet noticeable, dividing each square into two slightly different colors, and causing the viewer to look closely in order to unpack the visual riddle.

Magenta Squared is symmetrical and balanced in structure, yet also succeeds in creating a sense of movement and energy through its use of color and line, as well as suggesting organic, natural forms such as peaks and valleys. As Axsom writes, "[i]n expressive terms Anuszkiewicz sets order and disorder into a single system: geometry and logical progression are amalgamated with oscillating light and retinal confusions. We catch ourselves attempting to resolve these visual dissonances, but to no avail. That we cannot leads to the heart of the matter: Anuszkiewicz's poetry of radiant indeterminacy."

Liquitex on canvas - Cranbrook Art Museum


Temple of Midnight Red

Temple of Midnight Red is part of Anuszkiewicz's Temple series, inspired by the vibrant colors and sacred geometries Anuszkiewicz encountered during a visit to Egypt in 1981, particularly in the Valley of the Kings. The works in the series range in size from about 18 by 24 inches to over six feet tall, with this one standing at 96 by 72 inches. The colors in each painting are stunning, and together as a series they create a breathtaking effect. For the Temple paintings, Anuszkiewicz eschews the form of the square in favor of the rectangle, based on his sense that the human eye responds differently to color interactions within vertical compositions. All of the Temple paintings are symmetrical and consist of vertically-oriented rectangles surrounded by lines in concentric order, giving the paintings a quality of topographical depth.

In this particular painting, three bright-red rectangles are framed by complementary striated lines of green in varying widths and hues, surrounded by an outer layer of red, and finally a framing square of deep midnight blue. The lines make the vertical rectangles appear as though flanked by fluted columns in the round. More generally, although the paintings partly showcase the abstract qualities of color within a geometric framework, they also suggest a physical structure and have a sense of monumentality, almost as if the viewer were standing in front of a physical temple. Splitting the difference between abstract and figurative interpretations, the Temple paintings have been seen as illustrating "tensegrity," the concept of balance between the forces of tension and integrity inherent in a physical structure, coined by the renowned architect Buckminster Fuller.

The symmetry of the works in the Temple series is perhaps partly responsible for the spiritual aura that they exude, evoking the symmetry of religious and ceremonial structures constructed by ancient cultures from Pharaonic Egypt to Mesopotamia. At the same time, much of the works' appeal has to do with the autonomous effects of color contrasts and the tricks played by illusory architectonic composition. The contrasting tones vibrate with inner luminosity, while the use of finely arranged lines to create a topographical effect means that the different sections fluctuate between appearing as figure and ground. One is not sure whether the red rectangles represent valleys, peaks, or apertures of light shining through the surface of the canvas, creating a sense of enigma and energy. New York Times art critic Holland Cutter has noted of Anuszkiewicz's work: "[t]he drama - and that feels like the right word - is in the subtle chemistry of complementary colors, which makes the geometry glow as if light were leaking out from behind it."

Acrylic on canvas - Canton Museum of Art Collection


Translumina Trinity II

Translumina Trinity II is a shaped painting composed in acrylic on fiberboard. Three vertical parallel rectangles - orange, a longer blue one in the middle, and pink to the left - spaced slightly apart, serve as the warp for the weft of a purple rectangle that runs across the middle from side to side. Each of the colored rectangles is fluted with thin lines which darken near the longer edges, giving the optical illusion of a curved surface like a rounded column, as in the Temple series. In Translumina Trinity Anuszkiewicz establishes a tension between painting and sculpture, evoking the illusion of solid three-dimensional overlapping shapes.

The paintings in the Translumina series, begun in the mid-1980s, are captivating and unique. Moving out of two dimensions into the three-dimensional world, the series incorporates textured and protruding geometrical motifs, including crosses, triangles, rainbows, and stars, all set in low relief on wood panels. Anuszkiewicz also plays with the ambiguity of spatial relationships, keeping viewers unsure of the implied physical and visual form of what they are observing - taking advantage of the tendency for the viewer's mind to finish the shape in their head. The paintings employ a vibrant warm-cool color contrast, generating a quality of inner luminosity, though the color combinations used, as compared to some of Anuszkiewicz's previous work, are restricted.

The Translumina series has been seen to signify the ongoing evolution of Anuszkiewicz's oeuvre late into his career. Writing in Art in America, the critic Barry Schwabsky notes that the Translumina paintings "are bolder, and from the standpoint of color, simpler than his paintings had been from the early sixties." Art historian John T. Spike, meanwhile, has asserted that the Translumina series evolved from a concern with three-dimensionality to evoking the dematerialized or 'film color' of Anuszkiewicz's earlier work: "[a]s the Translumina series developed, it became evident that these works are concerned with illusions of transparency rather than color transfer. Around 1989, the aggressive physicality of the relief paintings gave way to a remarkable involvement with the kind of dematerialization present in the work of the early 70s." About this artistic evolution, Anuszkiewicz himself has said: "[w]hen you consider where I started from, all this work progresses and slowly changes. And you move from one area to the next. It's more drastic when you can jump from, say, 1958-1968, to see one painting from each period. But if you were to see all of them together, it would be a natural progression."

Acrylic on fiberboard - Phillips through Private Collection


Translumina-Marriage of Silver and Gold

Marriage of Silver and Gold, one of the more monumental works from the Translumina series, consists of two interlocking squares - one blue, one orange - set in axonometric perspective in low relief. The piece challenges the viewer's spatial perception, making it difficult to tell which square is in front of the other. As Serge Lemonie writes of this work and others in the Translumina series, "[e]ach time a square is shown in axonometric perspective, one at the top, the other one on the bottom; the effect of the one and the other, is impossible to assemble visually, as each annuls the other." More than most of Anuszkiewicz's previous works, the later pieces in the Translumina series also show him moving into ACTUAL three-dimensional composition, the painting protruding from the gallery wall in low relief, as if to manifest more concretely something of the visual impossibility it evokes.

Lemonie's analysis continues with reference to the subtle classicism of Anuszkiewicz's work, noting that this piece "uses the theme of interlacing, a convention which was widely used on illuminated manuscripts during the High Middle Ages: two square-shaped 'rings' passing through one another." Lemonie adds that "Anuszkiewicz uses the means of the paradoxical perspective, well known in the Renaissance for its decorative design and which had also been widely used as the ornaments for pavement in Antiquity." In this sense, as in the Temple series, Anuszkiewicz interest in the abstract, autonomous qualities of color combination and striated lines belies the far-reaching cultural references encoded in his work, in particular to millennia-old histories of religious architecture and design. His exploration of the perceptual boundary between two-dimensional flatness and three-dimensional form itself has a precedent in the design and art of the Renaissance, specifically the trompe l'oeil techniques employed by artists such as Andrea Mantegna.

Anuszkiewicz's capacity in his later works to play with our sense of the boundary between painting and sculpture shows his ongoing commitment to extend his repertoire of effects and tricks while remaining true to a remarkable singularity of vision. That he remains active into his late eighties represents a remarkable thread of continuity from the first abstract experiments of the Bauhaus and Constructivist artists, via the Op and Kinetic Art movements of the mid-century, to art of the present day.

Enamel on wood construction - Loretta Howard Gallery

Biography of Richard Anuszkiewicz


Richard Anuszkiewicz was born in Erie, Pennsylvania, the only child of Polish immigrant parents - though his mother was already a widow with five children. Despite growing up in a family of modest means, Anuszkiewicz would later recall: "I really had a very happy childhood and never wanted anything ... I had companionship, affection, all the good things." He loved art as a child and drew every day, supported by his parents. His father, who operated a machine at a paper mill, encouraged him by bringing pads of paper home for him to use. His family was devoutly Catholic, and he attended Catholic grade schools, where he was given extra time to draw as a result of his excellent academic performance. In 1944 he transferred to Erie Technical High School, attending art classes for three hours every day. In these classes he learned about Impressionist color theory, the theory of complementary colors, and the spectrum prism. Even in high school his approach to painting was very disciplined. He would set himself the challenge of mixing a broad range of tones from a limited palette of three or four colors. His art teacher encouraged him to enter competitions, many of which he won, including a major prize in his senior year in the 1947 National Scholastic Art Awards and, ultimately, a full scholarship to the Cleveland Institute of Art.

Early Training and Work

At the Cleveland Institute of Art, Anuszkiewicz began to simplify his representational scenes into abstract designs. In the summer of 1950, between his sophomore and junior years, he experimented with plein-air painting on Cape Cod with the painter Henry Hensche, who deepened his understanding of the Impressionist movement by teaching him about the Impressionist technique of mixing colors on the canvas. In his final academic year at Cleveland, 1952-53, he was awarded a Pulitzer Traveling Scholarship to study art in Europe. However, feeling his urgent need was to learn more about the principles of color, he decided instead to attend Yale School of Art and Architecture to study with the renowned artist, and color theorist Josef Albers, then chairman of the Department of Painting.

Albers was a former teacher at the Bauhaus and Black Mountain College, who had already taught a generation of American modern artists such as Cy Twombly, and whose precisely conceived theories of color combination, later expounded in his book The Interaction of Color (1963), fostered a deep understanding of color relationships amongst countless educators and art students. Albers was a formidable and exacting teacher, strengthening his students' perceptual abilities through exercises based on observation and experiment. Anuszkiewicz graduated from Yale with a Master in Fine Art in 1955, learning Bauhaus and Constructivist-influenced principles of simplified abstract art, as well as Paul Klee's theories of color interaction. Anuszkiewicz's work became more and more abstract as he began to imbibe these concepts more and more. He also became interested in the science of perception and optics, reading the perceptual psychologist Rudolph Arnheim's book Art and Visual Perception, which inspired the topic of his graduate thesis, A Study of the Creation of Space with Line Drawing. The work undertaken towards the thesis benefitted him greatly, and line became an important compositional tool in his work, second only to color combination. Beginning in his second year at Yale, he roomed with his Cleveland friend (and future influential Op Artist) Julian Stanczak, who was also of Polish descent. The two students took field trips together to New York City to see paintings by the Abstract Expressionists and other artists whose use of color excited Anuszkiewicz, including Stuart Davis, Ben Shahn, Henri Matisse, and Pierre Bonnard.

After graduating from Yale, Anuszkiewicz moved back to Ohio, earning a teaching degree to supplement his income from art. He graduated from Kent State University in 1956 with a Bachelor of Science in Education. In Ohio, away from the overt influence of Albers, he began to develop the style for which he is best-known, creating abstract compositions from high-intensity contrasts of warm and cool colors. He also experimented with the interaction of complementary colors under different light conditions. By the early spring of 1957, at the age of 27, he had created enough paintings to move to New York City and show his work to galleries.

In New York, Anuszkiewicz was initially met with rejection. Gallerists still caught up in the emotional intensity of Abstract Expressionism were not used to seeing work of such precision and preemptive compositional intelligence. Nonetheless, Anuszkiewicz continued to develop his painting technique while holding down various odd jobs, experimenting further with contrasting colors, and also exploring the possibilities of repeated shapes and geometric forms. At the end of the 1950s he set off on a six-month tour of Europe, and when he returned to New York he was given a solo show at the Contemporaries Gallery in March 1960. After a slow start the show proved a resounding success. Alfred Barr, director of New York's Museum of Modern Art, bought the first painting, Fluorescent Complement, for the MoMA collection and other notable collectors followed suit. Following the success of this exhibition Anuszkiewicz quit his other jobs to devote himself full-time to painting. He also married Elizabeth (Sally) Feeney, a schoolteacher from East Orange, New Jersey, and the couple moved to Englewood, New Jersey.

The years that followed Anuszkiewicz's Contemporaries exhibition brought him increasing notoriety, and his technique developed. During 1962-63 he started using masking tape instead of painting freehand in order to create more precise geometric shapes and generate the razor-sharp division lines which would become his trademark. He and other Op Artists also started using Liquitex acrylic paint, which made it easier to create sharp edges and was available in a more 'modern' range of colors. In 1963 he exhibited five paintings in The Americans, a show at MoMA which was covered by TIME magazine, in an article featuring his work. LIFE magazine also displayed his painting Mercurian in The Fire on their cover in December 1964, describing Anuszkiewicz as the "New Wizard of Op."

Mature Period

In 1965 Anuszkiewicz was included in The Responsive Eye at MoMA, a landmark exhibition which helped Op Art to break through into the mainstream. Among the many works on display, only the British painter Bridget Riley's attracted comparable attention to Anuszkiewicz's dazzling compositions. The New York Times called him "one of the brightest stars in The Responsive Eye", "a virtuoso technician whose sizzling colors arranged in symmetrical bands, stripes and squares almost jump from canvas to eye", who "might already be called an op old master". Not all reviews were so favorable though. A New York Times editor, Lester Markel, wrote a letter condemning the favorable review which his own newspaper had given, stating that Op Art "is fascinating as a technique, but it is not art at all."

Fame and more shows followed, including at the prominent Sidney Janis Gallery in New York. This exhibition included some of Anuszkiewicz's Sol series, each painting from which consisted of a centered square within another of a brightly contrasting color, an approach very reminiscent of Josef Albers's Homage to the Square series. A major retrospective of Anuszkiewicz's work followed at the Cleveland Museum of Art, and he was included in H.H. Arnason's influential primer History of Modern Art. His work became highly mechanical and mathematical, described by John Canaday of The New York Times as "dazzling", "works of art created entirely by calculation", "executed with mechanical precision", but nonetheless "really beautiful". The demand for Anuszkiewicz's paintings became so great that his gallery could not keep up with the requests.

By the mid-stage of his career Anuszkiewicz was working primarily on extended sequences of works. In 1970 he began the series known as Portals, a set of paintings consisting of upright rectangles formed from soft colors with vertical lines breaking up the color field and framing central, luminous rectangles. This led in turn to his Spectral series in the mid-1970s, first shown at his new gallery, the Andrew Crispo Gallery. This series was even more mathematical in compositional approach than his previous work, consisting of predominantly light colors in cool and warm hues that played off against one another within carefully measured geometrical frameworks, set around a central square.

Later Period

In the 1980s Anuszkiewicz began his Centered Square, a set of works which possessed a certain aura of classical austerity. Increasingly, Anuszkiewicz focused on creating the optical sensation of a shimmering atmosphere of color, that seem to radiate from the canvas, an effect that became known as 'film color.' The central squares in these works can therefore be seen as either solids or as brilliant planes of light. During 1981-84 he was also working on the Temple Series, inspired by a trip to Egypt in 1981. These monumental works possess a kind of inner luminosity as well as an implied three-dimensional monumentality. With his Translumina series, which he developed over twenty years, he began working with explicitly sculptural effects and media, creating large-scale wood constructions in low relief, and also working with sheets of aluminum and steel. In 2000 he created a series dedicated to Piet Mondrian, also with painted steel. He continued throughout the first decade of the twenty-first century to compose works using acrylic on canvas, including a series based on the Twin Towers in 2011.

Anuszkiewicz still lives and paints at his home in Englewood, New Jersey, never signing his paintings on the front because he does not want to compromise the precise visual effect of his carefully planned compositions. His signature is not necessary, though, to identify these remarkable works, created methodically and consistently on a compositional model perfected over more than half a century. From a recognisiable set of antecendents - including Impressionism, Neo-Impressionism, Constructivism, and Concrete Art - Anuszkiewicz has created a unique oeuvre which, while it played a crucial role in defining the parameters of Op Art, still continues to develop, reminding us afresh how colors placed side by side can cause a pulsating feeling, and the illusion of movement and vibration.

The Legacy of Richard Anuszkiewicz

Anuszkiewicz's geometric paintings dazzle the mind and eye with their exquisite use of color, seeming to glow with an inner light. In a 1985 New York Times article, David Shirey wrote: "[w]e would not know so much about color today, nor feel so much about it, were it not for Richard Anuszkiewicz. He has changed the way we think about and respond emotionally to color, and has even affected our spiritual response to it." His work has inspired us, challenged us, and, in poetic fashion, connected us with our spirits. In Anuszkiewicz's words: "[l]ike the Impressionists, I want the viewer to mix the colors in his eye. I do not want to mix them on the palette. This way, I get greater intensity of color and greater purity, too. Unlike the Impressionists, however, I've freed such explorations from subject matter and discovered greater freedom in non-objective art."

Anuszkiewicz is considered one of the founders and giants of Op Art in America, although he maintains that he doesn't belong to a group, and his work has also been described as perceptual art and scientific art. In the era since that movement was defined and celebrated (roughly speaking the first half of the 1960s) his work has either been rebelled against - for example by Minimalists such as Donald Judd - or praised, criticized or emulated. But it has rarely been ignored. In pop culture, meanwhile, his work, and that of the Op Art movement more generally, would prove influential on the fashion, advertising and music industries.

These external responses to Anuszkiewicz's art, however, have rarely impacted on the personal vision which has guided his development. His longevity, meanwhile, has ensured that this vision continues to invigorate the Op Art movement half a century after its conception. As Dennis Dooley wrote: "Anuszkiewicz's paintings force us, again and again, and in wonderfully imaginative ways, to reflect on our experience as human beings in a physical world - as well as one defined by cultural associations."

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Richard Anuszkiewicz
Influenced by Artist
Friends & Personal Connections
  • Julian Stanczak
    Julian Stanczak
Movements & Ideas
Open Influences
Close Influences

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Content compiled and written by Lisa Marder

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Greg Thomas

"Richard Anuszkiewicz Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Lisa Marder
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Greg Thomas
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First published on 15 Jan 2020. Updated and modified regularly
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