Image: Richard Stankiewicz

Richard Stankiewicz (1922-1983)

Richard Stankiewicz (1922-1983), American sculptor, whose figurative and abstract constructions, welded from fragments of junked machinery and other scrap metal, influenced the widespread use of discarded materials in modern abstract sculpture. Although the freshness of Stankiewicz`s work has been diluted by facile imitations that became common in the 1960s, his influence can be seen in the substantial work of a number of sculptors, including Jean Tinguely of Switzerland and Anthony Caro of Britain.

Born in Philadelphia

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Stankiewicz moved to Detroit, Michigan at the age of five. While in the United States Navy from 1941 to 1947, Stankiewicz met two abstract painters from the American Northwest, Mark Tobey and Morris Graves. After his discharge, Stankiewicz studied abstract painting with American artist Hans Hofmann in New York City. In 1950 he went to Paris and studied with French painter Fernand Leger, and later at the Zadkine School of Sculpture, where he created his first serious sculptures in plaster and terra-cotta.

In 1951

In 1951, when Stankiewicz moved into a New York City studio, he began working with junk metal. In attempting to make a garden in his backyard, the artist unearthed an accumulation of rusting machinery and metal parts, the same materials he had used to create his own toys as a boy. Stankiewicz`s first show in 1953 at the cooperative Hansa Gallery in New York City, of which he was a founding member, received mixed reviews. Some critics were appalled by his use of trash, and others were delighted by his ability to transform it into art.

Stankiewicz`s early sculptures are humorous

Stankiewicz`s early sculptures are humorous, sometimes satirical, figures. They show the influence of the artistic movements known as surrealism, with its sense of absurdity, and dadaism, with its use of unorthodox materials ( "see "dada). "Kabuki Dancer" (1955, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City) is an open and leggy figurative form and shares a whimsical spirit with the "Head of a Bull" (1943) of Spanish artist Pablo Picasso, made with a bicycle seat and handlebars. At the same time, Stankiewicz`s piece reveals his interest in the pure elements of abstract design. During his travels in Australia in 1969, Stankiewicz began to construct entirely abstract forms using factory-extruded metal components such as steel construction beams, tubes, pipes, and steel bars. When he later returned to using junk metal, all figurative references had disappeared. Stankiewicz`s later work recalls the concerns of abstract expressionism that he had learned as a painter at the Hofmann School. Rectangular frames of welded steel provide open structures through which dynamic forms move.

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