Richard Anuszkiewicz was born of humble beginnings in Erie, PA to working class immigrant parents. While attending a local Catholic school, the nuns noticed and encouraged his surprisingly advanced talent for drawing. At the age of 17 he won a National Scholastic Art award and then a full scholarship to the Institute of Art in Cleveland, Ohio where he would go on to earn a bachelor’s degree in fine arts in 1953. That same year he won a prestigious Pulitzer travel fellowship. Rather than go to Europe like so many of his contemporaries, he opted to study under Josef Albers at Yale University for his master’s degree.
Albers, a German-born artist and educator, was one of the most influential visual arts teachers of the 20th century and his theory of color and iconic color square paintings had an enormous impact on Anuszkiewicz’s artistic development. After graduating from Yale, Anuszkiewicz returned to Ohio and studied at Kent State University where he earned a teaching degree. It was during this time that he devoted himself more seriously to painting and delved deeper into color theory and optical perception. At first, his paintings found tepid reception, with dealers complaining that his works were nice to look at but difficult on the eyes. This all changed after his solo exhibition at Contemporaries gallery in New York in 1960.
Alfred Barr, director of the Museum of Modern Art, visited the show and purchased one of the artist’s works, showing it at the MoMA later that year alongside other acquisitions. By the following year, Anuszkiewicz had a waiting list for his paintings. His popularity reached its peak in 1965 when his work was featured in MoMA’s seminal The Responsive Eye exhibition focused entirely on Op Art. Time magazine ran a full profile of him and he was anointed by Life magazine as the “new wizard of op”. Anuszkiewicz created visually challenging paintings; unlike his mentor’s work, in which colors harmonize, Anuszkiewicz’s colors purposefully clash with each other and leave an afterimage on the viewer’s retina. During his time at Yale he had become fascinated with perceptual psychology, a subfield of psychology concerned with the conscious and unconscious innate aspects of perception, and the complementary colors and repetitive geometry of his paintings became his outlet to experiment with the concept.
Over the following decades, his work became more mathematical and then architectural; he experimented with gluing thin strips of wood to his canvases, utilized laser-cut aluminum, and even created a series in 2000 made of painted steel. Anuskiewicz continued to paint into the last years of his life, and his work is still widely exhibited and can be found in many private and public collections worldwide, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Guggenheim Museum, New York, and the Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art, Japan.
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