Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Art Space Talk: Barbara Stanczak

Barbara Stanczak, an art Professor at the Cleveland Institute of Art, agreed to do an interview for myartspace.com after I had finished an interview with her husband, Julian Stanczak. Barbara has been a practicing artist for most of her life. She also has several decades of experience as a college/university art instructor. Originally a painter, her work has evolved into sculpture- she works primarily in stone and wood.

Brian Sherwin: Thank you so much for this interview Barbara. You are a sculptor... you work primarily in stone and wood. Do you have other artistic pursuits as well? Painting? Drawing?

Barbara Stanczak: The problem is that everything fascinates me and I was told me when I was young: "you can do anything and everything!" and so I do! I painted for a good 20 years but my canvases grew off the wall and became loaded with sand, lead, copper, found objects, until they were total 3d constructions. I do believe in the Renaissance ideal that an artist should be able to do anything their mind's eye can perceive.
I am not a woman of all trades but I don't get intimidated by any material and pick up the skills readily for any execution. I feel very comfortable in print making, casting lead, bronze, paper, plaster, weaving, photography, book design, computer design...

BS: Barbara, you have said the following, "In my work I try to transform matter into spirit: the tree trunk into memories, the rock into emotion.". Can you go into further detail about this? How has nature, aside from the materials that you use, influenced your work?

BS: Nature has been my teacher in how shapes are formed, colors are blended, edges highlighted, concavities enriched, emptiness mystified... I observe intently, photograph incessantly and try to make sculptures that reference but not imitate nature. I would like my work to feel intimate, be part of everyone's human experience and connect to the universal desire for beauty. I want to re-awaken the sense of touch through my carvings, the child-like pleasure of petting and caressing a contour (which is hard to do to a flower).

Yes, the materials that I am involved with for the past 20 years, are nature's emissaries. The rocks tell me of the geological history of the world, of sediments, crystals, displacements/shifts. The tree trunks give evidence of weather conditions, branching, patterns, diseases, even wind patterns. The more I know, the more I appreciate the unique beauty of each piece I touch. I want to share their inherent uniqueness by choosing shapes that can best reveal it, and intuitively touch the human spirit.
Shapes and colors provoke certain psychological reactions, materials carry with them symbols and traditions and art history confirms form rightness,- all of these have to overlap in an effective sculpture.

BS: How did you find the spiritual in nature... or did it find you?

BS: Good question,- do we ever know? Perhaps everyone has a different answer and experience,- I feel peace in nature,- or outrage when it is suffering. I sense a connection, empathy, as well as a responsibility.
When horseback riding in the park, for example, you pick up the rhythm of the horse's gait in breezing, becoming one heartbeat. Or cross country skiing, or swimming in the ocean you subordinate, loose, yourself to the larger creation. It frees you from your bounds/physical boundaries and gives you, and me, the spiritual feeling of absorption into something larger than yourself.

BS: Barbara, can tell our readers about your youth? Do you have any memories that made a huge impact on your life and art... as far as nature is concerned?

BS: Being born into the distress of WW II in Germany in the 1940's, our good fortune was that my mother, a physician, managed to be transferred out of the city into the countryside. Since she was responsible for a large territory, we children were often alone in the woods, exploring, gathering food, playing in the water, climbing any tree, taming little animals...
This experience and hanging around my older brother, no doubt, formed my fondness of nature, my self-reliance and problem- solving skills. I also feel fortunate to be part of a family of generations of artists, painters, goldsmith, graphic artists, writers, musicians, scientists,.. and being exposed to their skills, determination, resourcefulness...

BS: So... would you say that you are in search of natures secrets?

BS: Always. Aren't we all? But I want some secrets to be undiscovered...- I like the mystery.

BS: I understand that you have instructed art on the college/university level. Where did you teach? Also, how did you find balance between being a practicing artists and an instructor of art?

BS: Yes, I have been teaching for 33 years at the Cleveland Institute of Art and will continue till my students don't need me. I teach mainly Foundation Design, which covers compositional dynamics, psychology of vision, color theory, 3D material investigations, concepts and skill development.

No. I don't find a conflict between teaching and my own work, rather a fulfillment of my efforts in one arena into the application in the other. So I do not only "talk the talk but walk the walk". It takes time and energy but the young people are an inspiration of idealism, integrity, and endurance and often it takes courage to keep up with them!

BS: Barbara, your husband is the legendary Julian Stanczak. May I ask how the two of you met? Also, how has he influenced your work... and how have you influenced him? Have the two of you ever collaborated on projects?

BS: After 45 years of marriage, how can we not influence one another? (you sort of loose the edges where one person ends and the other one starts!) Julian was my teacher of painting in Cincinnati and since then, life is a collaboration. I still strive to live up to his ideals of perfection and clarity. If I influenced him, it might be with my energy, adventurousness and positivism.

Julian helps me with keeping my priorities straight and building sculpture bases. I borrow him my hands for anything needed. In our team, he is the head, the inspiration and I am the heart and facilitator.

BS: Having spoken with people who knew Elaine de Kooning (wife of Willem) and Lee Krasner (wife of Jackson Pollock) personally, I must ask you this question... please do not be offended... do you think that your marriage to Mr. Stanczak may have held your own career as an artist back? Or should I say that the artworld of the time may have held you and other female artists back? It is no secret that the artworld is often dominated by males... did you ever feel over-shadowed?

BS: If Art Making would be based on quantity of production,- one would say yes. But I believe that creativity can find expression in any task, in child rearing, in manual duties, in gardening or kite flying,.. It is as important to develop the human being as the professional. Yes, I had much less time to work but that's no excuse for stopping to sculpt in your head, to plan, to clarify concepts, and when you get to work, you are really focused and productive.

Looking at art magazines one might conclude that the art world is a macho world. Looking at my students in class, the ladies outnumber men 5 to 2. What happens between art school and New York? The young people are very talented and under tremendous financial and social pressures. The young men still have to take their place in competitive society and prove themselves; the young ladies, competitive though they are, find satisfaction in a broader range of occupations.

BS: Barbara, have other artists influenced or inspired you? Perhaps you can go into further detail about those artists and how they have had an impact on your artistic philosophy?

BS: My greatest influence I owe to my high school teacher, a nun, who gave me unrestricted access to the art studio which balanced the pressures of English, French and Latin requirements. As a highly respected professional artist, she exposed us to many materials and artistic processes. She was the only female assistant Henry Moore had. The other artist I greatly admire is Isamu Noguchi, whose daring yet sensitive sculptures inspire and whose intimate response to nature parallels my aspirations.

BS: Barbara, how can our readers learn more about you and your work? Is your work being exhibited at this time?

BS: No, I don't have work on exhibit right now, except for the yearly CIA Faculty show in October. I had two exhibitions last year, one in the University of Wisconsin in Madison and one at the Cleveland Botanical Gardens. Exhibitions are very time consuming. I have several possibilities for 2008. I am also in the process of setting up my own website- not just tucked away under Julian's (www.jstanczak.com).

BS: Barbara, do you have any suggestions or advice for emerging artists? Any survival tips for the world of art?

BS: Follow your dream, your little voice that urges you on and believe you can do anything,- with hard work that is!

BS: Thank you so much for doing this interview...

BS: Thank you, Brian, for asking.
I hope that you have enjoyed learning about Barbara Stanczak. I'd like to personally thank both Barbara and Julian for their interviews. It has been a wonderful experience.
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin

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