Richard Anuszkiewicz first came to the attention of the art world in 1960 when the Museum of Modern Art acquired one of his paintings. Four years later Life magazine dubbed him, along with British painter Bridget Riley, “one of the new wizards of op.” Op (short for optical) was a term coined to define an art that challenged perception with eye-popping visual effects. By 1965 Anuszkiewicz’s hard-edged geometric abstractions illuminated by incandescent color relationships led New York Times art critic Grace Glueck to identify him as America’s Op Old Master. Throughout his 60-year career, his painting, sculpture, and prints offered complex investigations of color defined by a profound synergy of the conceptual and the technical.
The first works by Anuszkiewicz to enter the collection of the National Gallery of Art were color prints produced at the University of South Florida’s Graphicstudio workshop in Tampa. Five of the artist’s lithographs, including one triptych, were included in the initial 1986 gift that established the Gallery’s Graphicstudio Archive of fine prints and editioned sculpture. When I came to the Gallery in 1989 as a researcher in the department of modern prints and drawings, my first project was to assist the curator, Ruth Fine, with the major exhibition and catalog being planned for the fall of 1991 as a celebration of the acquisition of this important archive. I had the opportunity to interview multiple artists, including Anuszkiewicz. Only a couple of years out of graduate school, I hadn’t much experience talking with big-name artists, so for me the prospect of conducting these interviews was both exhilarating and a little daunting.
What I remember most about Mr. Anuszkiewicz was that he was so easy to talk with, even though our conversation took place blindly, over the telephone. He quickly put me at ease and was immediately interested in our shared northeast Ohio connections. I was born and raised in the Cleveland area and earned my graduate degree at Case Western Reserve University; he attended the Cleveland Institute of Art on a full scholarship (BFA, 1953). After earning his MFA at Yale (1955), where he studied with the legendary Josef Albers, he later returned to nearby Kent University in Ohio for a BS in education (1956). The Cleveland Museum of Art, where I had worked before moving to Washington, mounted Anuszkiewicz’s first major museum survey exhibition in 1966. We discussed that institution’s May shows, annual exhibitions of local contemporary art in which his work had been included. By the time the discussion was over I had gained important insights into his color explorations, his thoughts about the importance of light in his work, the role of paper color—to say nothing of the many great quotes he provided for me to include in my catalog entries.
Anuszkiewicz’s luminous prints, produced between February 1972 and October 1973 and titled after Florida locales—Tampa Winter, Tampa Summer, Sun Coast, Clearwater, and Largo—evoke the vibrant intensity of the light and climate of Florida in a supremely delicate, shimmering array of yellows, oranges, and pinks. Donald Saff, founder and longtime director of Graphicstudio (now retired) recently wrote this remembrance in an email to me about Anuszkiewicz and his prints:
The first project was a whisper of colors which reflected his ability to softly express his purpose without raising the decibel level of the image. It certainly was a technically difficult project as the range of color differences and subtleties was so narrow that it seemed beyond the capacity of traditional lithography to bring to fruition. Richard ensured its success and the art was formidable.
When taking into account the fact that these prints were the artist’s first true involvement with the process of lithography, they are even more remarkable.
Richard Anuszkiewicz died at his home in Englewood, New Jersey, on May 19, 2020, just a few days before his 90th birthday. I will always remember him as an intuitive, patient, kind, and generous man and be forever thankful that I had the opportunity to know him just a little bit.