"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." This meticulous description does not take into account the dazzling virtuosity of the result. Anuszkiewicz combines a deep knowledge of color optics with an American precisionist's joy in demonstrating how things work. A great Anuszkiewicz has the kind of beauty that astrophysicists say they see in a twenty line equation or the rest of us enjoy in a Renaissance drawing of perspective.
At the time of his first show in 1960, there was burgeoning interest in Europe and America in all kinds of abstract forms and color contrasts that stimulated the partnership of eye and mind. Many artists experimented with one or more 'Op' techniques, as they came to be called, in exactly the same creative spirit that many twentieth-century painters and sculptors studied Cubism without a thought of becoming 'cubists'. Relatively few artists devoted their careers exclusiveiy to Op problems and solutions, and by the end of the sixties, Anuszkiewicz was one of only four — the others were Josef Albers, Victor Vasarely and Bridget Riley — who had translated them into a private language.
The Formative Years: 1930-1956
Richard Anuszkiewicz was born in Erie, Pennsylvania on May 23, 1930. His parents were Polish immigrants who met in America. Adam Anuszkiewicz operated a machine in a paper mill, often bringing home scraps of paper for his young son to draw on. They were observant Roman Catholics and Richard attended parochial schools until 1944 when at his request he transferred to Erie Technical High School, where he was allowed to draw three or more hours every clay. He recalls setting himself the challenge of mixing a broad range of colors from a limited palette of three or four colors. His talent was confirmed as a senior when his work won a major prize in the 1947 National Scholastic Art Awards.
The young artist was accepted at the Cleveland Institute of Art with a four-year scholarship, later extended a year, so that he graduated in 1953 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts.
A number of works from these early years have survived, including Erie Street Scene and Cellar Still Life. Their representational style relates to American Scene painting, mainly Charles Burchfield, but his houses and landscapes never showed slices of life. Eight Windows is a case in point: the picture is a realistic study of two rows of four rectangles. Had Edward Hopper painted the same building, the subject would be the people inside the rooms. Anuszkiewicz already displays an instinct for a picture problem that Albers taught as an exercise: when are elements separate and when are they seen as a group? "I painted that way because I was interested in the shapes, not the subjects."7
In the summer of 1950, between his sophomore and junior years, he traveled east to Province-town on Cape Cod and studied plein-air painting with Henry Hensche, an artistic heir of William Merritt Chase. At the time Hensche's class had more students than Hans Hofmanns. Although Anuszkiewicz mostly recalls the summer for the fascinating distractions of an artists' colony, it was also his first exposure to the impressionist technique of optically mixing colors on the canvas."8
Winning a Pulitzer traveling fellowship in 1953 was Richard's ticket to Yale University, where the famous Josef Albers had been chairman of the Department of Painting since June of 1950.9 "In my fifth year I won a national scholarship for travel in Europe, but l didn't feel like l wanted to go to Europe so I talked it over with the director and he suggested two places, Cranbrook and Yale. I found out about Albers that he was involved in color and it was something I thought my work had lacked up to that point so I decided on Yale."10