1 ―One Can Invent Nothing without Painting‖—The Painted Work Ursula Zeller When Anton Stankoswki relocated from Zurich to Stuttgart in 1938, he was—after studying in Essen and the first years of his career, spent with Max Dalang in Zurich— already a fully accomplished artist. In Zurich he had already taken a leading position within the school of Concrete Art, as a painter, photographer, and commercial graphic artist. Stankowski therefore owed nothing to the Stuttgart skies. On the contrary: he brought a great deal of creativity, technical knowledge, and professional routine with him from Zurich. His relocation was also involuntary. Had his residence permit in Switzerland been extended, he probably would have remained there for the long-term. But what Stankowski would find in the new city was, as of the 1960s, an open-minded climate in which he could develop his impulses as a commercial graphic artist and painter to their best effect. In Zurich, Stankowski had already actively engaged himself in free painting, photography, typography, and commercial graphic art—indeed, these fields encompass the entire spectrum of his professional activities. The question of what he considered his main profession or secondary profession most likely never concerned him. Would he have otherwise accepted a teaching position at the School of Design in Ulm in 1964, which sought to achieve the closest connection between art and industrial goods production, or founded the Stankowski Foundation in the 1980s, whose particular concern is to distinguish personalities who are masters in both applied and fine arts? In 1983, Stankowski‘s Gesamtwerk was also published with the subtitle ―The unity of fine and applied art 1925–1982.‖ For him, the boundaries were indistinct: ―Things flowed into one another for me. I‘ve always painted and drawn, but it was never that I said, ‗I‘m an artist, I‘m a painter.‘‖1 So, in the case of Anton Stankowski, free and applied work cannot be separated. From his earliest beginnings, he considered his continually cultivated work as a free artist as an important instrument on the path to creative self-inspiration. It served to sharpen his sense of perception and test new possibilities in his own further development. While his works in the fine arts could be mere finger exercises, they could also be training in form, often serving to bring him toward the systematic development of a motif through all the potential of forms available to him. But, in many cases, he would regard a free painting as an autonomous image, as an 2 independent work of art. Stankowski never doubted that fine art—as a sort of laboratory within the framework of his innovative activities—took on the function of a pacesetter. An early example of this is his theory of design of 1928–30, in which he develops motifs that he later returned to and varied. But this principle carried weight for all his creations. The variable murals at Robert Bosch GmbH in Stuttgart in 1979, or the functional graphics created for the firm Benzing in Villingen-Schwenningen in 1990, offer excellent late proof of this. In their draft phases, these projects were created entirely from paintings: some of them paintings that were further developed either directly or in variations. It was, of course, not the case that the internal emphasis on the work of Stankowski the artist and his external assessment as a commercial designer were equally important at all times. For a long period, one overshadowed the other. This fundamentally changed only in the 1970s. That free and applied work do not represent an antithesis is a maxim that Anton Stankowksi had surely learned during his education in Essen. But it was only later that he elevated this to a principle, for it was already the conviction of the Zurich Concrete artists that there should be no boundaries between the fine and applied arts. They demanded of themselves that the same consistent creative approach must stand behind all products—whether functional objects, advertising or works of fine art. In fact, their ideal was not to become specialists but to remain generalists in all areas of work. One thing, however, was especially important to them—a stipulation that Anton Stankowski permanently adopted: that the artistic means they used should always be at the cutting edge of science and technology. Stankowksi secured a unique position, even among the Zurich Concrete artists, through one aspect of his work: namely, his consistent endeavors with perspective and space, where he systematically ventured toward the introduction of the third dimension, the spatial depth. This meant an expansion both of what he had learned from Max Burchartz and of the standpoint of his contemporaries in Zurich. With the diagonal, Stankowski introduced his own elemental form into the Constructivist canon. It was for this reason that Verena Loewensberg noted Anton Stankowski‘s special contribution to the Zurich guiding principles of design: ―He introduced the oblique into the poster.‖2 The return to Germany, the war, and the immediate postwar period interrupted Stankowski‘s graphic and free work. In the postwar period, he initially resumed work as a photojournalist for the Stuttgarter Illustrierte and became its chief editor until 3 1950. No painting was created during this time, but he returned to painting in the early 1950s, when he reestablished his own studio. In these early works, he revisited dilemmas that had concerned him as early as the 1920s and 1930s: problems of the line in Egozenter from 1952 or Curves of 1954, of surface and grid in Rhombus and Lines in 1954, with the process of surface division in Triangle, Divided into Three of 1954 (fig. 12.3), with progression in Progression of Dots of 1952 (fig. 12.1) or Progression of 1955 (fig. 12.4), of movement of form on the surface as in Square Columns from 1952 or Square Spiral of 1959 (fig. 12.6), and with consistency in paint application in Equal Amounts of Color from 1958. The new paths that Stanskowski consistently trod after the war primarily led back to the theory of design, the creation of posters, and the experiments he had developed in his early paintings. In 1958, for example, he returned to a template from his Zurich drawings with Height, Width, Depth, which shows three rectangular forms in varying sizes as parallelograms. The spatial coordinates are thereby not only assigned in the image, but are also simultaneously and consistently introduced in perspective representation. Or, with Balance of 1956, now located in the Museum in Lodz, he varies the motif Floating from 1931, in which the black incised quadratic form falls out of the frame and balances itself on a small red square over a blue bar. The fact that in his paintings Stankowski repeatedly anticipated artistic styles that appeared later can be only a side note in his variation-rich work. The lamella-like relief structures in Oscillogram—Horizontal from 1953 refer, for example, to the pictorial phenomena of Op Art. Or the odor images, like Scent II from 1954, anticipate the monochromatic works of the Nouveaux Réalistes or later Concrete painters. For the most part these painted images were not created as solitary individual works, but arose in series as systematic experiments in the underlying form concepts. They embody mathematical and chromatic rules as work maxims of their inventor. It was sufficient for the appearance of form and color on the canvas to be nothing more than itself. However, as already stated, Stankoswki saw, in painting, not only a laboratory for experimentation, but also the possibility of continual, systematic development of form. Even in the early phases of his work, he ventured toward the problems inherent in pictorial structures and developed serial principles. Here the development of the pictorial ideas did not follow according to plan or even constantly, but rather cyclically; always in new beginnings that referred back to his own pictorial inventions. 4 One of the most important motifs from the early period on was the square, which was initially subject to the most varied operations in a serial way. The painting Development/Pythagoras from 1949 thus directly connects to the prewar period: variations of squares in a right-angled triangle set over a square result in a structure that gradually fills the painting‘s entire ground. A very loose variation on the Pythagorean theorem later unfolds in the serial image 3 Squares over One Another from 1976 (fig. 12.12), whereby here Stankowski was most concerned with the mixture of colors and their development from dark to light tones. Stankoswki worked through even more themes with quadratic forms or forms deriving from the square: symmetry and asymmetry in the paintings Square behind Lines or Square and Third from 1954 (fig. 12.2); grids and diffusion in Small Is Beautiful from 1956; or progression and permutation in Spatial Progression from the same year. Squares also served to realize an additional important design motif; to explore design operations in positive-negative forms, as in 3 x Positive-Negative from 1952. Squares thereafter offered the opportunity to plumb the logical variations of a simple square, like in the two works Nine x Four Squares, Light from 1952 and Nine Variations with Squares from the following year. Stankowski ultimately used squares to represent growth: Structure Yellow from 1958 lays increasingly more fragmented square grids over one another in various colors. From this emerges the impression of a crystal structure that becomes ever denser, emerging from divisions, or ―grown.‖ Pictorial symbols like division and growth expand the visual language to include a visualization of abstract processes. The new topic of visualization—first observed in the theory of design of 1928–30—is brought into painting: Stankowski visualized abstract intellectual material like growth, germination, division, rotation, and time. Through processes of abstraction, he expanded the Constructivist visual language to include the sign or signet. The painting Radio from 1955 represents the best example of this: Following elliptical paths, white rows of rods, growing larger and smaller, rotate around a central point on a black background. Stankowski herewith succeeded in creating not only an astonishingly early example of Op Art, but also a visualization of transmitted broadcast waves that centrifugally radiate from a central point via the ether. The issue of visualization, which always simultaneously incorporated the factors of time and movement, led further to serial images as a renewed expansion of the painterly topic. The serial painting Vine Pruning Blue from 1967 shows, for example, 5 a distancing movement that runs in five phases, each originating from a half-blue and half-black rectangle and developing into a right-angled, blue-black net structure of doubled forms (fig. 12.9). The observer gets the impression that his view is zooming further and further away from the structure as if under a microscope, until, in the last phase, he is looking only at complex, networked structures. In this way, Stankowski suggests not only movement, but also the passage of time. In 1960, with the diagonal element, a new constructive form material reappears as an innovative moment in design. This element, which Stankowski had already mastered in the Zurich years, is something he now attempted in numerous variations, whether in Oblique Bar, Centrally Arranged from 1960 or in Fourfold from 1976 (fig. 12.13). In the latter, he sets four stripes in the primary colors and green upon a quadratic background, so that all three pictorial planes —horizontal, vertical, and diagonal—are described. The two diagonals indicate the dimension of depth in two ways: represented in distorted perspective, the green and the blue stripes seem to move forward and backward from the planes to open to the image space, as it were. In 1980, Stankowski varied this motif on a black square ground in Measures on Black. Immediately thereafter, he explored three additional variations with stripes on black backgrounds: in Floating he sets the stripes in a counter-rotation in four regularly structured rows next to each other. And in Genes he placed a row of short diagonals on the upper and lower pictorial ground, connecting them to each other in an X-form in the painting‘s central axis. In Slanting Rods—Numbers Representing Themselves he set one, two, three, or four colorful stripes in horizontal rows in regular intervals over each other, each with a different angle of inclination. From this emerges a dynamic that is reminiscent of Op Art designs, but taken together brings movement into the image in all three paintings. As of 1970, with an emphasis on his work in fine art, Stankowski, in his paintings, ran through the diagonal elements as a departure from the square in form and color schemes in always new variations and expansions. The 1970s show an increasing confrontation with numerically determined color concepts. Color is no longer left to coincidence or intuition; the diagonal structures from the same diagonal cells are bound by color grading. Ground colors are darkened or lightened; contrast colors are confronted with each other in counter-rotating groupings. The slanting elements now evolve directly into the stripe images, which likewise exist in numerous variations. To this belongs the Flying Forms from 1976 as well as works like Diagonal in Diagonals 6 from 1980 (fig. 12.17). In its regularly interlocking bands, this shows a color shift from light to dark and to the contrasting color. Two color schemes penetrate each other. The diagonal element also finally enters the painting through the lowermost band‘s unfolding, which effects activity, liveliness in the surface. It represents a conscious departure from convention—a movement observable in many of Stankowski‘s works. Among the stripe images is also 1+1=3 (fig. 12.8), which later constituted the basic motif for the signet for the Münchner Rückversicherung, or the two vertical and horizontal visualizations on Time—Past, Now—Future from 1980. In this, the present is introduced with a narrow, light-hued horizon on which there is a colored cross. It marks the viewer‘s location at the moment of his absorption in the image. This present lasts only a moment and hence covers the smallest area on the painting. An area marked with light yellow diagonal stripes opens up over this—the future—which covers the largest area by far. Under it is a zone designed in ochre and brown-toned stripes—the past—upon which the present is based. The image shows an intellectual approach that goes beyond form and color structures. In his work in the 1970s, Stankowski also developed an initially strange series of quadratic formats that feature almost photorealistic characteristics. These are the Blue, Red, and Colored Sails, made in 1973 and 1974 (figs. 12.10–11). In these paintings, Stankowski divided the painting into three parts: the lowermost zone covers a third of the entire surface, the remaining area above is halved or proportionally divided into one-third to two-thirds. The effect, however, is dominated by a painterly idiosyncrasy: here, Stankowski did not apply the paint onto the surface with a brush, but rather sprayed it in finely graduated, glazed color progressions. This creates a spatial illusion in which the surfaces seem to fold out forward. It is probably the most extreme spatial effect that Stankowski ever conceded himself. Perhaps for him, the illusionist effect went a bit too far. At any rate, he did not follow this path further or return to it. Two years later, Stankowski returned to the 1950s again and readdressed the topic of uniformity in color surface. He varied this topic in two large series of nine paintings each. In Nine Phases, new forms continually emerge on the same grid through variations of the inserted color elements, but here, some, but not all, of the utilized colors must cover the same surface area. Here, Stankowski also played with the confrontation of equal and unequal quantities. He had not previously addressed this issue so consistently and with such a light hand. Here, it is actually the departure 7 from a once-chosen design maxim that constitutes the piece‘s strength. He himself once observed, ―Even in the most consistent system there is a free space in which subjectivity has a part. The field of the irrational remains open. It can be combined into an antisystem in a work. Breaking out of a system in a controlled way can become part of the concept.‖3 In the 1980s, Stankowski found a new pair of opposites, with which he had previously only concerned himself in the series Look from 1968: order and chaos. In Look, he had assigned the topic to pairs of paintings, but now he addressed it in one work. The painting Directions from 1982 could be seen as characteristic for the representation of opposition, which appears in various images from now on. It consists of adjacent colored stripes arranged like warp threads, of which some break out in mid-image and lay over and under each other, resulting in a new, irregular ―weave.‖ Chaos and order could not be visualized in a simpler or more visual way. Stankowski addressed this topic in several series of images, such as Increasing Stripes from 1983. Here he combines branching bands with a zoom effect in six phases and pulls the observer‘s view further and further into the painting. In 1983, Stankowski was able to take a sabbatical through a Villa Massimo fellowship. In this period, he worked on thirty-eight large paintings, each 30 x 30 cm, in which he very fundamentally contemplated possible design topics. Something like a theory of design emerges, but in painted form. Here he handled simple topics like Four Semi-circles or Disrupted Cross, but he also often contrasts opposites like Straight and Slanted, Positive-Negative Double Form. With these paintings, Stankowski culled the quintessence from his creative production and summarized his design insights. The serial painting Geometric A–Q from 1986 also seems noteworthy. In this, Stankowski superimposes a diagonal stripe onto various geometric surfaces— triangle, circle, spiral, rhombus, etc. He paid very special attention to the colors by strictly avoiding primary colors. Rather, all the colors are refracted into an unusually rich palette. The series‘ effect makes Stankowski seem to want to obliterate the geometric forms and make them invalid on the one hand, but emphasize them and fully fasten them to their background with a diagonal band on the other. In this way, he guides the viewer‘s attention in such a way that the geometric form‘s complex structure is taken in. So here, once again, is the conscious full declension of the vocabulary of geometric forms. 8 The large format is characteristic for Anton Stankowski‘s work in the 1990s, which he now continuously chose. If he previously only utilized oversize formats of more than two meters as an exception—or for applied contracts—he now came to love the two- by-two-meter dimension. It is interesting that he here often returned to motifs from his early periods and transferred them either directly or in slight variation into the large format. In his later works it is as if he wanted to reexamine some of his icons in the very large format and—if they were deemed good—give them a lasting, respectable place in his oeuvre. Anton Stankowski was a man of action, who created the basis for his art via practice. Whatever he touched he oriented toward the basic concept of economy and designed it simply, usably, and properly. Ultimately, an idea of what is right emerges from the recognition of what is proper and gives an ethical aspect to his craftsmanship. He derived all of his aesthetic maxims from this formalist ethos, which he laid down in his artworks. These artworks are, so to speak, the theoretical accompaniment and the idealistic output of his work as a graphic designer. What counted for him were dimensions and rules, and he indefatigably worked to get to the bottom of these, advancing his knowledge via experiments with proportions, visual laws, and colors. With this, Stankowski proved himself an artist before the cult of the genius, when art was still science and rules. Beauty was therefore equivalent to order —and what else did free painting mean for Stankowski other than creating order in material? It shows a certain component of reality in a system of order and in this way helps appropriate the world. In Anton Stankowski‘s perception, order is also meant in the societal sense. This humanist-based desire for order probably goes back to his training at the Folkwang School. Then, the belief in the ―cleansing‖ power of the ―new design‖ referred to the social environment as a whole. The artist should anchor his activity in society. And thus, from this time on, there was within Stankowski a scarcely concealed Utopian, full of the certainty that the aesthetic correction of the material environment would ultimately also change people for the better. Stephan von Wiese (ed.), Anton Stankowski. Das Gesamtwerk (Stuttgart, 1982), p. 45. 2 Ibid., p. 28. 3 Anton Stankowski, ―Die Farbe als Medium in meinen visuellen Kompositionen. Vortrag auf der internationalen Farb-Info ‘78, Köln,― quoted from ibid., p. 416.