Stanley Twardowicz
No. 19-1958
1958

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About

Signed (on the back): Stanley Twardowicz
Oil and enamel on canvas
American Modernist

Stanley Twardowicz (1917-2008) grew up near railroad tracks in Detroit. Throughout a hardscrabble upbringing he displayed an improbable aptitude for art. But his middle-class prospects made no allowances for frivolity. That was until the automobile factory he worked in recognized Twardowicz’s artistic bent and enrolled him in Detroit’s Meinzinger Art School to learn automotive color design. There he mistakenly entered a life class that set him on a path as a fine artist.

Like many post-war artists, Twardowicz began as a promising figurative painter in the American Scene vernacular. His style, and Polish heritage, played well in Detroit and elsewhere in the Midwest. But the summers of 1946 and 1947 at Maine’s Skowhegan School introduced him to a coterie of cosmopolitan painters, including Philip Guston, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Jack Levine and William Zorach, that roused him from his provincialism. More importantly, the experience landed him a teaching job at Ohio State University alongside Roy Lichtenstein who became one of his closest friends. The position afforded Twardowicz an opportunity for extensive travel in Mexico and Europe. As his influences and work grew more sophisticated, so did his reputation. One-man shows sprung up for the artist at museums and universities throughout Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Kentucky and beyond. New York City beckoned and by the early ‘50s Stanley Twardowicz was a full-fledged abstract painter living in Plainfield, New Jersey, showing regularly at New York’s prominent Contemporary Arts Gallery, and an enthusiastic newcomer in the Greenwich Village arts scene.

Nature was Twardowicz’s divine inspiration. He insisted that his wildly contrasting abstractions – at once both subdued and somehow strikingly animated – were not landscapes of the mind but rather objectively based on close-up observations of nature. Maine fascinated Twardowicz and he returned often to investigate its shoreline with artist friends Kenzo Okada, Matsumi Kanemitsu or Betty Parsons. He was attracted less by Maine’s panoramic vistas than by its more intimate views of rocks, tidal pools and moss-covered bark. That “macro” interest in the natural world formed the mainstay of both his painting and photography of this period. New York Times critic Dore Ashton wrote, “His work with its dramatic color contrasts suggests subterranean depths at times; and, at times, the soft molecular structures magnified in microscopic slides. Twardowicz uses dense, shiny blacks extensively, and through them weaves patterns of quivering, brightly hued forms [January 10, 1956].”

“Fire colors,” Ashton later used to describe his palette; “molten” said another; and “violent” still another. His paintings had “no easy charm” asserted The Herald Tribune. Characterized by the liberal use of black juxtaposed with tough, brooding earth tones jarringly disrupted by flashes of primary color, Twardowicz’s paintings from the ‘50s challenge and exhaust the senses. And yet there is an eerie beauty in them. The strange forms and colors appear oddly familiar, like light bursting through cracks in a dense forest canopy, foamy surf pulled between boulders by the ebb tide, or silted rivers carving through an arid plain.

He landed on the cover of “Art in America” magazine’s “New Talent Annual, 1958.” It was one highlight of an impressive run that included a 1956 Guggenheim Fellowship, group shows at the Whitney and Guggenheim museums, The Art Institute of Chicago, Carnegie Institute, and The Museum of Modern Art. The latter trumpeted its acquisition of a Twardowicz canvas in 1956 and later bought six of his photographs. In 1958 he signed with New York’s influential Peridot Gallery, and two years later was also showing on the West coast with avant-garde dealer Virginia Dwan who showed him in the company of Norman Bluhm, Philip Guston, Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, Ray Parker, Jackson Pollock, and Larry Rivers.

By 1960, a divorce from his second wife and his hard-drinking lifestyle took a physical and emotional toll on Twardowicz that would play out in a riveting series of canvases. Black now overwhelmed his compositions. When mixed with almost imperceptible hues of violet or crimson they formed deeply contemplative statements echoing the work of Rothko and Reinhardt from the same moment. Gone is his distinctive interplay of shiny and matte surfaces, the glossy enamels replaced by powdery, quick-drying Magna acrylic. Gone too are the colliding forms bursting with color. Instead these richly enigmatic paintings seem to collapse inward, their vaguely sensual forms obscured by an impenetrable veil.

After Peridot closed in 1970, Twardowicz retreated to his teaching at Hofstra University and the quietude of his Northport, L. I. studio. Recoiling at commercialism and unwanted attention, Twardowicz nevertheless became a fixture in the north shore art world, a revered mentor, and longtime board member of the Heckscher Museum in Huntington, NY. He would enjoy four museum retrospectives in his lifetime and repeated accolades for his innovative photography. But today Hirschl & Adler is content to celebrate the heroic 1950s and ‘60s when Stanley Twardowicz came out swinging. It was the crucible of a distinguished and still vastly under-recognized career.

Twardowicz was the subject of a monographic exhibition at Hirschl & Adler Modern in 2012 entitled “Stanley Twardowicz in the 1950s and 1960s” and an Art Kabinett at Art Basel Miami Beach in 2015.
Details
Artist
Stanley Twardowicz (1917-2008, United States of America)
Creation Year
1958
Medium
Enamel
Canvas
Oil Paint
Movement & Style
Abstract
Condition
Excellent
Dimensions
56 in. H x 42 in. W
Dealer Location
New York, NY
Number of Items
1
Reference Number
LU231730823
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1stdibs seller since 2010
Located in New York, NY
Associations:
  • Art Dealers Association of America

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