An Interview with Artist Ed Mieczkowski (1929-2017)

November, 2012

JK: We can follow your interest in overlapping shapes and in energizing work through the use of diagonal thrusts in a large series of works on both canvas and paper—the Cranes series. Here are some early examples. It’s interesting that in Easter Crane from 1980, we see chains of triangles and half circles that will become prominent in later work.

EM: Yes, these shape chains anticipate work that will reflect my interest in fractals.

I recall that as a young boy growing up in Pittsburgh, I was very taken by my walks down 26th or 27th Street where a railroad passed overhead and a huge timbered structure supported the bridge. The structure was very geometric and the image stuck in my mind. I actually had a nightmare about it because it was quite dark and could be very foreboding at dusk.

Bridge, acrylic and watercolor on paper,
61 x 46 cm (24 x 18 in), 1979
Easter Crane, acrylic on paper,
107 x 81 cm (42 x 32 in), 1980

Another influence for the Cranes series came from my strolls along the Cleveland waterfront where I would take pictures to use in my teaching. I was very impressed by the cranes in the dockyards I would see on these walks.

At the DockRed Ore
At the Dock, acrylic on canvas,
213 x 168 cm (84 x 66 in), 1982
Red Ore, acrylic on canvas,
213 x 168 cm (84 x 66 in), 1982

I was concerned with depth at this point and once again achieved it by overlap.

Yellow Crane
Soft Green Crane, acrylic on paper,
107 x 81 cm (42 x 32 in), 1985
Crane in Yellow, acrylic on paper,
114 x 84 cm (45 x 33 in), 1985

JK: Before examining how this series evolved and changed, let’s look at some counterparts to the Cranes that you did in sculpture.

EM: The black line in a painting like Catheme might be reproduced in a sculpture.

Catheme, acrylic on canvas,
213 x 168 cm (84 x 66 in), 1985

The sculpture Firewall is like a three-dimensional Cranes painting, its linear structure obviously based on the Cranes. I was making sculptures in wood and metal in my studio, fabricating them myself or with the help of a studio assistant.

Firewall, acrylic on wood,
91 x 47 x 14 cm (36 x 18.5 x 5.5 in), 1986

In a sculpture like Iron Merwin, the black is the set piece and the pink and blue are bolted to it.

Iron MerwinM 1042
Iron Merwin, acrylic on steel,
152 x 46x 30.5 cm (60 x 18 x 12 in),
M 1042, acrylic on steel,
124 x 56 x 28 cm (49 x 22 x 11 in),
Zordoz, welded steel, 80 x 28 x 64 cm
(31.5 x 11 x 25 in), 1991
UMB, welded steel on wooden pedestal,
97 x 36 x 33 cm (38 x 14 x 13 in), 1993

JK: The titles of many of these sculptures allude to manmade structures.

EM: Yes. The Krassin was a Russian ice breaker—the world’s first. One of its missions that captured my imagination was when it rescued an Italian expedition led by Umberto Nobile whose airship had crashed on its return trip from the North Pole in 1928.

City Core Red KRRSSIN
City Core, acrylic on aluminum,
137 x 117 x 102 cm (54 x 46 x 40 in), 1989
Red KRASSIN, welded steel,
112 x 56 x 34 cm (44 x 48 x 13.5 in), 1993

JK: Some of the sculptures had an open “crane” structure, while others were more closed and solid.

EM: I often was thinking about cities and architecture.

Red Chicago
Teofilia, acrylic on wood,
198 x 114 x 69 cm (78 x 45 x 27 in), 1987
 Red Chicago, acrylic on wood,
187 x 91 x 62 cm (73.5 x 36 x 24.5 in),
ca 1987
Smelter’s Palace, acrylic on wood,
112 x 76 x 56 cm (44 x 30  x 22 in),
Einstein’s Tower, acrylic on wood,
151 x 84 x 52 cm (59.5 x 33 x 20.5 in),
ca 1989

Tricolor II came from a model I made when I was teaching drawing and talking to students about overlap. I made the model in three movable parts so that I could change their order of overlap. I liked the model and built it as a large, freestanding sculpture whose parts could also be rearranged.

Tricolor II
Tricolor II, , acrylic on welded steel,
163 x 86 x 36 cm (64 x 34 x 14 in), 1989

JK: Here’s another example of a sculpture in three parts.

Tatlinate Tower
Tatlinate Tower, acrylic on wood,
3.5 x 1.3 x .9 meters (11.5 x 4 x 3 ft), 1989

And a large, quite open work, Cyberblok.

Cyberblok, acrylic on wood and wood laminate,
3 x 3.5 x 3 meters (10 x 12 x 10 ft), 1992

You created even larger works with an open, modular structure.

EM: I developed this construction technique for these very large structures. They had the advantage of letting the wind pass through them, thus they were in less danger of being blown down.

SIM, acrylic on wood, 5.5 x 3 x 2.5 meters (18 x 10 x 8 ft),
(Temporary Installation, Sculpture Center, Cleveland, OH)

I was quite ambitious and liked the idea of these large works.

Hart, acrylic on wood, 6.5 x 5 x 3.5 meters
(21 x 16 x 12 ft), 1994
Temporary Installation, The Cleveland Institute of Art,
Cleveland, OH

JK: You made another large structure that was actually attached to a building.

EM: The Butler Museum gave me the opportunity to exhibit something temporary, and I chose to do it outside in order to equal the architecture.

Temporary Installation, Butler Museum of America Art, ca 1980

JK: You also made some much smaller circular wall sculptures.

EM: These pieces involved the layering of circular units. In M 104, you can see a red figure grasping a snake and about to cut it with a small sword

M 104M 177
M 104, acrylic on aluminum,
69 x 74 cm (27 x 29 in), 1989
M 177, acrylic on aluminum,
36 x 36 cm (14x 14 in), 1989

JK: And in Cadillac you have grouped four circular pieces into a larger work where the connecting structure has some sharply angular parts that contrast with the circular rhythms and further activate the work.

Cadillac, acrylic on aluminum,196 x 56 x 6 cm (77 x 22 x 2.5 in), 1997

Returning to the Cranes paintings, we can see that these works on paper and canvas continued to evolve.

         Blue Dock and Crane
White Crane, acrylic and graphite on paper,
114 x 70 cm (45 x 31.5 in), 1988-89
Blue Dock and Crane, acrylic on paper,
137 x 104 cm (54 x 41 in), 1987

EM: I was trying to loosen up, as can be seen in the white areas of the two paintings below.

Bridge Ghosts
Industrial Remnant, acrylic and graphite on paper,
114 x 84 cm (45 x 33 in), 1988
Bridge Ghosts, acrylic and graphite on paper,
114 x 84 cm (45 x 33 in), 1988

JK: In some cases, the angular crane shapes become less prominent, often receding behind other elements.

Crane Load, acrylic on paper,
114 x 81 cm (45 x 32 in), 1987
Mandarin Dock, acrylic on paper,
107 x 81 cm (42 x 32 in), 1987

As we’ve seen previously, you so often take a motif and push to expand its possibilities.

 Smeltered Blue, acrylic on canvas,
114 x 81 cm (45 x 32 in), 1986
 Throne, acrylic on paper,
81 x 56 cm (32 x 22 in), 1989

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