An Interview with Artist Ed Mieczkowski (1929-2017)

November, 2012

JK: In the early 80s you had suffered a studio-destoying fire in Cleveland.

EM: Yes. I very foolishly lingered too long and had to be rescued. Most of what I had there was consumed by the fire. I regret the loss of a great many books as much as anything. Circumstances surrounding the fire were suspicious, so I got a good lawyer who sued my landlord’s insurance company. From the settlement I got some money to buy a property with three buildings on it. One space served as my studio. Another was an industrial garage, which became the Idea Garage.

Ed Mieckzkowski (far right) in front of the Idea Garage

JK: You used this space as a gallery.

EM: Yes.I bankrolled it myself which for about 10 years, went into a financial hole with it,  but I had some rather influential and often controversial shows there, including one that focused on the subject of abortion.

JK: Perhaps the show that received the most publicity was one about art made by notorious serial killers.

EM: I had a student, Steven Kasner, who had corresponded with a number of imprisoned serial killers. These men sent him drawings and paintings, which he exhibited in the Idea Garage. Among those in the audience were some Cleveland detectives! I always had speakers, and for this show I had a forensic psychologist speak. I was always involved in public affairs and I thought of the Idea Garage as one way to accomplish this.

JK: We’ve seen your keen interest in science reflected in your work beginning with the Anonima group’s study of J.J. Gibson’s ideas about perception that led to the group’s exploration of how artists create depth on a flat surface.

By the 80s  you had become interested in fractals, a concept brought into the mainstream of mathematics by French American mathematician, Bernoît Mandelbrot, who coined the term “fractal” and popularized it in his book, The Fractal Geometry of Nature, in 1982. Very simply put, Mandelbrot discussed how we can identify patterns within the apparent irregularities of the natural world. An important aspect of fractals is the repetition of identical or similar elements—called self-similarity—at different scales.

Fractal Train, acrylic on paper, 114 x 221 cm (45 x 87 in), 1984

EM: Yes. Below, the painting, Fractal Hope, is organized with a lot of circles. The chains of small repeating shapes suggest fractals.

Fractal Hope, acrylic and graphite on paper, 114 x 84 cm (45 x 33 in), 1988

I was really working with a very loose interpretation of the idea of fractals.

 Meta Helmut, acrylic on paper,
114 x 81 in (45 x 32 in), 1992
 Sex Talk, acrylic and watercolor on paper,
107 x 79 cm (42 x 31 in), 1992

JK: Let’s look at some further examples of the variety to be found in your paintings incorporating fractal-like structures.

EM: I believe that the painting Cortex is one of my most beautiful paintings.

Spooling, acrylic on paper,
113 x 81 cm (44.5 x 32 in), 1995
Untitled, acrylic on paper,
146 x 114 cm (57.5 x 45 in), 1996
Beading, acrylic and oil on board,
76 x 56 cm (30 x 22 in), 1996
Cortez, acrylic and oil on board,
77 x 57 cm (30.25 x 22.25 in), 1996
Bead Locks, acrylic on canvas, 168 x 213 cm (66 x 84 in ), 1996

This group of work represented part of my breaking out into a more expressive way of painting, although they are still tightly controlled with their shapes sharply defined.

JK: Once again we are seeing your interest in complex patterning and structures with repeating elements.

EM: I’ve always made very busy work and shied away from things simple. I guess that comes from nervousness that I wasn’t working the painting enough.

JK: The next group of work reflects your fascination with the structure of peptides, chemical compounds that are composed of chains of two or more amino acids.

EM: I can’t really say that there is any direct science in these paintings. Again, my visual references to a number of scientific concepts and phenomena are quite loose. These paintings started with black shapes over which I placed everything else. The black shapes represent for me an organic principle. Once I established that aspect, everything else came easily.

Dancing Peptides, acrylic on canvas,
241 x 168 cm (95 x 66 in), 1999
Peptides, acrylic on paper,
61 x 46 cm (24 x 18 in), 2000
Peptides 2, acrylic on paper,
61 x 46 cm (24 x 18 in), 2000

JK: And again we see repeating fractal-like structures appear in these circular works.

EM: What I am primarily thinking about is how to deploy elements on the canvas or paper.

 Islands, acrylic on wood, 119 cm in diameter
(47 in diameter), 2000
 Tumult Seraglio, acrylic on wood, 119 cm in diameter
(47 in diameter), 2000
 Gyre, acrylic on canvas, 165 cm in diameter
(65 in diameter), 2002

There is a similarly loose reference to Michael Faraday’s ideas about electromagnetism and lines of force in the works below. I was quite taken by some of his diagrams about magnetism and magnetic fields.

 Clear Zone, acrylic on paper,
112 x 103 cm (44 x 40.5 in), 2004
 Faraday Lines for Frank, acrylic on paper,
112 x 103 cm (44 x 40.5 in), 2004

JK: You’ve also mentioned an interest in other biological phenomena such as telomeres and dendrites.

EMQuantum Zeno Reverie is made up of 4 sheets, and I obviously was going wild with the lines. I have to say that Donovan’s Dendrites is a remarkable work. I’m simply unable to duplicate it.

Quantum Zeno Reverie, graphite, ink and watercolor
on paper, 121 x 90cm (47.5 x 35.5), 2004
Donovan’s Dendrites, ink and watercolor on paper,
30 x 23 cm (12 x 9 in), 2007

JK: In 2004, you were hospitalized when, at the same time, the building that housed your Cleveland studio was about to be destroyed.

EM: I had retired to Huntington Beach, California in 1998. In 2004 I had surgery there for a descending aortic aneurism and was recuperating when I was rushed to a hospital in Houston for surgery on an ascending aortic aneurism that the doctors in Huntington Beach were unable to treat. The hospital staff said that very few people who had a second aortic anurism, especially ascending, survive. They called me a miracle.

At this time, my lease in Cleveland had expired and someone had bought the property where my studio stood and was demolishing the building. A friend, Roger Welchens, organized a rescue operation, saving many constructions, paintings and drawings. They had about 30 days to get a lifetime of work out of there.

JK: Gallerist Ken Marvel saw your work in the Santa Fe home of sculptor, Bill Barrett, and asked to be put in touch with you, and you soon became represented by LewAllen Galleries in Santa Fe. In 2006 you had a four decade retrospective there called Visual Paradox: Transforming Perception featuring work done between 1963 and 2003. Then in 2006 you began to make some paintings reminiscent of your work from the mid 60s.

EM: Ken suggested I return to Op Art because it was coming into favor again. I was happy to do this as I had always enjoyed doing this work. I began to complete some of my unfinished Op paintings, and then  I continued to do some new ones based on the single motif of the circle with a quarter cut out. This shape reminded some people of Pac-Man.

Op Cross Blue, 2006, acrylic on canvas, 91 x 91 cm (36 x 36 in), 2006Op Cross #2, acrylic on canvas, 91 x 91 cm (36 x 36 in), 2006
Elisian Field
Elisian Field, acrylic on canvas, 91 x 91 cm (36 x 36 in), 2007

JK: And here we see a continuation of the line work—”snarly,” as you refer to it.

Snarly #1, acrylic on canvas, 121 x 90 cm
(47.5 x 35.5 in), 2008
Snarly #5, acrylic on canvas, 151 x 121 cm
(59.5 x 47.5 in), 2008

EM: Yes, however now, I’m seriously involved in paintings that continue the Op sensitivities that I have had…

Winter Sun, acrylic on canvas,  61 x 61 cm (24 x 24 in), 2011

… but my purpose is to evolve them into being paintings first so they’re not specifically identified as Op Art.

Packed, acrylic on canvas, 61 x 61 cm (24 x 24 in), 2011]
Red Flare, acrylic on canvas, 61 x 61 cm (24 x 24 in), 2011

But I’m not very far from Op, let’s say working in the neighborhood of.

Red #3, acrylic on canvas, 61 x 61 cm (24 x 24 in), 2011

Looking back, I bless that little boy who noodled around with a pencil for the outcome I’m enjoying today. Over the years, my love of painting and the ideas that go along with it, remain undiminished. I have just accompliehsed what I consider the finest paintings of my career and I’m still going strong at 82!

Ed Mieczkowski in his Huntington Beach, CA home


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