Born in Philadelphia, Stankiewicz spent his formative years in Detroit against the backdrop of America’s booming midcentury automotive business. Living in a predominantly German and Polish immigrant community, he attended a technical high school and studied mechanical drafting, volumetric geometry, engineering, art, and music. He began painting and sculpting during his service in the Navy from 1941-47, and later trained under Hans Hofmann in New York from 1948-49. Stankiewicz composed his first sculptures out of metal scraps, and experimented heavily with various found materials. From 1950-51, he attended the schools of Fernand Léger and Ossip Zadkine in Paris, financed under the GI Bill. Upon his return to New York, Stankiewicz joined the artists’ cooperative Hansa Gallery, organized by Hofmann’s former students. There, he established his work througout the 1950s, garnering acclaim for his witty ‘junk’ assemblages. He moved to the Stable Gallery in 1959, and in 1962, he moved out of the city to Huntington, Massachusetts. He continued sculpting and exhibiting internationally up until his death in 1983.
Machine Elements stands as a testament to the mechanical precision of Richard Stankiewicz’ work. Originally trained in engineering, Stankiewicz rose to prominence as a sculptor in the mid-20th century, during the peak years of Abstract Expressionism. Machine Elements was constructed while Stankiewicz was exhibiting at Hansa Gallery—run by the students of Hans Hofmann—and just a year before he began exhibiting at the Stable Gallery in 1959, a move which marked his growing notoriety and singularity within the New York art world. Known for his signature humor and levity, Stankiewicz was able to breathe life into inanimate detritus, masterfully composing forms that seem as though they themselves are alive. While mechanically-inclined, Machine Elements betrays the distinct touch of Stankiewicz’ hand in its creative, irregular asymmetry. His work thus bears elements of both Surrealism and Late Modernism; of its lifelike spontaneity, he writes:
“Everything has a life. In my past the necessities of our living and the conditions of the society of people have sent me out to be alone – out to the country, on the sea. One can be as lonely as one wishes, but it is impossible to be alone…even on the salt and sterile sea, wait for the calm and lie over the low rail to stare down into the blue glass water and what at first seems a pure medium begins to dance with motes, darting specks, and down at the threshold of the dark, ominous shadows turn and careen about…it is unbearable to conceive that anything cannot have life.”
—excerpted from Miracle in the Scrap Heap: The Sculpture of Richard Stankiewicz by Emmie Donadio
Vanderwoude Tananbaum Gallery
Private Collection, New York
Miracle in the Scrap Heap (traveling exhibition): Addison Gallery of American Art, 19 April-30 June 2003; AXA Gallery, New York, August-October 2003; McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, Texas, April-July 2004; Musée Jean Tinguely, Basel, September-November 2004
Donadio, Emmie, et al., “Miracle in the Scrap Heap: The Sculpture of Richard Stankiewicz,” University of Washington Press, 2003, pp. 90-91