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 Theodore J. Roszak  (1907 - 1981)

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Lived/Active: New York / Poland      Known for: abstract sculpture and drawing

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Theodore J Roszak
An example of work by Theodore J. Roszak
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Sculptor, lithographer, and painter Theodore Roszak began his career as a painter but is best known for welded sculptures of brass and bronze that are tied to Constructivism and the ideas of the Bauhaus School. His signatures sculptures are pitted and scratched in texture and in style are abstract, often figural, and sometimes surreal in appearance. Some critics have compared them to gestural painting of the Abstract Expressionists. His themes combine myth and dismay with the contemporary world.

Some of the works for which he is best known are "Spectre of Kitty Hawk," 1946-47, Museum of Modern Art, New York City; and "Migrant," 1950, University of Illinois). The sculptures are projections that seem menacing and wanting to twist free from their cores. "Thin members are combined with broader metallic sheets in open construction, as if Roszak were adding to a Constructivist armature a menacing and probing content" (Baigell 309).

Roszak was born in Poznan, Poland in 1907 and brought to Chicago when he was age two. In 1926, he enrolled at the New York National Academy of Design and also took several sessions at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1922, 1925 and 1927.

First a painter in traditional romantic realism, he was much influenced by his exposure to modern art when he took a trip to Europe, primarily to Prague, in 1929 and 1930. He was particularly impressed by the German Bauhaus theories of integrating the artist and his/her expressions into society through architecture and city planning.

Then in 1936, Roszak turned away from painting to focus on sculpture and made three-dimensional works of brass, plastic and wood that followed somewhat the dictates of Constructivism but also incorporated some of the amoeba-like shapes of Joan Miro.

In 1938, Roszak worked with Laszlo Moholy-Nagy's at the U.S. government-sponsored Design Laboratory in New York City, which was created to bring Bauhaus ideas and principles to American Art. Other positions for Roszak included: Brewster Aircraft Corporation during WWII where he built aircraft and taught mechanics and teaching at Columbia University from 1970 to 1972.

Theodore Roszak died in 1981.

Source:
Matthew Baigell, "Dictionary of American Artists"
Peter Falk, "Who Was Who in American Art"


Biography from Michael Rosenfeld Gallery (Artworks Wanted):
Born in 1907 in Posen (now Poznan), Poland, Theodore Roszak was two years old when his family moved to Chicago, settling amid the city’s large Polish community. Roszak’s mother encouraged his early interest in art, and in 1920, he entered and won the Chicago Herald-Examiner’s National Art Contest for Public Schools. He pursued serious art study as a teenager, taking classes at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. After finishing high school in 1924, Roszak enrolled at the Art Institute full time and won the school’s lithograph and Trebilcock awards in his first year. In 1926, he left Chicago briefly for New York, studied privately with George Luks, and took philosophy courses at Columbia University. An Anna Louise Raymond Fellowship in 1929 enabled Roszak to spend two years in Europe, where he saw the haunting paintings of Giorgio de Chirico for the first time. Based in Prague, Roszak also interacted with Czech artists who introduced him to the principles of Bauhaus design and architecture, and he became familiar with the aesthetics and ideology of constructivism.

Roszak returned to the US in 1930, settling in New York. He won a Tiffany Foundation Fellowship in 1931, set up a studio on Staten Island in 1932, and in 1933, the Whitney Museum of American Art included one of his works in their First Biennial of Contemporary American Painting. The following year, the Art Institute of Chicago gave him the Eisendrath Award for Painting, and in 1935, Roszak was again represented in the Whitney Biennial with his painting Fisherman’s Bride (1934), which the museum purchased. That same year, the Roerich Museum’s International Art Center (New York) gave Roszak his first solo exhibition. Like many American artists during the Depression, Roszak found regular work through the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA); he taught at the Design Laboratory, a tuition-free, experimental design school under the aegis of the WPA that promoted Bauhaus and constructivist approaches to art.

During the second half of the 1930s, Roszak had begun working on constructions—sleek, free-standing, and wall-mounted sculptures of plastic and wood rooted in pure geometric abstraction, but constructivist ideology was informed by an optimistic faith in technology, and the destruction wreaked by the machinery of war left Roszak deeply critical of this perspective. In the mid-1940s, he abandoned his constructions, picked up an oxyacetylene torch, and began welding steel sculptures. His interest in welding emerged while he was emoployed at the Brewster Aircraft Corporation in Newark, New Jersey. From 1940 to 1945, he designed and fabricated aircraft, including an experimental bomber. Although Roszak’s welded sculptures continued to be abstract, they were expressionistic rather than streamlined, inspired by the organic over the man-made. This shift was presaged in a series of gouaches he did in the early 1940s, which explored questions of myth and ritual. In 1948, the Museum of Modern Art bought its first Roszak sculpture, Spectre of Kitty Hawk (1946-1947).

Roszak’s career continued to thrive throughout the 1950s and 1960s. In 1956, the Rodin Museum in Paris mounted an exhibition of his work, and Theodore Roszak, a traveling mid-career retrospective, was organized by the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. In 1959, he received a grant from the Ford Foundation, New York and was included in the Images of Man exhibition at MoMA. As his career grew, so did the scale of his work and his interest in flight. In the late 1950s, Roszak created an aluminum eagle weighing a full ton with a wingspan of over thirty-five feet for the US Embassy building in London (designed by Eero Saarinen and opened in 1960). For the 1964 World’s fair, Roszak welded his colossal Forms in Transit—a rocket-shaped, forty-three-foot sculpture comprised of aluminum, steel, and sheet metal—and in 1968, his twenty-five-foot bronze Sentinel was installed at the Public Health Laboratories on East 27th Street, New York.

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Theodore Roszak is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Abstract Expressionism

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