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 Xanti (Alexander) Schawinsky  (1904 - 1979)

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Lived/Active: New York/North Carolina / Switzerland/Germany      Known for: abstract painting, stage design, teaching, graphics, collage

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Alexander Schawinsky is primarily known as Xanti (Alexander) Schawinsky

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Ad Code: 3
Alexander Schawinsky
from Auction House Records.
Kostümentwurf Sachte Neulichkeit
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
Biography from Wright:
A designer and writer at the Bauhaus in Germany, Alexander Schawinsky was a student there in 1924, and in 1927 returned as a teacher in stage design.  At this time he also took up painting.

In 1933, he became a graphic designer in the Boggeri Studio and a freelance designer whose clients included Olivetti and Motta. Three years later, Josef Albers, Bauhaus teacher and painter who had emigrated to the United States, hired Schawinsky to teach at Black Mountain College in North Carolina.

He designed the North Carolina pavilion for the 1939 Worlds Fair in New York City, and also worked with Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer on the pavilion for Pennsylvania. About that time, he quit working as a designer in order to devote himself full time to painting.

Source:
Wright auction catalogue, May 15 2004

Biography from Wendt Gallery:
The following biography is by Steven Lowy from exhibition catalog: Champions of Modernism III, Wendt Gallery, 2009.  Lowy is an independent curator and President of Portico, New York, Inc.

Xanti Schawinsky (1904-1979)

He was a member and teacher of the Bauhaus School of Art.  His modernism art works explore the relationship of movement and space, expressing force and energy.  He was relentlessly experimental in his paintings, working in multiple mediums and employing novel methods, which helped him to create his symbolic, iconic body of work seen in his fine creations.

Xanti  (Alexander) Schawinsky was born in 1904 in Basel, Switzerland, and as a boy began to study art there in 1915.  He continued his studies in Zurich, where his family moved during the First World War.  In 1922, he studied architecture and graphics in Cologne and at the Academy of Arts in Berlin, where he received an award.  During this period he also made his first trip to the Bauhaus in Weimar, where, two years later and at only 20 years old, he began teaching alongside Josef Albers, Paul Klee, Walter Gropius, Wassily Kandinsky and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy.  When the Nazi government closed the Bauhaus in 1933, Schawinksy moved to Berlin but very quickly decided to leave the country after a number of close calls with the Gestapo, including a dramatic rescue by an anonymous taxi driver.  Schawinsky brought the Bauhaus aesthetic to Italy, where he worked extensively in graphic design.  He created iconic posters, magazine covers and other printed material for well-known companies such as Olivetti, Illy Caffe and San Pellegrino.  In 1936, he was invited by Bauhaus colleague Josef Albers to teach at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, where he began to experiment with photography in addition to pushing the artistically “set” boundaries of stage design and painting.

Schawinsky’s decision to come to America was influenced by the growing tensions in Europe and concerns for his family’s safety.  America’s entry into the war in 1941 led to an unexpected development in the artist’s career.  Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, his friend and colleague from the Bauhaus and Black Mountain College, had been asked to create designs to camouflage United States Army equipment.  Schawinsky became involved in the project, eventually translating design elements derived from camouflage into abstract forms found in his art.

In 1941, Schawinsky moved to New York City and started his own graphic design studio, creating advertising, posters and a range of product designs, even including a line of eyeglasses.  To help support a growing family, he also taught at New York University and the City College of New York.  While continuing to paint, he worked with collage as a way of integrating existing printed material into his painting.  An avant-garde method of making images without a paintbrush, popularized by Kurt Schwitters and Hilla Rebay, it was a natural medium for Schawinsky to explore.

Perhaps Schawinsky’s finest work from the period, Untitled (Campbell’s Soup Can), integrates elements from different phases of his career: the formal vocabulary of his Bauhaus—era painting, the play with light and shadow from his photography, and the text and advertising logos which was now becoming familiar from his graphic work.  We also see collage in this effort, as he combines found printed material with his own hand to form this abstract, urban composition.  This work predates and anticipates Andy Warhol’s Pop exploration of corporate logos by nearly two decades.  In addition, the artist handcrafted a special frame to showcase the work, which suggests it held special meaning for him. 

In the 1950s and early 1960s, Schawinsky developed a series of abstract paintings and drawings based on cityscapes.  Mostly inspired by New York and San Francisco, he would find a vantage point outside the city to sit and sketch the skyline.  Back in the studio, he would use his sketches to develop large—scale panoramas based on views of clustered buildings, windows and lights at different times of day.  Horizontal paintings represent New York–the long, thin island of Manhattan–while vertical ones represent San Francisco, the city of steep hills.  Many of these paintings were made by stamping or dragging a stencil dipped in paint over canvas or masonite.  Once again, Schawinsky was exploring alternative methods of transferring pigment to a surface.  Schawinsky’s final series of work, the Sphera and Stereon paintings from the early 1970s, includes, optical effects directly related to Op Art.  The series also refers back to Schawinsky’s late friend Moholy—Nagy’s earlier experiments with transparent materials.  The result is a series of abstract paintings that investigate the effect of light and shadow on circular forms, also evoking lunar or solar eclipses.  After his work with circular shapes, Schawinsky experimented with other stereoscopic shapes such as triangles and rhomboids. The palette in these works is more vivid and the chromatic shapes seem to hover in space.

In 2005, the Noguchi Museum in New York City mounted an exhibition titled, “The Imagery of Chess Revisited.”  The climax of the exhibition, presented prominently and alone in the last gallery, was a replica of Schawinsky’s now lost Chess Table Assemblage 1944.  Though not yet a household name like Picasso or Calder, Schawinsky has caught the eye of a new generation of curators excited to discover a true iconoclast and artistic explorer.

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