The Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia) received a gift of 727 drawings, 63 prints, and three photographs by Polish-American artist Theodore Roszak, who is perhaps best known for his postwar pivot from balanced, geometric Constructivism to jagged, cosmic biomorphism more aligned with Surrealism. The nearly 800 works on paper, which were donated by the artist’s daughter Sara Roszak, encompass stylistic shifts across the artist’s long career: the works span from 1920, well before Roszak completed his studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, to 1980, a year before he died from heart failure at the age of 74.
As a young artist in 1929, Roszak won an 18-month fellowship in Europe, where he was influenced by exposure to Constructivism, Purism, and Bauhaus, among other movements. Roszak’s subsequent return to New York was marked by his inclusion in the first two Whitney Annuals in 1933 and 1935; employment at an experimental design school under the Works Progress Administration; and a move from figurative painting, which he had studied under Charles Hawthorne; to sculpture, in which he fused geometric abstraction with mechanical motifs using materials such as wood, plastic, and wire. In the wake of World War II, however, Roszak turned his attention to welded steel and began producing more expressionistic sculptures that drew inspiration from plants, animals, and literature, particularly science fiction. Frequently spiky, warped, and menacing, Roszak’s postwar and late sculptures seemed demonstrative of a transformed image of humanity.
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Though he is best known for his sculpture, Roszak drew throughout his life, typically for several hours a day. In the early years of his career, the artist was particularly occupied by portraiture, as seen in one of the acquisition highlights, a colorful, Cubist-inflected ink portrait titled “Sammy” (1933). Constructivist or mechanical sketches were similarly prevalent in Roszak’s work around this time. Also noteworthy in the donation is a large black and sepia ink and wash work titled “The Furies of Folly Cove” (1952), a close relation of a drawing by the same name in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Exploding with mysterious energy, “The Furies of Folly Cove” exemplifies the dynamic cosmic scenes that Roszak drew in the ’50s and ’60s. A later graphite and colored pencil drawing, “The Last Tycoon (Gulliver)” (1976), is representative of Roszak’s lesser-known mature work, which fused surrealism with political satire and is of particular interest to Mia’s curator of paintings Robert Cozzolino, who facilitated the acquisition.
For Roszak, drawing was a gateway to the unconscious, as well as a way to think through forms that sometimes went on to be realized in sculptures — as was likely the case for “Urban Construction,” an animated, splashy sculpture study from the 1950s included in the acquisition. “The drawings clear all the impediments of conscious attitudes,” the artist explained in a 1956 interview with James Elliott. What he went on to translate to metal was not necessarily the drawing in the foreground; often, it was based on the drawing that could be excavated from the background. “Very often that background drawing is the next sculpture that emerges out of that drawing,” Roszak said. “It is a self-generating process by which, through one’s own efforts, one tries to scrape the bottom of one’s psychic imagination.”
Prior to the donation, Mia had several pieces by Roszak on long-term loan, but none in its permanent collection. With the donation, which includes works related to the loans, Mia is now the leading institution for works on paper by Roszak.