Anton Stankowski

Anton Stankowski was born in 1906, in Gelsenkirchen. After an apprenticeship as decorative and church painter, he enrolled at the Folkwangschule Essen in 1927. There he became a student of Max Burchartz and focused on graphic arts, typography, as well as photography. After two years of free-lance work at a Bochum photo agency, Stankowski moved to Zurich in 1929, to the center of »Neue Gestaltung« und »Konkrete Kunst.« In Zurich he worked at Max Dalang’s advertising studio where he also installed a photo studio. Among the artists he made contact with were Paul Lohse and Max Bill. In 1934, Stankowski had to leave Switzerland and eventually started to work as an independent graphic artist in Stuttgart. In 1940, he was drafted into the German military and did not return to Stuttgart before 1948. At first he worked as editor, graphic artist, and photographer for the magazine »Stuttgarter Illustrierte.« In 1951, he opened his own graphic arts studio and became part of the Stuttgart circle of artists, writers, and architects around Willi Baumeister, Max Bense, Egon Eiermann, and Mia Seeger. Having taught at the Ulm School of Design (HfG Ulm) as a visiting lecturer, he was awarded a professorship at the HfG by the federal state of Baden Württemberg in 1976. In 1983, he established the nonprofit Stankowski Foundation. 

Stankowski’s work is shaped by the unity of free and applied arts. This shows, for example, in his early drafts on paper, done since the late 1920s in Switzerland – drafts that are clearly characterized by suprematist as well as constructivist tendencies. In the 1920s, Stankowski engaged in serial and programmatic design, developing early standardized advertising material that has impacted corporate design until today. Aside from the collage, diagonal pictorial elements, positive/negative constellations, perspective elements, sequence, and series are means that Stankowski also outlined in his design reader which he put together in 1928 — 30. There he created his own pictorial language of visualizing terms and conveying information. He considered the order of contents, the information that can be immediately grasped, and the balance between pictorial harmony and effect as being especially important and developed graphic design concepts reduced to only a few pictorial elements. Next to geometrical shapes, he also included photography and own typographies, whose dynamic appearance he achieved through perspective and tapering, in his graphic designs, advertising posters, and cover designs (Sulzer, 1933). 

Stankowski’s first panel pictures, done during his time at the Zurich advertising studio, are based on linear and two-dimensional pictorial compositions, on his approach to plane and perspective, form and symbol that he had already pursued in his commercial art. At the same time, the first paintings, done for an exhibition of the Zurich group »Die Augen« / »The Eyes,« an exhibition planned for the year 1929, also represent painterly receptions of graphic arts techniques. With overpaintings of forms or opaque two-dimensional constellations, they bring together the strategies of collage, model, and paper object in the medium of painting (Mutter und Kind /Mother and Child, 1929; Dreiklang / Triad, 1939; Durchbrochene Wände / Broken Walls, 1938). Stankowski employed the diagonal – set in perspective – for the first time in photography in 1960. It became a primary strategy also used in painting and contributed to the dynamics of the composition as well as to its spatial effects. He developed the diagonal from the square which remained another basic element of his work (Schräges Band, zentral angeordnet / Diagonal Strip, Centrally Arranged, 1960). He also kept his interest in elementary pictorial concepts, developed from the principles of applied graphics, until he turned to optically irritating pictures in the 1970s and »80s. 

Stankowski«s graphical designs have significantly shaped German (((applied and))) commercial graphic arts of the second half of the 20th century. At the same time, the »Funktionsgrafik« / »functional graphics« which he started to develop in the 1950s for IBM and SEL communication technology and for the city of Berlin (Berlin-Layout, 1969) is closely related to the principles of his graphically oriented way of painting. Further examples of Stankowski’s »Funktionsgrafik« are the wordmarks for IDUNA or the graphic design developed for the Deutsche Bank and various other institutions in the 1970s, as well as posters for cultural events. For ideas, terms, and complex functions that appear almost beyond visualization, Stankowski’s principles of design and composition found basic forms of expression, a referential system mediating between term and sign. Together with his partner Karl Duschek he also worked on architectural projects in the 1970s (Stadthaus Bonn), orientational steles (Stankogramme), and info signs and routing systems (11. Olympischen Kongress, 1981). In 1994, he then explained the foundations of brand design and complex visual information systems in his publication »Visuelle Kommunikation.« Having presided over the visual realization of the Olympic Games in Munich (1969 — 72), Stankowski increasingly turned towards painting in the mid-1970s. He took up the earlier constructivist and concrete approaches as to perspective and pictorial dynamics, symmetry, and asymmetry, color, and rhythm that aimed at making complex themes, states, or formulas accessible to the viewer. His engagement with painterly color gradients in the 1970s and »80s and with relief-like shaped objects (Eigenform / Own Shape, 1980 — 90) again broadened the large spectrum of his artistic work. 

Aside from graphic arts and painting, a comprehensive photographic œuvre emerged that today includes more than 40,000 negatives as part of a photo archive. Next to experimental photos, snapshots, and documentary pictures, the photographic ›picture archive‹ also contains photos of everyday objects, and photo montages. It further contains ›Foto-Grafiken‹ / ›photo-graphic works‹ where various artistic techniques – including typography – are again closely combined. 

Stankowski participated in exhibitions from the late 1920s on, among them the exhibition of the German Work Federation ›Film und Foto‹ (1929). Exhibitions of his graphic art, his photographic work, and his paintings took place, for example, at the Kunstgewerbemuseum / Arts and Crafts Museum Zurich (1973), at the Städtische Museum Gelsenkirchen (1978), and at the Wilhelm-Hack-Museum Ludwigshafen (1989). Retrospectives dedicated to Stankowski«s work were shown at the Reuchlinhaus, Pforzheim (1962), and the Orangerie Kassel (1986). On the occasion of Stankowski’s one-hundredth birthday, further retrospectives were held at the Staatsgalerei Stuttgart, the Neues Museum Weserburg, Bremen, the Mies van der Rohe Haus Berlin, and other institutions (2006/07). 

Anton Stankowski died in 1998, in Esslingen/Neckar.

Bildrechte: VG Bild Kunst, Bonn 2014 Foto: Tobias Roch, Hagen Bildrechte: Calder Foundation New York / Foto Stiftung Lehmbruck Museum Bildrechte: gemeinfrei, Foto: Peter Hinschläger

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