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Francis Michael Celentano

1928 - 2016 Obituary Condolences
Francis Michael Celentano Obituary
Francis Michael Celentano

1928 ~ 2016

Francis Celentano, first generation Op artist and Professor Emeritis of Painting at the University of Washington School of Art, died in Seattle on November 20, 2016.

One of the original Op artists included in the seminal 1965 exhibit The Responsive Eye, Celentano moved from monochrome Hard-Edge Abstraction and black-and-white Op painting to vibrant Perceptual works that combined disciplined rational schematics with chromatic lyricism and meticulous construction: form and color became one. He was, as described by former Chief Curator at the Portland Art Museum Bruce Guenther, "a quiet force for clarity and intelligence in painting." He will be remembered as a major figure in the perceptual and color theory work that emerged in the 1960s.

Celentano was born in the Bronx in 1928, graduating from DeWitt Clinton High School in 1947 with the St. Gaudens medal for excellence in drawing. He graduated from New York University with a BA in Art History and Psychology in 1951 and an MA in Art History in 1957. In 1966, he accepted an appointment as a visiting lecturer in the painting department of the School of Art at the University of Washington in Seattle. Three years later he was made Full Professor. He retired from teaching in 1997.

As an undergraduate, Celentano took a class with painter Philip Guston, who introduced him to Artist's Club lectures by art critics and others from the 1950s NYC avant-garde, and to the Cedar Bar, where the older generation of Abstract Expressionists hung out discussing theory late into the night. Attracted to the "immediacy and self-expression" of Ab Ex, Celentano began to paint in its gestural style, while documenting and interviewing the movement's painters for his Master's thesis, "The Origins and Development of Abstract Expressionism in the United States," under art historian Horst W. Janson. A vital source for material on the New York School, his 1957 thesis is included in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, the National Gallery of Art, the Smithsonian, SUNY at Buffalo, the University of Washington, and La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia.

A year in Rome, studying painting on a Fulbright Scholarship in 1957-58, changed his perspective on the New York School. He began to produce Hard-Edge abstractions, and then black-and-white Op and Kinetic paintings, which brought him to international attention in the mid-1960s. He turned to color theory in 1968, creating dramatic color interactions within the confines of pattern and structure, the optical illusion of real space in tension with the flatness of the material. He expanded this technique in the 1970s, airbrushing color onto strips of styrene, which he then cut and rearranged into striped paintings. These became shaped, and even three-dimensional, in the 1980s: his shaped "Isis" series created the illusion of unfolding like origami wings and staircases; his three-dimensional "Chromatic Twist" columns worked twisting structure and glowing color against each other to contradict the spatial illusions they created.

In more recent years, Celentano was working with computer programs, meticulously executing rigorous color strategies into large scale paintings. As always, the experience was open-ended, left to the viewer to interact and interpret. "Op Art or better Perceptual Art," he wrote, "functions as a metaphor for the distortions of perception, experience and reason generously provided by nature and culture."

Celentano's painting can be found in numerous museum collections worldwide, including the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum in New York, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo and the Museo de Arte Contemporneo de Buenos Aires.

Francis Celentano is survived by his wife Rebecca, his brother Arnold, his three nephews Andrew, Michael, Dennis, and his niece Lorraine.

A memorial gathering will be held January 28, 2-4 pm, at the Jacob Lawrence Gallery, University of Washington School of Art. For donations go to: https://art.washington.edu/news/2016/12/05/memoriam-francis-celentano
Published in The Seattle Times on Jan. 8, 2017
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