b. 1921

Roland Ginzel was born in Lincoln, Illinois. One of the pioneering abstractionists in Chicago, he has quietly asserted himself as an important artist, teacher, and organizer in the city for nearly forty years. With his wife, painter Ellen Lanyon, Ginzel helped to create important arts organizations and exhibitions in Chicago. His art also serves as an early example of an abstract style not traditionally associated with Chicago’s art history.

While attending SAIC, Ginzel was among the student from SAIC and ID (including Leon Golub, Irving Petlin, Rovert Nickle, and Lanyon) who organized Exhibition Momentum in response to the exclusion of students by AIC from their C&V shows. Upon graduation from SAIC in 1948, Ginzel and Lanyon were married. They received their MFA degrees from the University of Iowa in 1950. After a year spent in London and Rome doing postgraduate work, Ginzel returned to Chicago and began teaching painting at UIC. In 1953 Ginzel founded (with Lanyon and others) the Graphic Art Workshop, a center for printmaking practice and exhibition. The workshop was damaged by fire in 1955 and closed in 1956.

During the three decades after Ginzel’s return to Chicago in 1951, he was included in important shows of Chicago artists, including many of the Exhibition Momentum shows, and was part of the group that showed at the short-lived Superior Street Gallery from 1958 to 1961. He was featured in the “First Chicago Invitational” of 1962, sponsored by the Frumpkin and Holland galleries; the Phalanx 3 exhibition of 1965; “Exhibition 150” at Barat College in Lake Forest in 1968 (celebrating the sesquicentennial of the State of Illinois); and “Abstract Art in Chicago” at MCA in 1976. Gallery 400 at UIC honored Ginzel’s forty years as an artist and an instructor at the university with a retrospective in 1986. Ginzel continued to teach at UIC until 1985, when he permanently departed that same year to New York with Lanyon.

Ginzel’s unique brand of abstract painting, using patterns of shapes, lines, and colors dispersed about the picture plane, has merited the exhibition of his work at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and MOMA in New York as well as showings throughout Europe and Japan. Many of his works are numbered variants under the title Desbarats, a word taken from the name of the Canadian island where he vacations in the summer. Ginzel has referred to his paintings with phrases like “lyrical formalism” and “soft geometry,” suggesting a poetic use of abstract forms and a connection to Surrealism, respectively. Despite the strong figurative presence in Chicago, Ginzel has maintained an unwavering devotion to abstract painting. His long-term dedication to abstraction makes him one of the most singular and individualistic figures in the spectrum of postwar Chicago art.

Biography by Dominic Molon, from Art in Chicago 1945 – 1995