‘Visions’ of Ponstingl at Baum School of Art
During Allentown’s “Great Art Night,” the Baum School of Art held an opening reception for “Rediscovering Ponstingl: Visions of the Extraordinary,” works from the collection of John Munice, through Nov. 17, the David E. Rodale and Rodale Family Galleries.
The posthumous Lehigh Valley debut of Frank “Franz Jozef” Ponstingl’s work pays tribute to an “artist whose dedication to his craft never faltered and who used any resources at his disposal, however meager they might have been, in the service of creating art,” according to Dr. Kathy Battista, Director of the MA program in Contemporary Art, Sotheby’s Institute of Art, New York City.
Postingl, born in Allentown in 1927, spent his childhood in the Coopersburg area on an idyllic 60-acre farm that his father had purchased. Postingl quit school after his sophomore year for full-time farm life. At this time, he became interested in art. He first copied biblical and classical themes, painting murals inside the farmhouse. These works no longer exist.
Ponstingl enlisted in the Army Air Corps during World War II and re-enlisted during the Korean War where he served at Bolling Air Force Base, Washington, D.C. After postings in the United States and overseas, Ponstingl worked at the Bolling Officer’s Club in maintenance and interior decoration. Although he had not received formal training in art, he began painting murals there.
From 1959-1969, Ponstingl would work to earn enough money to live on, then return to the family farm to paint. With the sale of the property in 1969, the artist donated most of his paintings to the Salvation Army, Philadelphia, as he no longer could store them. Art dealer Bert Baum, a son of Pennsylvania Impressionist artist Walter Emerson Baum, purchased the artwork and later exhibited it at his Sellersville gallery in 1971.
Postingl, disappointed with the lack of acceptance of his work, moved to the West Coast, working at odd jobs and living hand-to-mouth. He began painting again when his sister and brother-in-law invited him to live with them in Kunkletown, Monroe County. Feeling rejected again as an artist, Ponstingl moved back to California where he remained for the rest of his life. He died in 2004.
“He would live on cigarettes, sandwiches and cheese,” Battista says of the artist’s 16-to-18-hour painting binges.
“Despite his relative anonymity and periods of reclusiveness, Ponstingl’s work prefigured many developments in contemporary art practice today, including digital rendering of unseen networks, the blurring of abstraction and representation, and the ability to create depth out of abstract forms,” Battista says.
Ponstingl’s paintings in the Rodale Galleries are grouped by themes. His “post-Surrealist phase” according to Battista, is “… a hybrid stage where representation and abstraction jostle for space on the canvas.” An example of this is Ponstingl’s untitled (oil on canvas; 50 in. x 68 in; 1966) where the artist invents his own hieroglyphics that surround a metal-like structure. This is painted on a stretched canvas, but appears to be wrinkled by his utilizing an ombré shading technique that makes it look three-dimensional.
The artist’s next phase is exemplified by “Seed to Seed” (oil on board; 24 in. x 30 in.; circa 1970-72) where the figures are organic and mechanical. Ponstingl, according to Battista, possessed “a sophisticated sense of color and form.”
John Munice became aware of Ponstingl’s work from an online auction site. Unable to purchase the painting that had caught his attention, he was directed to the Baum estate where, according to Munice, “I found maybe 10 or so in the house. Some were catching water in the attic. Some were in the basement. So I picked one.” He was told it was “all or nothing.” Munice purchased the lot.
Gallery hours: 9 a.m. - 9 p.m. Monday - Thursday, 9 a.m. - 3 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Closed Sunday, Baum School of Art, 510 W. Linden St., Allentown. Information: baumschool.org, 610-433-0032