Essay & Biography
Fred Staloff was born in New Jersey in 1924. Mathematics and science were his major interests as a high school student. He was attending the Newark College of Engineering when World War II changed his plans. He joined the army in 1943.
Initially, he was assigned to continue studies at the University of California at Los Angeles, but before long found himself participating in the invasion of the Philippine Islands and Okinawa.
Although the atomic bomb dramatically brought a termination to the war, the moral implications for science were deeply troubling to a young idealistic mind. Discharged from the army in 1946, Staloff found it difficult, if not impossible, to reintegrate himself in previous plans and activities. As the outlines of a second major historical event, the Holocaust, emerged from the war, his cynicism became acute. He would resolve this dilemma by pursuing a career in the arts.
In 1946, with aid from the G.I. Bill, he enrolled as a student in the Newark School of Fine & Industrial Art. There he studied sculpture with Reuben Nakian and painting with Hans Weingaertner. After graduating in 1949, he went to Paris, where he studied in the Atelier of Ossip Zadkine and then at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière.
It was at this time that he fortuitously met the young woman, Janette Gannat, who would become his wife and be so supportive of his artistic ambitions.
Back in the United States in 1951, Staloff continued to paint while holding various part-time jobs. His work in the early part of the decade showed various influences as he searched for a more personal expression. In 1956, he resigned from all other activites to commit himself entirely to painting.
Toward the end of this period, Staloff first demonstrated the concept of viewing the still life form as a landscape. No longer were the elements of the still life represented solely for their architectural function. The forms of nature are returned to nature. A poetry in which the elements of the Still-Life-Landscape reflect a universal whole starts to emerge.
The painting Blue Landscape with Hill1-a dates from this period. It contains the poetic impulses not only for many works of this epoch, but also for other paintings of subsequent years. These impulses would transform reality into a poetry of color and light. It is what the French call évasion, an escape from the troubles and problems of human existence into a dream.
The other poetic sentiment, in essence the opposite of Blue Landscape with Hill1-a, finds an early expression in Interior with Armoire2-a, painted from 1958 to 1961 and inspired by a visit to France in 1955, where armoire, or large wardrobe, powerfully dominates the space in many French homes. The result is a work of introspective poetry with a mysterious and dense atmosphere. Staloff considers the two aforementioned paintings to be key works in understanding the dual development of his subsequent ideas. Time and again, we see a polarity in Staloff's work, switching back and forth from lyrical optimism to an introverted and troubling pessimism.
It was with the Interior with Armoire2-a that he began what turned into an extended analysis of the psychological significance of the rectangular form. While the armoire is a positive dark form, his research logically evolved into the negative version that surrounds us in its architectural manifestations. The rectangle, he reflected, was a form unique to man, not to be found in nature.
In 1963, with these ideas percolating in his mind, Staloff returned to Paris with his wife, planning to spend a year. A series of works based on demolitions were painted in France in the 1960s. These facades, with their crumbling plaster, paint and wallpaper, would become the vehicle and the atmosphere for Staloff's meditation on the meaning of the black rectangle. The final painting in this series is a metaphor for the atomic bomb as well as the Holocaust. It is The Hole—a simple work of a nearly silent rectangle of brownish black set in a highly textured field of burnt cast-iron-like grey. The only redeeming feature in this somber landscape is a weak horizontal band of green, hinting at life.
A group of psychological portraits commenting on the human condition were painted during the same years. The poetic world that Staloff was inhabiting had become oppressive and austere. It was time to escape, to escape to the dream of the lyrical landscape.
While in France, Staloff participated in exhibitions at the Salon des Independants and the City of Chatillon Annuals. He had numerous one-man exhibitions; at the Galerie des Jeunes, Galerie Mouffetard, and at the Atelier Decima. The art critic Christine Gleiny commented at the time; "These paintings are an invitation to poetic contemplation. We have here an artist engaged in large perspectives." Staloff also had an affiliation with the Galerie Petrides.
Additionally, in 1965 Staloff was invited to exhibit his work in a one-man show at the Polder Gallery in The Hague.
Sustained by collectors' purchases, the planned one-year sojourn in Paris was extended to six years. In 1969, unanticipated events precipitated the Staloffs' return to America.
A one-man exhibition of Staloff's paintings took place at The Caldwell College in 1978. Additionally, he participated in juried exhibitions at the Newark Museum, The Montclair Museum, The New Jersey State Museum, The Painters & Sculptors Society of New Jersey, The Summit Art Center, The Somerset Art Association (first prize), The Jersey City Museum Bicentennial (Phelps Award), The 1990 New Jersey Annual Exhibition, as well as several juried exhibitions at the National Academy of Design.
As a member and officer of Audubon Artists, Staloff has participated in many of its annual exhibits. In 1991, he won the William Myerowitz Award; in 1994, the Elaine & James Hewitt Award; and in 1995, the Michael M. Engel Memorial Award. Staloff was presented with the Joe & Emily Lowe Award in 1994 at the Annual of the Allied Artists of America, and was elected to the board of directors.
Staloff's Bay of Fundy series shows a true understanding of form and color, simplifying nature to the point of abstraction. The boldness of his compositions based on color relationships has elevated these landscapes to universal poetry.
These paintings are modern in every respect, clearly defined, and asthetically pleasing. As forms dissolve in color and light, aspects of earlier works are recalled. Staloff has come full circle.