First published: Summer 2010
Nearly every evening for 50 years, a mild-mannered stenographer named Eugene Andolsek sat at his kitchen table and entered a veritable alternate universe, a visually resplendant realm of luminous colours and complex, rhythmic patterns. In a trancelike state, working left-handed with basic drawing instruments and graph paper, he meticulously delineated dense, geometrically subdivided networks of black-inked lines whose intervening spaces he filled with self-mixed colours. Occupying himself at this practice for hours on end, he produced one richly multihued, kaleidoscopic design after another. Measuring about 17 by 23 inches and intricately segmented into dazzling, prismatic colours, his drawings are reminiscent of elaborately configured gameboards, mandalas and stained-glass windows. He made several thousand of these drawings, keeping them but showing them to no-one. He attributed no intrinsic value or meaning to them and it did not occur to him that he was making art, but late in his life, after failing eyesight forced him to stop drawing, fortuitous circumstances brought this body of work before a receptive audience.
The author met Andolsek in June 2008, about 2 years after seeing his first exhibited works, and spent 2 or 3 days interviewing him and looking at scores of his drawings. At the time, Andolsek was living in a senior citizens’ group home outside Greensburg, Pennsylvania. 5 months later he was dead.
Born in Adrian, West Virginia, on October 14 1921, Andolsek was the only child of an abusive Slovenian immigrant coal miner and his locally born wife. The first hint of his aesthetic sensibilities was his childhood pursuit of stamp-collecting. Attracted to the colours, designs and miniature imagery on postage stamps, he delighted in looking at them and organising them in collecting albums. This lifelong hobby prefigured and paralleled his immersive creation of tightly ordered, colour-charged abstract drawings. His earliest drawings were women’s fashion design sketches that he made during his teens, until his father derided them as ‘sissified’ and destroyed several of them. His mother’s handiwork with a needle and thread was the only art-related activity permitted in their home. He cited the patterns she stitched into her homemade quilts and crochet pieces as influences on the drawings he made as an adult.
This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #69