Francis Michael Celentano was born the Bronx in 1928. He pursued his interest in art from an early age and received the St. Gaudens medal for excellence in drawing as the top senior in high school across New York City. He attended New York University where he graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Art in 1951. He later studied art history at the Fine Arts Institute and received a Master’s degree from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, New York University 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 in 1997.
As an undergraduate in 1950, Celentano took a drawing class with Philip Guston who recognized his ability as a draftsman and with whom he discussed contemporary art issues over a period of several years. Guston introduced him to the Artist’s Club that hosted lectures by art critics and others from mostly the avant-garde art community. Thus began a commitment to concepts that constituted the stylistic ideology of Abstract Expressionism. He painted in this manner from the early 1950s to the early 1960s. At the same time in graduate school at New York University he also wrote of the style and interviewed its prominent painters in a 1957 Master’s thesis entitled “The Origins and Development of Abstract Expressionism in the United States.” His thesis supervisor was the art historian Horst W. Janson with whom he took several graduate and undergraduate courses. Shortly after completing his graduate degree at New York University in 1957, he received a Fulbright Scholarship to study painting in Rome which broadened his awareness of art styles beyond New York’s reigning Abstract Expressionism. Celentano’s paintings became more hard-edged. The black and white paintings of Bridget Riley at the Museum of Modern Art’s The Responsive Eye confirmed for Celentano the possibilities of a restrictive palette and he continued to work that way into 1968, among them Black Hexagon (in the collection of the Rose Museum of Art, Brandeis University) and Flowing Phalanx (in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York).
While attending the International Artists Seminar at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey the summer of 1965, Celentano met Wojciech Fangor, whose vibrant paintings in bold and sensual color fusions fascinated him. In 1968 Celentano formulated a strategy for color and began his first color series titled Alpha using an air brush to soften color transitions within ruled lines. Celentano aimed to create visual instruments of dramatic tension by orchestrating color interactions within the confines of patterns and structures that would control the perception of these forms. Celentano believes, ”Op Art or better Perceptual Art functions as a metaphor for the distortions of perception, experience and reason generously provided by nature and culture.”
In 1965 Francis Celentano was included in The Responsive Eye at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. His 1964 work Lavender Creed, now in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art, was included in the exhibition. In 1965, Celentano also participated in Kinetic and Optical Art Today at the Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo, New York and at the Whitney Annual. He was later represented by the Howard Wise Gallery in New York. In 1968 he was included in Plus by Minus: Today’s Half Century at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. He remained in New York until 1966 when he accepted an appointment at the School of Art at the University of Washington in Seattle. He has shown extensively in one-man shows in the Seattle and Portland area. In 1972 he completed a commission for the Seattle Tacoma Airport, a 42-foot mural titled Spectrum Delta II. In 1979 he was invited by the Western States Arts Foundation sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts to participate in The First Western States Biennial Exhibition and was included in an exhibition by the same foundation in 1990. In 2005 Celentano was included in the Albright-Knox Gallery exhibition Extreme Abstraction and in 2007 in Optic Nerve: Perceptual Abstraction of the 1960s at the Columbus Museum of Art in Columbus, Ohio. In 2010 he had a retrospective at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon.
An extensive exhibition history, combined with a 30 year teaching career at the University of Washington in Seattle, has firmly cemented Celentano’s position as one of the major figures in the perceptual and color theory work that emerged in the 1960s. His 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 Contemporaneo de Buenos Aires.