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Tony DeLap in his studio. Photo: Laure Joliet. Courtesy of Parrasch Heijnen Gallery.

Tony DeLap (1927–2019)

Tony DeLap, the West Coast pioneer of abstraction, Minimalism, and Op art whose lifelong fascination with magic and sleight of hand informed many of his works, died on Wednesday, May 29, at his home in Corona del Mar, California. Parrasch Heijnen Gallery in Los Angeles and Franklin Parrasch Gallery in New York confirmed his passing. The ninety-one-year-old artist was known for his meticulously produced paintings and sculptural works—made of aluminum, Plexiglas, metal, wood, lacquer, and resin, among other materials—which often challenged viewers’ spatial perception.

“There is a discernable logic to the evolution of DeLap’s style,” the art historian Barbara Rose wrote in her 2014 essay “Now You See, It Now You Don’t.” “However, the reasons he changes scale, medium, materials, and technique—always within the context of a geometric consistency—are not programmatic. Consequently, his works are not predictable or even serial. DeLap is an intuitive, intellectually curious experimenter rather that a conceptual, goal-oriented strategist, which means the outcome of his process is always a surprise.”

Born Truman Henry DeLap in Oakland, California, on November 4, 1927, DeLap studied art and graphic design at the San Francisco Academy of Art and Claremont Graduate School. In the early 1960s, he began making collages, which frequently featured clippings from magic catalogues, and freestanding sculptures, which were exhibited at the Bay Area’s Dilexi Gallery.

A longtime educator, DeLap would serve as an instructor of fine art and design at California College of Arts and Crafts—which is now just known as California College of Arts—and as assistant professor at the University of California, Davis, before he became a founding faculty member at the University of California at Irvine (UCI). Recruited by former editor in chief of Artforum John Coplans, in 1965, DeLap taught at the university for more nearly three decades and mentored up-and-coming artists such as Chris Burden and James Turrell.

A fan of DeLap’s work, Coplans featured his sculpture Milo, 1963, on the cover of the February 1964 issue of this magazine, which was published in San Francisco at the time. He wrote the following about his work in the essay “DeLap, Space and Illusion”: “DeLap’s acuity of vision is not only used for the most rigorous disposition of the elements—a very personal visual exactitude—but each piece is exactly the right scale. His whole art is marked by this sense of critical concern, which, with his immaculate craftsmanship, specifically communicates a feeling of perfection that entrances the eye.”

Throughout his sixty-year career, DeLap would exhibit work in landmark shows such as “The Responsive Eye” (1965) at the Museum of Modern Art in New York; “Primary Structures” (1966) at the Jewish Museum in New York; and “American Sculpture of the Sixties” (1967) at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. In 2011, he served as a project consultant on “Best Kept Secret, UCI and the Development of Contemporary Art in Southern California, 1964–1971” at the Laguna Museum of Art, which was part of the Getty Foundation’s Pacific Standard Time initiative in 2011. The museum presented a major retrospective of DeLap’s art, curated by Peter Frank, in 2018.

DeLap’s work can be found in the collections of Tate Modern, London; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; among others.  

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