The poet John Ashbery deemed Richard Stankiewicz the "Audubon of junkyards" ("Richard Stankiewicz (1922-1983): Sculpture", The Art Newspaper, 1 September 2003). Like the famed ornithologist, Stankiewicz developed an expertise in all species of detritus and general "junk", utilizing their forms to create semi-abstract sculptures that helped pave the way for the burgeoning assemblage style. Though the artist was profoundly influenced by the work of his legendary teachers Fernand Leger, Ossip Zadkine and Hans Hofmann, he developed a unique style that differentiated him even from his contemporaries. While artists such as John Chamberlain focused on purely abstract forms, Stankiewicz chose to create overtly anthropomorphic sculptures. He often titled his works to foreground their figurative nature, such as Playful Bathers.
Playful Bathers is a particularly exceptional example, in that it incorporates a number of figures interacting with one another. Stakiewicz's keen talent for conjuring vitality from seemingly useless materials is on full display in the dynamic relations between the figures. The present lot is representative of the height of the artist's career, which, according to noted critic Roberta Smith, "expanded upon Cubism, rebuked the prevailing lugubriousness of postwar sculpture and predicted many aspects of Pop and Minimalism" ("Miracle in the Scrap Heap: The Sculpture of Richard Stankiewicz", The New York Times, 29 August 2003). This prophetic work reflects the singular vision of an artist ensconced in one of the most generative and dynamic periods of unprecedented experimentation in art history.