Any selection of work by contemporary artists inevitably involves a visit to the past. The history of a specific country’s art shows that there is a reflection and a parallel with the history of the country itself. Contemporary Polish art is undoubtedly highly diverse. While Polish artists work effectively around the world, the goal of this exhibition is to show a small range of work by people who work inside the country, inevitably affected by a particular structure and tradition.
Andrzej Cisowski, who studied in Germany, uses a relation to photography and collage, where the image effect and elements are placed into a constructed space to utilise a method more commonly associated with the 1980s. The large paintings with cartoon, outline, and illusion elements that make much and little sense in terms of each other: a staring cat, a figure laying face down on a virtually painted bedding, in an illusory, somewhat collapsed space where fantasy and fact collide.
While Cisowski uses pictures within pictures, a gamut of historical devices to question collective memory and moments, Szymon Urbański’s deliberately heavy-handed touch suggests a heightened frustration with the present. His expressive and aggresive game with art and within art communicates a determined and angry attitude through strong colours and locked, energetic graphic impasto.
Stanisław Młodożeniec’s work shows a shift from compliments to Klee and Miró, in which a painful, although only drawn, defines the places and points across the canvas, to a series of lightly touched works on paper with an almost diaristic range of reference, quote, place and incident interrupted every now and then by abstract painting that works its way across the paper with expectation, desire, and a strong nod to metaphysical painting.
Ranging over time from political art, sculpture and painting to print, the work of Marek Niemirski, which currently consists of an ongoing, necessarily incomplete project, comes out of an immersion in the art and history of Poland. Each of the large format paintings of finger and thumb prints in the series taken by Niemirski from Polish artists, are dated two, sometimes three times to represent the day the print was taken, the day the painting was completed, and even, in a few cases, the day the subject died. These labour intensive renderings in black and white turn a detailed mark into experiential generality. The relationship between the actual fingerprint and the general image with an element of cult is blurred, becomes unclear and complicated and requires decoding at the same level of attention as that of a detective. Niemirski also likens the images to musical notation and even the whiteness of paint the groove in a record.
A focal point of the exhibition is the display not only of work by Niemirski but also the inclusion of crucial works from his own collection, by artists whose fingerprints he has collected. A really great example is Wojciech Fangor’s spatially open painting, which opens imagination and functions like a key at the side of the map. Each of the four historical pieces by Stefan Gierowski, Aleksander Kobzdej, Eugeniusz Markowski and Henryk Stażewski can be seen as providing a context for the more recent work.
Without literally lining up any similarities, it is interesting to see that a slight difference, a shift, though obviously often on a conceptually different basis, through generations, gives a chance to see this work, mainly shown for the first time in London, in a way that is helpful. There are great strands of abstraction, from Stażewski through Gierowski and Fangor to Anna Szprynger’s labour. The latter one’s intensive, detailed monochrome paintings make or mimic fine renditions of movement, in some cases almost as if water has drained off, the light is glimpsed and illusion is built up through a process of production. Jan Wyżykowski uses a sort of pointillism of small marka to build circles or diffuse fields of radiating colour. His series of ten paintings of four circles of colour, based on Goethe’s colour theory, merge pop art with notation, the image itself lending to ideas of reverberating sound and pulsating speakers.
Eugeniusz Markowski’s devilish, distorted expression, on the other hand, provides a key to another strand in the exhibition. Agata Kleczkowska paints a range of high pitched imagery, a stag at bay outlined against a radiating geometry, for instance palmistry hands splayed against a mountainside. Her textile, a rendition of childhood drawings sewn with thread onto a rough piece of cotton, carries a slower relation to meaning and time.
The apparent closeness of matters between generations is exciting and useful yet perhaps simplistic. This is a new generation in more than formal terms. Jakub Słomkowski makes invented generic landscape paintings, at times touched by surrealism. He allows the limitation of the invention of space to provide its own place but he is an active collaborative performance artist with practise in working with musicians and dancers at the same time. The solitary sculpture here, by Julia Bistuła, alludes to the process of extension and growth to create an essential, patently temporary, but nonetheless real presence.
Sacha Craddock, the exhibition curator
It surely takes some guts to decide to paint deer in a rut ground, especially when you are a fresh graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts. Taking on a theme with a long-standing reputation of being a synonym for kitsch could well have become a form of artistic suicide for the painter.
And yet Agata Kleczkowska’a (born in 1987) “Deer” stirs sensation. Why? Because what she comes up with is a refined play between herself and the viewer. She balances on the very edge of kitsch on purpose. At the same time, this painting brings nerve, an uncompromising stance and a unique, very personal style. While it may seem premature to say so, considering how recently her artistic career began, I still believe that the painter isn’t one of those who flatters people’s likings or follows catchy trends. She impresses with her almost photographic precision, locked in a palette of aggressive colours; a kind of hyperrealism combined with brightly-coloured motives as if derived from pop art; an exquisite technique in service of a prevailing artistic radicalism.
Kleczkowska is a unique painter, impossible to copy. The principal themes in her paintings are animals. A black prancing horse, an owl with widely spread wings, foxes cuddling each other. Tigers, boars, wolves; an impersonation of force, of a mysterious, supernatural power. The rampant nature, the call of the wild, of something we might have lost when paying the price for technological progress but may as well still bring back by learning from watching animals. Empathy, the ability to live together, to experience the joy of a fleeting moment.
Live animals, however, aren’t her only source of inspiration. Kleczkowska seems just as eager to paint toy pets, atrocious plush rubbish with plastic eyes, shoddy and tacky stuff from street stands that attract small children with an amazing force, only to be abandoned and forgotten after a couple of days. Kleczkowska gives those toys their five minutes of fame, or perhaps a little more.
Whether the theme is a vicious black horse, a figure of Darth Vader, an Indian in a belligerent pose or a plush-and-plastic black poodle pup, the artist always places her characters on colourful, psychedelic backgrounds. Actually, backgrounds in her paintings, rather than reduced to the role of screens, become equal parts of the compositions. Instead of just supplementing, they act as counter points.
Kleczkowska’s painting encapsulates the climate of fairy-tales in which we always feel something dark and creepy lurking. Inspired by religious beliefs and practices based on animism, the painter takes her viewers on a trip through different worlds. Like a shaman in a trance, she reveals a tiny piece of the unknown. The fragmented world (as if on hallucinogens) she confronts us with, isn’t always guaranteed to be friendly and comprehendible. Sometimes it is scary, but still its non-obviousness tempts and pleases.
Text by Marta Dzido
As a painter, Kobzdej (1920–1972) is still recognized mainly as the author of Poland’s most famous soc-realist painting “Pass me the brick” from 1950, painted as a part of the diptych together with “Female brick layers”. In fact, socialist realism was just an episode in Aleksander Kobzdej’s rich and multi-faceted artistic career and his modern “struggles with matter” (as was the title of one of exhibitions dedicated to his underappreciated work) certainly deserve much more attention.
Born in 1920 in Olesko, he was raised in Lwow where he started studied at the University of Technology. During the war occupation he studied painting under the direction of Władysław Lam and after the war he continued his studies in Krakow’s Academy of Fine Arts under the direction of Eugeniusz Eibisch. From 1951 until his death in 1972 Kobzdej was teaching in the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw and in the mid-1960s he also ran the studio of painting in Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Hamburg.
The realistic representation of the world to which he turned in the late 1940s soon made him the number one socrealist painter in Poland and this, as mentioned above, has become a burden that compromised his artistic reputation seriously, even until today. In reality, the adventure with the obligatory, official style did not last long and Kobzdej’s travels to far away places further helped to do away with it: he went to China in 1951 and soon after that to Vietnam. It wasn’t long, moreover, until both journeys started to yield their fruits: reporter drawings that he made in Vietnam were shown in 1954 in the Venice Biennale of Art. When in the mid-1950s the artist moved from figurative painting towards abstract painting (actually, he had painted abstract pictures even before the socrealist stage), his work was visibly inspired by Eastern calligraphy.
More journeys – this time to Western Europe – prompted the artist to give up figurative painting altogether. At that time his work had a metaphoric nature. He began experimenting with structure, the matter of painting, its two- and three-dimensional aspects. These ventures resulted in the so-called informels that were given specific titles relating to human traits: “Definite” (1958), “Serene” (1959), “Wicked” (1959). Even more importantly, Kobzdej’s painting of matter meets the Polish tradition of colourism. The artist combines the two ways of thinking about art with immense consistence. The most interesting example of his search in this area is the series “Cracks”, from the 1960s, which included pieces somehow torn apart, broken, oscillating on an edge between painting and sculpture. What distinguishes them is intense colours and the presence of the cracks mentioned in the title, from which various substances and objects emanate, such as sand, glass, metal sawdust or wood. A famous writer, the artist’s friend, once wrote about him: “Olek had broad, rugged hands with short fingers, as if made to crumple the matter”. Kobzdej proved very successful in making the most of this potential in his paintings verging on bas-reliefs.
In the last few years the of his life he went even further. While the “Crack in the Green” from 1967 or slightly later the “Wide Crack Between the Purples” were still “traditional” oils on canvases, in the next significant series, entitled “Hors cadre”, very unusual structures, clearly more sculptural than painterly, dominate. As the title suggests, these are compositions unbound with frames, executed on a metal grid. The canvas becomes no longer necessary to tell stories about problems of the surface and colour.
Text by Anna Glaze
Aleksander Kobzdej, Traverse, 1959, mixed technique, canvas, 100 x 135 cm. Courtesy of a private collector
When considering Andrzej Cisowski’s (born in 1962) amazingly rich artistic output, one gets an impression that the excess of images evident in the reality that surrounds us is in his case sublimed into even more pictures. Pictures of which, almost invariably, human beings are protagonists: people more or less real or characters we know from comics, children’s cartoons or simply made up by the author. Other genres such as still lives (“Bathroom”) or representations of animals (“Achtung: Fußgänger!”) are rare.
Cisowski’s paintings dating from two recent decades may be divided into four types of themes that can also be put in some specific chronological order. The most expressive are “Obrasy” from just after 2000: very colourful, usually enclosed within a square frame, using ornaments of bordures printed on neck-cloths or table cloths that Cisowski bought at a country flea market and used as an undercoat for his pictures. Paintings of this series, painted in acryl, feature single and stylized children figures with comics-derived deformation, usually in cheerful situations, but sometimes rather spooky (“Sorry Winnetou”, “Spirit Boy”). Despite colourful flowers and smiles upon children’s faces, they emanate some kind of an unease, a grotesque verging on macabre.
The series entitled “American Dream of Life”, started in 2005, is entirely different in terms of style: protagonists of the children’s world (“Barbie”, “Walken”, “Toys”) appear on a white background, surrounded by little sketchy drawings of other characters, along with writing in various languages, prices – like those in supermarket paper ads – or geometrical forms. Such a background, tightly filled as if following the horror vacui rule, is contrasted with a geometrical bordure running only along one of the picture sides, but busily painted by the artist from beginning to end.
Unlike the previous ones, the next series features a radical departure from colours. Monochromatic, usually uniform backgrounds in sepia or grey, sketchily marked grey silhouettes with only some details distinguished by vivid colours. Peculiar to these pictures is their specific mood, a dose of nostalgia, recalling the past years through cloths, hairstyles, the way people looked and their environment. They resemble cadres of washed-out old photographs and provoke associations with American movies of the 1950s or with old newspapers; we might follow them adding all sorts of stories of our own about how they emerged in the first place (“At the table”; “Bus stop”; “Adalen 31”). Thanks to his excellent control of painterly craft, the artist is able to create representations of actual figures using only light-and-shade: a few spots here and there make us unmistakably read not only gestures but even mimicry of individual characters. Pictures from this series are painted in the artist’s own technique, on semi-transparent canvases without an undercoat, through which the wood of the stretchers is seen.
Finally, there is a set of paintings featuring surrealistic elements which blur their mimetic nature (“Lesson of anatomy”, “Illumination”) or confront elements of photorealism with abstraction (“Smolensk”, “SimCity”). A scenery in which events made up by the artist take place is painted with much diligence, using colours, perspective and all sorts of tricks to create an illusion of a particular place and materials (a quilted bedspread in “Illumination!”). This series, painted with oil on vast size canvases, is also the most extensive and mysterious one. Associations with paintings of Richard Hamilton feel quite right; after all, pop-art has been another key source of inspiration for Andrzej Cisowski along with the art of Jean-Michel Basquiat. The artist’s most recent work, likely to develop into a new series over time, stylistically revokes to the sepia series, but is carefully painted with oil paints on proper undercoats.
Andrzej Cisowski’s vast artistic output may well have sufficed to spread over a couple of painters’ careers. Various styles, seemingly dissimilar to each other, stem from a natural evolution he undergoes, never stopping in the search for new inquiries and fascinations rather than getting trapped in just a single repeatable manner.
Text by Agata Smalcerz
Not until 2006 did Anna Szprynger (born in 1982) restrict herself to use only line, but in her artistic imagination the line emerged as early as in her teenage years. When she painted landscapes during her high school education, the line was already there, at that time limited to the role of a decorative element. “My work – the painter wrote – has been a constant process of cognition. An inquiry into the nature of a thin line which, after all, is one of the simplest constituents of the visible world. These quests enable mi to communicate what is invisible. They create spaces without contents, void of narration. (…) I almost present the viewer with a vacant space for him or her to fill with thoughts”. The visual and textural tissue of the picture is weaved with the subtlety of a semi-transparent spider web.
In Szprynger’s painting finesse is always the same, as is the dependability of the hand guiding the tool – a hand which puts an exactly precised concept of a painting which was ready in her imagination before the tip of a brush first touched the canvas into reality. Here the role of the case is brought down to marginal details. Recently, the work of the artist, although
uniform and always recognizable, has started to follow two paths, different to some extent. Pictures that provoke associations with organic shapes are colourful, pretty and charming with their lightness and poetry. They originate from the years 2011-2012, but appear in parallel and as a current secondary to the principal one which moves towards geometric abstraction in a more and more pronounced way. Basic factors of both currents undergo no change. What remains is a thin, delicate line as an indispensable and sole material. What is most important for the viewer also remains: a meditative concentration and calmness emanating from the artist’s canvases, rather small in size but great in sheer beauty. According to what the artist wrote in 2008: “I have made up my mind as to what attracts me the most – silence, emptiness, the infinite”.
Silence and longing for the infinite are therefore also the contents of paintings made during another stage of Szprynger’s artistic career. Clusters of thin white lines radiating on the black backgrounds of her canvases seem to be lights in an unlit space – immaterial, transparent and imperceptible.
Meanwhile, the artists seems to increasingly need to put some order into her painterly vision. Following the pictures with fan-shaped bunches of white threads or rays, since late 2011 most of Szprynger’s compositions feature a horizontal line dividing them into two parts. No matter if they match each other in terms of area, they always differ. Sometimes the differences are minimal, but one part is never an exact repetition of another. This is so because the artist never regards the line cutting through the picture as an edge of a mirror sheet, but instead as a symbol of horizon. This is about the only projection of reality of the outside world to be found in her painting, admittedly, reduced and purified beyond any recognition. This gesture stems from the permanent presence of sea in her life and before her eyes as she divides her time between Warsaw and the coast, half a year here, another half there. It was also most likely on the waterfront, as she gazed away into the distant line where the sky meets the sea, where her yearning for the infinite was born. Horizon is the title we naturally think of when looking at this new series of paintings. It is very varied, but has some constant characteristics, including white lines unfolding on a black background and a consistently geometrical order. It is particularly expressive in works that are divided like a chessboard into small squares. The geometrical rigour of these pictures is alleviated by lines diverging in various directions within individual squares. This endows them with movement, spaciousness and a glimmering vibration of light.
Anna Szprynger’s pictures from 2011 and 2012 carry the same mystery of insinuation as those from her early youth. Here it stems from the secret of magical light somewhere in black space. Night? Abyss? Cosmos? The unknown tantalizes and disturbs. The artist’s painting, as every type of abstract art the purpose of which is to communicate ideas and emotions, contains a message which isn’t easily comprehensible, especially considering that it is objective, general and universal. Szprynger’s art is free of cold calculation. What can obviously be sensed is the need to set things in order and an eternal insatiability in seeking answers to the fundamental existential and artistic questions. Accordingly, she confesses: “The most important thing is that my work is a road without an end. I am still searching for answers to the issues that disturb me and answers, if found, end up raising new questions”.
Text by Bożena Kowalska
“As a species, we are homo sapiens. However, we nestle the same instincts that animals do. I am interested in making people aware just how grotesque we all become when we reject culture stirred by our emotions. It’s when we become naked, not even realising it” – said Eugeniusz Markowski (1912–2007). It was certainly on purpose that he placed, in the very centre of his pieces human figures so bizarrely deformed that they resemble animals: cartoon-like, but in fact just as tragic as they are funny. This kind of wild manner of presentation serves well to express human emotions, reckless passions and uncontrolled obsessions.
Born in 1912 in Warsaw, a painter, scenography designer and teacher, his debut was rather late, as a result of his life being quite complicated. He had just graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw (in the studio of Professor Tadeusz Pruszkowski) when the World War 2 began. After Poland’s defeat in the September campaign he managed to get to Italy where in the early 1940s he started working for the Polish embassy in Rome, followed by another job as a diplomat in Canada. In Ottawa he became actively involved in the attempt to return the Jagiellonian tapestries from the Wawel royal castle in Krakow to Poland, at that time held in Quebec after they had been stolen from Poland by the occupant during WW2. He proved successful in this initiative. Finally, after having come back to Poland in 1955, he really became an artist.
At that time the style of his work had much in common with art brut and with Jean Dubuffet. His partially primitive pictures, unwilling to represent reality objectively, were dominated by subdued, non-aggressive colours, with emphasis put on their texture. It was only when he began working as a teacher in the Academy he graduated from, starting from the 1970s, that his style took on a grasping, vehement nature with which it is generally associated with today. A specific shoddiness in his painterly technique and brutal imagery, inspired in its unrestrained momentum by German expressionism soon gave him considerable popularity: he became identified with the current of new figuration in the spirit of Germany’s “new wild” which was all the rage in the Polish artistic scene during the mid-to-late 1980s. While Markowski did not belong, age-wise, to the generation of the new figuration and was really annoyed with simplified categorization (“I wasn’t painting brutal figures in order to follow any fashion. It’s simply the way I perceive human nature” – he said), one could hardly argue that the convention he applied – that of aggressive provocation – as well as revoking to mythical and historical sources indeed situated his art near the achievements of the current in question.
The satirical edge in Markowski’s painting went in pair with a craziness of colours. It was especially red that tended to prevail in his palette, a fact caught by Zdzisław Kępiński in an apt observation: “Markowski’s colour is excited”. By the way, eroticism was always high on the list of themes he chose. After all, it wasn’t by chance at all that, along with human figures, other protagonists of his paintings included animals, nor that they were, in many cases, a horse and a bull: sturdy and imposing, powerful, exuding vitality and exploding with energy. Examples were aplenty, enough to mention “The Meeting with a bull” from 1965 or the “Horse + 1”, almost two decades later. The force of expression of grotesquely deformed, primitive representations of either people, animals or both mixed together is additionally magnified by the forefront being displayed prominently with a scene it presents. All of this is shown with a critical and ironic attitude aiming to expose human vices.
Markowski’s work, exhibited in Biennale in São Paolo in 1963 and in the Autumn Salon in Paris in 1971, today may be seen in reputed collections, both in Poland, such as in the National Museums in Warsaw, Krakow, Poznań and Wrocław and abroad: for example in the Museu de Arte Moderna in São Paulo, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, the Institut of Arts in Houston. It is not an exaggeration to say that they are an unobvious decoration of those institutions.
Text by Anna Glaze
Eugeniusz Markowski, Mythology, 1963, oil, sand, canvas, 135 x 100 cm. Courtesy of a private collector
Thinking about avant-garde art in Poland? Think about Henryk Stażewski (1894–1988). He was an undisputed classic of Polish modern art, one whose work found its way to many prominent art collections around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim Museum in New York or the Tate Gallery in London. A representative of constructivism of the 1920s, 1930s and co-founder of the current of geometric abstraction of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, he was also known for his “architectural” bas-relief pictures created for over two decades.
Stażewski was born in 1894 in Warsaw where he also died at the age of 94. Following his artistic studies between 1913–1919 in the School of Fine Arts in Warsaw in the studio of Stanisław Lentz, he co-founded the Group of Cubists, Constructivists and Suprematists “Blok” (1924– 1926) as well as other groups, called Praesens (1926–1929) and a.r. (1929–1936). Apart from him, they also included other outstanding Polish classics of modern art, Katarzyna Kobro and Władysław Strzemiński, among others. Starting in 1924, Stażewski went to Paris many times, establishing contacts with the environment of the avant-garde world: he belonged to the international groups Cercle et Carré (since 1929) and Abstraction-Création (since 1931), an also became great friends with Piet Mondrian and Michel Seuphor. He largely contributed to the creation of Poland’s first International Collection of Modern Art in the Museum of Artin Łódź, open to the public in 1931. His contacts from Paris enabled him to collect a number of important works of art by such artists as Arp, van Doesburg, Legér and Ernst.
“The only purpose of new abstractionist art is to express the laws reigning over objects and existence” – he wrote in 1924. In his abstract paintings he searched for harmony between fundamental forms by composing and contrasting geometric shapes. Unfortunately, during the World War 2 almost all of his artistic output was lost, so we really only get to know his post-war works. These were mainly witnessing his quest related to space and colour. Since the late 1950s he authored achromatic compositions, white on white, in which the crucial role is played by the nuance of texture. Following this earliest series of bas-reliefs, in fact forming a synthesis between painting, sculpture and architecture, he came up with kinetic and metal (usually copper) bas-reliefs. After 1970 Stażewski returned to geometrical painting on surfaces, this time exploding with bold, neon-like colours.
He collaborated with the avant-garde Krzywe Koło Gallery in Warsaw and in 1965 he was a co-founder of the Foksal Gallery, an important non-commercial modern art gallery which still operates in Warsaw. His work was presented in many exhibitions of Polish contemporary art held abroad, for example in Paris (Musèe d’Art Moderne, 1977, 1982; Centre Georges Pompidou, 1983), Venice (1959, 1966, 1986), New York (Museum of Modern Art, 1976) and London (Royal Academy, 1970, 1984). On the Venice Biennale in 1966 he was awarded the mention honorable for his creative contribution to the development of the international constructivist movement and in 1972 he won the Gottfried von Herder Prize awarded by the University of Vienna. A retrospective exhibition of Stażewski’s art took place in 1994 in the Museum of Art in Łódź.
Probably not everybody remembers that Stażewski was also active in applied arts – as a designer of interiors, scenography and posters. In Poland he was also among the precursors of conceptual art. For example, he invented painting in the sky, one of the manifestations he organised 9 May 1970 in Wrocław, during the “Wrocław 70” artistic seminar as he rocketed nine rays of light cast reflectors into the sky. With all of his artistic activity he vastly enriched the history of global avant-garde and his studio was one of the principal artistic salons in post-war Warsaw. The image of this artist would be incomplete without mentioning his amazing sense of humour and vibrant personality – as colourful as the brightly-patterned ties he favoured, multi-coloured dressing gowns in which he liked to be photographed or the shoes and jewellery he adorned for his lady friends by painting them with crazy colours.
Text by Anna Glaze
Henryk Stażewski, No. 97A, 1973, acrylic, board, 69 x 69 cm. Courtesy of a private collector
In the past centuries there were many types of landscapes in painting. Some artists were entirely dedicated to that genre, others regarded it as some sort of departure from the principal themes in their art, be it historic or portrait painting. In effect, today we have learned to distinguish cosmo-graphical, monochromatic, panoramic, dynamic, dramatic and other types of landscapes, not to mention plenty of their more detailed variants.
Nowadays this seems less important, as the role of landscape painting has largely been taken over by photography. Vistas have lost their documentary importance. What still does emerge is mostly inner, soul-searching landscapes. While this term leads us to associations with existential and metaphoric art, in the case of Kuba Słomkowski’s (born in 1982) painting it has a different meaning.
Słomkowski’s landscape probably stems from some real inspiration,. However, it is transformed by the painter to such an extent that it becomes his inner expression, formulated in his own painterly language, the peculiarity of which is created and maintained in his subsequent paintings.
No single colour scheme prevails: each time it arises out of an individual need, as the particular image requires. It wouldn’t be right to say that the painter is keen on colours not belonging to the spectral range – such as white, grey, brown, black – although he does reache for them quite often. They just appear because this is what these landscapes call for – they are meant to be frugal, monumental, a bit gloomy. I neither know nor truly care whether this results from actual traveling or from looking through a travel magazine. What really matters is the final result which is very successful.
If something may be said with certainty about these visionary landscapes is that they represent cold seas – areas in which whales are likely to dwell. This proposition is confirmed by the fact that, indeed, whales appear frequently in the titles of Słomkowski’s pictures. Furthermore, they relate to the figure of Jonah to give us an even deeper perspective beyond the purely artistic layer. The prophet’s adventure featuring the sea creature is described in the Old Testament, in the book named after him and, according to tradition, also authored by him.
God sent Jonah to Nineveh, the Assyrian city, to preach and reproof them for their wicked lives. Considering what atrocious villains they were and how badly they injured the Israelite in every way, Jonah was terrified of the mission. He resolved to run and evade performing the divine order. He got on a ship to go to the very end of the world known then – to the shores of today’s Spain. However, as soon as he put his foot on the deck, the sea began to convulse in rage. Appalled by the storm, he confessed to the crew that he was on the run from a godly order and requested the sailors to push him over board. As they did, the sea hushed. Nothing could have prevented the poor prophet from dying, save for another divine intervention: a whale appeared, swallowing him awhole. The prophet spent three days and three nights in the beast’s stomach, after which it just released him. Jonah was free to perform the mission – approach the people of Nineveh to foretell their destruction.
In the art of the past centuries Jonah’s stay in the whale’s innards was often chosen as a painting topic. Słomkowski is satisfied with just a pretext. The very act of mentioning the prophet’s name in titles of his landscapes enriches them with additional meanings, with religious, existential or perhaps even eschatological facets. Once the prophet’s name comes into play, a seemingly innocent landscape gains a great deal of new significance.
One may just as well ignore such a sophistication and just look at Słomkowski’s marine landscapes with islands as an expression of his simple liking of this genre. There isn’t any trace of actual reality to be found there. Rather, the landscapes come from islands-inspired fantasies, totally void of details. Monumental and sketchy, yet mysterious at the same time, these paintings make us think about travelling, about the idea of a journey. When I look at them, I recall my trip around Madera where the sea landscape would change time after time and one island after another revealed its different faces. Kuba Słomkowski invites us to embark on such an imaginary voyage deep inside his painting, trusting in our capacity to enrich them with meanings.
Text by Bogusław Deptuła
When searching for a theoretical foundation for his painting, Jan Wyżykowski (born in1956) came up with a notion of the new perspective he referred to as reversible. How do we perceive a picture painted in line with the principles of the classic convergent perspective? According to artist, we do it non-comprehensively, as it tends to focus attention on the second or third stage, diverting it from the foreground. The reversible perspective, instead, is meant to extend our perception by revealing both concave and convex stages that create an illusory depth. It isn’t practically possible to verify whether this is true.
Wyżykowski doesn’t have a shade of doubt regarding this; people looking at his paintings either agree or not. Some seem to perceive everything the artist intends to put within his pictures, others just look without the slightest attempt to actually comprehend the essence of the reversible perspective. Perhaps it’s the title of Luigi Pirandello’s play written in 1917 – “Right you are (if you think so)” that really hits the nail in this situation. Admittedly, while looking at these pictures, beholders may in fact be satisfied with purely sensual impressions.
The artist’s most recent series is entitled “Before the Earth, stars were singing” and “In reversible”. All the canvases are sized 66x66 cm and 44x44 cm for the former and the latter series, respectively. They may be put against one another thus creating new, larger compositions.
The first of the above-mentioned series was made by applying dots of paint on a painstakingly prepared base layer which creates a kind of a screen. Its centre is coloured differently than the margins, yet provides a direct colouristic relation between them – for example, where the sides are green, the centre is brown, and so on, with a number of others variants. This is just an initial stage. Then the painter applies hundreds and hundreds of dots with much care for a total colouristic trim within the entire composition. Here is where basic colours – red, blue and yellow – appear quite often, however even those may be a little “dusted” in order to better match those of the base screen.
The artist has dedicated all of his life to painting which truly has become his entire world. For a long time he neither had exhibitions offered nor tried to have them. A return after many years is what made his recent show in the Warsaw-based Fibak gallery an outstanding event. It featured fifteen canvases from the “In reversible” series put close to each other. This way a new, stunning and unique entirety emerged, which the artist called an iconostas. As old-fashioned as this term may appear, it actually proved amazingly relevant as it really became a gateway invitation to a different dimension in art.
Before the pictures were hung, Jan Wyżykowski put them in their proper order on the gallery floor, driven – somehow contrary to his theory which gravitates toward almost scientific rigours – only by his sense of colours.
The series “In reversible” is a little different. While each work is also based on a colourful screen with radiating and alternating colours, forms applied on it have various shapes. They may be zigzags, sections of rings, triangles or rectangles as well as all sorts of curves. Although much more freedom is evident here, more varied forms still sum up to give just as strong an impression of unity.
Let us quote the painter whose suggestive comment may occur extremely useful in thinking about these compositions which indeed hardly bear comparison to anything else.
Wyżykowski wrote in the catalogue of his exhibition in Warsaw: “I am tempted to use some very serious comparison that really overshadows me – to an «immaculate sheet of water» – what I am thinking about here are clear the minds of both Jesus and Buddha – on which a pebble is cast: first, plain radiating waves emerge, another pebble and waves cross, the pattern grows complex, more and more with each subsequent stone skipped. Complex as it may be, the water always ripples in a regular manner: that’s how biological rhythms are born to transmit after-images which become the path leading us back towards Entirety, towards the immaculate, perhaps even back to the minds of those great men. Study the surface!”
These words are yet another argument to make us think about Wyżykowski’s pictures as purely meditational pieces of work. This is a sort of a daily mantra or prayer of a painter for whom this is the way to communicate to a different, more perfect reality of which his compositions are colourful bits and chips.
Text by Bogusław Deptuła
Julia Bistuła, a very young (born in 1985) yet surprisingly mature and consistent artist astonishes with her unrestrained love for unloved matter. She creates her sculptures using plastic carrier bags or... pork ears (along with traditional materials, such as wood, cloths, porcelain), adding poignant comments concerning the processes of consumption today, the formation of waste and the potential to extend the lifetime and quality of products which, in contemporary manufacturing cycles, are sentenced to an ephemeral and senseless existence.
Julia Bistuła, a stipendiary of the Capital City of Warsaw, graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw in 2012 in the faculty of sculpture. In 2011 she worked as an assistant of Paweł Althamer, whose works have also included sculptures made using atypical, unobvious materials (straw, leather or animal bowels). Among the most significant works authored by Bistuła, one should certainly mention “DE-”: a luminous installation made of around two thousands plastic bags. According to the artist, the sculpture, shown in 2012 in the Gallery of the Contemporary Art Promotion Foundation In Situ, “was made of plastic, but was actually inspired by creatures of nature – or, more specifically, with neoplasm, deformations which really seem to occur more and more often in the environment in consequence of human interference”.
It is no accident that this particular kind of material was used, because – to quote the artist – “an average lifetime of a plastic bag in the consumption cycle is ten minutes and then it is left to decompose, which is going to last five hundred years”. Anyone who is tempted to associate the form of this work with a nuclear mushroom cloud is perfectly right as it is indeed an expression of anxiety stemming from destructive forces over which man seems to have lost control. From this point of view the immoderate growth of civilisation resembles cancer cells – malignant, aggressive, irrepressibly growing across biosystems and still largely resistant to any form of medication.
Another series of sculptures, entitled “FUNGI PE”, also made of thousands of plastic carrier bags, has a similar intended meaning. The title relates to parasitic fungi, while the abbreviation PE makes an allusion to polyethylene plastic, marked with this symbol in industry. The sculptures, shown in Galeria Promocyjna in Warsaw (April-May 2013) have irregular, organic forms and look like they are growing, pullulating and devouring the space before our very eyes. They are just like people who generate tons of waste, greedy enough to take possession of larger and larger areas of the Earth to change them into a boundless dumping ground. “By only focusing on satisfying his own needs, man becomes a true parasite on the planet he inhabits” – comments the artist and indeed, it is hard to resist the suggestive expression of works in which her words are reflected with impressive strength.
What is especially significant in Bistuła’s work is how she manages to overcome – the way the most prominent post-humanists have – the opposition between nature and culture, more or less considering the latter one as the product of the former. In a similar way as in the thoughts of Elizabeth Grosz, also in the Polish sculptor’s art nature is seen as the biological element, it stimulates and produces culture: undergoing continuous metamorphose itself, it also imposes transformation upon the reality it generates. There isn’t any space left for opposition; what we have is permanent between the two areas, they are penetrating each other, influencing each other, leaving traces.
Reflection over these problems is also visible in the project Julia is busy carrying out now. Entitled “The Portrait Sartorial Shop” and executed using her own specific technique, the objective behind it is to create tailor-made portraits of twelve women living in Warsaw. The idea to describe specific people by what they wear – and the other way around – examining the identity of things through a description of their owners, emerged in 2010 when – to quote the artist – she made a cast of the face of a certain 13-year old Karolina and used it to create a bas-relief – the image of the Holy Mother. She was inspired to transform the girl’s face this way by the pictures she saw on the walls in the model’s grandparents’ home. To tailor the Madonna’s gown, she used old cloths found in the attic, supplemented by some textiles purchased in a nearby second-hand. This way the redundant, abandoned cloths enjoyed resurrection and – even more importantly – lived a new, sacred life, demanding respect, something of a cult, worlds apart from the way they were once used: wouldn’t it seem right to hail this act with a “Halleluiah!”?
Text by Anna Jastrzębska
The most important thing in Wieczerzak’s (born in 1986) painting is colour. Contrasts, greasy outlines, colours taken from old cartoons – pale pink, celadon, vivid blue – attack. Forms overflow. A moment of focus is needed to derive an actual shape from the chaos of parts and pieces. Once you find one, things become easier. That’s when we start to discern skulls, penises, vaginas. The artist plays a game with us, smuggles one thing, hides another – that’s what his paintings are about. They are meant to entertain both parties, the recipient as well as the artist, although the very process of creating them is not that playful at all. Wieczerzak spends eight hours a day at working, usually seven days a week, painting three to four pictures at once.
In fact, the technique Maciej Wieczerzak applies is just about as puritan as his entire artistic life. Usually his pictures are flat, resembling posters, with colours diligently filling the outlines and no room left for shades, subtleties, or an interplay of grades between colours. Actually, this may resemble an advanced computer drawing. Such an association isn’t wrong at all considering that when at work, the artist always has a computer at hand. The creation starts with a tiny sketch which is then scanned to drawing software. On the computer, he corrects lines and contours and fills them with colours to check how effective the paint will be when on canvas. Only when he is perfectly satisfied with the image obtained on the screen, Wieczerzak starts the actual painting. Using a projector, he carries the image over to the canvas – line after line, mark after mark, careful not to miss a thing. The colour used at that stage always has to perfectly match the one chosen on screen. To be sure of that, rather than using a palette he mixes paints in little jars left after tomato paste – he finds them practical and just the size he needs to paint a given part. Surely Wieczerzak has his ways to do the job.
His inspirations came from death and sex. A skull may be seen as the artist’s identification mark. His canvas attacks us with sewn up cunts and massive cocks. The world he creates is full of sexual abuse, dominated by aggressive colours, stencil symbols and hearty messages. However, the artist rejects comparisons of his art to graffiti or pop-art. What he admits is that if anything, it is close to automatism and the creation of surrealistic effects, without this being a rule.
However there is one rule: to steal. To pry as much as possible and then to deprive motives of their meaning and process them through himself. One may well be inspired by just about anything, as long as one has an open mind. Accordingly, we find pictures revoking to popular myths just as we do to 17th Century still-lives, of course all of them transposed to the comics-derived style. This is strange enough, as Maciej was never into comics. By the way, he never watched cartoons, either. He didn’t really need to: the colourful world of both fields still reached him, as if in passing. It stormed from ads, tempted in shops and magazines. Should the artist be asked to put his finger on the single most important source of inspiration, this might have well been Zygmunt Bauman with his concept of culture as a supermarket in which you can find absolutely everything crowded together. That’s what Wieczerzak’s pictures are like. Here we are likely to find characters from fairy tales and from games, religious and pop-cultural, historical and contemporary threads.
While the artist does not intend to impose interpretation, he still provokes it. That was the case with the “The Dicks and The Pussies” cycle. Pictures presented in the graduation exhibition were divided into two categories: masculine and feminine, ones in opposition to the others. Both sides fought against each other and involved in flirt, at the same time becoming an apt commentary to the sex-dominated world which tempts and haunts at the same time.
Being involved in a game with observers is an important aspect in Wieczerzak’s painting. An element of a puzzle may be seen in the cycle entitled “Vanitas vanitatum et omnia vanitas”, inspired by Baroque still lives belonging to the vanity sub-genre. The game is about detecting small animals on the canvas, which proves quite difficult in the chaos of outlines and colours.
It would be misleading to come up with any unambiguous interpretation of Wieczerzak’s painting. It fills the space between computer print and Baroque composition. It features an exquisite technique and precision, but also applied templates and automatically repeated signs. It is simple and complex – just as is the artist’s credo: “I want to be a colour printer”. Astonishing and daring.
Text by Olga Święcicka
In 2003 Marek Niemirski (born in 1950) began to create a very unusual series of paintings. All of them consist of canvases in three sizes: 200x140, 100x100 and 50x50 cm. On them, using black paint on a white undercoat, the painter reproduces fingerprints of various artists. Usually of really outstanding ones.
Niemirski has been related to art inseparably and in many ways. He studied in the Academy of Fine Arts, used to paint in a photorealistic style, worked as the director of an auction house and once he started buying the pictures of his favourite artists, he became an art collector. Actually, it was his collection, of excellent quality, even if rather small, that marked the outset of his fingerprints series of paintings. Although he already played artistically with fingerprints during his studies, at that time it was no more than just incidental.
Since 2003 he has been undertaking this idea as a kind of programme. It began with fingerprints of his favourite artists whose works he already had in his collection – regarded as unrepeatable identity marks, indeed portraits of sorts. Later on he also started collecting fingerprints from other artists he valued. By now, most of those marks of identification have already found their way onto his canvases. On the back side where there are always two dates signed: the date on which a given fingerprint was collected and the one on which the picture was completed. And indeed, only when looking at these pictorial, artistic blow-ups of human fingerprints, is one able to notice and acknowledge just how different they really are.
It certainly wasn’t a coincidence that Niemirski began to follow his concept of art before echoes of the 1990s faded away. Admittedly, that was a decade in which artists focused on the human flesh with its organs, fragments and pieces to perhaps a higher extent than ever before in the 20th Century art. In the spirit of these trends, the 46th Art Biennale in Venice was held in 1995 with the slogan “Identity and Alterity. Figures of the Body 1895–1995”. Along with evolving representations of man in historical and modern art, it also included sources of artistic inspiration – various objects made with scientific, documentary or medical purposes in mind, such as representations of characteristic ethnological types, anatomic studies of all sorts of limbs and organs of the human body and even a cast of a corpse of a female deformed by rheumatic disease prepared in a hospital.
Reproductions of human bodies or fragments thereof have repeatedly become an object of interest of artists. In this context it seems natural to remember Yves Klein’s “Anthropométries” – traces impressed by naked bodies of female models covered with blue paint (1961) or casts of entire human figures, such as George Segal’s “Woman washing her feet in a sink” (1964-65). In fact, imprints of human fingerprints have also been used by artists beforehand, in a number of ways and for different purposes. For example, in 1960 Piero Manzoni was handing out eggs with his fingerprint while Dennis Oppenheim was drawing vastly enlarged fingerprints of his own thumbs with wheels of trucks on a vast square 300 metres long and 100 metres wide. Two other artists, Andreas Slominski in Germany and Jonathan Monk in the UK, quite independently of each other, signed their works with fingerprints instead of or along with a proper signature. Still, Marek Niemirski’s concept is unlike all of the previous ones, if only because other artists applying this idea in their art only used their own fingerprints or made ones up while Marek Niemirski collects fingerprints of people he carefully selects and creates paintings out of them.
Niemirski’s concept can be seen as quite a specific variant of art relating to the human body. Most artists working in this area either focused on aesthetic or psychological, on medical or sociological aspects of human physicality. Niemirski, however, seems to be interested in another issue: when this peculiar detail of the human body, the physical endowed with mysterious characteristics, meets the spiritual. That’s because all considerations and reflections suggested by the phenomenon of fingerprints – purely physical in itself – lead us to mental areas no longer related to the human body. Among many types of inquiries to potentially inspire the artist is the antinomic unity, within this phenomenon, of the opposite factors of individuality and universalism. Every man has fingerprints; this is a universal human property. At the same time, this is an identification mark, often used in criminology just because it is unique, unrepeatable and thus unmistakable. This brings us to individual properties. Another tempting paradox is the fact that when looking at Niemirski’s large size paintings we know that these are representations of a single specific fragment of the human body. However, we still see them as abstract compositions – black and white rhythmic structures, always gravitating towards some centre of converging lines.
Text by Bożena Kowalska
Marek Niemirski’s paintings have their supplement in a musical illustration based on rhythms of individual fingerprints. The music has been composed by Łukasz Borowicki (born in 1983), a graduate of the Warsaw-based National Musical School and the faculty of philosophy at the Warsaw University. The composer produces his recordings in Odense in Denmark where he is conducting his studies in the conservatorium. As many as 10 tracks have been recorded by now.
Marek Niemirski, Abakanowicz, 2005/2011, acrylic, canvas, 200 x 140 cm. Courtesy of a private collector
„Painting is in dire straits” – art critics lament. The scrap of artistic field on which this field of art still exists is becoming more and more restricted. Still, in the niche that is left we find Stanisław Młodożeniec (born in 1953) working with a dose of energy worth of a youngster, as if time had stopped for him on a New York street back in the 1980s.
On the contrary, it is tradition, so vehemently rejected by many contemporary artists, that Młodożeniec regards as invaluable. From Vermeer to Mark Rothko, with such excellent Polish artists as Andrzej Wróblewski or Jerzy Nowosielski along the way: perhaps this is where we should look to find sources of sheer wealth and the diversity of forms with which the artist freely operates. “I used to reproach myself for a lack of consequence, but years passing by changed that. I believe I’m on a path full of surprises and that this path is right for me” – confessed Młodożeniec in one interview. The surprises in question are well visible almost everywhere. In 2010 he completed paintings such as “The Studio” and “Weather Map”, so different from one another that it really takes an expert’s eye to recognize thet they come from the same artist. The difference is about more than just the circulation of techniques, a fluent switching between savage, colourful abstract canvases in which some similarities to Niki de Saint Phalle’s sculptures may be observed, to the tradition of French Neo-Figurative Art derived from the best work of Gérard Fromanger and Jacques Monory. Młodożeniec’s emotions prove very transparent and surprisingly volatile. Extremities, imminent in the palette, tensions of lines and general composition, are revealed even within a single series.
However, there is also something all the pieces in question have in common and at the same time this provides the key to behold them: this is New York City. It can be seen and sensed throughout Młodożeniec’s painting. It is present in the way the pictures are constructed – with affinities to Piet Mondrian’s “Broadway Boogie-Woogie” – or in their energy, with something taken from Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring whose wild figurative style strongly influences many of the artist’s paintings. The dynamism of the big city translates into a distinctly perceptible climate and whoever has visited the Big Apple is sure to sense it to a degree perhaps never experienced before. An uptempo rhythm like that of drums in John Coltrane songs pervades these paintings, marking the artist’s identity. The viewer may have an impression of looking at the work of a painter belonging to the youngest generation. Młodożeniec is a brilliant observer: not only has he recorded the city chronicles, but he has detected all of its visual novelties as well. On the other hand, the method, even if inspired by the achievements of Western art, is always transformed through the artist’s individual style.
According to some critics, it is possible not to communicate anything with an abstract painting anymore. However, in our non-symbolic times, when utility is everything, Młodożeniec’s paintings manage to recreate a forgotten space in which art truly flourishes, neither compelled to anything nor subject to any kind of service.
Text by Aleksander Hudzik
One of the true and great veterans of Polish painting, an abstractionist and colour virtuoso, Gierowski (born in 1925) remains active and extremely efficient artistically despite his eighty-seven years of age. His recent pieces strike us with their bold colouristic solutions, freshness and refined structure. The artist applies colours with stunning ease, making them free and disciplined at the same time, delicate and vibrant. We could see this, to take just one example, in his recent exhibition in the Great Theatre - National Opera in Warsaw (February – April 2013). Still, the early career of one of the classics of Polish modern art should be remembered.
Born in 1925 in Częstochowa, Gierowski studied in Krakow: painting at the Academy of Fine Arts, in the studios of Zbigniew Pronaszko and Karol Frycz, in parallel with the history of art at the Jagiellonian University. As he recalls, during this studies he was barely interested in colourism. He was fascinated, instead, with problems of contemporary art, new ideas, futurism, Italian art and iconoclastic slogans. In the mid-1950s he moved away from figurative art to focus on colours, forms and the material aspect of painting. At that time he stopped giving titles to his works – instead he was consistent in just calling them pictures and giving them Roman ordinal numbers (the picture No. I dates from 1957). The art critic Aleksander Wojciechowski called these pieces, totally void of any representation of reality, an “autonomous abstraction”. They were clear and comprehensive in terms of their structure, with intuition and emotions prevailing over the intellectual factor, while the role of light, space and movement was growing more and more important over time.
At around 1960 trends toward geometrical frameworks became visible in Gierowski’s work; he also began to change his artistic language to a more visually frugal. However, it was the 1970s that proved decisive in really defining his art. It was then that – as he puts it himself – he crucially changed his attitude to the problem of colour: while earlier on it was a layer behind which some contents were hidden – a need to express notions – later he became most interested in the pure, physical effects of colour. Originating from such an attitude was, among other things, one of Gierowski’s most important pieces, “The Painting of the Ten Commandments” (1989–1990), the series inspired by the 15th Century “Table of the Ten Commandments” by an anonymous Gdansk Master. Gierowski says it was an attempt to “retrieve contents within colours”, as is well exemplified by the picture relating to the Fifth Commandment where the black kind of kills the other colours. In other pictures in the series colours are saturated, intense, pure and thrilling. Since the 1990s the artist has been applying them with an ever-increasing boldness, as if emphasising that his painting, rather than being spontaneous, is based on the impact of colour stemming from the painter’s experience, whether it is “mixed, applied separately or onto another colour”.
Stefan Gierowski has been living in Warsaw since 1949 where in 1956-1961 he collaborated with avant-garde Krzywe Koło Gallery. For over 30 years, between 1962 and 1996, he taught in the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, where in 1986 he was given the title of full Professor. His educational achievements are outstanding: for example, most members of the Gruppa painters, such as Marek Sobczyk and Jarosław Modzelewski emerged from his studio. In 2005 Gierowski was awarded the Gold Medal Gloria Artis for his contribution to culture by the Minister of Culture. His work was shown in a great number of individual and collective exhibitions, both in Poland and abroad – in this context the 5th International Biennale of Contemporary Art in São Paulo in 1959 or the Venice Art Biennale in 1968 should be mentioned. To celebrate the artist’s 85th birthday, two significant exhibitions presenting his works were held in Warsaw: in the Academy Salon and in aTAK Gallery. In the latter case Gierowski focused on close relationships between colour and matter, impressing with an intensity and radiance of colours. According to what he said recently, “There is hope that the intensity and radiance of colours will lead the way to beauty”.
Text by Anna Glaze
Stefan Gierowski, Painting no. C, 1960, oil, sand, canvas, 73 x 54 cm. Courtesy of a private collector
Szymon Urbański’s (born in 1963) art took its shape in the wake of the revolt in Polish painting in the 1980s. It seems that it was the “Solidarity” movement that had given the primary impulse to all sorts of transformations, leaving not a single thing unchanged. This went in pair with news reaching us from abroad about a new wave of painterly expression that emerged at about the same time in opposition to the cold post-avantgarde search of art in the 1970s. The young, as is always the case, felt the urge to cry out their emotions, youthful energy, the will to make changes, the need of anarchy and discord.
Szymon Urbański studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, in the studio of the renowned Polish abstractionist Stefan Gierowski. He learned quite a lot about the intricate and non-evident art of using colours in painting from his Professor. He also quickly managed to adapt colours to his own symbolic system he applied in his art. In one of the very few, if not the only interview he ever gave, back in 1991 he said: “White is emptiness. Black is the lack of lucidity. [My colour is] dark blue”.
His truly mature artistic career began in the mid-1980s, rather a bleak period in Poland. While it was already after the Martial Law, the level of hope and faith in a better future among Polish society was increasingly small. The sense of doldrums and spiritual standstill prevailed. This gloomy mood was portrayed in Urbański’s graduation series “Mother Warsaw” in 1988. The artist chose places he saw on a daily basis, such as a newspaper stand, bus #195, a railway station, a public convenience – in which there were human carcasses hung on hooks. This was perhaps the most dramatic summing-up of the spiritual climate of the socialist, Soviet-dependent Poland’s final years of decay. One could hardly come up with more radical and cruel images. Visions, in fact, as they obviously had a visionary nature. There was nothing they illustrated literally, yet an illustration they were: in an augmented, heartbreaking, appalling way. Painted with tar, urine, distress, they became a sort of culmination of the retreating gruesome time which cast a dreary shadow not only on Szymon Urbański’s youth and life.
Then an abrupt break came about. As art critic Anda Rottenberg, one of the many who admired Urbański’s art, called it years later, in 2005: “He just blacked out. He lost his sense of reality and lost himself for a number of years”. In 2002, an exhibition entitled „New paintings” in Galeria Krytyków Pokaz in Warsaw marked the artist’s return. That’s when we saw a new, different painter, however firmly bound with his previous self with an uncompromising, visionary power.
Urbański gravitated towards the religious, but treated in a very eclectic manner, because we find both Christ and Buddha in his pantheon. What he was into at that time was a sort of one-man painterly monastic order. He also spoke about his old paintings with antipathy, saying that they were painted with bad energy. He most likely destroyed some of them. While inextricably stemming from these paintings, he refuses to fondly remember them.
When talking about his most recent work, Urbański mentions inspiration drawn from medieval miniatures. He sees himself as a monk. Indeed, some characteristics of such miniatures may be found in his newest pictures framed by a kind of bordure. However, there are also traces of Russian avant-garde, of comics, graffiti, folk art, art-déco, of word-for-word posters. Despite this long list, this is surely not everything which contributes to Urbański’s present, rather unrepeatable style. The artist himself admits failing to remember some of his inspirations. Nor does he have to, considering it isn’t his obligation to seek and find all of the plots making up the complex tissue of his very individual art.
If there is one thing that really should be emphasised it’s that Urbański has always been a detached, disobedient, different artist. While his paintings may be seen as forceful and unambiguous, in reality they come from a very delicate and sensitive man, hiding behind vivid colours to avoid being suspected of weakness.
Text by Bogusław Deptuła
His father was an industrialist, his mother a pianist. He oscillated between astronomy and painting. Fortunately, the latter prevailed. Fortunately for Polish art, because today Wojciech Fangor (born in 1922) – a painter, graphic artist and prominent representative of the Polish School of Posters – is one of the most recognizable artists from this country, world-wide – in fact, the only one to have had an individual exhibition held in the Guggenheim Museum (1970). For over three decades (1966–1999) Fangor lived and worked in the USA; for several years now he has been living and working again in Poland. Despite quite a noble age in biographical terms, he has remained impressively fit with his art.
Educated under the guidance of Professors Felicjan Kowarski and Tadeusz Pruszkowski and having graduated in 1946 from the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, in the early 1950s he followed the officially imposed socialist realism – his well-known “Figures” or “Korean mother” (in the collection of the National Museum in Warsaw) date from that period. In 1958, together with Stanisław Zamecznik, he created an installation The Study of Space in the “Nowa Kultura” salon in Warsaw. As he commented, it was then that he understood how space makes for an aspect just as important in painting as surface does. In this particular case the very place where the work was made became a work of art and, accordingly, The Study of Space has been considered one of the earliest examples of environment art in Polish art history.
Amongst Wojciech Fangor’s paintings, the pop art series “After-Images” from the 1960s is the one the market values the most. These pictures feature basic forms blurred by effects of visual illusion. Among them, famous multi-coloured pulsating rings and circles from the series marked by the letter M and subsequent numbers, such as M38 or M53, have been especially popular. In the mid- 1970s the artist returned to figurative painting and made an attempt to transpose TV images into painting, as seen in the series entitled Television Images. Recently he mainly works on his “palimpsests”, ingeniously reworking his old sketches and drawings. In fact, the real material used to create them is found in the artist’s memory of the past.
Wojciech Fangor’s works are ranked among the most successful in market terms among those of Polish artists. Interestingly, they had their debut in foreign auction houses in the early 1990s before their real domestic commercial success.
“Every painting represents some sort of reality, even if not easily associated with a human eye, nose or foot. It is a reality in itself, sometimes related to geometric figures that also exist externally, beyond that particular picture. A circle exists as a geometrical figure in nature, in history, in religious beliefs” – said Fangor while commenting his retrospective exhibition Space As a Game held in the National Museum in Krakow (October 2012 – January 2013) to honour his 90th birthday and 70 years of his artistic career. The show gathered together nearly 200 pieces, the oldest of which was a portrait of his female friend, painted in 1936 by fourteen year old Wojciech, while the most recent one was his self-portrait painted over the weeks just before the exhibition opening. Also in Krakow one could see Fangor’s decoration design of seven stations of the second line of Warsaw’s underground which is under construction.
Text by Anna Glaze
Wojciech Fangor, E-14, 1966, oil, canvas, 127 x 127 cm. Courtesy of a private collector