paintings installations art books films publications CV press contact

"At the Galleries" by Karen Wilkin (edited)

The Hudson Review

IT HAS BECOME A CLICHÉ TO NOTE THAT painting continues to flourish, despite the proliferation of works made with mixed, “alternative,” and just plain indescribable media on view in galleries that pride themselves on being at the “cutting edge.” Cliché or not, it’s worth pointing out that many of the most provocative and most discussed shows last season depended on the use of a medium frequently dismissed as moribund or hopelessly outmoded. In Chelsea galleries and Uptown ones, the list of painting exhibitions included such disparate artists (in terms of generation, reputation, and approach) as Philip Guston, Leon Berko-witz, Leon Kossoff, Larry Poons, Melissa Meyer, and Wlodzimierz Ksiazek. If these names don’t reverberate as cutting edge enough to prove my point, such current celebrities as Louise Fishman, Lisa Yuskavage, Susan Rothenberg, and Dana Schutz also had painting shows last season—and that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Given the art world’s recent appetite for the very young and unformed, it’s somewhat reassuring that these painters range from the youngish and trendy to the mature and seasoned, along with two who are no longer among us. Not surprisingly, the quality of their exhibitions ranged from compelling to annoying, the imagery from figuration to abstraction, the
point of view from wholehearted passion to post-modern irony—and a good deal in between, in all categories. What these wildly different exhibitions had in common was their demonstration that even with the burden of a roughly five-hundred-year tradition, paint on canvas can still allow for a maximum of expressive invention.

Uptown, at Kouros Gallery, the Polish-born painter Wlodzimierz Ksiazek showed the most recent incarnations of his long engagement with the canvas as a record of interventions. Ksiazek’s paintings are as thick and earthbound as Meyer’s are transparent and airborne. He presents us with slabs of pigment, seemingly cracked and eroded, like geologic formations, or weathered, like ancient archaeological sites,
although his use of cold wax as a medium gives the surfaces a special lushness that runs (helpfully) counter to these opaque, stony associations. Ksiazek’s allusions seem to vary according to the distance from which his pictures are viewed. Seen from a relatively close vantage point, they are brute material objects: frontal, deeply inflected expanses that insist on the physicality of paint and the artist’s enthusiasm for manipulating his thick, juicy medium. From slightly farther away, they remain just as materially assertive but, at the same time, become strangely evocative of aerial views of distant sites, both natural and man made. In his most achieved works, Ksiazek seduces us with the opulence and
sheer substance of what is before them, but simultaneously dislocates us by suggesting that we are miles away from the very thing that has engaged us.

Or at least, this is how Ksiazek’s earlier works could often be described. In them, archaeological associations often dominated, emphasized by his earthy, tonal palette, like timeworn stone or eroded
brick, by the crisply defined edges of his strokes, and by the sense of orderly geometry beneath the paintings’ assertive surfaces. We felt we saw into these pictures, descending deeper and deeper into fictive depths, as though revisiting the traces of a rediscovered civilization—or perhaps, given Ksiazek’s complicated history, before the fall of the Iron Curtain and even after his emigration to the U.S., metaphorically revisiting the artist’s own past. Rather than compelling us to move into them, however, the most recent of Ksiazek’s large paintings at Kouros met us more than halfway. The densest swipes and slabs of paint, notably more fluid and less geometric than was often true in earlier works, appeared to push forward from the surface of the canvas, making the pictures read as being even more substantial and confrontational than they were in the past. The enlivening sense of shifting distances
and scales that the earlier work had led us to expect was still evident, but the disciplining grid had loosened. The result? No less ambiguity, but a new emphasis on the hand and a new intimacy, which by extension, appeared to be a new emphasis on the presence of the artist. As with Poons’s 2009 Calling You, Ksiazek’s new works made me eager to see how they will evolve.

Karen Wilkin "At the Galleries", The Hudson Review, 2009

Wlodzimierz Ksiazek © All Rights Reserved 2010 - Web Design : www.arttoolbox.com