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"A Vigil of Time" by James McCorkle

At once tactile and sensual as well as allusive and metaphoric, Wlodzimierz Ksiazek's paintings and encaustic works are powerful evocations of time and memory, retrieval and reverie. Seeing his paintings for the first time late in 1985, 1 was struck by their richness of illumination; what traces of representation and figuration that Ksiazek had allowed to remain were transmuted into color and light. Viewing these paintings, I found myself seeking to retrieve what seemed lost or trying to reach, as Seamus Heaney describes the intention of poetry, "something lying beneath the very floor of memory." Indeed, Heaney's metaphor of digging and recovering lost histories informed my experience of viewing Ksiazek's work. The paint itself was rich and complicated as the earth. This was a painter who sought out history and illumination without irony but with some provisional hope, fully aware of the dangers of such an endeavor. Layers and fields of paint, varied textures and forms, all begged to be considered, analyzed, and responded to. Conceptually, his paintings are complex but not obdurately obscure, and difficult but not impenetrable. The tactility and fragments of representations elicit the necessity to read his paintings as if reading a lyric poem. And like a lyric poem where closure is always another opening or rebeginning, Ksiazek's paintings always invited closer examination and sustained contemplation. But above all, his paintings are beautifully painted.

Looking at his paintings for over a decade, it is the vitality of the painting that is most immediate and striking. The condition of the material itself-the paint-is thoroughly explored. These are often vast paintings in their sheer size. But they are also monumental in their richness of painting and allusiveness. We find thin veils, viscous globs, impasto moldings, drips and streams, thin wavered lines, deep strokes and incisions, spottings, and coursings of paint. It is liquid, pliant, or hard: some surfaces have been worked while the paint was still wet and other surfaces worked after having dried. Painting in all its variousness becomes metaphoric of life and generation. The painter seemingly has swept across the canvas like weather which is always with us, yet always leaving its traces.

From the sheer presence of the paint's rich vocabulary comes illumination. In Ksiazek's work, we face a wall across which history and all the elements have moved. Walls are constructed to separate us, to protect, or to offer revelation. They are also the site of the earliest of paintings. While a painting makes a wall both apparent and transparent, walls reveal how we organize ourselves as beings. A recent 80" by 100" oil on canvas suggests a wall which houses four golden windows, icons, or openings to a golden light. Yet upon closer examination the whole painting seems to verge on opening into this goldenness, for there is golden light that filters through the heavy accumulations and excrescences of paint. Although time's corrosion is evident in this painting, its illuminative openings offer epiphany. The canvas becomes monumental in its embrace of time.

Looking at Ksiazek's paintings done ten years ago, we find the nascence of his vision of illumination and monumentality. Turning to a monumental encaustic done in the mid-1980's, an architectonic ordering can be seen unfolding as a means not only to present the full vocabulary of color and handling of pigment, but as an exploration of being and time. Trained as a biochemist, Ksiazek depicts in this encaustic the abstract model or equation of a molecular structure. This work, while belonging to an earlier series, points to some of Ksiazek's immediate concerns. Central here is his concern with the way structures in their abstract forms condition our perception. This work, as in his most recent works, do not force the viewer to accept a single interpretation; like bonding elements in molecular structures, visual forms accrete our interpretations and memories. Thus the equation becomes a series of windows leading to provisional revelations. Untitled, both this early experiment in the encaustic medium and the most recent paintings and encaustics allow us to conduct our own excavations and meditations; though suffused with gold light, we face not an obliterating transcendence, but the humanizing revelation of our own ephemerality and the necessity to rejoice in the generosity of that moment.

With Ksiazek's paintings, the possibility of vital, authentic painting becomes real again. These are works in which the work of the painter remains present: the very layering and density of paint signals the painter's own dwelling in the work. This gesture of intimacy, that we too could dwell in this painting, is unlike the work of other experimental painters who are his contemporaries, and indeed suggests a way of renewing the act of painting, which many critics and visual artists had declared dead. Ksiazek's painting, as well as his encaustics and installations which are centered around painted work, does not simply offer a final possibility against the despair of the institutionalization of self-expression. In such a view, expressed for example by Thomas Lawson, painting is reduced to serving only as an alternative or ideological choice. In a radical, paradigmatic shift, painting could, as Ksiazek's work demonstrates, negate these issues and offer through its re-visioning of time sites of being and reverie.
Ksiazek's work should be considered a significant contribution to the debate about the fate of painting and abstraction. To a large degree, Ksiazek refutes postmodemist accommodations-however ironic they may bewith the discourses and power of dominant culture. His work seeks a revitalization of a modernist ethos. This ethos has as its primary ground the autonomy of the painting-or poem, dance, or music. Such autonomy does not entail a distancing or isolation of the painting from the audience, but a participation which can best be described as reverie as noted by Gaston Bachelard: "The communication between dreamer and his world is very close in reverie; it has no 'distance,' not that distance which marks the perceived world, the world fragmented by perception." In this autonomous space and time of reverie, the dialectic of subject and object vanishes. A sense of being emerges as does habitation and a provisional community. Ksiazek's paintings give us residues of memory which we seek to make seamless and whole.

In On Modern Art, Klee writes that the artist "places more values on the powers which do the funning than the final forms themselves." Abstraction allows the painter to foreground the energies that go into the structuring and creating of the painting rather than having those processes subverted by mimetic concerns. As Charles Altieri writes, "abstraction makes that [those energies] emphatic by enabling artists to propose their constructions as literal sites: The art is not offered as an interpretation of experience, but as a pure state, which the audience can enter and explore." This does not mean there is an absence of significance: the artist's methods depend upon a relinquishing of traditional perceptions.

Although it is a radical process, abstraction is also didactic in that it proposes new ways of seeing which are not dependent on the traditional limits of subject and object. Again, Altieri's reflections on abstraction are helpful when considering Ksiazek's project: on the one hand, "abstractness leads us to imagine the motions and elements of mind, and the immediacy of our emotional investments, as starkly external and visible: If there is to be a sense of spiritual powers, it can no longer be based on the intricacy of an inexpressible 'buried life.' " On the other hand, the concreteness of abstraction "is asked to support claims to a radical inwardness, an insistence that the visible or the speakable become intelligible only in the recesses of radical acts of reflection attempting to adapt themselves to the essential qualities of an emotion or state of mind." This is not to argue that abstraction correlates to the artist's emotional or psychological state, but to suggest new ways to apprehend the familiar as well as the liminal and transpersonal.

The continuum of painting is acknowledged throughout Ksiazek's work. Painting endows space with a sacredness: this may be surmised from the caves of Lascaux to Renaissance cathedrals to the Rothko Chapel. Sacredness creates an autonomous time where our gaze maintains its critical sensitivity but paradoxically we also sacrifice, bloodlessly, our contravening egos. With painting we do not experience transcendence as a departure from the world, but rather the sacredness painting offers is that of presence or of being with the world. Painting presents its own matter and material to us. Whether viewing Ksiazek's large canvases or his exquisite encaustics, what is immediately discerned is the celebration of the material. What the painting is composed of, the actual materials, is sacred in itself. Indeed, what his painting's sacredness implies is the sacredness of life. Similarly, Klee's White Blossom in Garden (Weisse Blute im Garten, 1920) illustrates this sense of sacredness: it is the harmonics of color and the physicality of the pigment that elicits the sacral in Klee's work rather than the iconographic. The pigment is not a metaphor for life or creativity, but it is the very presence of creation.

Like Klee, Ksiazek does not privilege figural depictions. The figure, whether of human form or of architectural design, is part of an overall meditation on harmonics, time, and revelation. Unlike Klee, Ksiazek does not depend on the instructive line: Klee's paintings are often partitioned, or disciplined, by the use of inscribed and painted lines, perhaps stemming from his early interest in etching and allegorical illustrations. Nonetheless, when we see a painting by Klee, we enter an autonomous time of being, where one and (an)other reciprocate. This intimacy, perhaps partially created by the scale of the paintings and their minute detailing, avoids rendering the painting into an object and ourselves into mere "viewers"-a ten-n that conveys tourism and consumerism.

Living in what seems increasingly like the erasure if not the ending of time, there is an acute need to offer some imprint or record of our presence. Against apocalypse and de-personalization, Ksiazek works to retrieve history so as to stay time's erosions and to reveal the plenitude of time. Ksiazek's paintings, encaustic work, and installations of the past ten years share a concern with archaeological, architectural, and textual retrievals. Importantly, they offer a temporal opening for reverie-reverie that is not a condition of escape or daydreaming, but is an acute awareness of being, without the interference of the ego. Paradoxically, we also face the painter's physical movement toward reverie and against the erosions of time. These demands upon the artist are monumental. To create the space for reverie, as Wallace Stevens, states, requires the force of imagination: "It is a violence from within that protects us from a violence without. It is the imagination pressing back against the pressure of reality. It seems, in the last analysis, to have something to do with our self-preservation." To face painting is to acknowledge the painter's will or desire; one may not necessarily be mastered by that desire, but if the painting engages us, we participate in its eros of being. Here eros denotes intimacy and contact, which can only emerge through the course of time. Art is the fundamental representation of this ongoingness or this desire for eros, the desire for being.

Leaving Poland at the time of the suppression of the Solidarity movement, Ksiazek's work vitally eschews the harnessing of art to a particular ideology. Untitled and usually undated, Ksiazek's paintings elude the critic's easy chronicling and assessment of an artist's career. In refusing to catalogue his work by date or title frees Ksiazek's work from periodization and cornmodification. Time is deployed by institutions to govem us just as architectural arrangements govem our movement through time and space. A radical suspension of time or transmutation of disciplined time becomes necessary for any sense of liberation or individual illumination. Importantly, Ksiazek's work exerts its own time and history, thus providing us with the possibility of illumination or freedom. This disengagement from a disciplining (and I use discipline in Foucault's highly allusive use of the word) of time offers another consideration of timelessness that parallels or complements the sense of digital timelessness. Thus, what we see in Ksiazek's work is the time of the painting, its endurance, and the record of the painter's presence. The painting further records our own presence; in viewing his work, we too become part of this vigil of time.

Perhaps the most stunning work of Ksiazek's are those that suggest archaeological recovery. Painted and shown during the early and mid 1990's, these works are oils on canvas, wood, and metal. These paintings have evolved from his earlier work which broke the canvas into a mosaic o thickly applied or accreted pigment, in which each tessera or shard of pigment balances the others. No one shard is a pure or monochromic tone, rather each contains the stains of history's colors. The mosaic is fragmented, yet rather than adding up to a mimetic representation of a whole image or narrative, the fragments create a harmonic in their discontinuities. The stained, impure, malleable fragments suggest that paint itself is utter matter, not an aseptic or distilled medium. Harmony is made through the impurity or heterogeneity of time and matter.

From these mosaics, with their interrupted lines and collections of odd and irregular rectangular forms, Ksiazek shifts toward the larger fields of paint still anchored by ruins of geometric forms. The paint in these more recent works is built up layer by layer, often in thin washes. This time-consuming process has as its effect that of accumulations of whole paintings. Each layer itself composes the history or archaeology of the painting's ongoingness. Such accumulations create subtle modulations to be discovered upon detailed inspection. The geometric pattern, much like diagrams of the foundations of buildings or cities, is created through the wash of paint; inscribed pigments are used to resist the wash of painterly time. In his 80" by 100" oil on canvas work, the perspective is an aerial one: we seem to be looking down from above at a lost ruin that seems mired in deep fecund greens. The liquidness of the greens-paint drips run down the canvas complicates the pictorial space by asserting the canvas remains vertical and abstract and not reductively a mimetic representation of a field. It is this complication or doubleness that allows for reverie. The foundations include shimmering rectilineals of blue, which map large rectangular spaces. Set on diagonals, these ruins do not suggest that our vision has been ordered and re-presented to us, but rather that we are at the threshold of discovery. Indeed, we seem to be coming upon them as if flying from the lower quadrant to the upper left.

To be flying is to be in reverie. To approach something is to cross a threshold into new knowledge. To move from one's daily time into aerial time-literally suspended-requires a disengagement of our selfhood. In such a state of suspension, the very stability of oil paint appears threatened. Seemingly always at risk in its application is the paint's chemical stability and its physical adherence to the canvas. The paint, like a topography, changes with the shift and play of light. The thin washes of paint create a depth to the surface; the brush strokes themselves seem prismatic. Color is never pure or refined, but rather always stained with other colors, for reduction and distillation are contrary to time's process, and indeed contrary to the processes of life and perception. Thus, Ksiazek's paintings, despite their fragility, ultimately speak of the obdurateness of materials and their monumentality.

In his 30" by 40" oil on metal work, Ksiazek has depicted a cantilevered series of beams, diagonals and triangles. This formal composition creates a sense of sublime stability. The architectural composition of these embedded rectilinear lines has a verticality not often present in other works of his. The rectilinear lines exist in space: paradoxically they seem to be pushed forward in spite of their shallow negative reliefs. Light seems to seep from these cantilevered beams-white pigment spills from them, staining the dark surfaces. Here the reverie is a reverie of motion: it is as if we are moving through space and crossing a threshold to see this composed figure existing in time, enduring the accretions of time. In the poem "The Unveiling," Phillis Levin asks "What can we do if nothing in us sings /And nothing shines?" Ksiazek's painting is an unveiling of a composition lit from within: that we approach it, crossing into the shared time of painting and seer, answers Levin's fear of the extinction of the individual and the imagination. Painting is the construction of our own seeing; in the presence of painting comes revelation.

In another of his architectural compositions, an oil painting on wood measuring 35" by 45", Ksiazek has created a vertical form where we seem to be moving toward and then, through a gate or arch. Ksiazek has created a complex painting where abstraction and figuration merge: pictorial space is created through illusion or the representation of the arch; yet this painting is also an abstraction where depth is defined as the layering of pigments rather than by representational illusion. Hence, the liminal drama of movement is most pronounced. The arch or gate itself is an opening, for the blue is celestial and spacious. The arch is perhaps the most primary of architectural inventions: it reflects human anatomy and its capacity for bearing weight, it symbolizes passage and the attendant rites involved in transformation, and it dichotomizes by creating interior and exterior worlds. A weight bearing lintel allows for vertical structural expansion as well as creating a span to connect and enclose. Quite literally and yet also metaphorically, we might take this as a gesture toward spanning the demands of pure painting with pure figuration. The painting moves spatially inwards, through the illusion of depth; we also move across the celestial arch or bridge; and finally we traverse the field of paint, with its drips and runs, washes of cobalt, depressions and runners of color, betyl-like smears of gold and rain-laden gray-blues.

As a gateway, this painting also suggests the Orphic condition of simultaneously beholding the beloved and suffering the beloved's loss. It is at the luminous moment where sky and underworld meet that recognition and loss are sited. Such a condition or siting describes the work of the artist. As Maurice Blanchot writes, Orpheus's work is to "bring it [both the origins and limits of art] back into the daylight and in the daylight give it form, figure and reality" (99). We are placed in this metaphoric chain of seeing; hence we experience a certain intimacy through this reverie on limit and origin. This painting, like so many of Ksiazek's works, allows us to participate in the gaze of Orpheus: it gives us access to that time of gazing as well as providing the literal frame or gateway for the gaze. To gaze, writes Blanchot, "frees the sacred contained in the work, gives the sacred to itself (104).

The painting's palette furthers such a phenomenological reading. The painting creates a balance between the aerial blue of the architectural components, the darker, oceanic blue of the background and the radiant efflorescence of yellow golds. The painting, like all of Ksiazek's work, demands a close inspection of its surface. The color is saturated, for the paint has been applied in many layers and in some areas with differing opacities. The surface has not been skimmed of its heterogeneity: form, as in the example of the arch, arrives only out of and due to this richness of the painting's surface.

Here too, the brush stroke remains evident: this is a created surface, the effects of the application of the paint are intended. Thus the painting remains a record of the painter painting. The painting makes visible the presence, or the record, of the painter. Painting 14 thus acts as a witness to the individual whose hand made that object. This insistence on the intentions and agency of the painter is a resistance to the tradition of the ready-made, assemblages of found objects, or productions that seek to erase the hand of the individual maker and collapse the various modalities of time into a single depersonalized present moment. In this insistence on the agency of the painter, Ksiazek's paintings maintain a complexity of time.

Parallel to brush-work, the value of the grounds or foundations for Ksiazek's application of pigments is important to consider, for the type ground will influence the illuminative properties of the pigment. Ksiazek's work might be compared to Klee's work in terms of their use of different materials as the grounds for the application of pigment. Klee is known for utilizing papers, fabrics, wood, and canvas in varying combinations to create differing layers and textures. Ksiazek's encaustic and oil works display a similar penchant: his 16" by 12" encaustic on plastic and wood is an example of this layering of grounds. Masses of gray-blue-green build upon he whites, which are only most apparent at the margins. The plastic creates translucent layer that creates a sense of suspension. The massive application of the roiling gray-blue-green pigments conveys the weightlessness of rain-laden storm clouds. Ksiazek creates a tension between the weight and mass of pigment and the illusion of depth and atmosphere which recalls pictorial representations of the sky in landscapes, but is purely resolutely abstract.

Each work tends to meditate on a particular tonal palette, thus each painting develops a way of seeing a specific range of tones, as well as the harmonics a particular tone may invoke. In his 48" by 58" oil on canvas, Ksiazek has created a meditation on blues merging to grays in a liquid flow of paint. The whole canvas is a register of this liquid movement. Yet, here the painter's gesture in time is still made present, for the surface is punctuated with varied moments of white: drips, runs, smears, impasto smudges a whole vocabulary emerges describing these moments of the application of white pigment. Each of these gestures could be the paint at the verge of forming an image: we are present at the realization or, perhaps, remembrance of an image. At play against this flow and these punctuated moments in this painting, are the thin, almost marginal lines that register usually a deeper blue and act as forms of eroding stasis.

Ksiazek's geometries allude to foundations and the cognitive processes that we engineer and define ourselves by. The architectural schemas are records of cultural and personal organization. These schemas are the plans which govern construction as well as the records of what may now be in ruins and otherwise lost to memory. Existing in the realm of the two dimensional, these plans or foundational geometries imagine a three dimensional world. Ksiazek's 80" by 100" oil on canvas invokes this foundational complex. Here is a monumental work of a field of painting in which are embedded the ruins or foundations of community or shared knowledge's. In this painting, the spiralling forms recall Cretan ruins and English mazes as well as architectural diagrams of foundations and walls and archaeological plots of excavations. Ksiazek's painting develops a palimpsestic process and invites overlays of our associations and memories.

This is not to argue that Ksiazek merely replicates an architectural form: this painting invokes a reverie upon the community such fon-ns seek to inspire or impose. Yet, the painting's vigil does not end there. It proposes a meditation on the properties of space, particularly public space, and the effects of architecture's ordering of the human world. The very scale of Ksiazek's painting makes such proposals possible as well as necessary. In this example, as in all these archaeological paintings, the painting constitutes a site. In this particular painting, we seem to be presented with all the extant foundations. Ksiazek's vision would propose that we reenter these ruined foundations to reconfigure a community that has an authentic and integral sacredness. In so doing, he also implies that painting, particularly abstract painting, is central in this process of re-visioning a shared space because painting allows space and time to open for the audience.

The monumentality of this painting does not demand the audience step back: the work is not a mastering of the viewer. Instead, the painting invites close inspection. The density of paint, the subtle shifts of color, and the intricacy of the embedded forms draws the eye nearer and necessitates interpretation. There is an ecological sensitivity at play for what one comes upon is the variousness of color and the abundance of matter. This is not a privileging of detail, but a meditation on the complex latticework of the elements. Whether in the thematic meanings implicit in his use of architectural geometries or the formal virtuosity of brushwork, Ksiazek's painting offers a renewing vision of the world as well as the conditions of painting.

Ksiazek's paintings, despite their often large scale, are fragile works. There is an ironic condition to their monumentality: the paint could easily be dislodged or damaged. In this sense, no aesthetic experience or object is permanent. There is no idealized condition or state-of-being. To participate in reverie one becomes part of an enduring time, but not a timeless time. The painting strates, to read back through our own approaches to space and form, to archaeologically retrieve the representations of mazes, Cretan ruins, or Byzantine churches, is to provide a narrative of our spiritual and physical habitation. Time becomes monumental in that we realize and participate in its duration.

It is our participation, that is our reading or interpretation, in a Midrashic fashion, that so radically shifts the sense of monumentality as Ksiazek is coming to express it. The retrieval of representations of the past is fraught with difficulties. Suzi Gablik writes that the

"issue at stake will be how to determine which artists are merely scavenging the past and which are seeking, more actively, to influence and transform the spiritual vacuum at the center of our society. Ours is a culture in which, as the sociologist Theodore Roszak has pointed out, the capacity for transcendence has become so feeble that when confronted with the great historical projections of sacramental experience, we can only wonder what these exotic symbols really meant. After more than a century of alienation and a negative attitude toward society, art is showing signs of wanting to be a therapeutic force again. There is no doubt that a new process has started asserting itself; but the problem remains of sifting out that which is largely sensationalism geared to the media-machine from that which carries a genuine potential for developing a more luminous culture."

Such a "luminous culture" is created through, as Gablik argues, the "capability of art for transmitting patterns of conscious ethical value." While Gablik seems to point to a prescriptive, idealistic, antidotal art, one that fashions itself against the forces of modem mass-culture and consumption, Ksiazek's art is not so didactic. Perhaps this is the distinction between art and criticism, but it does reveal that art if it is to be sacramental and luminous, it will have to avoid critical didacticism. Instead, to be luminos an artist must allow for opening and light: indeed, knowledge comes through that ability to open and receive.

Such luminousness in Ksiazek's paintings has often been predicated upon the use of gold light. The use of golden light, however, risks being overwhelmed by conventional referents. Ksiazek's most recent paintings, like his encaustic work, explore the luminosity of the creamy grays and whites, which suggest sea-beds, flotsam, liquidity, opacity, the generative endures and our continuing contact with it, hopefully, endures if it is monumental. Our own fragility is figured in the fragility of the depictions and the fragility of the medium.

Monumentality also describes a temporal condition: our culture has come to associate the term with the Aristotelian idea of the spectacle, where sheer size and visual excess dominate and the viewer is forced to surrender the interwoven capacities of analysis and reverie. Such a spectacle negates time, empties history, and replaces the condition of the spirit with ideological expediencies. In Ksiazek's work, monumentality is radically re-visioned: to be monumental the work must endure through time by offering a plentitude of readings. As the poet Ronald Johnson writes in his long poem Ark, we must be "in ecstasy of palimpsest." As the painting in plate seven demon-fluids of bodies. In his 80" by 100" oil on canvas and his 59" by 63" oil on canvas exemplify this newer palette. The archaeological plans in these two paintings are swept under the sifting grounds. The paintings suggest an erasure through time of history, hence they become elegiac in their expression of the process of loss. Yet, these paintings also offer the grounds for reconstruction: the seeming emptiness of the off-whites, creams, and grays may not dictate closure but an vital openness where we may imagine the reformation of our sense of being. Ksiazek re-visions the possibilities of light throughout his paintings, for as Czeslaw Milosz writes, "All tangible things-material things, as people used to say-change into light and their shape is preserved in it."

Ksiazek's paintings are stunning, virtuosic expressions of human optimism and survival through which we retrieve the capacity for reverie and the capacity for eros, for greeting another. While Ksiazek's paintings seek to recovery the potential for illumination, our endeavors, Ksiazek implies, remain disciplinary and cruel: we incise, extract, catalogue, and exhume. The painter, thus, occupies a crucial position in our culture at this moment. The painter's role is not to serve only as witness, but as one who must, as Ksiazek does, offer us generously time and space. His vigil is our reverie.

Monographic Publication: Wlodzimierz Ksiazek: A Vigil of Time. Marisa Del Re Gallery, New York, NY, June/July 1997. Published by Marisa Del Re Gallery, New York, NY Essay by James McCorkle.

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