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"Wlodzimierz Ksiazek's Paintings: Fictive Walls, Veiled by Memory" by Richard Brilliant

A retrospective exhibition of Wlodzimierz Ksiazek's paintings since 1990 inevitably embodies a biographical subtext, not the least because his paintings are so intensely personal. The decade contains the artists transitional experiences in status from Polish exile to American immigrant, from struggling artist in New York City to an established presence in the gallery scene, from marriage and parenthood to divorce and a painful deprivation of his daughter Veronika's company. Ksiazek's remembrance of loss, infused with the pictorial imagination of its continual re-experience, has revealed itself in a series of paintings whose persistent sobriety enforces an impression of fictive walls, confronting artist and beholder alike with the power of walls to be ambiguously both exclusive and inclusive. Immediately noticeable as fields occupied by significant marks, their mural like surfaces are not quite opaque, or do they lack an underlying structural order, gridded like a map whose surface features may be obscured by three-dimensional elements that rise and fall above or below the ostensible painted plane. Ksiazek has scored the paintings with incised lines that cut through the plane, revealing what lies beneath, while prominently establishing internal boundaries by broad bands, like paths that pass over a rough terrain and thereby constitute the visual evidence of the artist's assertion of control over his medium, and over his imagery.

That control and the force of its application undergo considerable change in the course of the 1990s. Ksiazek's work exhibits distinct patterns of development within a framework of distinctive, even persistent imagery, as if that imagery were so strongly attached to his identity as an artist as to be inseparable from it. Works from the first half of the decade seem experimental in character and are painted largely in muted, if warm toned browns, punctuated by flashes or patches of blue, rose, and yellow. A rectangular grid that consistently underpins the paintings shifts from an overt structure, more or less architectural in character to a more schematic, implicit system of notation, obscured by skeins of color superimposed in a manner deliberately resembling collage. Ksiazek briefly tried to alter the grid by using round shapes, but this solution was soon abandoned in favor of the adoption of strong diagonal swaths with V shaped intersections, dynamic in their potential, that became normative in many of his paintings after 1995/6.

Indeed, after 1995/6, these powerful diagonals were increasingly emphasized, perhaps because they conveyed so effectively a sense of energy, as the grid seemed to sink deeper into the paintings' ground. Browns recede from view to be replaced by lighter coffee-cream-like tones, enriched by touches, accents, and swaths of blue and more recently of red. Collage-like effects assume greater prominence, often in the form of irregular patches in light hues, whose coruscating texture remains distinctive even over light grounds. The very insistence of these diagonals and the swaths of mixed color can be intrusive, even dominant, as if to reaffirm the operation of the artist's hand in the work and the manifest presence of his strong feelings. Yet, because most of the visual "action" takes place above the median line of the paintings throughout the 90s, the focus of attention draws the beholder in at eye level, to the maker's mark and not to the surrounding field, thereby constituting that mark at the core of the paintings meaning. Ksiazek sought in these abstract paintings to create an imagery that would express directly the intense states of his heart with such immediacy that these telltale marks would manifest themselves as the signs of his making art as well as his motives for doing so.

Perhaps, in the pursuit of such an ambition Ksiazek reveals himself as a true Romantic. The vigorous gesture of his brush-stroke and the pressure evident in the pathways of his palette knife must be taken as intentional traces of deliberated action. They also bespeak the existence of a controlled, if passionate impulse to make his mark, quite different in kind from the casual, even accidental quality of an unmediated graffito. And walls, even the simulacrum of standing walls seems supremely suitable for the imposition of marks executed with sweeping gestures that make the claim of possession.

As a late twentieth century Romantic, Ksiazek seems prepared to express himself as a modern abstract artist whose representation of self exists primarily in the reiteration of purposeful marks which assert a particular identity, and secondarily in the development and exhibition of an idiosyncratic technique of paintings as an indicator of a personal style. That style exhibits some affinity with other modern artists, perhaps most clearly in his reliance on a partly geometrical structure or armature, coupled with multiple strata of color, whose integrity is never complete, never extends over the full surface of his canvases, hence is never comprehensible either as under or over painting, but rather exists in constant flux. The effect, reflective of the transparency of encaustic, an ancient medium whose properties are much admired by Ksiazek, resembles the mapping procedure adopted many years ago by Jasper Johns, whose figuration attained so much of its authority by concealing, or denying its representation of the familiar, whether of flags, or maps.

Ksiazek's imagined walls, marked by the passerby as well as by the passage of time, seem, familiar but in unfamiliar ways. At first densely opaque and only gradually less so, these fictive walls express their natural materiality through the medium of texturized paint, while they continue to bear the evidence of their own history, their own coming-to-be since creation. Some viewers might see in these paintings not walls but the representation of a barren landscape, or a battlefield of World War I vintage, pockmarked by shell holes, cut by trenches, speckled with pools of blood or reflections of blue sky. To do so would prioritize descriptive over metaphorical representation prose over poetry; it would inhibit unduly that stimulation of vision not only inherent in "old walls" as a topos of the imaginative power, exploited by artists since at least the eighteenth century. Above all, Ksiazek's imagery ultimately transcends its apparent invocation of a material entity in this world - a wall, as we know walls to be - and transforms that reference into a temporal, or historical metaphor, a whole creation of the imagination like Shakespeare's wall in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Walls that deny their real world existence except as figments of the imagination constitute the surfaces upon which thoughts and feelings can be transcribed, and projected. Ksiazek's walls, however, possess a fundamental physical dimension: time. With his aid, the viewer can penetrate like some archaeologist into an earlier state of the work of art, as one stratum of paint is excavated to reveal another underneath. The partiality of Ksiazek's technique of erasure assures the preservation and visibility of the traces of prior existence, in effect retaining thereby the memory of elements, or events, no longer fully extant, but still recollected. For Ksiazek, an artist who has experienced many losses and who incorporates his sense of the past into his work, loss may be recouped by its reintegration in works that stand in the present, as amalgams of his experience. Memories decay. Their residue like the trace elements in these paintings exists as shadows on what once was whole.

Another Polish exile, the great novelist Joseph Conrad, also understood the role of shadows as levels and divisions of experience:

"To Borys and all others
who like himself have crossed
in early youth the shadow-line
of their generation with love'

The Shadow Line 1915

Monographic Publication: Wlodzimierz Ksiazek: Paintings 1990-2001. The Gallery at the Barrington Center for the Arts, Gordon College, Wenham, MA, and Alpha Gallery, Boston, MA, September/October 2001. Texts by Richard Brilliant and Robert C. Morgan, introduction by Bruce Herman. Published by Gordon College, Wenham, MA (ISBN 0-9707487-2-8; Library of Congress # 2002449207)

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