paintings installations art books films publications CV press contact

"Ksiazek’s Enigma" by Robert C. Morgan

Relative to the situation of painting today, I would assert the following: art comes at us from an oblique angle. It is rarely, if ever, direct. We feel it, and sometimes we know it, but to grasp its significance, to come to terms with its structure, to abide by its presence in a world where the very notion of culture is disintegrating before our eyes, is something else. Traditionally, it has been the role of the critic to decipher the meaning of art, to explain its exigencies, to give clarity to its substance or lack thereof -- in essence, to be critical. Amid this period of high transition, the best artists are always willing to risk everything -- including preconceived notions of the ideal of beauty -- in order to bring painting into reality, even if that reality represents the death of painting itself. But the death of painting is the death of a signifier, and therefore subject to a re-invigoration of inert forms transformed into a new charge, another kind of signifying component moving towards a revivified wholeness.

I have followed the work of Wlodzimierz Ksiazek for a little more than a decade. His work has always shown rigor, imagination, fortitude, and unusual courage. I say “unusual” because courage is not often a quality that I associate with the Postmodern era. The influence of the international art market -- in collaboration with the omnipresent force of the media under the euphemism of “information”-- has discouraged the majority of artists from standing on our own. This is particular evident in the United States where so little regard is given to how one’s experience interacts with the significance of one’s art -- an issue of particular concern to Ksiazek. In recent years, experience in art has been usurped by ideology, and ideology has been transformed into a sentimental illustration of academic theory. Authentic art has become a kind of prohibition. This was suggested to me in a recent conversation with a young artist who explained that her intention was to avoid making her paintings look too sincere.

In an interview with the painter Mark Harris, conducted at Longborough University (October 26, 2000), Ksiazek proclaimed: “There is no separation between authentic life and authentic art: the authenticity, then, is about rejecting nihilistic standards of society and to accept the consequences of this action.” This is courageous to the extent that it flies in the face of most popularized rhetoric extant in fashionable art magazines and galleries. Some critics will shun the mere utterance or innuendo that a “good” artist could possibly adhere to anything other than cynicism. Ksiazek knows this all too well. To be cynical is to remove oneself from the gesture of painting or, put another way, the tactile sensation of painting. In doing so, one is cut off not only from the method of one’s engagement, but also from the context of one’s experience with regard to how it develops and how, in turn, it is received. When this separation occurs, the signifier of art slips into common artisanry. Thus, the more artisanry we have posing as art, the more rhetoric we need in support of it.

I can say that Wlodzimierz Ksiazek has never given the slightest indication of cynicism in his work or in his everyday practice as an artist. He has never split the aesthetic/ethical paradigm into two parts. For Ksiazek, art is about the perennial equivalence between the two, the veritable cause and effect relationship: what is aesthetic has an ethical equivalent, a counterpart that is not separate, but contingent on we way we live our lives. This is not to suggest that Kant’s paradigm is without fault. One can argue against the logic, and more importantly, one can argue against the application of logic as a means of encompassing all artistic practices. Any paradigm in art is open to expediency -- whether political or economic or aesthetic -- and Kant is subject to critique along with Hegel, Croce, Heidegger, or Derrida. Ksiazek’s enigma is to stay within the frame of his own logic by embedding his concerns within that frame, and by adhering to the principle that his aesthetic position is an ethical one.

As for the paintings themselves, I am inclined to agree that Ksiazek approaches his gouged and painterly surfaces as a kind of subjective archaeologist. But then we must inquire: What is the archaeologist searching for? What does he or she hope to find? This is what makes Ksiazek’s quest a subjective one. In the true sense, the practice and research of the archaeologist is far from subjectivity. It is a disciplined form of social science with its own methodology. Metaphorically, I would argue that Ksiazek paints as the archaeologist digs and searches, the difference being that the artist’s does not aspire to achieve scientific results. Art is not something to be proven, and this is precisely what separates the artist from the archaeologist or the social anthropologist.

In a painting from 1999, the surface is smudged and layered with deep gray-greens mixed over sienna, in a roughly defined grid structure. For me, it holds some relationship to my experience in the Polish countryside and to the tradition of nature and metaphysics in that part of the world. It also the psychology of how one absorbs these phenomena. There is a quickness within the marks that function as constructive components, an urgency about the process of covering and concealing, a purposeful constraint that does not relinquish the intensity embedded without the surface. There is something very precise about this painting made lucid through the articulation of the gestures and mixing of color with the palette knife. The diffident hard-edge erodes before our vision. The result is reminiscent of certain glazes found on Chinese vessels from the Tang Dynasty where there is “no color.” In Ksiazek’s painting, there is “no color.” Color is used to discover no color, maybe to get to the foundation or into the interstices between the cracks, to discover a glimmer of light, which is then snuffed-out, thrown back to the non-illusion of the surface effect.

Another painting, made from the following year, also large in scale, is reddish-gray or grayish-red. It’s hard to know what color dominates. Again, one may ask: what is the color? A few blue marks with extended drips accentuate the all-over grayness and define a spatial territory, The marks shift the mood of the painting and give it another new form of elasticity, a simultaneity, beyond the linear allegory. As early as 1990, Ksiazek produced a large canvas -- typically untitled -- where the grid is more pronounced, but the color is not. It is a kind of rusty surface with intensely developed areas -- some mottled in dabs of white, some crusted in black, like pitch or bitumen. There is a consistency in Ksiazek that is both indirect and inscrutable, a consistency that goes beyond the obvious. There is an ostensibly reflective quality in the work, but one that is cautious in its reflectivity, never giving forth too much. This quality constitutes the logic in Ksiazek’s art. It is an indirect logic; but logic, as Blaise Pascal wrote in his Pensees, is also a form of intuition. The latter occurs when the former has seemingly exhausted its resources as systematic thought.

Ksiazek relies on the knowledge that intuition will ultimately carry the painting and that the result -- embedded within the surface -- will convolute and represent itself obliquely. This is where art -- indeed, painting -- finds its truth. It happens as a result of a consciously intended dialectical encounter between the process of thought and its material counterpart, the coexistence, where there is a oneness or “Onement,” as the painter Barnett Newman called it. The enigma for Ksiazek is always about this -- shaping the surface on the ruins of its deep strata, seeking hope in the throes of turmoil, and thus allowing art to move in the direction of its former absence.

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)

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