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"Wlodzimierz Ksiazek's Resistant, Resilient Paintings" by Amy Ingrid Schlegel

Wlodzimierz Ksiazek's intensely complex; untitled paintings of the past twenty years, since his arrival in the United States from Poland as a political refugee, have consistently provoked discussion, debate, and, now, a discourse of multivalent meanings and competing interpretations. It is hard to walk away from Ksiazek's large-scale paintings, to dismiss them out of hand as too difficult, too obscure, or too expressionist. Serious viewers are compelled to linger and look hard, to try to penetrate the enigma of his intensively worked surfaces, to decipher the palimpsests that characterize his approach, and, perhaps above all, to absorb their visceral impact.

Ksiazek's formative decade the 1970s - has largely been ignored by critics, perhaps because he left all of his work from this period behind when he escaped from Poland, via Prague, to New York City in 1982. This decade profoundly affected Ksiazek's identity as a painter, the formation of his artistic vocabulary, and his understanding of the artist's role in society. During this time, Ksiazek trained as a painter at the rigorous, if traditional, Warsaw Academy of Fine Art and began what had all the hallmarks of a promising career in Eastern Europe: exhibiting his quasi-abstract paintings in Poland's few state-run galleries; receiving grants from the Ministry of Culture to sustain him and his artistic activity; actively engaging in various levels of resistance against the inequities of everyday life under a communist totalitarian regime; and witnessing the gradual then sudden, brutal crackdown on all political opposition inside Poland, symbolized in the west by the Solidarity movement. After extricating him self from Poland at great personal risk and landing in an utterly foreign country, society, and culture at the age of 31, his world-view was upended. He had enacted one-of the ultimate gestures of political resistance in choosing exile. To this day, though, his ties to home, tongue, and family remain deeply internalized and cherished.

Ksiazek's passionate commitment to resistance, to articulating opposition to unjust, inhumane social and political systems, has always motivated his painting project. He stated to an interviewer in 2000 that "an artist who is part of [any] society needs to maintain a certain distance, to be outside of a sanctioned communal involvement, to be able to take a position independent of organized communal activity, to address political urgencies and omissions through [a] particular artistic language" The artist's social role, in other words, is to serve as a critic of power structures and the dominant ideology.

Based In New York City initially, and over the course of the decade of the 1980s, Ksiazek had to reinvent himself as an individual and as an artist, at least in terms of everyday life. Without financial support from a system of state sponsorship of the arts, be had to figure out how to survive, literally and figuratively in a capitalist society as a politically disenfranchised person without refugee status or a green card, initially. (His experiences have made him a critic of American imperialism, both abroad and at home, in terms of the inherent injustices of the capitalist system that produce corruption, poverty, and class-based power imbalances.) Unlike many other immigrants, Ksiazek never entertained the possibility of eschewing his metier of painting for a steady job, of an alternative, more stable income source, or of full assimilation into this new world. His displacement to such a radically different context proved to be an exciting challenge that allowed his art to advance and mature in ways he could not have imagined while living in Poland.

Despite the tremendous changes and turbulence in Ksiazek's adult life since the 1970s (from political dissidence, to exile, to a bitter divorce, to a protracted struggle to protect his relationship with his daughter and the dignity of his fatherhood), his painting practice has been the one, enduring constant in his life. Similarly, the leitmotif of the palimpsest has persisted in his work as a formal vehicle. Virtually every critic who has written about Ksiazek's paintings notes the partially effaced yet persistent layers of imagery and mark-making, the obscure yet present traces of thought that coexist across the vast surfaces of his paintings. Consistently noted by these critics are Ksiazek's multiple levels of imagery (architecture, cartography, landscape, body/skin), of allusion (excavation/archeology, topography, detachment/alienation, injury/ torture) and of meaning (social space, memory of place, injustice/abuse, individual freedoms/survival).

Ksiazek's newest paintings build on and refine his muItivalent painting project. They are decisively pared down in their formal logic, compared with the bodies of work from the 1990s. They are chromatically more unified and perhaps a bit more metaphorical in their color symbolism - they continue to interrogate the zone between abstraction and representation and will no doubt invite refined interpretations of Ksiazek 's oeuvre.

With these new paintings, one can see the artist honing in on that one, burning question that troubles and motivates him: how to protect and foster individual human rights and dignity in the face of chronic abuse and injustice. Certainly the prototypical case for Ksiazek is a very personal one; what he views as the violation of the human rights of his young daughter, Veronika, according to the United Nations 1990 Convention on the Rights of the Child. David Pagel, however, muses in this catalogue's essay that Ksiazek's melancholy but hopeful, defiant paintings deal with the universal, modern question of survival in the "tragic aftermath of events" and the "unfathomable suffering that humanity continues to visit upon itself' as a result of wars and genocide. One of the measures of Ksiazek's success as a painter of lasting significance is the ability to meld in eloquent visual terms his experiences of personal tragedy with his clearly articulated political and philosophical views.

Wlodzimierz Ksiazek has come a very long way as an artist and an individual over the course of his career. Yet, in many important respects, he has remained the same all along, passionately committed to strategies of resistance and to the primacy of painting as a means of expressing this resistance. Whether in terms of communist totalitarianism, imperialism, the American capitalist and legal systems, or the newer post-national, terrorist networks, Ksiazek sees himself as fighting moral/individual and political/systemic injustices. The complexity of Ksiazek's painting practice and of viewers' levels of engagement with it will spark an increasingly rich discourse. Together, this practice and its discourse reaffirm the need for painting; especially abstract painting, in this digital age.

Monographic Publication: Wlodzimierz Ksiazek. Kouros Gallery, New York, NY, September 12-October 12, 2002. Essay by David Pagel, Introduction by Amy Ingrid Schlegel, Preface by Jason Andrew. Published by Kouros Gallery, New York, NY

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