paintings installations art books films publications CV press contact

"Mapping the Aftermath: Wlodzimierz Ksiazek's Embodied Cartography" by David Pagel

Wlodzimierz Ksiazek makes paintings that are at war with themselves. Take, for example, two modestly scaled oils on canvas from 2002. Each measures 30-by-32 inches. Each consists of nothing but what it was made of - pigment and medium and traces of the tools the artist used to apply these age-old materials to a flat surface. Like all of the insistently physical abstractions he has crafted since 1990, these remain nameless. Ksiazek doesn't even bother with the honorific "untitled," preferring, instead, to strip his gritty panels to the naked essentials, Like prisoners of war who invoke the Geneva Convention and only state their name, rank, and serial number, his rigorously disciplined constructions are accompanied by wall-labels or catalog captions that include only three pieces of information: dimensions, media, and date, Most important, each of Ksiazek's taciturn works has the presence of a three-dimensional palimpsest, a complex object that is neither a proper low-relief sculpture (because its components don't settle into a unified form); nor a traditional abstract painting (because these same components refuse to inhabit the single picture-plane of a coherent image or the shallow pictorial space of a resolved composition).

The first is distinguished by a pair of dramatic blood-red splotches Ksiazek has loosely brushed and dripped across two raised sections. In the past, commentators have evoked blood-splattered walls to account for similar passages. But if blood serves a metaphorical purpose in this painting, it does so by suggesting that it emerges from the fleshy layers of congealed pigment beneath it. Although bright red visually leaps to the foreground, Ksiazek has integrated this color into the rest of the work's tortured surface so that it doesn't appear to have been splattered on, after the fact, as some sort of theatrical gambit. Except for a half-dozen vertical accumulations of snowy white, the rest of the panel's incised swathes of paint range from warm tans to rich yellows and rosy pinks - the tones of healthy skin and living flesh. Rather than standing in as a surrogate record of something that happened in its proximity Ksiazek's painting gives physical form to a current wound. Not merely bloody, it appears to be bleeding. If poetic metaphors are in order, it doesn't take great leap of the imagination to recall historic narratives filled with heart-felt test; monies of mythical figures whose stigmata signaled a powerful confluence of Christianity and mysticism. In any case, the blood-red slabs in Ksiazek's painting are shadowed by two larger and thicker sections of pristine white pigment. Resembling bandages that have been lifted to reveal the injuries beneath them, they intensify the visual force of his panel, whose impact can be can be felt both in the solar plexus and in the mind's eye, where it continues to reverberate long after you turn away.

In terms of structure, the second work is similar: raised areas of slathered-on paint are divided by an angular maze of trench-like depressions. The most saturated colors and extreme contrasts in tint occupy these high grounds, as do the most freely applied drips. However, the emotional tenor of this painting is nothing like that of the first one. Its palette of mossy olive greens, earthy beiges, misty grays, hazy whites, and sky-blue high lights (accentuated by a few fiery flicks of red-orange) firmly roots it in the realm of nature, where the ongoing processes of growth and decay continue, despite human intervention. Although Ksiazek's canvas evokes a natural atmosphere and embodies the vast expanses of time that unfold there, it shares very little with traditional landscape paintings. With no horizon-Iine to suggest spatial recession, its format is that of an aerial photograph of a territory flown owe r by a plane or satellite. Because such technologies were developed for military pun poses and are currently used for state surveillance, this painting has the presence of information arrived at surreptitiously, if not furtively At the same time, it recalls the work of archaeologists, who use similar devices to make preliminary surveys of sites where ancient ruins are partially buried beneath layers of soil, which are themselves overgrown with foliage. The scale of Ksiazek's abstract image suggests that its incident-rich surface measures off meters, not centimeters, like its identically sized partner. Seen together, the two paintings have the presence of a close-up of a body's wounded flesh and a far-away view of an expansive Landscape. In both, the painter treats their surfaces as living membranes, vital territories vulnerable to destruction yet endowed with the power to survive - and, perhaps, to flourish in the future.

Similarly scarred surfaces pile up to form the complex cartography of Ksiazek's art. His body of work is littered with the residue of in numerable clashes between thrusting wedges of color and the myriad remnants of collisions among weather-beaten planes of variously mottled textures, many of which buckle or crumble under the pressure to which he subjects them. Interspersed among the gouges, cuts, and other evidence of decisive, often violent actions are emphatic splatters of paint, whose viscosity is more like tears, sweat - or blood than cement. Ksiazek is a painter whose oeuvre addresses one of the great themes of modern life: the tragic aftermath of events in which things have spiraled out of control, leaving, in their wake, smoldering ruins and broken dreams. The ancient Creeks referred to such earth-shattering occurrences as instances of blind fate: moments when the tide of history turned against one's will because of the fickle desires of some all-too-human god. We moderns are not so poetic. We attribute such inconceivable unpredictable events to human willfulness, which we then say is beyond our comprehension. This sort of convenient humility absolves us of responsibility at the same time that it robs us of our capacity to have much impact on our surroundings.

Ksiazek's defiantly incomplete works begin well after such damage is done. Based in the knowledge that it is irreparable, they pose the question: How can individuals, communities, and civilizations possibly go on? As the twentieth century gives way to the twenty-first and the unfathomable suffering that humanity continues to visit upon itself shows no signs of abating, these quietly eloquent paintings respond: How could we not?

Neither utopian nor romantic, Ksiazek's ruthlessly unsentimental abstractions are so without fostering the illusion of a tabula rosa or falling back on the fiction of absolute, Edenic innocence. Instead, they accept the burden of history and the moral responsibilities of any human endeavor that aspires to provide more than a moment of respite from the cruelty, injustice and horror that forms the dark side of civilization. Shot-through with the after-effects of trauma, his stubborn acts of painterly defiance do not succumb to them. Nor are they paralyzed by the evidence of destruction that echoes across their fragmented fields of impure colors and congealed lumps of inchoate materiality. Out of the deep melancholy that is embodied in the battered and ravaged surfaces of Ksiazek's laboriously worked paintings emerges the glimmer of hope - the barely perceptible whisper that, despite the ever-accumulating devastation, all is not lost. Rather than presenting viewers with clear-cut facts of specific historical events, his intractable canvases lay the foundation upon which a more general type of wisdom might be built - that of living in the moment without forgetting what came before it.
By making works that are at war with themselves, Ksiazek subsumes modernist self-referentiality into a wide range of emotionally charged dramas that draw viewers into the picture, one-at-a-time, and over and over again. Not so long ago, formally rigorous abstractions like Ksiazek's were talked about in terms of autonomy. The question was whether or not they asserted themselves with enough force to stand on their own in a world generally hostile to the civilized refinements and cultivated sensibilities that the visual arts have come to represent since their humble beginnings on the walls of caves in Africa and Europe. Although this line of inquiry invited interested parties to argue about such painterly issues as surface, texture, edge, color, structure, and scale as if they were matters of life and death (which, in a way, they were), it too emphatically turned its back on social reality, severing the complicated connections that link pictorial space to the flesh-and-blood world in which people live.

As an antidote, various forms of post-modern thought replaced the wholeness, integrity, and immanence that high modernism prioritized with their own celebration of the fragment. Broken contingent bits and pieces picked up from the scrap heap of history became the basis of works of art whose goal was not to stand apart from the tumult and chaos of everyday life but to dive into it more deeply, giving form to its complexity by articulating its contradictory meanings and messages. Unfortunately, too many of these brave new works too eagerly embraced the tactics and underpinnings of the mass media. Their well-intentioned assault on the false integrity the picture-plane eroded the very idea of integrity. Authenticity fell by the wayside as most ended up either providing pleasant if fleeting diversions from seriousness or, worse, perpetuating the problems they initially sought to redress.

Ksiazek's paintings follow in the aftermath of both modernism and post-modernism, His highly individualistic works preserve the ambitions of the former, while dispensing with its all-or-nothing certitude, They also build on the down-to-earth provisionality of the latter, while eliminating its glib cynicism. Difficult, stubborn, and slow, Ksiazek's art is simultaneously accessible, generous, and long lasting. Not one of his paintings conveys a clear message that can be translated into words, easily summed-up, and assessed for its accuracy, verisimilitude, or truthfulness, Yet each opens onto multi-layered narratives that branch out to include a potentially endless range of experiences, memories, and aspirations. To stand before one is to come face-to-face with a conundrum, a profound enigma in which every visual incident covers over, cancels out, or destroys something that came before it. Transforming the facts of history into occasions for sustained contemplation, Ksiazek's paintings redeem the mad chaos and frightening randomness of modern life by finding some freedom within it.

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

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