KRZYSZTOF GLISZCZYŃSKI

The deeper “layers” of the psyche lose their individual uniqueness as they retreat farther and farther into darkness … Hence, at base the psyche is simply “world.”

Carl Gustav Jung, The Psychology of the Child Archetype (1940).

Dr. Urszula Szulakowska

The University of Leeds

This quote from the writings of Carl Gustav Jung expresses the dilemma underlying the western materialist paradigm. How to reconcile mind with matter, “spirit” with “flesh”? Is there only one dimension to the human condition, the material, or do there exist yet other aspects, immaterial in essence, which lie beyond the boundaries of time and space. Is “spirit” and “soul” encompassed by mind and in what manner does that immaterial function arise from the physical brain? Conversely, could it be the case that it is the immaterial psyche which calls into being the material world? So, what then is “matter”? The 20th century materialist psycho-analysts claimed no more for human nature than the effects of chemistry. Among these, however, one of the most notable, Jacques Derrida, was an exception in that Derrida vacillated between the materialism of his preceptor, Sigmund Freud, and his own intuition that the operations of the human psyche were better explained in the terms of religious belief than in those of the physical sciences.

This conceptual and experiential dualism of matter/spirit, or body/ mind, or poetry/ reason is signified in Gliszczyński’s work by the manner in which he imposes a geometrical form over the impasto surface of the canvas. Again and again, he returns to this mode of structuring a composition, where the graphic order of the geometry hovers above that of the dense paint-work below in a visual metaphor that encapsulates the description in the biblical Book of Genesis of the Spirit moving over the waters of chaos. The geometry in Gliszczyński’s paintings, above all, signifies the operation of reason, of intellect pure and free of material contamination. These various configurations, however, also carry non-rational meanings, since they signify a symbolic poetic content related to the esoteric tradition of Pythagorean mysticism and numerology, as well as to such forms encountered in the Renaissance tradition, as in the drawings of Leonardo da Vinci. He had also sought to harmonise the two different ordering systems that he perceived as operating in the natural world, namely, first, the Euclidean geometry underlying material manifestation, as in Plato’s account of the Real Forms in the Divine Mind described in his Timaeus which were the source of elemental creation. Leonardo, however, also perceived a second creative power in Nature which was the converse, non-systematic operations of brute force and violent energy through the elements of air and water – in storm and flood. He sought to understand these uncontrollable forces and to correlate them with the Platonic geometry that he also believed simultaneously underlay manifestation.

In a similar manner Gliszczyński is continually reworking these two types of “modus operandi” both in Nature and in the human psyche, finding, however, no easy solution to the problem of correlating these seemingly opposed modes of becoming. The two creative processes exist in parallel worlds, rather than in a single unified harmony. Nonetheless, Gliszczyński aims to use his geometrical structures to exert some control over the shifting flux of the textured paint beneath. In his first intention, Gliszczyński investigates the poetic mode of artistic creation, one in which enables him to avoid self-definition of his own social persona which is dependent on conventionally-accepted visual, or verbal, language- a condition of ideal personal freedom. Yet, in his second intention, he is not willing to entirely abandon the psychological condition of being a configured social persona, an entity with a rational will and the ability to command and transform his own world. Hence, he also resists that which simultaneously attracts him as an artist, that is, the allure of the atavistic levels of pre-rationality with their danger and power. Instead, Gliszczyński strives to organise and determine the means by which his will functions, not permitting himself to be entirely engulfed by those poetic levels comparable to a childhood psyche in which the human individual is not able to distinguish itself from “world.” In a way, for the individual persona to return to the deepest subconsious levels of the psyche is to die into matter. Conversely, to go the whole way into the entirely conscious and rational is to lose self-hood once again, this time in the dictatorial text of the established social order. Hence, in the quest for a resolution to this vacillation between the two polarisations of psyche, Gliszczyński constantly returns in his paintings to that one imperilled moment of poise in which the two orders, reason and poetry (signified by his linear abstract geometry and his loose impasto paintwork) lie in parallel, one above the other, each silently offering both the artist and his audience a different possibility of attaining, or losing, self-identity.

Gliszczyński investigates the generative power of the psyche in its subjective emanation of its own “material” world, represented in his case by the matter of his art practice. In his recent art-works he has tended to reduce his forms and colours to those of primary red, while in his laying-on of levels of paintwork, thumb by thumb-print, he is metaphorically entering the dimension of what the psycho-analyst, Julia Kristeva, calls the “semiotic chora,” that is, the rising up of the primal sounds in chorus – the primal signs in the psyche, unformed as yet, fragmentary, but with potential being, jostling and inter-acting irrationally with one other. The semiotic chora is a chaotic space that “is and becomes a precondition for creating the first measurable bodies.” The alchemists would have called this “Prima Materia,” a concept that Gliszczyński has investigated in depth through-out many of his earlier works. This is the world in its pre-Symbolic state before meaning is assigned to form and before form itself comes into existence, prior to semiosis, to language of any kind, visual or verbal, when one single meaning cannot be determined and, in actuality, there is no possibility of meaning since everything is in a condition of perpetual change.

To this end in a recent work, Gliszczyński has elected for his analytical tool a painting by El Greco of the distant view of the city of Toledo viewed from the hills, set in the vast panorama of a stormy, lightning-riven sky. To El Greco this scene was a metaphor of the apocalypse, of his own sense of imminent, all-encompassing disaster. The 16th century was an epoch of apocalyptic furore – of religious wars which were portents of the final battles of the Last Days between Good and Evil. El Greco expressed the instability of his epoch in his use of materials which he painted onto the canvas directly, without the use of under-drawing, so that in their thick impasto, their chiaroscuro darkness glowing with embedded light sources, the oil paints became themselves an expressive text speaking its own meaning far beneath the surveillance of the authoritarian church and state. Beneath the colouration and the thick black line that demarcated form, the paint-work spoke of its own birthing, of the pains of its own coming into being and of its unavoidable termination in death and darkness. In El Greco’s work matter itself becomes alive and usurps the intended subject-matter of the work by producing its own subversive signification.

This subterranean enunciation by the very materiality of the paints themselves has intuitively drawn Gliszczyński to the art of El Greco. This has triggered a reinvestigation of abstraction anew for Gliszczyński, of that point at which the unformed first matter takes form, an issue central to the investigations of the early 20th century modernists, such as Malewicz, Kandinski, Delaunay and others. The first of these new abstract works of Gliszczyński had the character more of skin-texture than of landscape- of a wounded skin that was healing itself in layers of crust and ooze. They were both abstract and descriptive. It has to be said that Gliszczyński’s recent paintings are painful to view since the onlooker experiences their effect on their own skin, the pain oozing over from the painted surface to the viewer’s own metabolism. In an existential condition, the painterly text exists in pre-Time, in the pre-Symbolic, in the semiotic chora – the play of voices, texts, texture, mute bodily presence, with the glowing primary red and its manifold shades, imposed in layers, one above another, an archaeology of Self, a manifestation of the intention to BECOME. For, here in these paintings, nothing is made, all is becoming, winding along to an ending that is the beginning of another cosmos. The surface texture of some of Gliszczyński’s most recent paintings is like molten lava which in nature is the pre-genitor of the physical world and of animal life. Here the manner of execution of the painted surface implies that space-time is embedded in one present moment, not a static moment, but a generative living force.

Yet, Gliszczyński’s paintings could not be defined as “expressionistic” although they do express emotion, for they have not been created in any rapid furore of inspiration. The actual pain-staking, laborious and slow process of their manufacture mitigates against an over-emotional effect and the inscribing of the geometrical forms also acts as a controlling intellectual factor. In the careful deliberation involved in the placing of each drop of paint Gliszczyński is controlling and negating any over-violent expressive effects. The result is not that of any chaotic brutal vision, but, instead, in his careful placement of the mosaic of paint-drops he is trapping light into his canvases, as is the case in actual glass mosaic-work. His paintings glow with light and radiance and his painted metaphor of the unformed subconscious level of the psyche is poetic and, let it be said, beautiful.

In addition, the various works are open to an infinite process of re-assemblage. The paintings and three-dimensional urns, columns of paint, rolled canvases with frayed edges and photographs can be re-installed spatially and visually in relation to earlier works, or to different types of works. Two-dimensional paintings are set in a tense relation with his earlier series of “Urns” from a much earlier period of practice. He has placed a recent series of photographs depicting the dregs of different wines and of his performance work within the context of his earlier monumental self-portraits. The effect is to proclaim his insistence that life emerges from death and that the psyche is a luminous entity arising from the depths of chaos. To establish the purpose of Gliszczyński’s paintings it is essential to locate them always in relation both to earlier works, as well as to those which have not even yet been made.

In his method of working Gliszczyński is also delaying indefinitely the arrival of any conclusive meaning in his paintings and installations. In Gliszczyński’s oeuvre each painting and each construct is never ultimately completed, but remains open to the imposition of further layers of visual text. Each separate distinctive work leads seamlessly into the next work. There is a process of erasure in Gliszczyński’s work which infinitely defers the completion of any single work. For example, he has scraped layers of paint off the canvas in his Self-Portrait series and in his most recent paintings he has employed the reverse process in which he has layered small patches of paint, one over the other.

Through this system of working Gliszczyński is escaping closure, both in the work under his own hands and in his own sense of self-identity. He is forever escaping definition both as a person and as an artist, both in his own eyes and in those of this audience. He is psychologically avoiding becoming a closed Subject (as in the theoretical system of Jacques Lacan) who emerges only when the semiotic system is complete, for the speaking Subject is bound and limited and can only use conventionally accepted linguistic and visual symbols. In preference, Gliszczyński revels in the levels lying beneath the Symbolic realm, returning to what Kristeva terms the “Poetic” a space of incomplete forms, of fragmentation. This is not a space of complete chaos and Gliszczyński does not seek in his practice to return to the infantile babble of the subconscious. Instead, he experiments with the process of subjectification in which his application of material and colour are metaphors for the psychic development of self-hood and the entry into the Symbolic level of the social persona.

His work and his own self-interrogation hover half-in and half-out of the Symbolic. He presses the marks of his fingers into the paints as he applies them, transferring his own physical presence into the archaeological stratification of the canvas. These marks are signs, indicators that point towards something in the future, in another space, but they do not encompass, nor place limitations, on that future entity. In the end, in the case of his reworking of the landscape of Toledo by El Greco Gliszczyński does not create an image parallel to that of the original. For, Gliszczyński’s landscape is not iconic. It is not an image of the New Jerusalem emerging at the End of Days as in El Greco’s work. Gliszczyński’s landscape is over-powered by molten lava, by cracks and fizzures in the skin of the paint-work. It still signifies dissolution and the melting of the world into the timeless eternity that underlies and generates the given data of material manifestation. The Poetic realm is outside of history, but not incomprehensible, nor immaterial. Rather it is a place where dualities are unified and oppositions generated from the same point.

The imprints of Gliszczyński’s fingers in his brute materials leaves the signs of his own existence in the work. This atavistic gesture of human touch calls into being a fragmented signing-system which subsumes material, form and meaning in one singular action. In his method of working (which is another type of the Renaissance “non finito,” the deliberately unfinished work) Gliszczyński returns to the memory of the thumb-prints of our ancestors recorded in the archaeology of the primeval caves. He returns to the basic facts of our human existence – to the necessity of physical toil and to the discipline imposed by the resistance of matter which limits the operations of the human will. Gliszczyński forms the painted surface, step by step, laboriously, as if it were composed of glass tesserae. This type of creative practice is no dulling of the mind and spirit. For, Gliszczyński has adopted an almost self-sacrificial process in which he manufactures a world that is integrally related physically first and foremost to the body of the artist himself. In this painstaking action of pressing drop after drop of paint onto the surface he re-activates his most fundamental experience of himself as a living physical being. This is his earliest memory of himself in this life as an acting person with an individual will that reaches out and places its impress on the obdurate matter around him, altering materiality according to his own will.

The motion of placing the paint onto canvas with his bare fingers is the same process as “writing” a text – as it were “writing an icon.” It is a sacred ritual gesture that returns millennia to our forefathers, thousands of years before “art” itself existed separated  from religious and socio-political factors. This is not a return to some sort of “primitivism,” but is a type of creative action enforced by the psyche of the artist himself. In this painfully-slow mode of paint-application, Gliszczyński rejects the sensuous allure of the western academic tradition of oil-painting with its easy facility of making things that please the eye, but silence the critical mind. He has returned to an ancient manner of making paintings, with bare hands, with primary red ochre colours, with the sense of impending death in a savage world of wounds and torn flesh. Yet, Gliszczyński’s implies that art is a sacred ritual, a process that allows life and meaning to emerge from chaos, violence and incomprehension. Art still has the power to heal wounds.