Marta Smolińska. (NON)MATERIAL PAINTING

In monographic studies of the history of self-portrait the last chapter often discusses the issue of the vanishing “self”, so typical for the evolution of the genre in the 20th century, redefining the classical formula of the artist’s portrait. Martina Weinhart points out that in contemporary art self-portrait is deconstructed on the basis of reflection upon elusiveness, flux and constant changeability of identity. Questions arise about the formula of self-portrait which would be adequate for contemporary times, since most of artistic conventions have already been de(con)structed, and the “self”, fundamental for human identity, has been deprived of what it has been associated with for ages: stability, definition, or continuity. This direction of thinking about the self-portrait and its current state is present in works of Krzysztof Gliszczyński. Under a meaningful title, Autoportrait a’ retour. Urns and synergic images, Gliszczyński exhibited his self-portraits at Laznia in Gdańsk and at Arsenal Gallery in Poznań.. The title points at the process itself, at the constant circular movement, at the aspect of the functioning of this special kind of image in a loop of back and forth. In case of Gliszczyński’s painterly works related to alchemist philosophy, the substance plays the main role, as the artist uses it to create successive works. He is inspired by the history and symbolism of colour and (meta)physics of paint as painterly substance, which allows the new dimension to appear on canvas. Thus the notion that nothing must be wasted during work, and nothing must be lost: as time passes, the matter keeps on absorbing individual history, traces and memory of its primary use; it accumulates energy of past gestures and previous paintings. This is the reason why, since 1992, Gliszczyński has been meticulously collecting crumbs of painterly matter, scraped off the canvases and respectfully stored in objects named Urns. These are cubic columns made of layers of bits of paint, closed inside glass containers or carefully moulded, giving a testimony of the passing of time and storing the layers of history of previously accomplished paintings. The name: Urns connotes both the passing and the precious contents that one would like to keep forever, as a memory of previous existence. In this way, Gliszczyński records his own history as a painter, piling up successive floors of collected paint bits which remind us of what has happened in the atelier and what kind of paintings have been painted. Another step in this self-recording process is the creation of so-called synergic images, showing an outline of the artist’s face in half-profile, built from finely ground, crushed and re-cemented painterly matter, complex and rich in colour. The background remains white, which enhances the relief and texture of the face on canvas. Gliszczyński builds his own portraits from bits of paint scratched off from other paintings with a palette-knife, bits of paint recycled or regained in the process of creating other works. This time, the shreds are not collected in Urns, but on canvases, and serve as recycled substance building the artist’s head, whose outline has been copied from a photograph. The matter collected from the surface of other paintings is not supposed to find rest, like the one in the Urns, but is made to work further, challenged with a new task in a new context. Gliszczyński constructs himself by means of the matter taken from his own paintings, and he does it by collecting, rolling and warming the bits of paint which he then presses with his thumb against the surface of canvas. This method is only possible because Gliszczyński paints in encaustic whose binder is wax, easy to mould under heat. The artist presses the paint with his thumb, leaving his fingerprint, a unique pattern typical only for himself. This mark of the individual challenges the lack of facial features which are replaced by tiny points of colour, a pulsating structure of colour and texture, making one think of fractal pattern. Gliszczyński’s “self” consists then of a characteristic outline of his head and identification marks of his fingerprints, as well as of the pulverised and vibrating painterly matter which fills the outline of the head. Inside it, a microcosmos emerges, elusive in its fragmentariness and vibrating complexity. The “self” remains fluid, obscure, process-oriented, constantly fleeting: a message carried by synergic self-portraits of Krzysztof Gliszczyński. What does the key word synergic mean in this context? The dictionaries explain it as “working together toward a common end”. The cooperation of elements is supposed to give an output impossible to achieve with separate elements. The crumbs of painterly matter work together in Self-portraits a’ retour in order to achieve an effect of flickering and pulsation, creating a new realm through layers and the thickness of paint. Urszula Szulakowska, author of an introductory essay in the catalogue for Gliszczyński’s exhibition, points out that the notion of synergy in the context of interpretation of mediaeval alchemy has been introduced by C.G. Jung, who claimed that phenomena which appear at the same time yet independently from one another can be interpreted by human mind as cause and effect. The exploration of the so-called “synergic space” opens the possibility to examine in painting the relations between the elements and to check how they can be produced beyond the classical logic and causality. In space, such thinking does not bump into any axioms or boundaries: there is an infinite number of variations of how to build a whole and how to break it in order to create another structure being a whole. A part contains characteristics of the whole, and the whole is built from intentionally selected parts. Everything exists in process, there are no fixed formulas, and the network of interrelations is constantly initiated. It is visually expressed by the arrangement of the self-portraits against the walls, covered with densely intersecting lines drawn in charcoal. The painting blends into the system of lines, stuck within it like inside a web, and the painting itself looks as if it emitted those lines from the inside. It is impossible to say which party has a greater power; or which one influences and which one is influenced. In this case, it is an image of a human being, a self-portrait of Krzysztof Gliszczyński, who has entangled himself in the net, emphasising the bond of the self and the surroundings. The lines run under the skin of the painting, they are undeniably present and change it just as much as it changes them, covering their network drawn on the wall. What is more, the play of meaning is enriched by the striking contrast of the substantiality and texture of the paint against flat and graphic lines drawn directly on the wall. Their confrontation contains levels of meaning relating both to the art of painting and to existential issues of identity shaped within and against the surroundings, through relations, and – most recently – also within the digital network. In Gliszczyński’s visual language, the outline of the head remains the only constant element, while the inside and the outside realms continuously change and evolve, influencing and inspiring one another. A similar layering of meaning is present in the process of whitening: the successive works in the series become increasingly whitish. The recycled matter becomes scarce, and the missing volume is replaced with white paint which dillutes the intensity of colour. Gliszczyński starts the journey with white and heads towards white – back and forth, as the title of the exhibition suggests – from empty white canvas towards his own silhouette vanishing into whiteness. For now, it is still just a direction, as the whiteness, though already noticeable, has not yet reached the state of Malevich’s “White on white”. The “White on white” is present here as a mental horizon or asymptote, towards which Gliszczyński heads in his journey to painting, his own self, the complexity of the world, and, last but not least, to death. The author of Self-portrait a’ retour takes two things after Malevich: the form and the understanding of the image as a gate towards invisible reality existing on the other side of the mirror: a philosophy Malevich shared with the metaphysical wing of avant-garde, that is, Mondrian and Kandinsky. In this circle of ideas, the painting is a microworld, depicting or mirroring – in microscale – the rules governing the Cosmos; it is a field for asking questions about the structure of the world and its properties; and finally, it is a place where the inexpressible can be approached. It is actually the philosophical background behind the whole body of Gliszczyńki’s art, woven around existential issues discussed within visual language, and focused on examining the boundaries of painting and its immanent features. The marriage of painterly and non-painterly aspects makes Gliszczyński’s art a fascinating proposal. The artist trespasses the boundaries of flat canvas and arranges his paintings-objects in space, while emphasising the process-oriented and temporal side of creation by showing a video recording from his atelier which documents the work progress involving exhibited works. Frame after frame, step by step, we can observe the matter being recovered from the paintings and recycled into new works: Gliszczyński remains focused, celebrates each gesture collecting and reforging the pieces of paint into a self-portrait. The matter circulates back and forth, the painter’s body bends over here and over there, and so his hand lifts up to and fro while carrying the paint-matter. The painter has a body, then: an act of painting, arranged by Gliszczyński, appears as a synergy of thinking and gesture, the joint work of mind and body movements. Repetition of movements and the meticulousness involved connote an act of painting, a creative process, but also attempts at self-cognition, an inquiry about one’s psychical structure and identity. Such reflection upon the art of painting and one’s condition as an artist and human being inscribes the self-portraits of Krzysztof Gliszczyński into the deconstructive trend discussed by Martina Weinhart. Their force lies within an intriguing multitude of aspects, completed, during the show at Laznia, with political and historical issues, anchored in definite place and time: the invitation card for the opening of the exhibition features a black-and-white photo taken on May 1st, 1983 depicting Gliszczy.ski and his colleague being arrested by communist militia. The photograph adds another synergic element, another fragment of the context, intentionally included into the network of relations. However, it was not reprinted for the show at Arsenal Gallery in Poznań possibly, it plays a similar role here as one of the charcoal lines on the wall behind Gliszczyński’s self-portrait? An exhibition is not a form fixed forever; it is, too, an ever-changing process.

Notes: Omar Calabrese, Die Geschichte des Selbstporträts, München 2006.

Martina Weinhart, Selbstbildnis ohne selbst. Dekonstruktion eines Genres in der zeitgenössischen

Kunst, Berlin 2004.

Urszula Szulakowska, Krzysztof Gliszczy.ski, Autoportret a’ retour, Gda.sk 2007, p. 4.