Synergic Circulation of Matter:
Krzysztof Gliszczyński’s Work as Sensual Occurring


The work of Krzysztof Gliszczyński is an everlasting process of circulation of the painting matter. With time, the process has become increasingly more trans-medial; after all, the artist uses the potential of video, he crafts objects and installations, and yet he still remains within painting, doing justice to it[1]. The phenomenon of synergy, mentioned in the title of the artist’s solo exhibition at the Wozownia Art Gallery in Toruń, manifests itself not only in each of the artworks separately but also in the sense of using the particular media compatibly. A cosmos is born in which every single particle of paint has its own place – from application on canvas, through scraping, until being laid on a surface once more or being attentively placed in an “Urn”  – such is the circulation within this artistic universe.

I’d even say that, via his output, Gliszczyński clearly confirms the paradoxical thesis proposed by Stephen Melville, who claimed that the more distant painting shall become towards itself, the more faithful it will remain to its own nature. Whereas Jean-François Lyotard indicates: “Painting shall be good (it will attain its goal, approximate it) if it obliges a viewer to pose the question about how it works.”[2] Both of the above-mentioned postulates are brought by Gliszczyński into play quite acutely. The artist focuses on the matter, the color, the paints and containers in which he keeps tints, as well as on the very process of painting and documenting the particular stages of a given work’s development. Thus, the process becomes as important as its final outcome: a painting created in accordance with the secrets of Gliszczyński’s own  technique elaborated throughout the years, which is based on encaustic painting, frequently supplemented with marble powder. Facing these pieces of art, we cannot stop asking how does painting work and based on what principles does its self-analytical mode operate?

When it comes to the artistic output of Gliszczyński, whose attitude refers to alchemist philosophy, it is matter that plays the key role – the matter that he uses to design his consecutive works – he is interested in the history and symbolism of colors, the (meta)physics of paint as the painting material thanks to which a new reality emerges on the canvas. Hence the care not to waste anything during his work: nothing can be lost because matter accumulates with time its own individual history, traces and memories of earlier use “inscribe” onto it, energy of past gestures and images amasses within. That is why since 1992 Gliszczyński has been carefully gathering crumbles of painting matter, collecting them with reverence inside objects he refers to as “Urns”. These “Urns”, arranged in a form of a ziggurat inside Wozownia, constitute the main installation of the display – discourse on painting besets it.

This time, by exposing the so-called “Samplers”, Gliszczyński gives the viewers insight into  the early stages of his artistic work. Small-sized slats or pieces of canvas become experimental grounds or laboratories where the intensity of colors is being tested and where questions are posed concerning the concept of a painting being planned. Thus, “Samplers” create a synergy between the visual and the textual, between the paint matter and the transcript of thoughts. They are as if pages detached from a sketch-book on which the artist makes fundamental decisions and spontaneously takes down ideas for further phases of his struggle with matter.

According to Lyotard: “[Matter] escapes through the net of the concept; it remains unattribiutable.”[3] The French philosopher’s thesis is that we should not discuss the end of painting, but the end of aesthetics. When it comes to the form/matter opposition, he definitely opts for matter and its potential for creating images, a kind of sensual occurrences. “Matter (…) disconcerts (déconcerte) the power to unify.”[4] Gliszczyński’s pieces seem to fit this line of reasoning, they set matter – one of the rudimentary elements of painting – in constant motion. The artist applies paint onto canvas, he removes it with a special tool, lets it precipitate on his rubber gloves used at work to finally store it in “Urns”, preserving – this way – with honor the paint’s aura. As stressed by Lyotard, “[t]o conceive of matter is always to give it form”[5], and such giving of form seems to rest in the act of locking it within the cuboid “Urns”, concatenated as part of the Toruń-based exhibition into the form of the monumental ziggurat.

This installation – the visual and semantic center of the exposition – functions as if architecture erected upon the foundations of the painting process, whose multifaceted course is announced by the remaining artworks, surrounding the core. The reference to the shape of ziggurat – a typical Mesopotamian temple-tower in the form of a terraced step pyramid – sanctifies the painting matter, carrying out its decontextualization and promising its eternal life. Arthur C. Danto observes quite justly: “The relation between the artwork and its material substrate is as complex as that between the spirit and body.”[6] The author of “Urns” includes his own body and creative touch within this relation, thanks to which he ceaselessly initiates the process of painting’s happening in time and space.

Lyotard suggests that “the holiness of the instant never finds reparation in sacrificial (hi)story”[7]. Contrary to the French philosopher’s intuition, Gliszczyński “mummifies” particles of matter in his works and he carefully records traces of its synergic circulation, making his viewers realize that the painting process can indeed be grasped by history. In such a context, painting becomes meditation, reflexion and consideration. Apart from painting itself, it primarily thinks itself, questions itself, analyzing and boldly exploring its own antipodes. Traces, imprints of the living touch of the artist’s hand multiply; remains, wastes, fragments amass and they accumulate the memory of particular stages of the creative process within. A scrape of matter, as if a cosmic particle or a gene with its own DNA, travels between the artist’s hands, the canvas’ surface and the sanctifying serenity of the “Urns”. The history of this holiness rests within each of the pieces separately as well as in all of them together, but it is only the viewer who has the potential of reading it.

The medium itself – understood as both the physical carrier of image and a nexus of conventions – also has its own memory. A quote from Rosalind E. Krauss: “The medium is the memory”[8] – Gliszczyński inquisitively plays with this memory, launching the strategies of the traditional media within the new media[9], but also creatively documenting his actions with painting and in painting’s proximity. The “Imprinted Memory” installation is a concatenation of the paint matter that used to cover the floor at the artist’s family house, “absorbing” its atmosphere and “recording” the rhythm of its inhabitants’ footsteps. Empty vessels that once contained painting matter are equally important for Gliszczyński. Their emptied interiors, exposed on a wall in a form of multi-part tondo, recall the memory of the paint’s prior presence therein. “Cinisbacillus” constitutes a pendant for the “Empty” installation – as if positive forms of empty interiors once hosting paint, arranged on the floor and “cast” from ashes. Thus, the painting matter, from its organic and flesh-like quality, strengthened with wax, moves towards ash and void; from being to (non)being, endlessly circulating between one state and the other, driven by the artist’s hand. This hand has an “Eye at the Fingertip” – following the title of one of the installations – that unifies sight and touch, rendering painting as a bodily process, deeply bound with the body. In this respect, Gliszczyński is similar to Alina Szapocznikow who noted: “I feel the need to dabble in the material, I want to rumple, touch the matter with my fingers. The physical contact gives me the feeling of transferring myself onto the sculpture.”

Gliszczyński transfers himself onto his paintings, and so his entire output makes us realize that painting is the art of body[10]. Moreover, he seems to suggest that “… seeing is touching with one’s eyes…”[11], which is close to Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s approach to phenomenology of perception. After all, the synergic circulation of matter combines visual and tactile sensations into a coherent, inseparable whole, showing how the visual changes into the tactile, while the tactile transforms into the visual, thus, “seeing the visual belongs to touch no less and no more than the ‘tactile qualities’ [themselves]”.[12] Gliszczyński’s painting, which distances itself from itself, just to remain itself, thanks to the condition of matter becomes a sensual occurrence[13]. Or perhaps – to revise Lyotard’s metaphor slightly – could I go a bit further to call it sensual occurring?

Marta Smolińska

[1] Mateusz Salwa, Czy medium można oddać „sprawiedliwość”?, in: Sztuka w przestrzeni transmedialnej, ed. Tomasz Załuski, Łódź 2010.
[2] Jean-François Lyotard, Poróżnienie, Polish transl. Bogdan Banasiak, Kraków 2010, p. 162. (English transl. here: Maciej Pokornowski)
[3] Idem, Lyotard, Jean-François. What to Paint?: Adami, Arakawa, Buren. Vol. 5. Universitaire Pers Leuven, 2012. p. 143.
[4] Ibidem, p. 161.
[5] Ibidem, p. 143.
[6] Arthur C. Danto, Die Verklärung des Gewöhnlichen. Eine Philosophie der Kunst, Frankfurt am Main 1984, p. 162. (English transl. Maciej Pokornowski)
[7] Ibidem, p. 145.
[8] Rosalind E. Krauss, Perceptual Inventory, Cambridge and London 2010, p. 19.
[9] See: Henry Jenkins, Kultura konwergencji. Zderzenie starych o nowych mediów (Convergence Culture), Polish transl. Małgorzata Bernatowicz, Mirosław Filiciak, Warszawa 2006.
[10] Jean-Luc Nancy, Corpus, Paris 2000, p. 17.
[11]  Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Splot – chiazma, in: Idem, Widzialne i niewidzialne, trans. Małgorzata Kowalska, Warszawa 1996, p. 139. (English transl. Maciej Pokornowski)
[12] Ibidem, p. 138.
[13] Jean-François Lyotard, What to Paint?….


SYNthesis&enERGY”  Toruń, Art Gallery Wozownia, ul. Ducha Św. 6.




kuratorka: Marta Smolińska