New York

Wlodzimierz Ksiazek

While he strives to combine the physical and the psychological in his art, the Polish-born artist Wlodzimierz Ksiazek is reluctant to associate his work with an East or Central European temperament, or a specific “human condition.” The influences that critics often cite when discussing his art are literary rather than pictorial—such as Franz Kafka’s paranoid, claustrophobic depictions of existence in a totalitarian state. Ksiazek neutralizes these associations by making no visible references to his Polish upbringing, and by celebrating the power and pleasure of painting in itself.

In the eleven untitled paintings in his recent exhibition (all were oil on wood or canvas, except for one work in encaustic), Ksiazek seldom used pure colors, but rather he mixed them until they assumed an organic quality more suggestive of decay than growth. He covered some works uniformly with paint, then scratched the surface with a knife to reveal underpainting. Large expanses of faded color interspersed with drips, splashes, and smudges achieve a compelling luminosity through the layering of thin washes (although the works occasionally appear muddy, especially when darker hues have been thickly applied).

Although these paintings arc nonrepresentational, subtle narrative tropes open up a multitude of interpretations. For instance, several works recall aerial views of geological sites or ancient ruins; in another canvas blue stripes, like iridescent canals, alternate with a heavily textured black surface that was achieved by removing masking tape placed on the canvas before the dark paint was applied. Rather than resulting in an animated image in which fluid linearity is juxtaposed with a “charred” surface, the blue lines are more like a formal chart, rendering the space shallow and opaque.

One of the older paintings resembles a dilapidated wall with four yellowish, windowlike areas—or an iconostasis, as poet James McCorkle suggests in the exhibit’s brochure. Such associations can be easily made, but on the other hand, because of the thick surface, the paint’s materiality obliterates any definite allusion to external subject matter. One is quickly reminded that this is an autonomous, flat object—ready, perhaps, to collapse under the weight of its own surface.

Unlike more politically engaged Eastern and Central European artists, Ksiazek does not dissociate himself from European Modernist roots. Viewing art as a means to reach into the dark regions of the inner and the outer self while paying homage to the canon, he declares himself an heir to a post–World War II European tradition that extends back to early Dubuffet, Tàpies, and a number of their Polish followers, who were also his teachers. With this solid body of work, Ksiazek succeeds in communicating the persistence of this rich painterly tradition.

Marek Bartelik