No 4 (76) 2008
October - December

Wojciech Ćwiertniewicz

Not a Day without a Line

Wojciech Ćwiertniewicz, born in Krościenko on the Dunajetz river, came to Cracow to study at the high school of fine arts. Since then – and he is 53 today – he has not spent a day without a brush in his hand. If someone is surprised by the name brush – denominating in English both, a paint brush and a broom – the painter justifies this weird coincidence – he has been as much creating, as sweeping away. As long as I remember, he has been using a paint brush as a hygiene tool with which he achieved a bright world, devoid of any dirt.

Anna Markowska

Ph.D. in art history, lecturer at the Silesian University (Cieszyn branch), author of the book "Defining Art - Explaining the World" (Katowice, 2003). She lives in Cracow.

Anna Markowska

THIS SOUNDS SIMPLE, if not – as the painter ironically put it – reactionary: the washed boys by Hockney, just as the cleaned models by Ćwiertniewicz, demand nothing: they do not justify their existence on a picture with moral concerns or and inclination to improve the world, they are not keystones of our feelings, they do not contribute to our sense of guilt, fear, anxiety or disgust – being without any polish that has purely an instrumental function. They are there, that is all. Without disturbing and overwhelming with subject matter. Today, cleanliness is considered retrograde, since it is associated with aesthetic oriented approach towards the dirty, with ideological inclinations easily leveling off modernism with utopian hygiene: the project guided by good intensions that brought about a lot of suffering. The type of cleanliness, offered by Ćwiertniewicz, involves a sustained, grassroots effort, as understood by positivist trends, in order to turn something into something, not nearly something. Most certainly, this is not a consent for making the unreal world which becomes its own sham.

In the output by Ćwiertniewicz, one will find the residues of modernism: easel painting has been combined with the Western world hegemony and the truth recognition by our eyesight (according to the rule: to see equals to understand), as well as with the narration flow, the continuity that dominates and controls the world transformed into a picture. Thus, an illusion is being born, implying that the existence can be fully controlled. Nevertheless, this world of the permanent continuity – recently inhabited by male nudes of different age and varying social status – is threatening. Could one of them be subsequent Ranuccio Tomassoni or Francesco Arcangeli. The historical flow makes one look for the pink triangle trauma, the consequences of article 175 that was lifted as late as 1994, or for our communist security files… No, there are no suggestions of any narration, not to mention the emotional blackmail, nothing of the sort – stories, after all, distract from watching, demand a verbal sequel, not a picture. In the latter, one can get lost and become involved in the unknown; there is merely delight, vitality, a taste of intensive living, in defiance of everyone and everything. This adoration, not to be cured by disgust therapy, remains true to the inner self, as though the individual and the unique were divine because caressed by an angel’s wing. Due to their scale, the nudes are not easy to appropriate. They encourage watching and awake – as described at another occasion in the Ways of Seeing by John Berger – a sense of relief, that the naked we face are exactly the same like us. This sense of relief, through its directness, breaks alienation, thus creating a new situation, changing the urban everyday reality.

The artist, drifting in the city universe of bars and exhibition halls, releases our dormant creative potential, reminding us whom we are. In a unique manner, addressing an individual person, the artist develops an honest, juicy spot on the canvas. Modernistic illusion of an individualistic approach reflects as much of nostalgia, as of childhood dream that should be preserved. On one hand, the nude illustrates Western humanistic ideals, the ethos of truth and of an individual, on the other – asserts the right of a viewer – owner, and by the same token, a commentator. The question of “proper” normative interpretation is an issue of politics; the social agreement at a given historical stage. The artist has not presented a traditional division between the nude and nakedness, or between traditional sex roles – both males and females are emerging against light background; none is acting, the latter being considered a male characteristics. The identical appearance, in my opinion, shows a reflection over cultural roles. Wojtek Ćwiertniewicz has not been afraid of non -normative interpretation, on the contrary, there is a hidden encouragement for such approach; neither he has rebelled against normative rigors of modernism. Just the opposite, self imposed restrictions express dignity.

Convinced that new media can better render ambiguities of the contemporary life, the artist has been describing everyday matters in his daily diary. “Not a day without a line” regime, – attributed to Apelles, an ancient Greek painter – has been here referred to painting and words alike. Thus, the artist has made over 50 one-man exhibitions. Further, he has published 6 volumes of a diary: Painter’s Diary (2002), Without a Title (2004), Długa Street (2005), Without a Title 2 (2006), Year 2006 (2007), 2007 (2008). These have been deeply rooted in the context of Cracow – exhibitions, joints, conversations, reflections, trip reports describing in the same, clean cut tone the delight over the MoMa New York collection and Trojans condoms in Central Park; brilliant comments on painting passion and fist fucking fantasies, as the ostentatiously different topic for talks over drinking beer, ended with a total relief of bladder emptying. Such clusters have been absent from pictures; even though the form is a priority, the self imposed standards in painting have been extremely high.

“I consider myself a modernist!” – this formal introduction has been of primary importance. Though some texts about the artist carried the Schwule Kunst titles, and his manner of painting male genitalia has been analyzed in detail at the occasion of his exhibition at the Warsaw aTak Gallery (So Many Men – So Little Time, excellent comments by Paweł Leszkowicz), the artist has been criticized that while being so honest in his art, he has not stressed – out of hypocrisy (typical of Cracow) – the gender components of his identity. It seems today that this recessive and anachronistic features – not to join contemporary discourse, the wish to mark his existence as the unique Wojciech Ćwiertniewicz, or not to mark it at all – have been a proof of extreme self-confidence. “I am a modernist” statement, the life among the spirits of Picasso, Warhol, Hockney – his personal Holy Trinity – rejecting the mass culture iconography, have been the preconditions of this artist’s personality and freedom. He has not switched to the mass culture since he were shaped in the 80’s. He preferred to remain a hunter in an agricultural society, as a matter of fact, someone not needed. This “as a matter of fact” makes one fully aware how much we were indoctrinated with the primitive – and modernistic – function oriented attitude. Painters are to paint. That’s all.

As for the group identification, the artist made it a principle “not to belong”. Thus, he has never been one of Cracow hypocrites; he has been neither prudish, nor mean, the latter being the worst fault of the Wawel penny – pinchers. One learns from his diary that on November 29th 1999, “a penis appeared on a picture’. On March 6th next year, the artist mentioned that long forgotten silhouettes were slowly emerging from the white fog of a canvas primer; the male nudes were to be exhibited a couple of years later. At present, he works on female nudes. Paradoxically, in his diary the artist said that garments make a human soul. Thus, one should not be astonished that his nudes observe the dress code. The act of stripping has not deprived models of their characteristic gestures, looks, tattoos, or ways of pubic hair shaving. Men, their somewhat aroused genitals attracting our eyes, seem to greet viewers cheerfully, not pretending to be, let’s say, St. Sebastian. They are neither obsessed not frustrated. They are neither unhappy, nor disillusioned, not to mention snobbish bitterness of the world. The artist has rather taken from the Hellenistic tradition, not the Judeo – Christian. The undressed maintain their social hierarchy positions, youth being one precious exception. The sensual life, “no difference between sex and love” or “between bishop and prime minister”, as put by Marcin Świetlicki, the generation bard, has been fully sublimed, turning into a constructive, not frightening, aspect.

A series is an elementary form of artistic expression by Ćwiertniewicz who does not believe in the cycle of everlasting comeback – the biological and agricultural necessity for constant rebirth. The picture series – laboriously developed, then rejected for good – such as the series of clouds/ stones, trees/ branches, Nowa Huta scenes, etc., have been an evidence of a strong conviction that there is no obvious destination, and the bliss of meandering that exceeds our narrow grasp of function and target (with traces of “purposefulness without a purpose” as understood by Kant, the reaction of distance and neutrality). What is interesting, at a closer look, the trees are more phallic than the nudes. This paradox seems to illustrate perfectly the artist’s aim – to escape obvious narration in order to achieve the condition of uncertainty. And finally, to cause a sense of non-verbal, untranslatable clarity and opportunity for different kind of existing, since much more than a different language has been involved.

It seems that the adamant attitude of the artist can be attributed to the presence of some kind of good spirits, Socratic reasoning which puts him at odds with others by means of constant negation. If one reads in the diary that Kisling, a painter, showed low expectations and strong acceptance, this should be interpreted within the context of this inner “deity” whom the artist perceived in other, radically individual painters, such as Francis Bacon or Fairfield Porter. The latter, hardly recognized in Poland, made figurative pieces in the bull’s eye of abstract expressionism, proving by his pictures quality that it is worth to protect what is about to perish in a ruthless struggle for prestige. This has not been about the Don Quixote approach, rather the flavor of the unpredictable – exposing oneself to the untamed reality and ignorance. We wanted so much to be architects of our own fortunes and have an ability to forecast the future, however only “I do not know what will happen” attitude and uncertain existence let us get a second wind and sail.

When we consider contemporary figurative painters, and compare the artist, for instance, to John Currin, we realize that a certain type of humor is unattainable for him since social realism did really happen; this historic fact makes him different from the American painter. On the other hand, in contrast to Michaël Borremans, the artist will never allow the ghosts of history to haunt him against his wish. As I have already mentioned, he is too pride for this. For the same reason, he would never follow the folk multi cultural trend, as Djordje Ozbolt, a Serbian artist, or stories on sex and violence, as Hilary Harkness. The nudes/ sculptures by Charles Ray offer oppressive scale and attractive narration… Possibly, I could compare him to Roger White, a painter whom Ćwiertniewicz saw on the 2006 Whitney biannual exhibition. The Brooklyn inhabitant has not been ashamed of his adoration for Agnes Martin (this could be compared to Wojtek’s adoration for Jadwiga Maziarska), while his performances that represent nothing, are “seductively not transparent” as it has been correctly observed. Guided by intuition, I juxtapose him with younger painters. This is a paradox that being “retrograde” at some point, today, if he wished (but he does not!), he could be easily a trendsetter.

One can notice that his output – rejecting stories and narration – implies a metaphysical leap, guided by the belief in grace while negating “staginess”, as understood by Michael Fried, an American critic, who equally hated it. A long time ago, Fried lost the battle for prestige with Marxists who offered an illusion of scientific evidence which cannot be overestimated in the world of today. Not exposing authority, avoiding analytical, speculative art, and insisting on ontology, rather than episteme, the artist certainly instructs one how to say “no” without which there is no pure delight. Personally, if I were to develop a narration to position Ćwiertniewicz, I would not see him merely as a late modernist, even if it were against the artist himself. The painter follows the motives of art understanding that do not involve preaching but free intuition, so vital in the late 60’s and 70’s progressive art. As far, as I can see, this artist has never made an attempt to reach the affirmative potential of art that was considered spent and compromised – in the era of advertising and corporate identification – for supporting establishment or any conservative order. On the contrary, the output by Ćwiertniewicz seems to offer the belief in liberating the primary energy and vision oriented experience, in the tradition of the new counter culture sensitivity. If one can trace here common features with revolutionary appeals to catch the world of pleasure by Raoul Vaneigem – boredom being the only price to pay, anti revolutionary overtones are equally strong here – to weigh the balance between ecstasy and self-control. In this sense, this art has been deeply rooted in the spirit of the year 1968, protests against bureaucracy, establishment, Church and father, made by younger generation who – not being direct participants – could afford a detached attitude that replaced mythology oriented approach.

Wojciech Ćwiertniewicz
B. in 1955. Studies at the Cracow Academy of Fine Arts Painting Faculty, 1976 – 1981. Winner of the Cyprian Kamil Norwid Art Critics Award. He presented his works on over 50 one-man painting exhibitions. He took part in more than 100 collective exhibitions. He published 6 volumes of the Painter’s Diary (Cracow 2002), Without a Title (Cracow 2004), Długa Street (Cracow 2005), Without a Title 2 (Cracow 2006), The Year 2006 (Cracow 2007), 2007 (Cracow 2008). His works can be found, inter alia, in the following collections: National Museum in Cracow, Upper Silesia Museum in Bytom, the Academy of Fine Arts Main Library in Cracow, numerous private collections at home and abroad.

One-man exhibitions:

1986 - Malarstwo, Galeria Promocyjna, Warszawa

1990 - Nowe obrazy, Starmach Gallery, Kraków

1999 - Mniej niż 365, Galeria Promocyjna, Warszawa

2000 - Obrazy nie ostatnie, Otwarta Pracownia, Kraków

2003 - Dziennik 1999, Biblioteka Główna ASP, Kraków

2006 - Projekcje, Otwarta Pracownia, Kraków

2007 - Rok 2006, Otwarta Pracownia, Kraków

2008 - Mężczyźni, Galeria aTak, Warszawa

Selected collective exhibitions:

1986 - Ekspresja lat 80., Galeria BWA, Sopot

1988 - Świeżo malowane, Galeria Zachęta, Warszawa

1991 - Opening Up – Six Major Polish Painters, Hammer Gallery, New York

1992 - The Expressive Struggle, Anderson Gallery, Buffalo

1997 - Czy malarstwo może zbawić, Miejska Galeria Sztuki, Częstochowa - Granice obrazu, Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej Zamek Ujazdowski, Warszawa

2004 - Niosę przed sobą lustro, Galeria Szara, Cieszyn

2007 - Rekonesans malarstwa, Górnośląskie Centrum Kultury, Katowice

Wojciech Ćwiertniewicz has won the 2008 EXIT award. He has been distinguished in recognition of exceptional, full of humanist reflection abilities to express judgments, through painting and writing. The award is the statuette by Sylwester Ambroziak. Former EXIT award winners include: Eugeniusz Markowski, Wojciech Prażmowski, Jerzy Truszkowski, Leszek Golec & Tatiana Czekalska, Jarosław Modzelewski, Józef Robakowski, Piotr Wachowski, Krzysztof M. Bednarski, Andrzej Cisowski, Mariusz Woszczyński and Marek Ejsmond – Ślusarczyk.