Ryszard Winiarski was a painter and author of spatial forms and set designs. He was born on 2nd May, 1936 in Lviv, and died on 14th December, 2006.
Between 1953-59, he studied at the Faculty of Precision Mechanics at the Warsaw University of Technology. In the last two years of his studies, he audited Aleksander Kobzdej's painting workshop at the Academy of Fine Arts, which he officially joined in 1960 as a student at the Faculty of Painting. Winiarski studied painting under Stanisław Szczepański, Jan Wodyński, and Aleksander Kobzdej, scenography under Władysław Daszewski, and typography under Julian Pałka. Between 1976 and 81, he taught at the Physical Education Institute of the Marie Curie-Skłodowska University in Lublin. In 1981, he took over the workshop “Problemy malarstwa w architekturze i w otoczeniu człowieka” (Problems of painting in architecture and human environment) at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. In 1983, he was a visiting lecturer at the Offenbach University of Art and Design. He served as the vice-rector at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts for two terms (1985-87 and 1987-90). In 1990, he received the title of professor.
In the last years of his life, Winiarski's artistic activity was hampered by chronic illness.
In 1966, he was the winner of the main prize at the Symposium of the Artists and Scientsts Sztuka w zmieniającym się świecie (Art in the Changing World) in Puławy. In 1996, he received the Jan Cybis Award.
Ryszard Winiarski's works can be found in, among others, the Łódź Art Museum, the National Museums in Warsaw, Wrocław, Kraków, and Poznań, at the Regional Museums in Bydgoszcz and Chełm, Bochum Museum, Wilhelm-Hack-Museum in Ludwigshafen, the McCrory Collection in New York, the Museum of Modern Art in New Delhi, and numerous private collections.
Ryszard Winiarski was one of the key representatives of indeterminism in the Polish visual arts scene. Towards the end of his studies, he attended a class led by Mieczysław Porębski dedicated to the relationship between art and science, which was of key importance to his later art discourse.
In 1966, he wrote a diploma thesis influenced by that course, titled Zdarzenie – informacja – obraz (Event – Information – Image), in which he first formulated the problem that would later become the core of his oeuvre, as well as produced the Próby wizualnej reprezentacji rozkładów statystycznych (Attempts to Visually Represent Statistical Distributions) series of works. In his MA dissertation, he presented a theory of programming of paintings, and in 1966, right after graduating, he showed works that followed that theory at one of the major Polish avant-garde events – the Symposium of the Artists and Scientists in Puławy. His artistic concept was very mature and original, and supported by a series of works inspired by probability theory. Winiarski proposed a translation of selected scientific notions, such as statistics, game theory, or events, into the language of art. He created works that were frigid, objective, and free of the emotions and subjectivity of the artist. He wasn't interested in the aesthetics of images, but instead set scientific challenges to himself, and placed the process of production of his works above the final effect. He aimed for full transparency in art and wanted to simply show his process, without leaving room for interpretations and associations. Similarly to, for instance, Jerzy Rosołowicz and Roman Opałka, Winiarski strived to transgress the function and understanding of a traditional definition of artwork. He did not reject its material presence, however, it also was not his main goal. To him, the produced works were nothing more than a “side effect” of the assumed system of predesigned thought operations which contained his artistic position.
Instead of depicting reality, the artist searches for the regularities of its structure resulting from the probability theory. He simultaneously looks for and finds new possibilities of the language of art. His artistic diagrams of “random events” are not works of art, but a constant treatise on method.
– as Alicja Kępińska wrote about Winiarski's art.
The artist was reluctant to refer to his acrylic works on canvas or wood as paintings, he preferred to call them “areas” or “attempts of visual representation of statistical distributions.”
The relationship between art, science, and technology has a long and complex tradition in Poland,...
Aiming for maximal simplification of the means of artistic expression, Winiarski initially used only black and white colours (the equivalents of mathematical zeroes and ones) and the shape of a square as a constant module structuring his compositions, formed by applying chance whilst creating them (a dice roll, a draw, a random selection of numbers). The works created according to his concept were a result of a combination of the factors of probability and programming. The programme enabled, for example, a choice of the square's size, choice of the colour, or of the corner from which the composition would expand. The final selection of elements was, however, determined by chance, such as a dice roll or a coin toss. In his hands, chance became logical. This seemingly uninhibited game with the probability mechanism served an exploration of the world, as the artist claimed that
The structure of the world is made up of chance elements, while reality is full of examples of chance situations and random events.
This type of project became the trademark of Ryszard Winiarski's entire oeuvre.
In her texts about Winiarski's output, Bożena Kowalska argued that his art was ahead of its time as it demonstrated elements of conceptualism. She highlights the primary role of process in Winiarski's art. The artist stressed a number of times that he was not interested in the documentation of the aleatoric process, but in the sole process of formation of a material fact, which is the work. Several of his exhibitions included, aside from paintings, boards with descriptions of rules of the programme on which given works were based.
Winiarski also proved that by holding on to his original presumptions, he could generate new, extremely fruitful possibilities: the artist complicated the arrangements of black and white squares by adding a randomly selected colour or a third dimension. Winiarski was interested in spatial forms from the outset – he built three-dimensional objects resembling architectural models of a modern world. A game with optical illusion emerged on flat surfaces, which soon stopped taking just the shapes of a traditional rectangle or square, but also of a rhombus or tall, thin strips. As early as in 1968, the artist started creating programme generating multi-coloured works, relief visual structures, and even kinetic forms. Winiarski's most complete spatial works were the two large-scale realisations erected in 1974 in Gorinchem, Netherlands (Geometria w krajobrazie/Geometry in a Landscape).
In 1970s, the artist initiated his attempts at engaging the audience members in his concept of playing with probability. At the beginning, the role of the spectators was passive, like in the monumental environment realised in Zachęta in 1970, which they could walk around, but had no influence on its form. In 1972, Winiarski presented a project at the Contemporary Gallery in Warsaw, which invited the viewers to a productive participation.
In spring 1972, I managed to transform one of the gallery rooms into a “game parlour” of sorts, which acted as an accompanying event to my exhibition. The visitors joined the prepared game.
Black and white or colour elements appeared on the boards, each time different and resulting from a different course of a game played according to a set of predefined rules imposed by the artist. This originated an entire series of works titled Gry (Games), through which the artist tried to show the viewer that behind each of his paintings there are rules, a programme – and nothing more.
In 1977, Winiarski introduced the notion of time and prepared a representation of his work up until 1980 in 144 drawings, as if he had anticipated that around that time his output would undergo a significant change. Without ceasing to produce works according to his original “dogma,” the artist reached out for new means of expression.
From the first half of 80s on, Winiarski started leaning towards intuition, emotions, and experiences, creating works that were open to associative interpretations. His oeuvre began to include disturbing, dramatic works, such as Czarny kwadrat czyli fruwająca geometria (Black Square or Flying Geometry) from 1984, presented at an exhibition in Zachęta titled Język geometrii (The Language of Geometry). It was an installation comprising seven various angular forms, made out of large cut up squares reassembled in new arrangements. In the same year, the artist formulated a manifesto Geometria w stanie napięcia (Geometry Under Tension), accompanied by an installation with the same title.
In 1987, Winiarski began producing a series of geometrical compositions made out of burning votive candles. These installations were presented repeatedly in Poland and abroad under the common title Geometria czyli szansa medytacji (Geometry or the Chance of Meditation).
Between 1967-77, Winiarski created set designs for such plays as Medea by Euripides, Macbeth and Othello by Shakespeare, Optimistic Tragedy by Vishnevskiy, Full Moon by Shukshin, and Specjalność zakładu (House Speciality) by Maciej Bordowicz.
Author: Ewa Gorządek, Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, March 2006, transl. Ania Micińska, November 2015