The Sun – Andrzej Dłużniewski
Andrzej Dłużniewski’s painting from 1989 shows the word ‘sun’ in three languages – French, German, and Russian – on a raw, grey canvas, each in a different colour.
Dłużniewski was a versatile artist, expressing himself in different art media, which he often changed in search of an answer to his artistic question. In his creative process, Dłużniewski used means typical of poetry (words), and painting (shapes and colours). He also drew, took photographs, made collages, constructed artistic objects, and did performances. He put an emphasis on action and a three-dimensional factor in his artistic process (environmental installations), an echo of his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in the Faculty of Scuplture under Marian Wnuk and the Workshop of Blocks and Planes under Oskar Hansen. Neither one of the aforementioned techniques was more important than the other, all served to express the artist’s ideas. What links his works (all created with different media) is their highly intellectual and contemplative quality, which is what gives all of his works, despite their different techniques, a common and consistent character.
Dłużniewski’s works show signs of avant-garde thinking. The artist’s words, as recalled by Wojciech Krukowski, in a catalogue of the exhibition, ‘it is not the task of art to react to reality, but reality should react to art’, reveals his strong belief in the creational power of art, perceived not as an aesthetic impulse, but rather a force responsible for new phenomena in the surrounding world. Dłużniewski made references to avant-garde traditions in the crucial notions of his art – usefulness and involvement, interpreted however in his own manner. He considered usefulness as an impulse motivating the viewer to contemplate. His art was therefore a strictly mental task which the viewer has to perform in order to understand it. Without such a critical, intellectual activity, art has no purpose, as the formal aspect of it is merely a means to get to the essence.
The second notion that is essential for understanding Dłużniewski’s art is involvement, which, in his understanding, is present in every artistic discipline, even if it’s highly abstract. The artist considers social, political and philosophical involvement as an immanent constituent of art, which he perceives in a strictly existential manner, saying that ‘the meaning of art authenticates the meaning of life’.
Dłużniewski’s works can be linked with a few artistic movements or schools, but the artist himself avoided such comparisons. Although his approach to art, as a medium only to identify the real problem behind it, puts him close to conceptual art, it would be hard to univocally link him to this movement. One can only distinguish a few analogies: general – when we think of the theoretical and intellectual aspect of Dłużniewski’s work, and specific – if we take into consideration his interest in linguistics, as seen in a series of works based around words.
The problem of painting and pictorials interested Dłużniewski in the mid 1970s, when he completed a series of ink drawings called Ikonogramy. The written word appeared in his works a decade later, possibly because of the literary work he was doing at the time, and became an element equally important as colour or shape. Such works, often self-referential, were often attempts to describe the sense of various phenomena with words and symbols. Finally, his object of interest became art itself, which can be seen in collages such as Artyści Żyją na Granicy Dwóch Światów (Artists Live on the Verge of Two Worlds), 1981, and Literatura Piękna (Belles Lettres), 1982. Around the mid 1980s the artist began to expose connections between words and their grammatical gender in different languages.
The inspiration supposedly came from art – when looking over Dürer’s drawings, Dłużniewski realised that Death is portrayed as a masculine figure, while in Slavic art, it is always feminine. He then found more such discrepancies among the fundamental vocabulary of every language – day, sky, faith, space or war. He didn’t, however, try to academically answer the question of why it occurs, but rather searched for an artistic form to shed new light on this phenomenon. Linking words with painting , he creates a new code, symbolically using the three primary colours: red for masculine, blue for feminine, green for neuter.
The Sun, 1989, was born as a result of that work – it contains the word ‘sun’ in French, German, and Russian, each in its own colour, set against a raw canvas background. The words, set one above the other, are surrounded by a three-coloured frame, which itself is surrounded by a yellow one. Colour is therefore not merely a tool for linguistic analysis, but also a symbol of the illustrated object.
The same goes for other works by Dłużniewski from the same time: Rodzaj i Cień, 1985 (Gender and Shadow), Łąka i Śmierć, 1987 (Meadow and Death) and Obszar Żeński, 1991 (Feminine Area). After two years, the artist created a different version of The Sun – despite a similar concept, the outcome does not compare to its predecessor. This time a yellow circle symbolising the sun, outlined with an irregular line in three colours, was set in the centre of a grey canvas, the edges of which contain irregular shapes with the word ‘sun’ in Polish, German and French.
Dłużniewski’s interests in the relations between words and graphic symbols continued well into the next decade, with works such as Jak Picabia, (1998, Like Picabia), Kak Eto? (1998), Jeśli Czerwone, Okrągłe I Męskie To Niebo [der Himmel], A Niebieskie, Kwadratowe I Żeńskie To Ziemia; To, Co To Jest To Białe I Dalej, Czym Zatem Jest Szare , 1999 (editor’s translation: If The Red, Round And Masculine Is The Sky [der Himmel], And The Blue, Square And Feminine Is Earth, Then What Is White And Moreover, What Is Grey). With time, his works became more minimalist, contained only words, sometimes barely visible, like in Jak Trudno Liczyć Motyle, 1999 (How Hard It Is To Count Butterflies). In his painting Bóg, 1999 (God), the title is written in red and set in the centre of the composition. The catalogue accompanying Dłużniewski’s exhibition, covered its reproduction with a white calque in a significant way.
- T / Andrzej Dłużniewski, edited by Piotr Rypson, Center for Contemporary Art, Warsaw, 1991
- Andrzej Dłużniewski 98,99, catalogue of the exhibition, Center for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw, 2000
Article originally written by Magdalena Wróblewska, May 2015, translated by WF, Nov 2017Culture.pl