Zdzisław Jurkiewicz was a painter, illustrator, poet, photographer, and installation artist. He was born in Wolsztyn in 1931 and died on 19th March 2012 in Wrocław.
Painter, creator of drawings, photography and installations, a poet.
He studied architecture at the Wrocław University of Technology, where in 1956 he received a diploma for the design of an astronomical observatory. In 1965, he defended his doctoral thesis entitled ‘Colour Design in the Process of Spatial Shaping in Architecture’. He was a professor at the Faculty of Architecture of the Wrocław University of Technology.
Between 1959 and 1962, Jurkiewicz painted abstract paintings referring to the organic world (cycles: Stawy, Monodie, Mutacje, Zbiory, Rozpady). The subsequent series Agresje (Agressions, 1965-1966) and Inwazje (Invasions, 1966-1967) – dynamic compositions, with intense colours and luminous surfaces – were created under the influence of his fascination with gesture painting. The gesture, however, was not completely spontaneous, but – as Jurkiewicz said – ‘patinated, controlled and supported’, subordinated to the artist’s decisions.
His fascination with spontaneous gesture and coincidence came to the fore in the works exhibited in 1967 at the Galeria Pod Moną Lisa. Jurkiewicz showed compositions made of colourful lumps, which he had earlier poured paint into, assisted by witnesses, solidified into unpredictable forms. ‘The seconds decide’ wrote Jurkiewicz in the accompanying exhibition manifesto. The titles of these works (eg 4.X.67 - 21:14h) referred to the moment the composition was created. By changing the angle of the lumps, the artist directed the paint to the holes and crevices cut in them, but the final effect was unpredictable. Critic Jerzy Ludwiński called these compositions ‘adventures in paint’ and paid attention to the contrast between the precision of the shapes made by Jurkiewicz and the spontaneity of spilled paint.
In his manifesto published in Odra magazine, Jurkiewicz suggested to perceive art as an attitude expressing in many ways:
To mark everything: floor, table, cloth, bottle, air, clock, bird … these will be traces of our existence as creators, the mere manifestation of a creative presence, presence persistently interfering.
Jurkiewicz also postulated the elimination of what is unnecessary for art thus understood as art, and thus also the subject itself:
If we have a choice between an object-work and the ‘work’ itself, we choose ‘less’ – the work itself, that is, we choose the ATTITUDE.
Jerzy Ludwiński believed that the artist’s compositions should not be treated as works, but as a record of the creative process:
Neither the paintings nor the three-dimensional objects are aesthetic objects, they are traces of the artist’s creative activity, evidence of its existence.
At the same time, Jurkiewicz reflected on the medium of painting itself. In 1967 and 1968 he created a series of paintings entitled Strefy (Zones), in which the artist removed the division between figures and background spreading paint evenly over the surface. At that time, the concept of the ‘shape of continuity’ emerged, which turned out to be important for Jurkiewicz and was further developed in many of the artist’s later works. The spatial realisation of the ‘shape of continuity’ was the environment, shown at the Galeria Współczesna in Wrocław (1969), built of cardboard blocks, with inclined, wavy surfaces (‘spoiled geometry’, as the artist himself said). The pulsing red and blue light emanating from the inside of the structures created a homogeneous space in which individual shapes were lost. At the same time Jurkiewicz limited the colours used in his works to red and blue. As the artist said after many years:
I had to make a choice to give up something, so I decided that it could not be red and green as complementary colours, only red and blue: red as a pole of warmth and blue as a coolness".
The problem of continuity and the elimination of division into figures and background undertaken in the Strefy was further developed by Jurkiewicz in the Continua series. While in Strefy, the artist abolished the division into figures and background, eliminating the figure itself, in Continua, he created a composition in which the figure was present although not completely distinguishable from the background. The inspiration for the artist was the Möbius strip. Jurkiewicz painted a band-shaped form, one end of which was red, the other blue, and between them the colour blended with the white of the canvas. Around 1970, Jurkiewicz began painting compositions consisting of parallel red and blue stripes. From 1976, he called them ‘final images’ because he treated them as a kind of summary of painting. The titles of the paintings inform of the number of painted stripes. For these mechanically produced paintings (the artist used an apex and a special funnel used by architects). Jurkiewicz deliberately introduced visible ‘disturbances’ in the form of loops – the remains of a ‘painting gesture’. As the artist said:
Now at last I could do the painting as fast as possible (…) But to avoid becoming a mere technician, I kept a certain freedom – when drawing these horizontal lines, I introduced some minor disturbances, I proudly displayed the remains of painting.
The idea of the ‘shape of continuity’ was also present in the ‘measured’ drawings created after 1970. Their titles referred to the length of the line in each drawing. The drawings were marked with a scale according to which the values given in the titles had to be calculated. The Shape of Continuity 4x10m consisted of four drawings depicting a square, built of smaller, concentric squares: on each subsequent drawing, an ever-longer piece of the line ‘detached’ from the figure and was presented in the form of a ‘loose’ line. The total length of the line in each drawing was 40m. Jurkiewicz said:
I use the line ‘simply’, not artistically, in the same way a draughtsman draws a stool.
However, this led to paradoxes, thanks to which the artist questioned the alleged naturalness of the presentation conventions themselves. By proposing a tangled line as the equivalent of a given measure, or as a unit of measurement, Jurkiewicz denied our depiction of length – when we think about length, we imagine it as a straight line. As a result, although the line in these drawings does not ‘present’ anything (it does not represent a three-dimensional object), but only symbolises a specific length, we treat it as a ‘representation’ of a three-dimensional rope that could be straightened and measured. In other drawings, Jurkiewicz sketched, in accordance with the principles of perspective, three-dimensional solids in space, and then gave the length of the line needed to draw them. The artist drew attention to the conventionality of the way of presenting the space itself, showing that we can describe a certain form as a three-dimensional solid, which is a line 40m long.
The drawing was for Jurkiewicz:
(…) a reflection on many important matters of universal importance, such as continuity, discontinuity, shape, formlessness, the dynamics of becoming a shape: from an undefined shape to a defined shape, and further to shapes bearing meaning.
The problem of shape was a conceptual problem for the artist, as it concerned the way of expressing and presenting forms. With the help of the concept of ‘shape of continuity’ Jurkiewicz drew attention to the ambivalence present in each performance related to the separateness or identity of forms. The ‘perception field’ project presented by Jurkiewicz at the Wrocław Symposium '70 was a study of how we perceive shapes. The project assumed the creation of a space with moving geometric solids, which would be a kind of open laboratory, serving to, as the artist wrote:
(…) make insights and observations, simple and complex, leading to thoughts of an emotional and rational nature.
The concept of the ‘shape of continuity’ appears also in works on language. In Białe, Czyste, Cienkie Płótno (White, Clean, Thin Canvas; 1970) these words appear on a piece of white fabric, which the artist hung between trees in the open air in Osieki. It also features in Kształt Ciągłości: Krzesło, "Krzesło" Krzesło, Krzesło (Shape of Continuity: Chair, "Chair" Chair, Chair; 1972) and in Błękit Nieba (Sky Blue) a photograph presenting the sky, juxtaposed with a photograph of squeezed paint and a tube labelled ‘sky blue’. These works concern the complex relationship between language and the world: between the expression, its connotation and its object reference, and between the object and what it depicts.
The work Rysunek na Ścianie, Płótnie i Sztalugach (Drawing on Wall, Canvas and Easel; Omega, 1971) consisted of photographs depicting the artist’s studio with a mysterious black form. Jurkiewicz photographed the studio space so that the black line placed on various objects looked like a rectangle drawn in the picture. In some of the photographs, the artist appeared in the studio interior, covering the fragments of the black line with his body. In this way he introduced an indefinite element to the performance, disturbing the logic of the image: the black line appears to be at the same time a flat element drawn on the photograph as well as an element belonging to the presented space. This work also undermined the documentary value of photography, which is often treated as a ‘transparent’ medium, recording the world as it is, not mediated by the manner of representation.
Jurkiewicz also used photography to record events staged in his apartment. In the work Rysunek w Łazience (Drawing in the Bathroom, 1972), the artist painted a line on the bathroom wall, one end of which (blue) led into the bathtub, and the other (red) into the sink. Between the one and the other end, the line blends with the white wall. After the coloured water a ‘drawing’ remained on the bottom, as a coloured sludge. In an earlier version of this work (1970), the artist painted a black line, the ends of which led into the bathtub. Here, the black outline at the bottom along with the line on the wall closed to form a rectangle.
From 1971, Jurkiewicz also photographed astronomical phenomena. He made a series of photographs recording movement of planets, which, moving in front of the lens, left a luminous smudge on the photographic film. As the artist said:
I do nothing. I don't have to cope with anything, I do not order, like Robert Morris, some solids to be made. I just set up the telescope, (…) Jupiter, moving itself leaves a mark on the film.
In 1972, Jurkiewicz, using a telescope, set a trap for the sun and between 17:00 and 17:30 he recorded a picture moving along the kitchen wall among objects: a shelf, a jug, an alarm clock, and a door. Jurkiewicz added a description of the conducted proceedings and the conditions necessary for its implementation.
Jurkiewicz explained the use of objective and distant-seeming aesthetics as a result of him being fed up with the language of poetic metaphors. In the text Sztuka: w Poszukiwaniu Istotnego (Art: Searching for the Essential, 1971) he wrote:
You need humility – not the false one, referring to this notorious guarantor, or at least the suspected guarantor, ie, authenticity. You do not have to create imaginary worlds – let’s leave that to the poets. There were many such metaphorical worlds, often praised by the words: I have seen only signs – ‘sailing of the spirit’ (A. Breton) was no longer possible, to be honest, unnecessary – there were, I assure you, only more or less recognisable conventional, begging signs.
However, with the help of this cool recording of facts, Jurkiewicz pointed to the non-obviousness and complexity of the world. Talking about photographs recording the movement of stars, Jurkiewicz said:
If the camera is pointed at the sky, as if, depending on the number of exposures, I become immersed deeper and deeper.
In 1977, breeding mice and a hamster appeared in Jurkiewicz’s work. The artist designed a glass building for them, consisting of a labyrinth and a pyramid with a UFO at the top. In the 1980s, potted plants appeared instead of rodents. He created a series made of rubbish and leftover dishes used to care for flowers. Jurkiewicz also created an atlas for his plants. This multi-element project won a prize at the 4th Triennial of Drawing in Wrocław in 1995. From 1978, Jurkiewicz, apart from artistic creation, also dealt with poetry. In 1997, he published a volume of his poems, Tylko Jedynie Zawsze (Only Just Always).
Author: Maria Matuszkiewicz, December 2008, updated: AW, March 2015.
Selected individual exhibitions:
- 1959 – KMPiK Gallery, Wrocław
- 1962 – Silesian Museum, Wrocław
- 1967 – EL Gallery, Elbląg; Pod Moną Lizą Gallery, Wrocław
- 1972 – Nowe Sytuacje (New Situations), Współczesna Gallery, Warsaw
- 1973 – Współczesna Gallery, Warsaw
- 1974 – Muzeum Sztuki / Museum of Art, Łódź
- 1975 – KMPiK Gallery, Wrocław; Studio Gallery, Warsaw
- 1978 – 72 Gallery, Chełm; Mała ZPAF Gallery, Warszawa
- 1981 – Obrazy Ostateczne (Final Images), Foksal Gallery, Warsaw; Foto–Medium–Art Gallery, Wrocław
- 1994 – National Museum, Wrocław; De Beyerd Art Institute, Breda
- 1997 – Tylko – Jedynie – Zawsze (Just – Only – Always), photography, film, poetry, BWA Awangarda Gallery, Wrocław
- 2007 – Żegluga Ducha Albo Trzy Miłości, Elżbieta Kościelak Gallery, Wrocław
Selected collective exhibitions:
- 1963 – Szkoła Wrocławska, MDM Gallery, Warsaw
- 1967 – Poszukiwania, Town Hall Wrocław; EL Gallery, Elbląg; Przestrzeń – Ruch – Światło / Space – Movement – Light, Muzeum Sztuki Aktualnej / Museum of Contemporary Art, Wrocław
- 1969 – Stażewski, Chwałczyk, Jurkiewicz, Rosołowicz, Pod Moną Lizą Gallery, Wrocław
- 1970 – Sympozjum Plastyczne Wrocław '70, Wrocław; VIII Spotkanie Artystów, Naukowców i Teoretyków Sztuki, Osieki (8th Artists, Scientists and Art Theorists Meeting); Sztuka Pojęciowa (Conceptual Art), Pod Moną Lizą Gallery, Wrocław
- 1972 – J. Miro Drawing Exhibition, Barcelona; Atelier 72, Richard Demarco Gallery, Edinburgh; Wystawa 12 autorów, Galeria Permafo, Wrocław
- 1973 – Omaha Flow System, Omaha
- 1975 – Poljska Avangarda, Student Centre Gallery, Zagreb
- 1976 – BWA Gallery, Lublin
- 1977 – Punkt (Point), Jerzy Ludwiński’s action, Toruń
- 1979 – Foto–Medium – Annette Messager, Alina Szapocznikow, Christian Boltanski, Zdzisław Jurkiewicz, Jerzy Olek, Foto–Medium–Art Gallery, Wrocław
- 1981 – 16th International Art Biennial, São Paulo; Contemporary Painting of Eastern Europe and Japan, Yokohama, Osaka
- 1982 – Echange Entre Artistes 1931–1982 Pologne – USA, ARC Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris
- 1983 – Présences Polonaises, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris
- 1984 – Język Geometrii (Geometry Language) , Zachęta, Warsaw
- 1988 – Geometry and Metaphor, Budapest
- 1991 – Redukta, CSW Zamek Ujazdowski / Centre for Contemporary Art in Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw Warsaw
- 1992 – Sztuka Konkretna Nieograniczona (Limitless Concrete Art), Miejsca Gallery, Wrocław; Włodzimierz Borowski, Zdzisław Jurkiewicz, Edward Krasiński, Działań Gallery, Warsaw
- 1993 – Wektor Sztuki (Art Vector), Arsenał City Gallery, Poznań
- 1995 – Sztuka Jako Myśl, Sztuka Jako Energia (Art as an Idea, Art as Energy), 6th International Triennial of Drawing in Wrocław , Muzeum Architektury i Galeria BWA Awangarda, Wrocław
- 1996 – Sztuka Wobec Swojego Czasu. Okuninka '95 (Art towards its Time. Okuninka '95 , Muzeum Okręgowe, Chełm; Spirala 1. Wystawa prac artystów dolnośląskich / Fundacja Gerarda na Rzecz Sztuki Współczesnej / Gerard Foundation for the Contemporary Art, Świeradów Zdrój; Jeder Meter für die Kunst, Muzeum Okręgowe, Koszalin
- 1999 – Refleksja Konceptualna W Sztuce Polskiej. Doświadczenia Dyskursu: 1965-1975 (Conceptual Reflection in Polish Art: Experiencing Discourse, 1965-1975), Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej Zamek Ujazdowski, Warszawa
- 2000 – Język Geometrii II (Geometry Language II), BWA Modern Art Gallery, Katowice
- 2001 – Wokół Znaku. Polska Poezja Konkretna I Sztuka Konceptualna (About a Sign: Polish Concrete Poetry), BWA Contemporary Art Gallery, Katowice; …aby przejść przez granicę malarstwa. Prace z lat 1965–1975 (…to Cross the Borderline of Painting: Works from 1965-1975), Galeria 86, Łódź
- 2004 – Wrocławskie Impresje (Wrocław Impressions), National Museum, Wrocław; 20 open air exhibitions related to geometry, BWA Modern Art Gallery, Katowice
- 2007 – Foto–Medium–Art Gallery, Kraków