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Faux painting. Performer's Objects

Faux painting. Performer's Objects

Faux painting. Performer's Objects

Faux painting. Performer's Objects

Faux painting. Performer's Objects

Faux painting. Performer's Objects

Faux painting. Performer's Objects

Faux painting. Performer's Objects

Faux painting. Performer's Objects

Faux painting. Performer's Objects

Faux painting. Performer's Objects

Faux painting. Performer's Objects

Faux painting. Performer's Objects

Faux painting. Performer's Objects

Władysław Kaźmierczak, 2014-10-28

Exhibitions of performer’s objects in galleries are very rare. The reason is quite simple: the objects are not exactly artworks. They are important and unique, but without the structure of live action and the presence of the artist and the public, they are dead. Their reactivation through some other form – video or photography – relocates them back to their primary context, but they do not play the same role as before. They emit meanings and significance that are completely unattached to the surrounding new space, new viewer or new contexts. These meanings maybe now unimportant or do not at this time fit very well. The question is: what makes us treat performance art objects or performer’s objects in a special way?

First contact

In September 1991 an exhibition entitled “We are” was opened in the Zachęta Gallery. It was an exhibition of Polish emigrant artists. I went to see it because it included two performance artists: Peter Grzybowski whom I had known from Kraków and Krzysztof Zarębski. I was totally disappointed. They both sank into the commotion of a group show and Peter presented two paintings showing painted wood. I couldn’t understand at that point, why these paintings/non-paintings were the artworks of a PERFORMER. For me, Peter was the most important artist featured in the show. After many years I found out that it was a kind of positive response by the New Yorkers to the enthusiasm of free Poland, the sending of “something” to the homeland. Grzybowski sent “paintings” which I could not understand. It was a turning point for me, because it has always been important for me to pay attention to what I don’t understand and I have been thinking about such things for a long time. Peter Grzybowski did not tell me that he had different plans for those paintings / objects. The plans were not associated with performance art, with the form of painting, or further exhibitions. And I perfectly understand that secrecy and shyness towards ones own artistic ideas, as one may prefer not to talk about the work to anyone.

Faux painting

Peter Grzybowski was not the first artist who earned their living through faux painting “to survive”. Wasilij Kandinsky in Murnau between 1909 – 1914 painted furniture, stairs and doors with that technique in a Bavarian folk art style. What is striking in that information is that starting from the 15th century in Bavaria, every day items were painted in an abstract style. German curators form Nurnberg with their inborn arrogance stated that the direct inspiration for the emergence of abstract art was in fact Bavarian folk art. Indeed, in 1995 I had an occasion to see some of these objects in a Bishops castle in Würzburg. Panels in bedheads and closet doors were filled with “abstract painting” from the 15th century, similar to Kandinsky’s painting. Small geometric and biological forms flying in space, lines, dots, the saturation of colour and space were as identical as in the artworks by the father of abstract painting. Kandinsky’s publications On the Spiritual In Art (1911) and Point and Line to Plane (1926) were later seen as a phenomenal lecture on the connection between painting and music, as abstract forms which do not resemble any narration. His painting experiences changed the world of modern art forever.

New York

Grzybowski arrived in NYC in 1985. It was more or less 15 years after the euphoria of the creation of subsequent avant-gardes in NYC and the rest of America. The importance of modern art and artists declined, remaining as only historical and media myths. Peter Grzybowski in New York fell into a swirl of faux painting work done in very specific places and contexts. New York quickly escaped from aggressive standarisation, so called wild modernity and cheap every day equipment. New York’s spirituality in art, somehow contrary to the dynamics of the town that never sleeps, has always fought to fade out visual and sound attacks. In this gigantic city maybe it was not a complete turn away from the avant-garde of the beginning of the 20th century which happened, but a transgression towards creating one’s own surroundings, history and memories, building one’s own identity. The viewers of art, ordinary people, became the art avant-garde and started to express their wishes and views.

The artist Peter Grzybowski worked in the apartments of millionaires who were attracted by a longing for nature in the concrete desert. New York faux painting aimed towards a silent, quiet climate, a sophistication of the surface, a return to ingenious art deco forms, some intrigue in space, mild colour and the connection of forms. It aimed towards a moment of reflection over worn-out items that comprised some brilliant spiritual potential. Peter worked for extremely great money, because he created something unique and not too precious in the art world market that was an important object for its owner in his/her own life or the life of their loved ones. Most importantly, the technical side of the work had to be absolutely professional, because only then the idea had sense. For example the painting of a rug on a floor, re-creating the signs of the presence of imperfections in wood or in too-well-repaired furniture or the traces of rust on stainless steel.

This revolutionary mix-up of values, up to very recently completely illogical and not modern impressed Grzybowski, as Poland and even Western Europe had offered other fascinations. Peter Grzybowski believed that he lived in a world of non-conventional ideas. His painting of wood or stone was a simple transgression into the world of a different art – just like in the case of Kandinsky – but not to avant-garde art and not too well understood in other parts of the world. Today it is obvious that we are unable to write a parallel manifesto On the New Spiritual In Art just like Kandinsky. We are sure that the fighting avant-garde has ceased to affect us. The contemporary art world is multidirectional, supports non-understandable intentions (a horrible contradiction), tests our perceptions and our minds, prefers specific locality or context and the memory of various traditions, collects the artworks of small scale or ideas. It prefers privacy, the pleasure of being with the projection of our dreams and technological perfection and at the same time it does not cross anything out.
Exhibitions

Peter Grzybowski had only a few exhibitions in his life. It’s not a tragedy for a performance artist. But there is a different question: why did Peter paint these paintings? As a performance artist he walked a different path, he was not obliged to join the trend of similar realistic structures in painting which showed up in Europe many years later. And we know that Peter did not do it. We don’t know what intentions he had towards his paintings that created virtual reality. Grzybowski did not have to paint, but people do something which captivates them and no one knows why they do it and then lovingly keep these objects and want to be with them. Objects that are paintings or… are not. I discovered a similar stance at the beginning of the 90s in the case of Wacław Szpakowski, who was interested in the line and made systemic drawings and kept them for 70 years with no particular reason. He was not an artist who was fulfilling the model requirement of being an “artist” which we know of. He led a different life. Between 1923-1931 he drew a series of drawings “rhythmical lines” (series entitled A0, A, B, C, D, E, F) which he started in 1900. Szpakowski, similar to Kandinsky, Malevich, Mondrian – the protoplasts of constructivist avant-garde – preceded the deeds of abstract painters of the 40s and 50s by few dozens of years.

Jerzy Ludwiński – an art theoretician and critic who popularized conceptual art in Poland and was its spiritual father, lived in Szpakowski’s house in the beginning of the 70s in Wrocław. He knew Szpakowski and his paintings in person. That cult critic did not pay attention to the cutting-age artworks by Szpakowski who was not an “attractive” artist, as he was not backed up by anyone, he did not act in any groups or trends, he did not meet other avant-garde artists. Anna Szpakowska-Kujawska, the daughter of the artist, during the symposium and individual exhibition of Wacław Szpakowski in the Baltic Art Gallery in Ustka in 1994 said something which seemed not too important in the deliberations about Szpakowski’s art: that her father during the times of great relocations from the terrain of Russia under the revolution to new Poland, in the chaos and wandering lost practically everything, but saved one tube with drawings, photos and his own notebook. But now we see that that sentence was the most important during the symposium, because the tie between the artist and his work was underlined. We can notice a similar analogy in the case of Grzybowski. Through the last few years he lived a strange existence between Kraków and New York – for half a year in each place. He wanted to import his paintings to Poland at any expense. But it was an unimaginable effort – both financial and logistic. For me the burden did not make much sense. Grzybowski was after all a performer, ready for every trip so I did not inquire into his obsession of being together with his paintings. Today I understand his dreams better and better.

Peter Grzybowski apart from in the Zachęta gallery, exhibited his paintings in Arsenał in Poznań and many other places. He exhibited them in the best New York SoHo Gallery O.K. Harris, where he lived. Grzybowski’s paintings by themselves do not include any intrigue, wit or other trick of illusion. They are realistic paintings and nothing more. However, when we place them next to thousands of hours of work over faux painting jobs, that context changes everything. And we know that only a performer could have painted such paintings, one that does not follow any formal rules nor the opinions of critics or other artists. Based on the artworks that he left we see that Peter Grzybowski valued his anonymous work in millionaires homes. He valued the ideas which the method created. It is not only about political correctness: we should not cut down the Amazonian forests to use the wood in our homes for our pure pleasure. We get a similar effect of pleasure by contact with natural material when the artist paints it for us. We do not drive the market for wood so that in its stupidity it cuts 600 year old oaks for worldwide corporations. And at this moment we see that it is the thinking of a performer and a very sensitive man, who is unable to say why he valued his paintings so much.

The exhibition “Faux Painting. Performer’s Objects” was featured by the Galeria Bielska BWA (Bielsko-Biała, Poland) between September 4th and 28th. Curator: Małgorzata Kaźmierczak.

photo: K. Morcinek

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