Hymn to Beauty
Did you fall from high heaven or surge from the abyss,
O Beauty? Your bright gaze, infernal and divine,
Confusedly pours out courage and cowardice,
Or love and crime. Therefore men liken you to wine.
Your eyes hold all the sunset and the dawn, you are
As rich in fragrances as a tempestuous night,
Your kisses are a philtre and your mouth a jar
Filling the child with valor and the man with fright.
Did the stars mould you or the pit’s obscurity?
You bring at random Paradise or Juggernaut.
Fate sniffs your skirts with a charmed dog’s servility,
You govern all and yet are answerable for naught.
Beauty, you walk on corpses of dead men you mock.
Among your store of gems, Horror is not the least;
Murder, amid the dearest trinkets of your stock,
Dances on your proud belly like a ruttish beast.(…)1
Ch. Baudelaire, Flowers of Evil
Black Kiss or a Fantasy after a Long Absence. Władysław Winiecki’s Lithographs.
When discussing lithography one should start by evoking the stone – the stone matrix is basic for the lithographic universe. Stone is usually associated with passivity, heaviness and immobility (a list of words and phrases associated with stone could look like this: heavy, moist, indifferent, immobile, stone deaf, stone cold, stone-like face). Paradoxically, however, lithography has nothing to do with stasis.
When I think about Władysław Winiecki’s lithographs other associations and collocations automatically come to mind: to make lithographs, to feel sadness and melancholy. Sometimes one would like to, just out of spite, change the set word order – after all, language is a system based on social agreement – and say: he made sadness and melancholy, he felt lithography. I think that in a perverse way the new formulation defines his personality in a better, fuller way. Władysław Winiecki graduated from the Faculty of Painting of the Academy of Fine Arts but quickly abandoned painting in favour of printmaking. He made few lithographs in colour. The majority of his work was done in the printing technique called ossa sepia that uses negative drawing – the white patches are uncovered from the black matrix. After he abandoned painting it was black and white that determined Winiecki’s creative efforts. The direction of his quest, his insistence on the primacy of blackness against light, results both from the position of artists in the contemporary world and from Winiecki’s feeling of unease and dissonance. The key to the present is to be looked for in the metamorphoses of the past. Therefore, Winiecki plunges into the dark recesses of the night choosing a route whose destination is never defined and the journey itself brings as much suffering as joy. His stance can be seen in the choice of subject and poetics, and in the slowly, meticulously worked matrix – in the perfect lines and the rich, varied texture. Undoubtedly, in his peregrinations Winiecki is a genuine romantic and an heir of the surrealists – he pursues his fascinations, constantly swerving and quivering, oscillating between darkness and light, deregulating his senses and stimulating his imagination. Władysław Winiecki posseses an exceptional sensibility, a rare sense of humour and the capability to see nuances in spite of the changes of focus. Lithography as understood by Winiecki is a process that is time consuming, one that requires precision, a perfect knowledge of printmaking techniques and, most importantly, the consent to work in solitude. Making the drawing, going through the stages of etching the stone and preparing the matrix for printing – all these steps take time and cannot be sped up or eliminated.
Time is a crucial category for lithography, remaining at once its enemy and ally. One can say that time is absorbed by the image during the alchemic process of matrix-shaping. This is typical of traditional printmaking and absent from digital printing where time is an insignificant factor in the process of print production. A digital print usually does not bear the physical traces of material changes that take place during the process of matrix preparation – therefore, one cannot verify when a given digital work was created. Lithography is a technique of planographic printing: all the changes happen on the surface but the stone retains in itself the sign of the transformations – the drawing, and later, in the course of the printing process, yields whatever mark the artist had left on the matrix.
As Francis Ponge writes in his essay on Braque, lithography is not about a wound, or a tear, but about something much deeper that reaches the viscera, the nervous system, the circulatory system, the heart.1 To make lithographs is to digest coldness and bear in oneself the weight of a stone, to love with a hard love that calls for sacrifice.
The lithographic stone is a live creature; it absorbs everything – its sensitive surface can become oily even when we touch it and leave the little oil our skin secretes. The stone responds to touch, absorbing bodily heat. The entire process of preparing the matrix and printing is much more complicated than the struggle between oil and water.
“You do not carve the lithographic stone. The stone absorbs and keeps forever in its memory whatever we put on its surface. And under the press it gives everything back to the paper in a kiss of sorts (…) the lithographer’s gesture is exactly the gesture of a draughtsman or a painter (and can only be called pingere). It does not penetrate the matrix in any way, and actually we are not talking about a matrix but about a kind of face (forehead, cheek, perhaps mouth) and a vascular-motor phenomenon. Is it not wonderful that the first drawing we have left on the stone is similar to the one we have left on the face of another person through an (insistent or not) gaze? The person saves this gaze deep in their memory, though the face shows almost nothing.” [translation mine – A. Z.]3
The world of Winiecki’s lithographs is characterized by constant metamorphoses, marked by the passing of time, struggle and, simultaneously, it is full of sensuality, vitality, eroticism. An encounter with this artist’s work is like an invitation to play a game or to participate in a theatre performance where one is both a spectator and an actor. In Winiecki’s oeuvre we will find tragedies and comedies, tales of magic and protagonists who ignore the constraints of time and convention. This world is full of the marvelous as well as fear, terror, dance, jests, secrets, frolics, and laughter – but there is no place for tears.
The majority of Winiecki’s works are multi-layered structures, or stories within stories. The lithographs present a universe of gods, heroes and hybrid forms that blur the boundaries between the human, all too human, and bestial.
Following the artist’s trail we can encounter a bunch of curious characters, figures of majestic monarchs and their accompanying jesters or mysterious women dancing. In this world there is place for the Grain King and the Gnome. It is up to us to trust the Jester or the Prophet – we can never know what we will see on the other side, if we peep through the keyhole. As Oscar Wilde wrote: “All art is at once surface and symbol. Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.”
It is impossible to delve into Winiecki’s freak gallery and contemplate the personalities coldly or treat them merely as aesthetic objects. His are most curious visions, the figments of a rare imagination that come into being on the border of two worlds: the first – familiar, well-known, and well-tailored; and the other – dark, not fully defined, subject to constant transgressions. In Winiecki’s world nothing is completely what it seems. In this strangest of universes the matter keeps vibrating in ecstasy and agony, giving birth to form that spills over and keeps pulsating from the tension. What is lithography as Winiecki understands it? Is it a premonition? A smile of a lunatic in a procession of dancers? A night walk of a dreamer who suffers from insomnia and needs to dream while walking? And maybe it is the fruit of a dark love, a black kiss pressed on our cheek, like a fantasy after a long absence, when we can no longer remember the details of a beloved person’s face but manage to bring back his or her shape from the recesses of our memory?
1Translated by Jacques LeClercq, Flowers of Evil, Mt Vernon, NY: Peter Pauper Press, 1958, http://fleursdumal.org/poem/202.
2 ZSee Francis Ponge, “Braque litograf,” in: “Dwa teksty o Braque'u,” “Literatura na Świecie,” 9-10/2006, p. 290.