This is one of the motifs most strongly emphasized in Winiecki’s work. It should not surprise us since the Trojan War broke out because of a woman or, more precisely, because of a man’s choice. From among three goddesses (Hera, Athena and Aphrodite) Paris had to choose the most beatiful one, and each one was trying to bribe him with different offerings. He rejected richness and wisdom and chose the gift offered by Aphrodite – the love of the most beatiful woman on earth, Helen.
In Winiecki’s world woman appears in many different guises, sometimes as a beautiful, almost bodiless, oneiric apparition, and sometimes – as pure carnality, almost reduced to body parts, and often being just a part of a group composition. The first type is represented by works such as “Anna K,” “Monika,” “Leaf;” the second by the works from the “Film Frame” cycle and by several erotic pictures.
There is a third strain of women depictions, one referring to mythology or history represented by “Three Graces,” “Minerva,” Isidora,” ”Anna Mother In,” “Improvisation – a well-known lady.”
Among the works devoted to women, there is one that occupies a special place – the erotic picture entitled “Anna Maria.” The lithograph is symmetrical. It shows two, expressively bent, female silhouettes, facing each other, genuflecting. The double exposition of the characters is intriguing (it is a device often used in surrealist photography). Two, symmetrically placed, women, almost identical, bring to mind the doppelgänger. A gigantic moon, resembling a big bodily cell, provides a closure for the composition; at the same time, it introduces a division into the internal and external.
In opposition to this work one can situate the lithograph referring to a certain wellknown sculpture. When conducting a dialogue with the past, Wincecki rarely abandons the tones of mockery or irony. In “Improvisation – a Famous Lady,” however, he is serious.
The work – referring to “Lady of Elche” – is one of the most beautiful of Winiecki’s tributes to ancient art. The artist interpreted the sculpture – considered one of the most ingenious pieces of Iberian art – with both a great degree of freedom and a lot of respect for the beauty of the original. 15 Winiecki must have known numerous reproductions of the Lady of Elche. In 1948 the image of the lady was used by the Bank of Spain on the 1 peseta banknote. It is possible that Winiecki has never seen the original sculpture – the arrangement and modelling are similar to what can be seen in the photo in “Encyclopedia Britannica.”
Winiecki’s lithograph is built simply; it is based on the contrast between light and dark surfaces, in some spots strenghtened by soft and casual lines foregrounding the clothing ornaments and sophisticated headwear. In its colour version, enriched by the background, the work has three subtly structured layers: a sort of dull red (a type of Indian red), indigo and sand-coloured (a type of Neapolitan yellow).
Exiting the labyrinth. Dissonance-resonance
In his work Winiecki aims at engaging dialogue. In a short text entitled “Rozmyślania o sztuce” [‘Thoughts on Art’] he expresses his longing for understanding and defines the situation of an artist that is, according to Winiecki, marked with alienation, anxiety and a feeling of being lost: “In these jottings I would like to express my anxiety, and the feeling of acute dissonance an artist feels in the contemporary world. As an artist as well as a member of the art audience I would like to express my longing for dialogue that could help search for profound life values and processes that could broaden my artistic and intellectual awareness; dialogue that could aid me in expressing a longing for a better understanding of reality. The aim is to exit the labyrinth and ‘in the metamorphoses of the past look for the key to the present.’”
Winiecki believes that art is both sensual and intellectual. An intellectual effort is necessary to read a picture, to see connections where other people only see chaos. Of course, it is not enough to read a given history, to follow the narration. One has to understand its code which can be diffent in different cultures. Also, with time, the criteria of art judgement change and thus interpreting art and understanding its mysteries becomes even more difficult and the feeling of dissonance is even stronger.
Winiecki seems to have doubts about the existence of reliable tools of art exploration. Thus, his views fit into the numerous Romantic conceptions of the creative act; without a doubt, his work can be called “visionary.” He is neither a researcher who amasses and classifies, providing glosses and definitions nor a moralist stigmatizing human weaknesses. He is interested in the very existence of the richness of forms and the multiplicity of shapes, moments that are the proof of the discontinuity and change of events. Winiecki plays with convention opposing the aesthetic canons that imply a superficial treatment of things and an easily acceptable aesthetics. He isfascinated by the open form. He is by definition disturbing. He creates a most bizarre bunch of characters, shows scenes of mock-fights, mockdance, he sets traps, leaves numerous traces and key-words without ever fully defining or explaining his work. The work of interpretation is the task of the viewer. In this context, it is interesting to look at the work entitled “Misanthrope.” An aversion towards all humanity? Or a reflection, in other people, of the worst traits of our characters? Or perhaps simply a provocation.
“For ages people have been talking about the Greek myths that they are something to be found, to be torn out of our dreams. In fact, however, it is the other way round – the stories hope to tear us awake so that we can see them in front of us as we see a tree when we open our eyes.”16
Indeed, the need for dialogue is the force that drives Winiecki’s oeuvre. A careful analysis of the work reveals how deeply Winiecki is rooted in tradition and how multifacial and rich in tones is the dialogue he engages with this tradition. On the one hand, we can hear mocking and jocular tones, on the other – the polemic notes that lead to a reinterpretation or the negation of myth. Although Winiecki does not aim at a mythologisation of reality and the theme of myth is not as intensely present in his work as in that of, for instance, Lebenstein’s, Winiecki’s strong attachment to tradition is always manifest.
In his works there appear references to the cultures of the Mediterranean and ancient Sumer as well as disguised motifs taken from the culture of the present.
Sometimes, the reference is disclosed in the title: “Playing Icarus,” “Croesus,” “Minerva,”, “Nishakku,” “Methuselah.” At other times, it is disguised as in the case of the lithograph “Horse.” In an 18th century Polish encyclopedia by Benedykt Chmielowski, one can read the following definition of a horse: “One need not describe a horse, everyone can see what it looks like.” The definition seems to fit Winiecki’s work too. The eponymous horse stands motionless and everyone can admire its beauty – the refined slender pasterns, the beutifully built skull, the subtle curls of mane.
The depiction would not seem bizarre at all had it not been for three features: the place, the surroundings and a tiny detail. What is surprising is the fact that the horse is placed in a contemporary cityscape and monumentally towers over its surroundings. Such a significant change of scale and placing the animal in untypical context suggest that the picture is not just a eulogy to the four-hoofed mammal and that the author had a specific plan of his own. The second disquieting element is a group of figures innocently hidden in a fold of land. The third piece of the puzzle is a small hole in the side of the horse. The opening resembles a keyhole which suggests that the horse is not a dangerous gift but rather that inside it there lurks a sort of mystery. All the elements inevitably lead us to the topos of the Trojan Horse. A keyhole does not have to serve to peep at someone; and in this case it is impossible. Winiecki does not give us the key to the mystery; we can only hypothesize on what is internal and external and what level of surreality the horse-shaped gate can give us access to. ”The inner nature of things loves to hide,” Heraclitus would say.
Traditional interpretation of the Icarus myth point towards the clash of two factors – dream vs. reality. “They keep talking about Icaruses – even though Dedalus made it,” writes in his poem Ernest Bryll. It is ironic that we pay homage to lost cases. And that the most ephemeral of Dedalus’ inventions, by passing into the sphere of myth, became one of his most durable ones. What attitude should we adopt then?
Winiecki refers to myth adopting an ironic attitude; he gets rids of solemnity, and the scene shown in his lithograph “Playing Icarus” is not dramatic at all. Man, tied with the earth, is bound to lead a horizontal existence, the vertical is reserved for the divine. Thus, Winiecki seems to shift the story’s centre of gravity. There is no place for rebellion, amazement, or looking for one’s own way. Winiecki’s protagonist will never soar, his wings are too heavy, made of earthly material. The wings grow out of Icarus just as his feet grow out of the ground, which unambiguously points to the character’s connection with the earth. Attempts at flying are nothing more than a game and attempts at transcending the limitations of being are all but futile.
The myth of Croesus is more often asociated with richness than with a discussion of the idea of happiness. However, the ambiguity of the prophecy and the tragic failure of the monarch make us want to reconsider the meaning of the story. The riches from goldmines and the tributes from conquered cities made the king of Lydia the epitome of a rich man. However, the Croesus myth is not only a story about riches that stir the imagination but also a story of excess and the virtue of moderation. Croesus, the richest of rulers is obsessed with power and the lust for conquering.
According to Herodotus, when Croesus meets Solon, he wants the Athenian lawmaker to consider him not only the most powerful ruler but also the happiest of men. Solon refuses to concede and argues that a simple man who dies in a battle is happier than Croesus. Calasso interprets their exchange as a discussion on the paradox of totality. “Happiness is a trait of life that demands of life to die down so that it can come into being. Since happiness is a trait of the whole of the human being, one must wait until the life finds its fulfilment in death.”17
Croesus does not relinquish further conquests. When, before starting the war with Persia, he asks the oracle for advice, he hears the following answer: “You’ll destroy a great empire.” The king of Lydia, satisfied, reads it as a good sign and starts the war.
He is defeated and, according to the myth, becomes the Persian king’s prisoner and loses everything that made him happy. In other variants of the myth he comits suicide. The gods did not like rebellious mortals who dared reach for more power than they themselves had granted them.
Inanna, Inana, Ishtar
The Sumerian name of the Goddess comes from Nin-ana, “the lady of the sky.” In the Tigris and Euphrates drainage basin there existed many cultural centres, in, for example, Ur, Nineveh, Zabala and Kish.
In Inanna’s personality one can distinguish three independent roles: firstly, she is mainly the goddess of love and sex; secondly, she is an impulsive goddes of war and revenge, creating chaos and sending failure on the ones who refuse to obey her. Finally, she is identified with the planet Venus, the morning and evening star. The goddess is connected with several of Winiecki’s works: Anna Mother In, The Lord of Kish, Nishakku. The three aspects of Inanna’s personality manifest themselves with different degrees of intensity in each of the stories, and the sources of the stories are inevitably life and death at the same time. The theme of Nishakku, approached by Winiecki several times, is the most intriguing one. The work exists in several versions. The story of a Sumerian priest (Lu-Inanna) killed by three men became known in the law history because of the application of article 153 of the Code of Hammurabi.18 The fact that Nin-dada remained silent on hearing about her husband’s death was interpreted as evidence against her. Although it was not proved that she was involved in the murder of her husband, she was sentenced to death.
Another link in the chain of love and death is the motif of Etana, the ruler of Kish. The story refers to a Sumerian long poem about an eagle and a snake living on the same tree; here, it is also linked to the story of the childless king looking for a magical plant that would help him have descendants. The depictions on Sumerian seals show Etana travelling on the eagle’s back. Winiecki’s work entitled “The Lord of Kish” refers to this theme and is also connected with the character of Ishtar, the goddess of fertility. Aristotle said that the beginning of philosophy is wonder. The bases of knowledge are the needs of asking questions and looking for answers. Winiecki never assumes the role of mentor, he never suggests that he knows the answers. Following the myth he adopts the role of an observer and a commentator, and never – that of somebody who cathegorizes or passes judgement.
His is an emotional art, multi-layered and full of symbols but free of persistent didacticism; an art that is extremely skilllful in its oscilation between fairy tale, drama and the grotesque. It is difficult to balance on the edge, between laughter and tears, hope and despair. But after all, “it is not the fear of madness which will oblige us to leave the flag of imagination furled”19
Although Winiecki liked to provoke and ironize, he treated the problem of honesty in art in a very personal manner. He believed that the lack of stable footing and the pure nonsense of the world authorize scepticism but do not set us free from responsibility or legitimize nihilism. He valued highly the virtues of truth – accuracy and honesty. The acceptance of these virtues makes communictation possible; they are the essence of dialogue. Honesty is the absence of the intention to falsify. He expected his students to adopt the virtues he valued.
Strangely enough, Winiecki did not like Chagall, not because he did not consider the painter talented but because he believed that he was not credible and his art was just a sort of juggling. For similar reasons Winiecki ignored the whole of mass culture as he believed it to be a tool that creates artificial needs and permanent unfulfilment.
The Great Vaudeville is a world with no sacred sphere, without laws or dogmas; a world in which God had been dethroned or even chased away. In the face of all the arbitrariness, we only depend on acts of the will. The attempt at engaging dialogue, the “search for the keys” and the renegotiation of senses assigned to the world according to a convention, are the only ways in which the artist can enchant the world anew. Winiecki is by no means trying to recreate the myth and live the sacred time again – he is too much of a sceptic to believe that one can turn back time. All his references and paraphrases are ironic. The magical circle still exists thanks to the very act of posing questions, referring to certain problems and resorting to common places of universal consciousness.
“The Greek myths contained much of what we had lost. When we look at the night sky, the first impression is the surprise at so many possibilities scattered over the dark background… Unfortunatelly, we no longer experience the feeling of order, let alone the movement in this order, when we watch the frayed strip, the Milky Way, the asteroid belt… But still, in this frayed canvas, in these unfinished stories, we can find shelter. And somewhere, deep in the world, and deep in our minds, the canvas is still being woven.”20
Pascal Quignard, Le Sexe et L’Effroi, Gallimard, 1994. I translate from the Polish edition: Seks i trwoga,
translated by Krzysztof Rutkowski, Warsaw: Czytelnik, 2006, p. 66. The book is not available in English
[translator’s note – A.Z.].
2 “Manifesto of Surrealism”, Manifestoes of Surrealism, Trans. Richard Seaver and Helen R. Lane, Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1972, p. 18.
3 Bruno Schulz, “Traktat o manekinach,” Sklepy Cynamonowe, Kraków: Wydawnictwo Zielona Sowa, 2004, p. 28. [Translation mine – A.Z.]
4 Arthur Rimbaud, “Deliria II: Alchemy of the Word”, A Season in Hell, in Rimbaud Complete, Trans, ed. and intr. Wyatt Mason, 2 vols, New York: The Modern Library, 2003, 1: 208.
5 André Breton, “Manifesto of Surrealism”, Manifestoes of Surrealism, Trans. Richard Seaver and Helen R. Lane, Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1972, 12-13.
6 André Breton, “Surrealism and Painting”, Surrealism and Painting, Trans. Simon Watson Taylor, 1965. Intr. Mark Polizzotti, Boston, Museum of Fine Arts Publications, 2002, p. 4.
7 Bruno Schulz, Mityzacja rzeczywistości, Opowiadania. Wybór esejów i listów; edited by Jerzy Jarzębski, second edition, with corrections and additions. Wrocław: Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich, 1998, CXL, p. 498.
8 André Breton, “Manifesto of Surrealism”, Manifestoes of Surrealism, Trans. Richard Seaver and Helen R. Lane, Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1972.
9 André Breton, “Words without Wrinkles”, The Lost Steps, Trans. and pref. Mark Polizzotti, Forw. Mary Ann Caws, London and Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1996, p. 102.
10 Maldoror and the Complete Works of the Comte de Lautréamont, Trans., intr. and notes Alexis Lykiard, Cambridge: Exact Change, 1994, p. 136.
11 Hans Bellmer, Notatki i fragmenty na temat, quoted after Konstanty A. Jeleński, Bellmer albo Anatomia Nieświadomości Fizycznej i Miłości, translated into Polish by Jerzy Lisowski, Gdańsk: Słowo/obraz terytoria, 1998, p. 18 [translation mine – A.Z.]
12 Bruno Schulz, “Traktat o manekinach,” Sklepy Cynamonowe, Kraków: Wydawnictwo Zielona Sowa, 2004, p. 28. [Translation mine – A.Z.] Apollo i Marsjasz, w: Zbigniew Herbert. Wiersze wybrane, oprac. R. Krynicki, Wydawnictwo a5, Kraków 2004, s. 110.
13 Władysław Winiecki, Rozważania o sztuce [‘Thoughts on Art’], the archives of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw.
14 Pascal Quignard, La Nuit sexuelle, Flammarion 2007. I translate from the Polish edition: Noc seksualna, translated by Krzysztof Rutkowski, Warsaw: Słowo/obraz terytoria, 2008, pp. 13-15. The book is not available in English [translator’s note – A.Z.].
15 “Lady of Elche” (La Dama de Elche in Spanish, La Dama d’Elx in Catalan) was found in 1897 close to Elche (Valencia, Spain). Then, it was bought by a French archeologist and shown for the first time in Louvre. During the Second World War, following an agreement between the Spanish and French governments, it was returned to Spain. It can be seen at the National Archeological Museum in Madrid.
16 Roberto Calasso, Le Nozze di Cadmo e Armonia, Milano: Adelphi, 1988. I translate from the Polish version: Zaślubiny Kadmosa z Harmonią, translated by. S. Kasprzysiak, Kraków: Znak 1995, p. 283. The English version: The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony, translated by Tim Parks, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993.
17 Roberto Calasso, ibid., p. 168.
18 The Code of Hammurabi (transl. L.W.King): “153. If the wife of one man on account of another man has their mates (her husband and the other man’s wife) murdered, both of them shall be impaled.” http:// www.holyebooks.org/babylonia/the_code_of_hammurabi/ham06.html
19 “Manifesto of Surrealism”, Manifestoes of Surrealism, Trans. Richard Seaver and Helen R. Lane, Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1972.
20 Roberto Calasso, op. cit., pp. 282-283.