The World between Light and Dark
text: Magdalena Boffito


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

1 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://
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.