Dorota Monkiewicz

The Sociological Phenomenon of Edward Dwurnik

Edward Dwurnik is a prolific artist. In late February of 1999, he painted Whit te his 2493th easel piece, entitled Plac Zamkowy - basen zdrowotny (Castle Square - Spa Pool). The number is taken from the register maintained by the artist to track his expandingoeuvre; the register was definitely systematised and is updated on an ongoing basis as of the early 1980s, meaning that the actual number of Dwurniks around the world is greater in that this enu­meration does not comprise all the paintings from the 1960s and 1970s.
Edward Dwurnik is a democratic artist - accessible, popular, and widely propagated. While he accepts invitations for participation in the most presti­gious international events, he has also been known to exhibit in provincial galleries, small towns in the Polish countryside, local cultural centres, and schools. Even these smallest and most nondescript events are treated by Dwurnik with the utmost seriousness and become a forum for the exhibition of new and hitherto unknown works. For thirty years, his painting has been finding ils way to wide audiences in Poland and abroad in that its narra­tive content as well as its means of visualisation appeal to the experiences of the general public.
Edward Dwurnik is a generous artist, ever willing to donate his works for charitable auctions, bequeath them to Polish museums, and give them away to his friends and acquaintances.
Edward Dwurnik is a commercial artist in the sense that he successfully operates in the art market. Dwurnik's paintings leave his studio at a brisk rate, bound for private homes, public collections, and museums; Dwurnik pieces are displayed in the offices and reception halls of private corporations, in the Palace of the President of the Republic of Poland, and in ecclesiastic institutions, they may be found in the display windows of Warsaw, Poznań, Cracow... "To take one example, of the entire Warszawa series, numbering 232 pieces, only 38 were in the artist's possession in February of this year. Current going rates for Dwurnik paintings are listed in auction magazines. The commercial success of his art is eagerly reflected by the media - there's plenty of Dwurnik to be seen and heard everywhere, in the political press and the dailies, in regional periodicals, in colour magazines and ladies' magazines... In all of his published interviews, be it in Rzeczpospolita and Twórczość or in Pani or Elle, the artist invariably does his utmost to provide a thorough response to the desire for knowledge concerning himself and his art.
The circulation of Edward Dwurnik's art, the means in which it manifests itself in the public sphere, seems more akin to market strategies than to what is the usual practice on the art scene. The author himself readily adopts the craftsman's attitude and emphasises the pragmatic approach to his activity, that of a producer of items intended for sale, items which should appeal to the customers/the audience and be understood by them. This makes Dwurnik something of a controversial figure in the Polish art world, drawing occasional accusations of exaggerated egalitarianism, profusion, and excessive easiness.
So is Edward Dwurnik's contribution to Polish art significant ?
For thirty years now, Edward Dwurnik has been recording on his canvas­es the epic of Poland's contemporary history. He is a suggestive, and often sarcastic, recorder of Poland as it was during the Gomutka, Gierek, and Jaruzelski eras. Through his paintings, the canon of our collective imagination has been enriched by an entire cohort of new characters - grey, rumpled clerks clutch­ing their briefcases, "sportsmen" in working garb and ear-flapped winter hats, striking workers with hussars' wings, and a plethora of other themes and motifs, an enthralling account of which has been provided by Dorota Folga-Januszewska in the text entitled Cywilizacja polska Edwarda Dwurnika (The Polish Civilisation of Edward Dwurnik). This "Polish" painting of the artist has. paradoxically enough, been most aptly described by German reviewers of his exhibition who wrote that "nowadays, it would be difficult to find a European artist whose painted world would so consistently draw upon his community relations with the people of his country"2 and dwelt on the great persuasive power of his narrative techniques - the many layers, complex sys­tem of metaphors, allegoric configurations, and visionary symbols3. Taken by itself, this aspect of Dwurnik's work alone is sufficient to make him indis­pensable to any account of contemporary art in Poland.
Yet, Edward Dwurnik is, first and foremost, a painter. I can't help but regard as coyness - or maybe even a provocation - one of those pragmatic- craftsmanly enunciations for which Dwurnik has such a proclivity whereby the colour schemes of his paintings were directly dependent on the availability of paint at a certain art supplies store at Warsaw's ul. Mazowiecka across the space of the last thirty years. Which isn't to say that there is no truth in this statement but, then again, what can such a declaration mean, coming as it does from a graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw and long-time pupil of Prof. Eugeniusz Eibisch, the post-impressionistic colourist painter?
In the early 1970s, the time in which Edward Dwurnik began his career, most young artists associated their ambitions with the avant-garde paradigm. The authors of conceptual projects, experimental photographs, action art, and of performances conquered the most lively territory at this time. Polish painting was out to find new means of expression fitting to the radical changes affecting the artistic idiom. It was only then that the dogmas of "pure painting" and its universal relevance, lingering as a result of the postimpressionist practice and pedagogical efforts, were definitely reconsidered and rejected. In seeking its place among the arts, painting scaled down its aspirations and became more matter-of- fact, taking elements of its visualisa­tion strategy from other media, most of all from photography and drawing.
I would argue that assessment of Edward Dwurnik's creative work has: been somewhat distorted by a certain confusion between these two domains, that of the avant-garde and that of painting. Our artist, firmly set in hil pain­terly interests since the mid 1960s, never sought to involve himself in the avant-garde current - his friendship with Przemystaw Kwiek and Zofia Kulik, the well-known performance artists, notwithstanding - yet it was a historic inevitability that he pursues his creative activities in the presence of the shif­ting avant-garde context.
The work of Edward Dwurnik places him in the forefront of those artists who account for the present picture of Polish painting. Rooted in a simple, happy inspiration by the work of Nikifor Krynicki, the Polish primitive artist, Dwurnik's creative process brings the painting down to its rudimentary func­tion - an objective recording of an unrepresented world. Noting, recording, documenting, trace - these were key concepts in the art of the 1970s and, in this respect, Dwurnik was very much in tune with his contemporaries. But, in his particular case, these ideas became a moving force, the fly-wheel of his entire system of visualisation. Thanks to them, the artist could present sub­jects in all their manifestation, complexity, and ambiguity without disclosing his personal views (such as in the paintings of the first pages of newspapers).
Dwurnik never hesitaitd to Walk the fine line beyond-which lurks kitschy obvi­ousness. such as is his views of Sławoszyn in which images of his neighbours and their homes are supplemented with detailed captions. The artist's paint­ings always came across as frank and obvious, constituting something of an antithesis to artistic refinement. With these appearances of first impression and the wealth of genre observation, the esse with which the painter fills the area of the canvass with close and more distant perspectives, the relations between the backdrop and the1 figure; and the interaction of all that which is written, drawn, and painted can go unnoticed. Dwurnik's introduction of inscriptions Integrated with the painterly composition is an experience taken up and continued by the Polish expressionist painters of the 1980s. The concept of a chronicler's recording, in itself rather humble, gave rise to a brutal, uninhibited approach to the painter's metier adopted by the artist. The dissonant, anti-painterly colour scheme of Dwurnik's paintings, free of any rarefied colourist accents, the large-scale use of minute outlines laid down with a thin ¡brush, uniform backgrounds introduced as industrial colour stencils, and finally the carefree style combinations spanning all from goldsmith-like accuracy to the impetuousness of his expressionist pieces from the 1980s - all these dements became different ways for the alienation and freezing of painterly conventions, problems which lie at die core of present artistic production.
Series XI, Warszawa, is one of the oldest painted cycles of Edward Dwurnik; commenced in 1966, it continues to this very day. Initially,Warszawa was some­thing of a sideline to Dwurnik's main themes such as Podróże autostopem (Hitchiker's Journeys),painted since 1966, and Sportowcy (The Sportsmen), painted since 19/2. In the 1970s, one of the main rationales for Dwurnik's continued pursuance of the series was his participation in the Warszawa w sztuce (Warsaw in Art) contest exhibitions. Thus,Warszawa was, for a long time, a marginal series which comprised but twenty-odd pieces as of 1980. Unexpectedly enough, it came to play a very significant role in the 1980s. The artist had been painting light-blue cityscapes of wintertime Warsaw since 1979; in January Of 1981, these views came to include fantastic accessories such as barbed wire fences, tanks, armoured personnel carriers, and crosses standing lit the streets. After the imposition of martial law in December of 1981, these paintings were hailed as augural visions, earning their autor the Cultural Award of Solidarity in 1983. The name of the series came to be associated with Artur Grottger’s Warszawa, part of the myth associated with the January Insurrection of 1863. Dwurnik's legendary series has never been made avail­able for viewing by the Polish public in its whole. In November of 1981, the paintings were displayed at Desa's Nowy Świat Gallery for all of two hours, after which they were taken down on orders from the authorities. The artist showed a few of the paintings at his One-man show held at Szczecin BWA gallery in the autumn of 1982. The undocumented paintings from this series rapidly left the artist's possession; some were bound for Polish muse­ums, but most were bought by an assortment of private collectors in Europe and the United States.
The time spanning 1986 and mid-1992 marked an interruption of Dwurnik's work on the Warszawa cycle. At the end of this period, the artist resumed the Podróże autostopem series which, in the 1990s, came to include not only accounts of people and places, but also fantastic cityscapes. The artist's inter­est in urban themes demonstrates itself in a series of "blue city" views painted by him since 1993, in the "ideal cities" displayed at Warsaw's Goethe Institute in 1996, and in the "diagonals" executed during the same year. These works also included consecutive elements of the Warszawa series.
The choice of subject in this series, one which accords less importance to the anecdotal aspect than is the case with other Dwurnik cycles, affords us an opportunity to examine the techniques employed by the artist in his imme­diate, direct recording of reality on canvas. His paintings are backed up by a thorough, professional preparation. The artist's drawing portfolios from his student years includes piles of drawings and sketches of different Warsaw motifs. It would appear that, in many cases, it is thanks to these sketches that the views and the atmosphere of the lanes, squares, and streets of Warsaw in the Gomułka era will be preserved, offering a record of the city as it was before its first investment boom in the 1970s. But even these drawings must be regarded with some caution. They are an amalgamation of sketches taken from nature and of fantastic pieces executed in the studio on their basis. The spatial relations between buildings shift, certain motifs swell to prodigious proportions, others vanish ... all this in a body of work in which, at first glance, there is no way to separate the imagined from the real.
In the 1990s. Edward Dwurnik, a seasoned master of his craft, controls the urban landscape with facility. On his canvases, a city of empty squares and uniform, uninspired high-rises assumes a human scale. It accommodates idyllic houses shaded by the balloon-like trees of the diagonal paintings and progresses to the Trakt Królewski in the heart of the city, the site of a never- ending carnival of passers-by, political parties, artists and tricksters... The city painted by Dwurnik has the intensive social bonds which the real Warsaw lacks and for which it longs; it has countless bridges, developed riverbanks on which lively groups of people work and play, a friendly, navigable Vistula which is plied by many boats...
In Dwurnik's paintings, history is afforded a painterly ontogenesis. In Krótka przerwa w podróży (A short break in the journey)from 1972, we see a glimpse of reconstruction work on the Royal Castle offhandedly noted in the background, almost as if by accident (cranes next to the top of St John's Cathedral). Almost thirty years after the view noticed by the artist was painted, the Royal Castle is restored and we see Dwurnik busily develop­ing its courtyards and filling the square outside its gate with futuristic struc­tures, ponds, gardens, and a sequence of Zygmunt's Column clones.
Parallels have repeatedly been drawn between Edward Dwurnik's pictures of Warsaw and the veduta pieces of Canaletto, a comparison first inspired by his blue-hued, contemporary interpretation of Canaletto's View of Warsaw From the Royal Castle Terrace from 1773 . But for me, Dwurnik's selection of motifs - Warsaw churches, views of the Old Town and the Royal Castle - gives rise to the suspicion that he is yet again playing with "low", popular painting, provoking the refined connoisseurs by taking up a pictorial dialo­gue with the producers of "postcard" views of the sort sold to tourists in Warsaw's Old Town Square. As he stands before these somewhat discredited and belaboured motifs with his brush, Dwurnik monumentalises them in a way peculiar to himself only, devising elaborate narrative structures, rearran­ging buildings and streets, and composing colour studies from arbitrarily combined hues, an independent author and the master of his own artistic vision. Several years from now, will we find that these paintings recapture the feeling of Warsaw as we know it today, that - like the old Autostopy - they are a document of a certain era ?
We must bear in mind the fact that Edward Dwurnik is painting his pictures of the capital as a public debate is raging about the urbanistic shape of the Warsaw to come, as ever-new ideas for developments, transport solutions, and the preservation and utilisation of the historic tissue of the city are presented and discussed. Dwurnik's idealised visions are a voice in these deliberations.
Dorota Folga - Januszewska. Edward Dwurniks polnische civilisation, Edward Dwurnik. Retrospektive,
Württembergischer Kunstverein. Stuttgart. 1994. (exh. cat.) pp. 47 - 53.
Martin Hentschel. .Seitensprung" 1994. no 7.
E. Beaucamp. .Frankfurter Algemeine Zeitung". 4 August 1994.
See: the hyper-realist movement in Poland, eg Antoni Fatat. Łukasz Korolkiewicz, and Ewa Kuryluk. As seen, for instance, in the paintings of Tomasz Ciecierski.
Andrzej Matynia makes a comparsion between this painting and Dwurnik's Zamek Królewski od strony Wisty (Royal Castle From the Vistula Side) 1994 in his article entitled Warszawa Canaletta i Dwurnika. Art & Business No 12, December 1996, p. 73.