Łukasz Gorczyca, Michał Kaczyński

Who will get you moving?

To work (1972) The heroes of the series of paintings Sportsmen (Sportowcy), are passive people, reluctant to undertake more complicated activities. They do not try to change their surroundings or themselves. The world in which they live, seems to them to be the only possible one; they cannot imagine any changes to it, but they are very good at adapting to it. They stand stock-still (Before the Stroke [Przed zawałem]; In Front of the Child's Door [Pod drzwiami dziecka]; After Ordeals [Po przejściach], in the same way as their architectural surroundings, becoming motionless accessories. They are only interested in work as a source of quick, easy earnings - "buy cheap, sell dear". Private shop-keeper mentality rules, that of producing sought-after though shoddy goods at low cost, garret-craftsman style, e.g. "metal fancy goods". They make some money on the side working at home on Sundays, pouring fizzy drinks into used bottles they have retrieved (Georg/e Fills up Siphon Bottles [Jerzyk nabija syfony], 1991) and on New Years Eve they go into town to sell balloons. Regular employ­ment is above all about waiting knocking-off time, the routine huddling over mechanical actions - the critic Andrzej Osęka, seated in a fine-looking arm-chair, not even looking at the page, is writing his Weekly Article (Artykuł tygodniowy). In the painting Your Son Will Help You (Syn pomoże) the heroes look helplessly in the viewer's direction and the man is clearly laughing at the mere thought that he get down to some work.

 

The passivity and slowness of the sportsmen seem hard to overcome, for work is clearly an activity they find embarrassing. Whenever they do undertake any spontaneous activity it is usually a fight (Right Knee [Prawe kolano]), 1973. Amusement appears on their faces at the sight of a pair of copulating mongrels (My Yard [Moje podwórko], 1973). Their lives give the impression of one long period of relaxation following work they never carried out, so it is hardly surprising that relaxation does not bring the relief expected. They walk along the seafront staring straight ahead bluntly, the sight of the setting sun might at most remind them of the tacky landscapes hung on the walls of a worker's hotel or the ocean wave pattern painted with a roller onto lampshades and walls. They clutch a radio-set in their hands, the standard accessory of the "Worker's Holiday Fund". Elegant Women (Eleganckie kobiety) are waiting for them on the beach, comfortably seated in deck-chairs, puffing on cigarettes in holders and absorbed in contemplating the latest horoscopes. Nothing is happening. Even relaxation is a hopeless waiting: "Oh how I long for the West!!" - a girl reveals her thoughts in a romantic, uplifting moment, in the arms of her forlorn lover. "How I long for the West!!", repeats a worker in a beret. "Work a year and you've got a Mercedes", explains his companion sadly, killing time playing marbles. But the "West" does not exist; sometimes Western tourists appear, as though phantoms or beings from outer-space, with teeth as white assnow gleaming as they smile broadly (Tourists [Turyści], 1972).

 

Sportsmen do not have a sentimental life, they do not experience real passions and emotions. Their family dramas are marked by a grotesque theatricality, along ire lines of a kitsch romance. Puffing on a cigarette and staring into the distance, a man says: "I'm going to Ślqsk", to which his tearful wife confesses "You've wasted my life"(Pearly Tears [Perliste łzy],1973).

Imported goods (1972) Dwurnik's paintings generally lack air, like a polluted metropolis. Flat planes overlap one another, the exaggerated figures fit into the frame with difficulty, while the architecture, with an excess of details, tightly fills the landscape. This is a crazy vision reminiscent on the one hand of old representations of hell, with tens of figures suffering the same tortures for eternity, and on the other, relating to 17th century Dutch painting, filled with small genre scenes in landscapes.

 

The Sportsmen form a homogeneous mass, they are moulded of the same clay (paint), they form a society with clear common characteristics. The pictures do not directly reveal what it is that keeps them alive, who pays for their lazy work and their bored expressions on holiday, the fights in the yard, the rapes in the countryside and who organises their work at the Sand Factory [Fabryka piasku). The Sportsmen are silent on this subject and their thoughts are limited to simple statements: "A man spends his whole life working and gets shit!" (He's Got Cunning [On się zlisił], 1973). They are incapable of deeper critical analysis, yet at the same time their expectations are not essentially credible - "work a year and you've got a Mercedes". They are not troubled by dilemmas like those faced by the heroes of films about moral anxiety; rather, they are the heroes of Jerzy Gruza's film Przyjęcie na dziesięć osób plus trzy (Party for Ten People Plus Three), 1972. The director of a factory hires a group of drunks from next to a beer stand to load up a few truck-loads of gravel. He compensates for the low pay with an alcohol soaked party and gifts from the official entertainment fund. In the morning the drunken sportsmen are picked up from the bus stop by the policeman "Star". The world painted by Dwurnik is also very close in spirit to Piwowski's film Rejs, or to the films of Kondratiuk, Maklakiewicz and Himilsbach. Dwurnik's pictures are marked apart by the elements of symbolism and fantasy which he introduces: giant heads, dogs smoking pipes and improbable outfits.

 

Sports vests, chequered shirts with spiky collars buttoned up to the last hole, with patterned waistcoats on top, stripes, polka-dots, zigzags; berets, patterned wool hats, hats pulled tightly down over the head, often with ornaments: a feather or a souvenir label stuck in; thick herring-bone trousers; raincoats tied tightly around the waist; shoes with thick rubber soles. A medley of colours, showing a love of decoration, a la colourful regional dress. The clothing seems as though it has been tailored especially with a view to future ethnographers researching regional dress and its degeneration. Times are emphatically combined: the typical peasant-workers in berets are accompanied by figures in elaborate waistcoats and corsets with old-fashioned, decorative fastenings and tasselled epaulettes - farm-hand's Sunday best, preserved in some strange way from the times of serfdom. Dressing his heroes up in these strange hybrids of outfits, Dwurnik makes them linger mentally in the 19th century.

I became a goldsmith (1973) The formal interventions and features of Dwurnik's method of painting recall the methods of a reporter: he paints a lot, fast and sketchily. Painting a painting takes him a day, sometimes two, rarely more than that. He supplements the fast- drying acrylic ground with oils. More drawn than painted; his figures are flat (like plaice at a seaside cafe], newspaper heroes rather than the precisely modelled heroes of academic, 19th century realism. The white rectangle of the canvas is like a dean roll of newspaper, begging to be promptly printed. Dwurnik's painting machine, somewhat like a mechanical weaver’s loom, creates paintings systematically metre by metre, as though they were just decorative patterns, just so as to sew the picture as fast as possible. This ostentatiously hurried technique determines the slap-dash surface of Dwurnik's works. Yet this slap-dash effect is not slap-dash, for there is a concrete point to it, which, combined with the iconography of the paintings creates a suggestive whole - the story of imperfect, ordinary life. The paintings contain a sense of emergency similar to plumbing repairs from popular anecdotes about Polish People's Republic handymen. Dwurnik consciously refers to types considered to be second-rate, easy and quick, to the seamingnaivety of Nikifor and the abbreviated comic-strip style form of narrative. In this way, he tries to find an appropriate tone for his story of commonplaceness. No doubt we would prefer for this story to be written more beautifully. Yet it is hard to erect monuments to shoddy normality while at the same time telling the whole truth about it.

Dwurnik grasps the material tenor of Polishness in the very structure of his artistic language. It is a far cry from spiritual, romantic ideals. The ostentatious and the provisional nature are equally striking; the architecture appearing here and there behind the Sportsmen's backs is exaggeratedly metropolitan yet at the same time gives the impression of having been put up in a great hurry. Furthermore, the painter botches wooden houses, crooked fences and the human figure in the same way; it is the same artistic construction and an analogous thought process. Crooked people raise up crooked buildings and see crookedly - complete osmosis. In the process they have become adept at pretending, posing and showing off. They come into the frame boldly and unashamedly, from time to time they look at the viewer with interest, as though waiting to see the reaction to their own offences and bids. Maybe they silently hope that the frames of the picture will act as euphemisms and that they will be made better for a moment, will be appreciated, or at least noticed. Like dustbin men, who are sometimes grandiloquently referred to as "goldsmiths" (I Became a Goldsmith [Zostałem złotnikiem], 1973).

 

The end of the poet (1973) Studying at the tum of the 1960s and 1970s at the Warsaw Academy, Dwurnik found himself faced with the necessity of taking a stand on the colourist doctrine which was still dominant among professors. This necessity was the result of the fact that his peers or slightly older friends had already taken up a critical artistic discussion with the old-fashioned "Cybis' way of painting". On the one hand a new figuration matured at this time (in journalistic and pseudo-hippy form), on the other, structural experiments with the language of painting were appearing, games with all kinds of representational conventions, such as those of e.g. Tomasz Ciecierski. The proposition of new figuration seemed particularly topical at that time. However, Dwurnik's standpoint was altogether different from the outset. The creators of the new figuration, despite often being actively concerned with social subjects, retained the modernist principle of "high style" - they worked intensively on formulating their own, completely new, painterly language, even if it was based on formal, anti-academic lack of deference. There was also no shortage of revolutionaries on our own ground, but of a clearly aesthetic persuasion - as in the case of the plane-based style of the "neo neo" group. In effect, these painters and their art were stuck on the level of the "high", formal, salon speculation, as was the case with new wave poetry.

 

Meanwhile, Dwurnik made a one off decision which radically put a stop to any further formal speculation. In contrast with the modernist tradition of formulating one's own artistic language, based on diverse inspirations (e.g. naive art), Dwurnik consequentially accepted an existing artistic language. He took the art of Nikifor as an individual ready-made. He constructed his artistic project on it, appreciative of its formal values but also using the way Nikifor's painting is viewed as the work of a "naive artist". He painted in Nikifor's language enriched by the language of comic-strips, the newspaper caricature, media-quotation, fully consciously and clearly. The originality of his painting did not depend on the characteristic, easily recognisable style that the public were beginning to take to, but rather on the way that this style was built through borrowing and changing the context of many different languages ("naive", newspaper, comic-strip) and introducing them into the sphere of art. In doing so, he also brought about the deterioration of the accepted conventions of painting, renouncing his "own" voice in favour of revealing the voices of "others". Automatically, perhaps not even fully consciously, he ceased to fit the profile of a modernist painter. He became local, commonplace, dependent on the Polish context. Like post-modernists, he successfully absolved himself of the sins of universalism and originality which his older colleagues, at their easels all over the country, were unable to deal with.

 

Ossian has arrived (1972) Modelling his own paintings on those of a naive painter- illustrator, attempting to describe everything going on around him in the most literal and direct way, Dwurnik simultaneously creates a model of the artist that is at variance with the academic model. He neither sublimates form nor weaves reflections, rather, he falls into a trace, trying to feel his way into the lives of his heroes, blend into their crowd and speak with their voice. His painting ceases to be a merely artistic project and becomes a programme for living: "...I simply went inland of Poland to lead the life of a wandering, poor artist. I worked outdoors, I sat on the streets of small towns and drew till I dropped [...]; I exposed myself to mockery and sometimes nearly starved, taking myself into such extreme states, nearly paranoia. By the end of the day I would be in a kind of trance, which was the result of a certain rhythm, which came from repeating a small movement with a pencil..." ("O Nikiforze [z Edwardem Dwurnikiem rozmawia Mirosław Ratajczak]", Odra 4/1996). It is only by contract that he manages to name and divide the hundreds of drawings and thousands of pictures into series' and their subsequent numbers seem more like the numbers put on the canvas by Roman Opałka as part of his existentialist work. They seem to measure the passing of time rather than constitute a fully rational system of classification.

 

Dwurnik's project is continual and unceasing, it also goes beyond the conventional conception of painting. While still a student, in the spring of 1969, together with Teresa Gierzyńska and Przemysław Kwiek he carried out an action called "Drawing - Interior" ("Rysunek - Wnętrze") at the Klub Medyka in Warsaw: for a week, the three of them covered the walls of the club with a panorama of drawings of characteristic figures. The very gesture of drawing on the walls ought to attract our attention here for being associated with childish scrawls or other kinds of misuse, in any case, generally-speaking, uncivilised activity. Nothing was more hostile or foreign to Dwurnik's painterly idea of life than precisely the "civilised" habits of modernity, whose symbol in the 20th century was the habitable white cube. Dwurnik declared himself on the side of chaos, of immediate, greedy life, scorning the modernist idea of order - spatial and social. This decision was still the direct result of his observation of what was going on around him, studying the life of the "sportsmen". In Dwurnik's paintings, the world ceases to develop, it comes to a standstill, rooted to the ground. The ideologically designed order which reduces the lives of the citizens to performing mechanical functions within the structure of a system organised from above (home, education, socialised work, relaxation), covers everything like vegetation inside a pipe or arteries in an sclerosis patient (Before the Stroke, 1972), until at last they choke.

Rape in the countryside (1974) Dwurnik's work has a social dimension. He is a realist painter in the deepest sense of the word; he is committed to the weaker side, he uncovers the reality of the "unrepresented world", and reveals the choking effect of the system, describing it in detail along with the hybrids and new-coined words it spontaneously creates, which turn the system into a caricature of itself, such as knocking-off time becoming the essence of work (Knocking-off Time [Fajrant], 1973).

 

Among the 150 or so paintings which were made as part of the Sportsmen series in the first half of the 1970s, there are pictures which bravely go beyond a customary critique. A crowd of huge male heads stare hungrily at the figure of a half-dressed woman, seeking the same sort of conquest as a collector of porcelainbric-à-brac (Fragile Thing [Krucha rzecz], 1972), gritting their teeth with desire (Dreams [Marzenia], 1972) and fantasising she has a third breast, or perhaps more (Dogs Looks [Psie spojrzenia], 1972). Sexist oppression culminates in its inevitable finale - a man in a beret puffing on a cigarette and o group of his friends rape a woman behind a village church (Rape in the Countryside [Gwałt na wsi], 1974). These paintings, made in the same year as Natalia LL's famous Sztuka konsumpcyjna (Consumption Art), leave no doubt as to the coarse-mindedness of the "sportsmen". Molesting seems to be in their nature, while feeling-up and raping passes, along with fighting in the backyard (The Right Knee, 1973) and getting drunk (Room [Izba], 1973, I'm Skrewed Up [Mam śrubę], Jaki jestem piękny - pijany [How Beautiful I am When I'm Drunk], both 1974), for no more than one of few available pastimes. They feel safe at it because in a reality steeped in lethargy, society gives silent assent to these types of activities too. The old woman working in the public toilets (wearing a cross) is willing to pass a blind eye on men having sex, for the price of a few coppers and just to be left in peace (Loo Lady [Srajbabka], 1974). On the table there's a glass of tea and half and apple, under the table - a beer mug. Peasant's sexism and cheap tolerance reign in the land of the "sportsmen".

 

Engineers (1972) Dwurnik's painterly project, though far from socially indifferent, contrasts with the numerous initiatives of socially engaged art in the 1960s. Beginning with the Biennale of Spatial Forms in Elbląg after the Symposium at "Azoty" in Puławy, to mention only the most famous of these types of enterprises, attempts were made to organise state patronage of modern art using industrial plants as a source. The fact that the artists taking part in these events worked on realising their projects either together with workers from the plant or simply installed them on the factory's grounds, became a pretext for the formulation of slogans relating to the social dimension of modern art being made in this way. In reality though, this art was preoccupied with completely different issues, with modern formal speculation and, on a conceptual level, had nothing to do with workers. The effect was rather the flourishing of all kinds of misunderstandings and jokes, such as, for example, in the popular comedy Nie lubię poniedziałku (/ Don't Like Monday), dir. Tadeusz Chmielewski, 1971. One of the heroes is a farmer searching Warsaw for spare parts for a tractor. The tractor axle he has brought with him wins a modem sculpture competition and the farmer finds the parts he wants in a sculpture by a "real" artist, exhibited beside it.

 

Revolutionary Hymn (1972) Utopian ideas of harnessing art to the life of the working classes were, of course, heated by the ideological conditions of the Polish People's Republic's policy on culture. They had more the character of party new-speak than any real qualitative weight. Artists made use of the establishment patronage, which made artistic work possible. In this way a particular status quo was achieved, which was only rarely infringed by artists as uncompromising as Włodzimierz Borowski singing the word "urea" to the tune of the National Anthem in the corridors of the Puławy establishment.

 

Dwurnik's work from the 1970s also touches on the problem of the social commitment of art. In so far as the artists of the previous decades had created abstract "binole" (the nickname given in Elbląg to the works created by the participants of the Biennale of Spatial Forms), subscribing to the establishment patronage slogans convenient for the official cultural policy, paradoxically, what Dwurnik did was undoubtedly closer to a real "working- class art", if only because it revealed what these people's lives were like. All the same Dwurnik's art was not exploited as an element of state propaganda, rather, it carried on on the margins of the whole of official cultural life, without difficulties or backing. Without a doubt, it contained a trap for the authorities - on the one hand because of its realist and "working-class" aspect, it was hard to disavow, on the other, this same realism revealed with mortal precision, as it would later transpire, the sickness of the Polish People's Republic. Exposing the stalemate existence of the "sportsmen", Dwurnik was one of the first to offer a diagnosis. Continuing the series in the 1990s he proved that the consequences of the sickness were more serious and longer-lasting. Above all though, it is the model of artistic practice developed by Dwurnik as an activity sensitive to the social dimension of our existence that remains weighty and of the moment.