Ewa Zamorska-Przyłuska

City to city, from above

City to city, front above
And beyond smoke flat rooftops cloudless
but unsettled sky and people run
the crane's arm hangs over the crowd. You count
those outstretched hands those bodies in movement but
without life on the bridge in the shop in front of the cinema
Jarosław Klejnocki City, On the Edge (excerpt)
The visible cities are what make Edward Dwurnik's painting real, without them, the Edward Dwurnik we know, would not exist. We visit them, journeying from one painting to another, from one series to another.
"Only in Marco Polo's accounts was Kublai Khan able to discern, through the walls and towers destined to crumble, the tracery of a pattern so subtle it could escape the termites' gnawing." Those were the Invisible Cities recorded by Italo Calvino, described to a Tartar by a Venetian. Dwurnik's cities are also linked to reality and only exist as such by virtue of names and scraps of realities which subtly sketch the air their inhabitants breathed. However, unlike the cities in the traveller's tale, created in the listener's imagination - they are visible. And that is the most important thing about them.
Dwurnik sees them, and, when we look at his paintings, we see them. Dwurnik weaves his visible yam wandering from city to city. Even now that he is working on abstract paintings, he has not abandoned his cities - his half-visible cities.
The city - what is it like? The painter likes cities with plenty of open space, with water and well known places. He can convert these cities into new constructions governed by their own unshakeable logic. Dwurnik has the gift of seeing what cannot be seen from any one given viewpoint. He composes the picture of the place from memory, raising up what is seen from the ground. The goal is the painting; the centre of gravity carries over in an obvious way into a new composition, a new value. He builds new cities out of sketches and photographs. These paintings cannot be though of as commemorative picture postcards or documentary records; it is enough to look at the two churches of St. Francis on Matejko Square in Cracow or at the forest of mutated Palaces of Culture and Science in the background of Poniatowski Bridge (a selection from a sea of examples).
I have before me two portraits of the city; a postcard and a watercolour based on the postcard (No 2176). I also have the three-dimensional space itself in my memory. Dwurnik's Gdańsk has retained its Gdańskness: its characteristic city planning, Motława, wooden crane, St. John's church and the missing parts of the Długie Pobrzeże terrace, destroyed in 1945 and restored long before the painting was painted (the postcard is a reproduction of an out of date photograph) and the happiness, the holiday atmosphere
of a harbour city, which the gloomy postcard from early spring does not show. There are also places which Dwurnik has, as it were, "rebuilt": he had filled in the post-war emptiness and sucked out the vacant space of places such as the Targ Rybny. Nowa Motława and the Na Stępce canal had to be filled, thus turning the Wyspa Spichrzów and Ołowianka into a continuous stretch of land. This is a characteristic manifestation of horror vacui: Dwurnik likes spaces in cities because they allow him to "manoeuvre" the architecture, making room for the approximations which result necessary from the tectonic movements of depicted cities.
We look at the painting and think: Gdańsk, although this is no longer the Gdańsk from the photograph but Dwurnik's variation on the theme of Gdańsk as a space. What is it that makes this still Gdańsk, despite all the interventions carried out by the artist? What "modifications" would have to be made in order for this painted Gdańsk to stop being Gdańsk? Would it involve the disappearance of some significant building, e.g. wooden crane, which makes us recognise the place at first glance? This question may be related to the identity of the city.
Pola Dwurnik wrote, considering the "diagonals", that her father's cities are increasingly "removed from the authentic likeness of the cities being painted, that more and more often, they become a game of the artist's imagination".2 This is a pretext for me to consider what an "authentic likeness" of a city might be. Does a photograph, for example, record authenticity? Is a postcard more authentic in relation to the city than a painting? What is the relationship between an "authentic" city and an "imagined" one? Does the city, which is so changeable that it is impossible to wonder at these changes enough and cannot be subjected to translation, have some single, concrete likeness, which Dwurnik's imagination departs from? I think that among the physiognomies of every city, there is also that commemorated on canvass, in literature, photographs and that they all come together to create the city, which lives without a moment of respite. An authentic likeness is the sum of all past and future likenesses, influencing one another. Paintings even produce changes in "real" three-dimensional space, lingering in its creators' memory. So perhaps it is hard to say that Dwurnik falsifies the "authentic" picture of the city? Is something false in cases when the truth is hard come by? How is it possible to say anything without a point of reference?
The relationship between memory and real space is unusual because the city is laden with cultural and historical metaphor. The meaning of well-known works of architecture such as the Town Hall and the market in Poznań, represented by Dwurnik on numerous occasions, changes according to the history linked to the building. In Dwurnik's work, cities "valorise" paintings (someone may be keener to purchase Venice than Szczecinek) but even more frequently it is paintings that "valorise" cities. After seeing Mrqgowo, Mrągowo becomes different, it becomes another Mrqgowo. Let us use a story told by Werner Heisenberg, who, together with Niels Bohr, visited Kronborg castle, traditionally associated with Hamlet. During the trip, Bohr was to wonder: "Is it not strange that this castle becomes different when one thinks that Hamlet once lived here? According to the science we practise, we might suppose that the castle is composed of stone; we take pleasure in the forms the architect has arranged it into. The stone, the roof taking on a green patina and the wooden sculptures in the church make it a real castle. Absolutely none of this changes when we find out that Hamlet lived here, yet it becomes a different castle. The walls and dikes immediately begin to speak another language. The castle courtyard becomes a world, a dark comer reminding us of the shadows of the human soul. We hear the question «to be or not to be»".3
Whał lies above the city The eye of the imagination rises above the city and peers down through the blue space, offering "a view and that pleasant but deceptive feeling of freedom which is sought by all climbers of towers and which makes dreamers of all those who live in attics".4 The view from above is the favourite viewpoint of dreamers, those who love freedom, for it gives them the specific standing of people unhindered by space. They are able to create a great synthesis of the city in their eyes and understand more. Consequently, they know more about the space, given them only in the form of detail deprived of context. They can know the causes of people's wandering, trace their paths, know where they are coming from, where they are going to and which way. Nobody firmly walking the streets can understand the city (even if he knows it very well and has tramped its streets since he was a child) like the observer who chooses to spare a few minutes to contemplate the view from a tower.
Finally, a bird's eye view allows one to consciously dip into the air in which the whole city is submerged. It allows one to immerse oneself in the sky.
In Dwurnik's painting, air is as important as the one who breathes it - air, atmosphere in the mony meanings of the word. The artist himself has said that he has never been interested in commenting on actual events but in social atmosphere, which he decodes quickly. Dwunik's paintings make us feel what "lingers in the air".
Cities in stop-frame Twenty-five series' of paintings - twenty-five paths, some of which branch out (such as Hitch-hiking Trips which contains Blue Cities (Niebieskie miasta), Diagonal Cities (Miasta diagonalne) and Ideal Cities (Miasta idealne). Making my way along these paths I look left and right and record in my memory the characteristics of the cities I pass, which seem to me to vary according to the path they anchor at.
In the series of human Passions (Namiętności), begun in 1969, architecture provides a natural scenario for the human comedy and takes on a life of its own. It is hetero­geneous, forming a cohesive organism. Dwurnik's story has already thrown up a very interesting phenomenon, describing the relationship of people to the city; the inhabitants become linked to the space, creating a heterogeneous "mixture" and not a "solution" - associated with Hamlet. During the trip, Bohr was to wonder: "Is it not strange that this castle becomes different when one thinks that Hamlet once lived here? According to the science we practise, we might suppose that the castle is composed of stone; we take pleasure in the forms the architect has arranged it into. The stone, the roof taking on a green patina and the wooden sculptures in the church make it a real castle. Absolutely none of this changes when we find out that Hamlet lived here, yet it becomes a different castle. The walls and dikes immediately begin to speak another language. The castle courtyard becomes a world, a dark corner reminding us of the shadows of the human soul. We hear the question «to be or not to be»".3
What lies above the city The eye of the imagination rises above the city and peers down through the blue space, offering "a view and that pleasant but deceptive feeling of freedom which is sought by all climbers of towers and which makes dreamers of all those who live in attics".4 The view from above is the favourite viewpoint of dreamers, those who love freedom, for it gives them the specific standing of people unhindered by space. They are able to create a great synthesis of the city in their eyes and understand more. Consequently, they know more about the space, given them only in 1he form of detail deprived of context. They can know the causes of people's wandering, trace their paths, know where they are coming from, where they are going to and which way. Nobody firmly walking the streets can understand the city (even if he knows it very well and has tramped its streets since he was a child) like the observer who chooses to spare a few minutes to contemplate the view from a tower.
Finally, a bird's eye view allows one to consciously dip into the air in which the whole city is submerged. It allows one to immerse oneself in the sky.
In Dwurnik's painting, air is as important as the one who breathes it - air, atmosphere in the many meanings of the word. The artist himself has said that he has never been interested in commenting on actual events but in social atmosphere, which he decodes quickly. Dwunik's paintings make us feel what "lingers in the air".
Cities in stop-frame Twenty-five series' of paintings - twenty-five paths, some of which branch out (such as Hitch-hiking Trips which contains Blue Cities (Niebieskie miasta), Diagonal Cities (Miasta diagonalne) and Ideal Cities (Miasta idealne). Making my way along these paths I look left and right and record in my memory the characteristics of the cities I pass, which seem to me to vary according to the path they anchor at.
In the series of human Passions (Namiętności), begun in 1969, architecture provides a natural scenario for the human comedy and takes on a life of its own. It is hetero­geneous, forming a cohesive organism. Dwurnik's story has already thrown up a very interesting phenomenon, describing the relationship of people to the city; the inhabitants become linked to the space, creating a heterogeneous "mixture" and not a "solution" -
While the Sportsmen play out genre scenes in interiors, smooth walls of sky-scrapers stretch beyond the windows (but in the background), stressing the big city context - people collide with a mute wall. In another canvass, we see an office, high up, full of super-ambitious civil servants. The wall is entirely made of glass and opens out onto the grated elevations of huge sky-scrapers. Dwurnik's iconography is unique.
Let us now take an inevitably brief look at the Hitch-hiking Trips series, which is conceived of on a wide scale. The series is the fruit of travels from his student days and was continued through the 1970s and 1980s. It shows timeless Polish cities, small-town dramas and farcical tragicomedies, all seen from above, somewhat obliquely, with no horizon. The architecture becomes scenery, background for the very dynamic figures, which seem disproportionately large (or is it that the background scenery is reduced in scale?), milling around squares and streets in unbelievable crowds. With time, we find traces of history in these cities; the scenery doesn't change in principle, it is just that the requirements change.
The towns visited while hitch-hiking are painted in various ways. They are either general views, sometimes enriched with "information boards" with the history of the town written out, or segments of space (always predestined for such purposes, e.g. a marketplace) - a fragment of the town seen close-up, in a wider or narrower frame. Very often, there are all kinds of small-town features: statues, obelisks, statuettes of the Madonna. False formations also appear, imposed on the town (spheres, pyramids - e.g. a pyramid located at a crossroads in a way which is, according to the canons of urban design, absurd) organising space and giving it precise meaning, a feeling of great unease.
The subsequent Warsaw series is a story in itself (already described by Dorota Monkiewicz)6. Here, as in no other series, one city has become the subject, one sees clearly the progressive changes in Dwurnik's treatment of pictorial space. Paintings change and the capital changes with them. "You're a cheat, I've been to Warsaw. You painted the Palace of Culture in Stegny, but it's next to Hotel Forum" - goes the anecdote related by the author of one of the texts.7 Today, the Palace of Culture is not so much close to Hotel Forum as not far from Hotel Marriott. Time treats the city in the same way as the painter does, neither are concerned with being faithful to space and its internal order.
The greater the distance from the city, the less important the people become, playing second fiddle to an overall view of the tissue of the city. Precisely calligraphically drawn architecture collides with a thicket of figures. Life, seen from a distance, does not become immobile, frozen in a frame, it dissolves into a dirty mass, alien to any detail, precision or univocal character. The more life there is, the less finished the form, the less drawing there is. There is a picture in the Warsaw series representing a six sided building under construction, on the outskirts of a small, calligraphically drawn town. The unfinished building is just a flat, inarticulate patch in the painting.
Blue and ideal hitches Blue Cities, the embodiment of Hitch-hiking Trips, are a flight Irom the everyday. Dwurnik used to look at the world from behind a fence, through the Open kitchen door; now, he chooses the most characteristic, memorable fragments of great Polish and European cities. It is art of the city centre - the centre of order, of the "civilised world" (blue, for Dwurnik), which, as Roland Barthes writes, is what Western man is looking for. "Quadrangle, reticulated cities (Los Angeles, for instance) are said to produce a profound uneasiness: they offend our synesthetic sentiment of the City, which ftquires that any urban space have a centre to go to, to return from, a complete site to dream of and in relation to which to advance or retreat; in a word, to invent oneself. For mony reasons (historical, economic, religious, military), the West has understood this law only too well: all its cities are concentric; but also, in accord with the very movement of Western metaphysics, for which every centre is the site of truth, the centre of our cities is olways full; a marked site, it is here that the values of civilisation are gathered and condensed: spirituality (churches), power (offices), money (banks), merchandise (depart­ment stores), language (agoras, cafes and promenades): to go downtown or to the city Centre is to encounter the social «truth», to participate in the proud plenitude of •reality»."8
Al a certain point, passers-by disappeared from the streets. They were too tall (given the obvious impossibility of keeping to scale, they were sometimes as high as two storeys) ond competed with the architecture. As a guest of the blue cities, it is impossible to judge the lapsing of time from a clock, foresee changes in the weather or speak of hard facts. The once colourful stories became transformed into monuments of civilisation, en­veloped in a bluish atmosphere, drawn out in the most minute detail, as though detail ond the precision of painting were to compensate for the all-unifying colour. Bogusław Deptuła has, among his remarks on other aspects of the Blue Cities, commented on the fact that cars are the only thing that give the cities a semblance of life.9
Ideal City (No 1931) also exists in ultramarines and Prussian blues. In the middle of the iquore there is a central construction (like Bramante's Tempietto), a rectangular web of Ifreets, palaces with loggia's and arcades. And the convergent perspective! Stone heads, lometimes on plinths, are freely scattered about the square; the statues of unknown heroes are the only inhabitants of the desolate city. This extraordinary painting echoes motifs from earlier works of Dwurnik's: from the plaster plein-airs, the grey cities terrorised by the totalitarian symbols of power, the marketplaces - not completely ideal but central to the small world of small-town spaces.
The ideal city is one which submits ideally to some clear compositional rule: where the ortist can use an ideally convergent perspective (the city does not "crumble") or where the real metropolitan tissue plays an equal part in the game. This is the case with New York, which lends itself ideally to being written into a diagonal web.
Diagonal hitches: crossroads in infinity "Cheated of the coveted view by the insidious architecture, I gazed up at ihe sky and was soon appeased. New clouds kept forming and drifting south-westward, as thought that direction had some special attraction for clouds."'® Is it possible for a city to run like clouds seen through a window, from north­west to south-east; for the city, or rather the streets, to fall into one unending line? Is it possible to play the city's music out on such a line? Does not parallelness, lacking crossroads, squares and privileged central points, singled out by the inhabitants, exactly contradict the city's essence - a meeting space? Is there such a thing as an unending city?
Stretched out along a diagonal grid, the city has a very interesting modular structure. Parallel arteries run on despite one another, possessing equal rights (there are no naturally main roads or subsidiary ones). Wandering amidst the infinity of parallel cities I wondered whether they were more city or more road and river. There is a point to the question: cities are closed, limited forms, while roads and rivers are open to infinity. But all paths and all waters meet somewhere and link all cities to one another. In this way the diagonal cities linger somewhere between closure and openness.
Is there any room for neighbourhood in a city like this? Can you come to know how the people in the parallel street live? Only the melody of separateness can be recorded in straight lines. Streets, or rather traffic arteries (for they can also be waterways), do not always exist in complete isolation. They can be connected by bandeaus (bridges, canals, streets) - "synapses", through which the city conveys information about itself to all districts. Sometimes, though, the city consists solely of quarters or crossroads (depending on one's view-point), as is the case in the paintings Mogielnica and St. Gallen. The city becomes an archipelago and the sense of emptiness and isolation is intensified.
Each of ihese "variable" diagonal schemes is an engagingly false idea for a city, a game of "what would happen if ?", a democratic portrait of urban life in which there is no better or worse, no down-town or suburban, one without the whole urban mythology of fashionable, good districts and those, where one "ought not to live". Perhaps diagonal cities are the antithesis of ideal cities and their imposing hierarchy?
Bogusław Deptuła has said of the Diagonal Cities: "The streets of Dwurnik's cities slip away into infinity", "It is as though only one line had remained out of the whole fine net, and had then been multiplied"." It is true that the paths run on into infinity - but our urban, local straight parallel lines curve and cross one another over large distances, like on the surface of a sphere.
So, strictly speaking, our common parallelness does not exist. Dwurnik has not created an impossible city. Even the streets of the diagonal cities meet, they meet somewhere in space, at squares and cosmic roundabouts. They submit to convergent cosmic^ perspective.
Half-visible cities Although there was no revolutionary beginning or abrupt departure from the past, there had to be one groundbreaking painting: Nieszawa, from which everything began.
We see a segment of a londscape, composed horizontally, almost in strips (which is rare for Dwurnik, recalling Blue [Błękitne]). Every part of the landscape had been simplified, treated schematically: the river flows in childish wrinkles, the edge meets the water in a ribbon. Further on, there is sand with white birds and forest, forest, forest. The trees suddenly lose their contours and characteristic pattern. The drawing only becomes patchy in the distance. In the background, behind the furthest trees, there are mountains, then sky, with a white cloud, heavy as an angel's wing.
Nieszawa paved the way for Kłodzka Valley (Kotlina Kłodzka), painted between 24 June fend 2 July 2000 (No 2598) - the first painting in the new Series XXV. Kłodzka Valley is a reflection of the landscape. It has similar, horizontally adjoining, traces of water, greenery and sky, perhaps from under the banner of Claude Monet, who, after all, played a part in the revolutionary transformation of the landscape into abstraction. In a word: Monet must have helped Dwurnik the draftsman in his search for Dwurnik the colourist. It may have been Blue or Diagonal Cities which led to this - from two different directions: Colour and Synthesis seeking a common denominator.
Two Blues (Dwa Błękity, No 2599), the second painting from the new series, was also mode at this time, in a single day, on 24 June. It is so utterly, utterly different that what happened on 24 June 2000 takes on great importance. Please don't take this ironically, this is no joke, I would really like to know.
The third canvas in the series, entitled Blue painting {Obraz niebieski), also begun on 24 June and completed at the end of the month), like the fifth painting (7 July) is reminiscent of Jackson Pollock. It is a testimony to just how intensively Dwurnik scoured the world of abstraction. Interestingly, between these two paintings from under the banner of abstract expressionism, Dwurnik painted the beautiful and lyrical Daughter's Room (Pokój córki). It is the first painting in the series to have been constructed to such K degree - of greys, ultramarine, Prussian blue, Cardamom red and vermilion.It is Significant that Daughter's Room was to become the title of the whole series. All the subsequent pictures in the series that I have seen, perfect the rules of the game found in this room.
The paintings of Series XXV are made up of modules, patches and bricks. Rather than constructing abstraction though, they construct the city. The painting Beautiful (Piękny), asthe artist called it (twelfth in the series, No 2615, painted 30 July) is in fact a Square of the Star (Plac Gwiazdy) - as I have called it. Of course, it is not literally a square but a certain ¡Conception of central urban planning, painted in blues, vermilion and orange, with a clearly defined core, the heart of the city. I was looking at this painting in the garden, in full sunshine and saw something unexpected: a luminous city space!
It was a completely incredible feeling when I realised that the supposedly abstract paint­ing was, in fact, another of Dwurnik's embodiments of the city. The artist had not abandoned the city when he discarded real reality! He had not abandoned his urbanity and urban airiness, had not left off assessing the distance between masses and the spatial relations between flat patches. Dwurnik had not forsaken hitch-hiking nor cities, with their apartment blocks, streets, squares, statues, markets, churches, city-halls. He had not ceased to think in terms of the city, which had sunk into him so deeply.
Now he has risen high above his city, so high that the differences between cities have become blurred and have all merged into one, ultimate, ideal city, either centrally composed or remaining scattered to perfection. Seen from a height well above that of a bird's eye view, the city exists and vibrates as one, perfectly compact organism in which there is no longer any division between the architecture and the people inhabiting it. Contours, drawing, the desire for precision - have been made to disappear. The principle has taken over from the detail. The half-visible city, perhaps the most real of all, has emerged.
I spent a few moments watching the artist work on the thirteenth painting (No 2616, begun 1 August 2000). He was still searching for the centre of gravity, weighing the composition by turning the canvas round and round, 180° each time. He was trying to find out which quarters of the globe corresponded to his city.
1  J. Klejnocki, Miasto otwarte, LNB Wydawnictwo, Warszawo 1995, p. 28
2  R Dwurnik, Piękne i przerażajqce... miasta diagonalne (exh. cat.), Płocka Galeria Sztuki, Płock, October-November 1998
3  W. Heisenberg, Część i całość, Warszawa 1987, p. 75
4  G. Grass, The Tin Drum, transl. R. Manheim, Penguin Books, 1965 (1980 edition), pp.91-92
5  H. Waniek, "Edward Dwurnik", Twórczość 4/1980
6  D. Monkiewicz, Fenomen socjologiczny twórczości Edwarda Dwurnika, [in:| Edward Dwurnik, Warszawa (exh. cal.), Galeria PBK, Warszawa, May-September 1999
7  "Sztuka publicystyczna: Edward Dwurnik", annotated by A. Skoczylas, Sztuka, 2/1981
8  R. Barthes, The Empire of Signs, transl. R. Howard, New York 1982, p. 30
9  B. Deptuła, Niebieskie miasto (exh. cat.), Goleria Zderzak, Kraków, 1994
10  G. Grass, op cif., p 74
11  B. Deptuło, Diagonalne miasta (exh. cat.), Płocko Galeria Sztuki, Płock, October-November 1998