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The Riddle of the Sphinx

Krzysztof Mężyk and the participants of a painting workshop:
Anita Mirecka, Łukasz Zarzycki and Andrzej Sawicki
observer: Krzysztof Sumera

 
“See you later!”, I say to Andrzej at the end of our meeting.
Andrzej stops. He hesitates for a moment and replies, “We, the blind, rather say ‘feel you later’”. He bursts out laughing and then says from the corridor, “See you!”.


It's difficult to get away from words and habits related to seeing and sight. This is true in general, but particularly so when you write about painting. Also when you describe something tangible, but you don’t know what it is exactly. When matter is just a reflection of an image. Or of a vision as Krzysiek likes to describe these inner images of the blind, a vision which is born and grows, acquires meanings and structures, elsewhere, out of reach, out of sight. I am tempted to say “under the eyelid”, but no, this image has nothing to do with the eye.

In this case the images are thought out. It's a long process. They’re more conceptual than intuitive, even if the image is striking. They could be referred to as negotiations interrupted by silence. They also include the silence that fills the room when people only say what they know. Or when they say as much. Each stroke is preceded by reflection and conversation. And every such exchange is well thought over. Each gesture is awaited for. Dabbling with paint and fiddling with matter play a supporting role. It just cannot be done otherwise. Blue is a joyful colour. Yellow is a carefree hue which stands for immaturity. Red may be a butterfly that you chase or lips grimacing in first sadness.

When someone talks about something they don’t understand, there’s a saying in Polish which describes the situation: like a blind person talking about colours. Or actually, it used to be described that way. In culture, blindness is always a metaphor. Either a curse or a blessing. There are no half measures, no subtle shading. Oedipus was punished, but Homer was marked. Gifted with vision. But in this case of seeing things from the inside. As if things could not be touched, tasted and smelled. As if everything had to be seen first. Discourse fetishizes and language excludes.

I don’t know much about colours. For Andrzej, Anita and Łukasz, colour retains its significance. Like every other aspect of a painting.

I don’t remember paintings. I know what was on them, I remember the themes, frottage here, a vivid black spot there, and how they went together. But I can’t reproduce them. However, for them, paintings exist. Not-so-distant, extended in time or functioning out of time. They know every detail, every stroke, the barely visible streak that was made during the second session, when improving again on the edge of the yellow sandbox. A bit as if they were watching a film over and over again. One that you know very well and which never bores you.

Anita and Łukasz paint the eye. Only one eye, big and blue. They say the wolf is watching. Meaning looking at the world.

Maybe only I can see it, but on the inside of the eye there’s a semicircle. Every time I look at the wolf, I see this narrowed eyelid. I turn my eyes away, I recreate the image in my mind, I’m not sure about it, the image with all its significance or a conversation that I overheard. I see. Or I just stop seeing. The eye is open.

It's fine. The wolf can see me.

Is anyone still afraid of the wolf?
 

***

Krzysiek worked for several few weeks, with two teenagers, Anita and Łukasz. They produced one triptych. The theme is the mystery of the Sphinx, a story of an animal that walks on four legs, then on two and finally on three. The side effect are two small landscapes painted by the observer who can see, Krzysztof. Anita and Łukasz don’t ask what the observer has painted. Later, for another few weeks, Krzysiek meets in the same studio with an elderly man, Andrzej. The second triptych is painted. This time the theme is the Odyssey.
 
In both cases, the paintings tell, briefly, the story of life and its stages. In both cases, childhood, maturity and old age are broken up into a series of original themes, symbols and representations, where old age grows in the form of a worms or looks like a wolf in an aurora, and maturity is a struggle in the open sea, with a boat on whose mast there are dark glasses, with a tank and a cane instead of a sword.

The images are accompanied by sketches, notes and video recordings, which, as a kind of equivalent to audiodescription for the non-blind, allow us to paint what may be seen but also what may not.

The exhibition forces us to abandon voyeurism and goes beyond the linear perspective of the privileged, but also, well, it still looks at (sic!) the same, old and somewhat cliché riddle.

It's difficult to get away from words related to seeing and sight. But maybe you don’t have to.

Text by: Ania Batko