Over the past fifteen years Andrzej Bereziański has been struggling to find an appropriate means of expressing his experiences and feelings. He is looking for an artistic theory which would coincide as closely as possible with the obsessions, tensions and intense internal pressures to which he is subject. After training in fine art at the Poznań Academy the first difficulty which he encountered as an artist arose from the necessity to overcome the image of the ‘well-educated professional’. It is generally accepted that designers and visual artists s.re under great pressure to keep abreast of trends and fashions and to give their support to professional projects in which quantity in productions takes precedence over quality. In modern society the activity of making art appears to be different from other professions, and it is not unusual for artists to exploit their privileged status by maintaining a glorified definition of art, (‘art is what artists make’) and by making mechanical replicas known as works of art. There is however an alternative to this approach, which is roughly similar to the conventions of primitive societies, according to which artists are singled out from other members of society by virtue of the quality of their aims and achievements. The artistic ethos of that tribal, pre-industrial and non-historical function of art was still in existence during the nineteenth century when the Polish Romantic poets proposed equating art with prophetic values as a contrast to the more pompous professionalism of the Art, Academies. Moreover, the twentieth century avant-garde (e.g. Strzemidski and Peiper) identified its artists through a very rigid system of socio-artistic utopias. It was by means of a similar ‘artistic ethos’ that Tadeusz Kantor, one of the central figures of the second Polish avant-garde of the fifties and sixties, emphasized that he had always wanted to be ‘a great painter’ and not merely ‘a painter’.
Perhaps Bereziański values the ethic of the ‘art temple’ and ‘art as something worth struggling for’ as a basis for his aims. When he received his diploma from the Art Academy he refused to be only a second-rate personality. After a short and unsuccessful career as assistant-teacher (1967-1968) he divided his creative existence into two distinct roles. he first is that of a craftsman/artisan producing hand-made metal objects according to the mysterious art of blacksmithing. By means of this activity he is able to earn a living and as a craftsman he fits easily into the above category. The second area of Bereziański’s life is that of saintly and unadulterated creativity and it is in this sense that his art fits into the primitive tradition mentioned earlier. As a craftsman he makes perfect but unoriginal looking objects, the design of which appears to coincide with an appropriate historical style. But if we examine these objects carefully we see that they are traps for the antique or curio-collector … and that they are made with a lot of contemporary imagination and flair. Sometimes he uses random methods as well as a ready-made constructivist ideology, so that they are less imitations than improvisations on certain stylistic motifs. Thus, in a curious way, he is shifting the emphasis of creativity from the avant-garde onto craftsmanship.
As an artist Bereziański makes astonishing moves. He experiments with and uses a huge variety of images and methods of expression. In this way he is very different from artists who are victims of ‘one idea’. In Bereziański’s work, even the extent, of his belief in mythical creativity changes constantly and influences both good and bad have led to the transition from the position of an artisan. At any rate, the stable element in his art is represented by his profoundly idealistic (even mystical) approach to art-making and to the process of art-making itself. Bereziański’s rich imagery and idealism often prevent him from executing or visualising his feelings by means of the so-called ‘noble’ technologies which the Academies claim to be the best media for ‘high art’. Bereziański rejected these conventional methods and started to look for another way of exploiting the creative potential which he had discovered when he was working as a craftsman. But, before he realised that he could use his abilities as a smith, he had already become involved in his ‘impossible art’ in which he was unable to transmit his experiences and feelings visually. By 1966 he had recognised that in view of’ all his limitations, he should not seek the most conventional methods of making sculptures, drawings or paintings but on the contrary, the methods which he ought to be using should (1) be random (2) exploit any available cheap materials or degraded objects and (3) oppose any metonymous methods,i.e. transmit the desired meaning’, even if the materials are totally ‘unsuitable’ for the purpose to which they are put, etc. In 1967 he attempted to find an appropriate method by which he could use a fire-like element in order to transmit his internal emotions and he made great efforts to construct something, the characteristics of which would be contrary to the idea of an ephemeral and continually burning element. He cut tongues of fire out of cheap, thick hardboard, which he painted bright yellow…the effect was almost magical. When placed against a wall his static, primitive forms gave a much more convincing impression of flames than any elaborate, illusionistic form would do. He then set out to find the most convincing visual equivalent to the euphoric hallucinatory feelings, feelings such as those which are experienced under the influence of some drugs. He glued together sheets of grey wrapping paper, which made a large flat surface. onto which he painted curved forms in violet or black China ink. These images on paper have been exhibited on several occasions: in Wrocław in 1969, and at the ‘A’ Gallery in Gniezno where the gigantic paper drawings were juxtaposed with wire sculptures… the effect surpassed all expectations. These humble compositions painted in two colours were much richer than any multi-coloured and pretentious abstractions which were being painted at the time. When they were nailed onto the wall the sheets of paper looked like Buddhist mandalas … almost as if their existence were quite out of character with the crude manner in which they had been executed. During the time when he was making these early attempts to transmit his ideas Bereziański discovered the unique role of materials. He realised that they were capable of giving him inspiration for a new content and interpretation. It was perhaps at this juncture that he started to make full use of his abilities as an artisan. As an art process it was increasingly stimulating. Mind and matter started to operate in an inseparable process in which randomness was an important factor.
When he embarked on that new and open approach, Bereziański reversed the artisan’s point of view in a curious way. As mentioned earlier, he had been able to explore his creativity and imagination as a craftsman; whereas as an artist, he had started to use his abilities as an artisan to find an outlet for his feelings and experiences which were mingled with the art-making process. As a result his technical savoir-faire was suddenly limitless and with hindsight one recognises that it was by means of such an ideology that many discoveries had been made in the course of this century. Duchamp, by his random use of matter (dust), found a method of expressing himself artistically through any object he chose to use. By experimenting with ‘direct photography’ Man Ray discovered his ‘rayograms’ etc. Much earlier than the wave of artists who encountered ideological dilemmas transmitted through the painted image (Ryman, Kounellis, Palladino), Bereziański had worked out his own answer to the problem of solving the connection between (1) his own ideas (2) their expression and (3)the new ideas which emerge from the work itself. Thanks to his experiments with tongue-like forms he had discovered that, when he realised these forms, they achieved a sort of mythical significance. His tongues could be easily changed into waves, spermatozoa, traces of the wind, strange triangles, and so on. Thus they attained a sort of double status – as objects and as expressions of the artist’s internal feelings, which proved to be an important development in Bereziański’s art. Instead of trying to copy or transmit his feelings directly, he was now making works in which he discovered elements of his internal world. In 1971, he was obsessed by the idea of arrows (as unspecific measurements of life, energy, etc.) and he used them in many different ways, e.g. painted on paper, several sheets of which formed environments which were built according to +he direction of the arrows. At other times Bereziański used the flow of arrows literally he was so carried away by the arrows that he exhibited them in a gallery as cut out shapes (black arrows in a yellow room), forming a river of arrows. In 1972 his arrows changed into rays or beams of light. In order to suggest light and shade he used loose, creased canvas painted uniformly in one colour which emphasised the creased areas as well as the geometric shapes. By this simple method he obtained an unbelievably convincing impression of light and shadow. During the next two years (1973-1974) the geometric shapes which he used in the creased canvases developed into more rigid ‘systems’. He became interested in ‘construction’ and wanted to test these geometric figures in many different ways. They existed as shapes of painting and, in the form of drawings or sketches, they achieved varying degrees of accuracy. When Bereziański exhibited them at his ‘Fifth Closed Show’ in his studio, the visitors experienced a convincing impression of idealistic and notional ‘Construction’.
Between 1971 and 1975 he organised eight private ‘closed’ exhibitions in his studio. The visitors to the exhibitions were recruited from amongst his friends and apart from his exhibitions at Akumulatory 2 Gallery in Poznań these were the only opportunities for people to see his work. The shows were accompanied by ‘catalogues’ and other printed matter (such as Bereziański’s own publication, ‘Periodik’) as well as posters. The eighth show, which took place in 1975, marked another shift in Bereziański’s interests. He exhibited large unframed canvases from his ‘Himalaya’ series. Contrary to fashionable trends in post-conceptual art he was beginning to present his images in a more pictorial way. Although these works involve landscape-like structures, it is possible to see in them some elements of processes which he had used in his earlier works; the structures in these works were much more closely connected with the fact that they were painted than with formal considerations. Indeed, the way the artist used his brush or pencils in the ‘Himalaya’ series is closely connected to the visual potential of the materials and tools utilized. Sometimes he produces a myriad of tiny pencil lines which give an astonishingly accurate impression of the uneven surface which he is depicting. When he uses brush and paint, the working process itself became an important factor, as does the subtlety and beauty of the structures. In this way Bereziański reveals the serenity of his spirit and depicts the landscape as if in full sunlight. It is no wonder that he gave these works another title – ‘Impressionism’. Although the use of the term was an ironic reference to the old-fashioned tenets of the nineteenth century art movement, it, also acknowledged a very real ability to transmit an impression. Bereziański’s artisan approach came into play too, but these works were more hedonistic and colourful than his earlier pictures. His series of ‘Horizon’ paintings – with their witty brush marks and convex and concave horizons dividing the earth and the sky (1981) – have similar characteristics. From 1978 until 1980 Bereziańiski’s works were connected with the notion of ‘total drawing’, which was based on his thoughts about Nature and how it might be reflected in art. There was a sort of leit-motif in these drawings and paintings, in the form of a trite poem ‘On Seeing’. The poem was about trees, meadows, a river and a forest. Two phrases are repeated in the text: the first one is recited by a person who has a neglectful attitude to Nature and the second is enthusiastically recited by a person who has a deep admiration for Nature. That ironic poem was a starting point for Bereziański’s method of drawing. Nowadays he draws step by step: trees, meadows, a river, a forest. We are asked to recognise that instead of making a straightforward representation of natural phenomena, there are ways by which the artist can depict them according to our emotions and our way of seeing. In my opinion this is the major achievement of Bereziański’s art. Instead of presenting natural subjects in the accepted manner, he uses them to reveal the way in which they might be received.
They are also images which test the drawing process and serve as a didactic ‘method’ of exposing the essence of the art of drawing for ‘anybody who wants to learn’. In effect, there are (amongst others) two points of view to be taken into consideration: that these drawings simultaneously admire and neglect Nature and that we should read them according to our own inclinations. Natural forms appear in Bereziański’s work as a part of the drawing process because, to him, the obvious solution is to think through (and with) concrete images. But his Nature is drawn in such a way that he reveals both his intellectual intentions (to test our perception of some curious geometry which is concealed in Nature) and our emotional attitudes (the river flowing sharply and wildly through the river-bed. which the artist in his omnipotence has prepared for it). Bereziański enjoys drawing and this pleasure is expressed in his work. At the same time he is happy to dominate his images … he remains the artist.
Teksty zaczerpnięte z katalogu: ANDRZEJ BEREZIAŃSKI 1939-1999; wydany przez Galerię Arsenał w Poznaniu w 2003.
Podziękowania dla Jarosława Kozłowskiego, Andrzeja Kostołowskiego i Galerii Miejskiej w Poznaniu za udostępnienie materiałów archiwalnych.