Andrzej Nowacki, On the edge of symmetry.
Beta16 Gallery
02.12.2023 - 05.04.2024

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On the edge of symmetry

Relief 27.02.23: the austere rhythm of grey-red bands trembles with an undulating, luminous breath. The colourful gradient spills into the depths of the verticals, in the recesses between the slats. A dark navy blue creeps towards the middle from the lateral edges of the painting, firing up with intense green in the central intervals - like the last ray of sunlight touching the horizon at dusk. At this moment of “transition” (between “day” and “night”, “being” and “non-being”), a vertical axis opens up: a red narrow crevice, with a stretch of white—a floating slat in its midst—as if suspended in nothingness. Perpendicular to the axis, the triad of squares pulsates with the energy of the colours: the mid-most square steps forward, throbbing with magnetic force, while the two side squares quieten down, retreating into the depths. Viewed from the front, the spheres of tension and hierarchies disappear as the relief is approach from an angle—the image is engulfed by a rainbow extravaganza, with only the subtle outlines of the central figure and the white section of the axis—the incandescent axis mundi—emerging from it.
It was in the early 2000s that Andrzej Nowacki drew on the concept of linear painting and explored its means of expression, though his first reliefs were created as early as the mid-1980s. Inspired by the work of Henryk Stażewski, they initially echoed the tradition of constructivism. At the time, Nowacki would compose his paintings of multicoloured geometric elements, achieving the impression of dynamic movement; the shifting forms and diagonal lines served him to build emotional tension. In subsequent years, that formula grew increasingly synthetic and orderly. By reducing the pictorial field to a series of vertical lines, the artist substantially enhanced the effect of pure colour. He then discovered the potential of the line as a vehicle that concentrated the energy of colour and, using a juxtaposition of colour bands, began to forge a different visual tension: one that was clearly rhythmical and pulsed with inner life. The first reliefs of the kind, created between 2003 and 2011, are characterized by a straightforward linear arrangement, uniformity of structure, variable and complex colour relationships that are no longer encumbered by objective references and reciprocal effect of forms. The spatial surface of the relief is immersed in the illusionary dimension. With the thickening of the lines and tonalities, chiaroscuro effects, reflections, as well as simultaneous contrast, the viewer’s gaze is plunged into a constant, lively interplay of liberated, pure colours, in which the sense of actual depth is completely lost. The plasticity of the relief and the different heights of the slats make it possible discover more and more colourful nuances, thanks to which the image reveals ever new and unique facets, depending on the light and one’s viewpoint. After all, visual perception is not a single instance of seeing, but a continual sequence of successive images and views.
Since 2013, outlines of figures would re-emerge in the reliefs. The lines created by the slats and their multicoloured sections float in groups above the surface, yielding multiple visual dimensions of planes at different levels. The rhythmical, illusory structure of the series of slats blends into the characteristic, centric arrangement of the composition. The distinct colour fields in the paintings are precisely delimited and organized, with their force of gravity clearly tangible. Even so, the figures manifest themselves as ephemeral entities, a vague pulsation of lines, discreetly disclosed in a thicket of coloured slats. The individual elements of the composition appear and vanish depending on the perspective of the beholder who—as they move—experiences the space of the painting as ceaseless being of colours and shapes. In the reliefs of recent years, the concentric arrangements become more prominent. The dictate of the symmetry which spreads from the centre or the vertical axis pervades successive compositions, lending the figures perfect balance and static equilibrium. The painting radiates a monumental strength and gives the impression of eternal, unchanging permanence.
Since times immemorial, the notion of symmetry has been associated with the idea of order, regularity, truthfulness, with correct and appropriate proportions. In antiquity, the word was used interchangeably with “harmony”. The Pythagoreans linked symmetry with a vision of the cosmos construed as a model of perfection. It thus represented the principle of cosmic regularity, the eternal and sacred measure of nature.[ See Symetrie w sztuce i naukach humanistycznych, ed. J. Gajda-Krynicka, Wrocław 1993.] Indeed, inherent in the ideal of beauty, the rule of symmetry is profoundly rooted in the laws and forms of nature.
The principle of division along the axis of symmetry is manifested in the structure of the human body. Recognizing the bilateral arrangement in nature and objects, we perceive it as aesthetically pleasing and beautiful because it corresponds to the proportions of our own body. The axial symmetry in Nowacki’s paintings, which provides a “skeleton” or “scaffolding” of the composition, is clearly anthropomorphic in nature. Discussing the artist’s reliefs, the German art critic Hubertus Gaßner observes thus: “By inscribing this symmetry into a square, the impression created in the abstract dimension is much akin to what is elicited by Leonardo da Vinci’s famous sketch of the proportions of the human body: the body is inscribed into a circle which is symmetrically concentric with a square. [...] For all the limitations of the repertory of forms to two basic elements—the square and the straight, vertical line—the combination of the two contradictory forms of symmetry they create evokes a tension and dynamism immanent to the painting. The viewer discovers these via the sense of the symmetry of the own body and the perception of corporeal movement.”[ H. Gaßner, Rytm i rezonans, [in:] We wnętrzu kwadratu – Melodyka geometrycznego świata. Rysunki i reliefy Andrzeja Nowackiego, [exhibition catalogue], Reckahn 2003, p. 11.]
Focusing the gaze on a symmetrical arrangement not only leads to the “recognition of the self” in the structure of the image, as the process of its perception also presupposes a certain model of relationship with the work. According to theItalian mathematician Bruno D’Amore: “The very perception of a symmetrical figure seeks to elevate the central, absolute role of the subject, since the gaze of the beholder, once focused on the object itself, is not ‘stimulated’ to shift towards the other parts of the image.”[ B. D’Amore, Arte e matematica. Metafore, analogie, rappresentazioni, identità tra due mondi possibili, Bari 2018, p. 124.]
The moment of arresting the eye and “solidified” contemplation is an inseparable stage in the dialogue with Nowacki’s relief. Nevertheless, curiosity about further visual experience, the unfolding interplay of colours and illusory vibrations prompts the viewer to constantly change the direction of the gaze, to realign the eye, as well as the body, changing the stance while one faces the painting.
Another feature of the symmetrical system is its potential tendency to develop indefinitely. In art, this manifests primarily in ornamentation, or the unlimited repetition of a pattern according to a specific scheme. In Nowacki’s work, the array of the vertical lines contributes to the symmetrical development of the composition, as they almost automatically appear to venture outside the square field of the painting. Another moment of tension arises there, a contrast between the imaginary cadence of the verticals and the symmetrically organized and confined area of the square which, as a perfect form, remains motionless. A number of works created from 2020 onwards feature parts of the background which have not been covered by slats. These particular sections introduce a dominance of a single colour into the painting and a clean surface on which figures composed of a series of short slats settle like islands.
The magic of Nowacki’s reliefs consists in the balance which is nurtured ever so subtly between order and its dynamic disruption. In many of his recent paintings, the symmetrical structure of the composition is broken by the rhythmical gradient of colours on the sides of the slats. Moving horizontally, the colour “glissandos” often do not follow the mirror order or direction set by the centre of the composition. Thus, colours yield weight and dynamics, and when the painting is viewed at an angle, the impression of the central static and hierarchy disappears. The mood of the relief balances on the verges of the slats, susceptible to intriguing and unexpected changes.
Next to the effect of the colours, the symmetry in some works is undermined by individual figures. Usually, these are small square tiles floating above a row of slats. Moved horizontally relative to the axis, they shift their weight to one side of the composition, invariably to the right. These small, crowning accents, filled with accumulated tension, are introduced by the artist at the final stage of the painting.
An interesting moment of symmetry disruption may be seen in relief 26.03.23. The axial structure is inscribed into the outlines of six duplicated squares, evenly distributed in two rows. The precisely consistent arrangement of forms is disturbed by the expressiveness of colours. Affected by simultaneous contrast, the bottom right square builds up evident tension and an increasing downward gravity, while the other squares seem to float up and away, shedding the uniformity of the “grid” imposed from above, as it were. The outline of the bottom square remains the only visible element when viewing the painting at an angle. The weight of that square defies the luminous axis and initiates a silent dialogue of two solitary figures. The combination of the static and the permanent with the volatile and dynamic moment in Nowacki’s paintings does not owe to an intellectual game or rational calculation. The artist aims to evoke an emotional response in the viewer, triggered by the energy emanating from the painting, its intrinsic affects and passions that lie at the root of creation of each subsequent work. Geometric order and the emotional expression of relief have always been inseparable in Nowacki’s oeuvre, while the continual pursuit of harmony stems from “the quest for the lost order in [one] self”.[ A. Nowacki, Spojrzenie na twórczość, [in:] B. Kowalska, W poszukiwaniu ładu. Artyści o sztuce, Katowice 2001, p. 126.] The disruption of the static order and the “eternal persistence” reflects the state of the moment, the restlessness and the tension, whereby the process of constant movement and change is revealed as an element of life. The painting becomes the quintessential moment of “being on the edge”, of balancing in a short-lived symmetrical equilibrium between one and another facet of the painted relief.

Dr Darya Pyshynskaya

Andrzej Nowacki

Born in 1953 in Rabka-Zdrój, the artist spent his youth in Krakow, where he became close with the milieu of the Academy of Fine Arts in the mid-1970s. Having left Poland in 1977, he studied Scandinavian studies in Göteborg as well as German studies and art history in Innsbruck. Between 1982 and 1984 he would visit the studio of Henryk Stażewski, whose work prompted the artist’s explorations into geometric abstraction. In 1984 he moved to West Berlin, where he dedicated himself to creative work. In 1994, Nowacki was awarded a private scholarship in West Orange, N.Y., USA. From the mid-1990s, he collaborated with Heinz Teufel, a collector and owner of Europe’s leading concrete art gallery. In 1997–2001, Nowacki participated in the International Plein-Air for Artists Using the Language of Geometry, organized by Bożena Kowalska in Okuninka near Chełm and in Orońsko. In 2001, he was awarded a scholarship by the Pollock-Krasner Foundation in New York. In 2005, the artist travelled to Osaka to prepare his first exhibition in Japan. He spent 2006 in a studio on Anna Maria Island, Florida, USA, where he worked on reliefs for Seth Jason Beitler Gallery in Miami. In 2015, Nowacki set up a new atelier at an erstwhile large industrial site in Dolní Vítkovice, Ostrava, where he worked until 2018. Currently, the artist lives and works in Berlin.

Selected individual exhibitions:

1987 Pommersfelde Gallery, West Berlin
1992 Pryzmat Gallery, Cracow
1993 Sernov & Rose Gallery, Berlin
1994 Lederman Fine Art Gallery, New York
1995 Berinson Gallery, Berlin
1996 Kirchner Haack Fine Gallery, Miami
Amfilada Gallery, Szczecin
2000 Heinz Teufel Gallery, Berlin
2002 International Cultural Centre, Cracow
2003 Municipal Gallery Arsenal, Poznań
2004 Piekary Gallery, Poznań
National Museum, Szczecin
2005 KISSHO Fine Art Gallery, Osaka
2006 Seth Jason Beitler Fine Arts Gallery, Miami
2013 LETO Gallery, Warsaw
2017 National Art Gallery, Sopot
2019 Milan Dobeš Museum, Ostrava
AP Atelier Josef Pleskot, Prague
2021 Nanazenit Gallery, Warsaw