Witold Kaliński »
By and large, the most significant conversations are possibly held in the small hours. In reality people live in the common world, in their dreams however everybody wanders about his own world. Only then it turns out that we are not as hermetically closed as it seemed to us. Dreams often happen to be a key to the cage which isolates us from the others.
Translated by Elżbieta Rodzeń-Leśnikowska
Witold Kaliński's metaphysical world of graphics just reminds dream illusions which help us reach the truth about human existence.
Oniric reality of his linocuts is full of mysterious signs and symbols, metaphorical associations and situations. It attracts and distresses. It obviously goes beyond the everyday reality and sensual perception. Yet we can observe something more in this world: nothing or hardly anything is full, complete, ultimately defined here.
Space of the images is neither historically nor geografically determined. In fact we are faced with a sign of space which - like in medieval morality plays - is treated universally and thus becomes a kind of 'omnispace'. Only some elements of its topography are significant - those which let us determine the directions of relations and movement - rising and falling down, climbing and descending. In some works there is something like a horizon, but even there space relation between it and an object in the foreground is more important than forming the real detailed context.
Space is filled with recognisable familiar forms, signs and symbols constituting a homogenous semantic unity and repeated in the subsequent works where they often function in varied situations. To find the key to read them out we can refer us to a given system, e.g. to the Christian symbols, symbols of psychoanalysis, culture anthropology, astrology. However, the system of signs created by Kaliński seems be based on the elements taken from many languages. A variety of connotations obtained guarantees a more universal message. Every reference to a given selected set of meanings would impoverish and simplify the message hidden in the graphic works.
Stairs, ladders, wells and towers, pyramids... In most symbolic systems they mean aims and aspirations, achieving creative power and spiritual exaltation. On the other hand they remind us of the fact that we have to face the inevitable numerous traps , cracks, holes and the abyss hidden at the bottom. We atone for reaching purification, awareness and knowledge, the way to perfection by reaching a limit which finally turns out to be a secret border between the world of the alive and the dead, the sensual and supernatural reality.
An apparent sign of these borders is represented by numerous windows and doors, secret and tempting passages between light and darkness, knowledge and ignorance, life and death. They are a challenge and an encouragement, the beginning and the end.
The lonely and anxious Man thrown into this space , sometimes overwhelmed by the reflection that 'we exist only for a while' or moved by a suspicion that life may turn up to be a dream only, with every guestion raised, with every attempt to understand the essence of existence he faces a risky challenge. Making out the signs he is given would be easier if Man - the morality play Everyman was first of all able to understand himself. Yet he himself, like the area of his activity, is not ultimately defined.
The human image is hardly suggested and deprived of realistic details. Anthropomorphic forms transformed in a unique way, itemised or multiplied, depending on expressive requirements. Creatures made of a trunk and a head, a winged yet physically incomplete silhouette, geometrical forms with realistic limbs are associated with something definitely incomplete, condemned to being dependent on something indefinable yet more perfect than the crippled image of human existence.
Figures have no faces, they are split and doubled, sometimes they are accompanied by their alter ego, concentrated on their own image of themselves, followed by their own shadow. They do not ultimately define and understand themselves, strange and mysterious, they put on masks, hiding their own faces. From time to time they are grotesque and calling for mercy when they face existential problems too difficult for them.
They sometimes seem not to be alone. They are accompanied by other figures - from this and out of this world. People and protective gods. A sleepwalker, an Harlequin or a cherub. And certainly someone they are even scared to name, someone who is hidden by the perfection of a triangle or by an internal unity and harmony of oval forms, someone who sees everything, who stretches out his arm in the dark ( if you catch it, will you be a winner?).
Man is only a Pilgrim, a Wanderer, a Vagabond going astray, between Heaven and the Earth. Under the Sun of infinity and enlightenment, or under the Moon - the eye of night and the guard of sleep. The traveller is awaited by an hello, holiness or triviality typical of majority. Is he able to tell the fortune from mysterious signs? Can he understand the meaning of the burning crown? Will a vagabond star bring him luck? Does the tail of a comet mean bad luck?
As if there were not enough questions and enigmas, Kaliński's Man is left continuously in the state of suspence. Always on a journey, between the dusk and the dawn, between reality and dream, at the moment of a significant decision. He often waits for something. For a potential yet not fulfilled fate, for an encounter (but there is still distance to be covered between the figures), for a letter (not written, though intended by someone, suspended in time and space).
Awareness of complicated issues the artist is concerned with results in emphasizing the duality of character of figures, relativity of nature of mutual relationships, many a time antithesis of symbols.
The final aim of the artist is to show the degree of awareness, circumstances, the essence of a fact and not its realistic image. Witold Kaliński appeals to us not by means of impression but by a complete utterance, symbolic message, free of any description of a situation, not dominated by a developed narrative and an anecdote.
Referring to the dream poetic is usually categorised as appealing to the surrealist tradition. However the description of the world in Kaliński's graphics is very remote from psychic automatism of surrealists. The artist carefully creates his visions and the simplicity of the works' structure can be associated rather with the influence of the experience of Middle Ages painting where the figures-idols, symbolic iconographic motives constituted only the representation of the world of religious ideas and deep revealed truth.
The characteristic way of articulation transferred to a homogenous system became a recognisable feature of his images. The form of the message he adopts is based on the excellent graphic workshop, owing to which some features connected with the restrictions the linocut technique creates become its advantage.
Perceiving the careful workshop we observe at the same time changes in the technique which were brought by the subsequent stages of Witold Kaliński's creation. The artist clearly adjusted his workshop to the character of artistic expression which, being very personal in the image layer, gradually became more and more general and went deeply into the essence of complicated human relationships (based mainly on the relationship of domination and subordination), in order to make Man face the Absolute and questions which arose from the awareness of our existence.
Adopting the convention of hallucinations, a 'dialogue in the small hours' presumably required different approach to the plane.
Graphics where wide dark areas were juxtaposed to bright areas are replaced by works tonally varied, yet brought to general dark shade. Monochromatism however does not level richness and subtlety of nuances, darkenings and brightenings, intensification and relaxation. The contrasts of linear and space forms, juxtaposing areas of different density and direction of 'hatching' are still essential. What gives the foundation is a courageously drawn nimble graphic line often apparently moved by the wind at the end of its course. At the same time the drawn and curved line seems to preserve and reveal the memory of softness and resilience of the material.
Parallel strands which converge or part from time to time forming characteristic rhythms not only provide the material for organic forms but they themselves become these forms. We sometimes have an impression that after ripping the dense structure of fibres-bands from the visage of a figure we would face emptiness.
We distinctly feel how important drawing values are to the artist. Due to these values he achieves simplicity which helps catch Man in his inconceivable truth of existence.
What is worth emphasising are the ways of presenting some figures. Kaliński often uses close plans, foreshortenings. It lets us approach the characters of the graphics, identify with their condition - the characters of the works enter our reality more agressively and force deep reflection upon us.
We are also struck by the way of lightening figures and objects suggested in some works, especially when we look at them 'against the light'. Substituting detail with generalisation results here in the effect of countering back radiation which makes people and objects look like dummies, signs, and not real objects - especially those cut out sharply, without half-tons.
Referring to the problems of composition it seems essential to notice that more often than in the 1970s and 1980s the artist goes away from symmetrical arrangements to deal with diagonal compositions, occasionally stressed by distinct and also symbolic lines or lists-borders.
When Man has to face tasks and make a choice, when he is on his way to reach his ups and downs, the relationships between space plans evoked by the depth of the picture are less significant - which we have already emphasised. What is obviously crucial are the relationships in the vertical arrangement. The visual issues are finally subordinate to the expression requirements.
Witold Kaliński is concerned with essential existential problems, such fundamental issues as the need of happiness, moral sense of life, the fear of the future, the drama of death... Without unnecessary endeavours, owing to allusive references to Man's anxieties, these works reveal the shape of life where surreal dreams mingle with real human experience, the world whose incognizable mechanisms evoke fear but curiosity as well, which results in subsequent difficult questions.
Raising these important questions is just the essence of the message of Witold Kaliński's works. It is a condition of getting rid of the fear of life mysteries. What is more it is a source of hope which, despite the extraordinary dimension of this creation, appeals to us from these images.