Katarzyna Miller »
BEYOND THE BOUNDARIES OF A PAINTING
Observing the evolution of Katarzyna Miller’s painting manifestations,
we simultaneously follow the uncompromising actions of the artist who
seeks the true dimension of the word painting. Starting with its traditional
understanding as a mimetic reflection of the reality, the painter gradually
extends the meaning of the notion and finally she definitely goes beyond
the customary boundaries of the territory reserved for that phenomenon1.
Hence, at a certain stage of her work – when we take into account the physical
status of a painting’s existence – it reached the dimension of the whole of the
painter’s environment, including the space, the testimonies of her creation
and objects imbued with personal, private and intimate emotions.
For Katarzyna Miller, the painting ultimately ceases to be merely an object
isolated from life. It is an apparent testimony of experience, or even the
experience itself. It becomes an integral part of the artist. Art is identified
with experience, understood not as an enriching single emotion, but as
a process of recognizing and shaping identity that serves to reveal the
truth and at the same time to achieve the unity of paintings and the artist
At first, the artist succumbed to convincing suggestiveness of illusion
in two ways: in terms of creativity, understanding what the painting is
and in terms of what the truth-obscuring curtain of convention, illusion
and hypocrisy of everyday life is. After a dramatic breakthrough, at the
moment of a significant personal experience, her art began to correspond
with life, and it even reached the limits of the life itself. It ceased to be
external to it. It became the life itself. In art creation, such identification
of life with art is not always safe (e.g. Viennese actionists, some of whom:
Rudolf Schwarzkogler, Otto Muehl spectacularly transcended this delicate
boundary). Katarzyna Miller achieved this state not through that kind of
‘actionism’, but she transforms the situations and the status of the painting
in her artistic activity.
The story of her artwork is based on a record of the process of a search
for the man’s true identity and the real essence of the surrounding world.
To adopt this kind of approach means to reject what one considered to be
the truth so far, to confront something with the image of something. It also
refers to the system of values which was imposed by the surrounding
environment. The basic problem was to give a comprehensive answer to
the question who am I? in relation to the human being, the woman and
the artist. Katarzyna Miller met the challenge to find the essence of the
phenomena that had been hidden behind a curtain of her own projections
and expectations, but also conformism and inertia.
The psychic experience, which had previously been beyond artistic
expression, became more and more evident and influenced formal
activities. Gradually, a peculiar arrangement of forces resulting from the
struggle between what is true or false led to the progressive destruction
of the traditional form of a painting and the change of its understanding.
The abandonment of the former creative practice also paralleled the
adoption of a new attitude to life characterized by an attempt to touch
what is unknown – or once simply rejected – by a woman who seeks to
verify and redefine relations concerning herself, others, the world and
There come reconfigurations of a few basic motifs and symbols that are
present in her artwork. The relation to a human figure as a motif, its evolution
becomes a clear reflection of the gradually appearing changes which the
idea of the mirror and the idea of the painting underwent in her artwork.
From the very beginning the human figure constituted the imagery element
of almost all Katarzyna Miller’s works. The approach to the woman’s image
developed in particular periods of her creation showed perfectly well the
way the process of looking for her identity took place. Thus the successive
stages of reaching the meaning of the painting took place in parallel with
the painter’s personal life search.
The artist’s early paintings are well-painted works, with expressive clear
composition, a well-thought-out colour scheme. The feminine image,
both the one rendered more elaborately and the one only sketched, was
part of a careful and traditional representation of the world; the painting
was created with faith that it reflects the truth about man and human life.
The feminine figure was then one of the components of the conventional
views of a human figure in the interior. The mirror, one of the motifs which
are actually or presumably present in Katarzyna Miller’s works, was then
a metaphorical synonym of the painting and creation in general.
When it turned out that behind the facade of illusion there hides the
other true, unconventional life, the image of the woman changed. The
painter, looking for adequate means of expression, went away from the
correct sharpness, deprived the characters of a part of their characteristic
features. They were henceforth more sketchy, superficial and undefined, as
if imperfect, and consequently more ambiguous.
The figures, ‘paper’ and obscure, became a projection of the condition of
the artist herself; the mirror was a source of demystification. These acts of
creation were accompanied by a subdued palette of colours. The greater
contribution of the drawing factor dramatized the message. The expression
of emotions became more important than an anecdote.
The human figure slowly disappeared from the plane, and the mirror
became a symbol of a lie. Gradually, the artist began to use a paper-cut
stencil – simple and rough – which became a piece of painting itself. It
was replicated, differentiated by additional artistic devices. The image as
a material object was released from the obligation to falsify the reality.
The mirror became a tool revealing tawdriness and mediocrity of what we
had so far considered to be the only right thing. The form and status of
the mirror were processed; it adopted the shape of a human figure, it was
a reflection of a person; then the phenomenon of the mirror extended to
the whole surroundings.
What turned out to be fictitious was not only the image of the world,
but also the picture of various values such as truth, goodness, love, and
eventually God. Other passions and needs, yet not recognized or secret,
became more dominant. Life with its attributes slowly revealed its true
colours, was stripped of illusion and false pretences.
Katarzyna Miller’s painting is not free from numerous transgressions. For her
the strongest, most dramatic act of transgression was to abandon her belief
that a painting as an object of art could become a credible equivalent of the
reality. Not only did she reject this conviction, but she also confronted the
physical shape of the painting, causing its destruction. What is important
– the concept of the painting considerably expanded, including also its
material vehicle. The painting was not so much the visual aspect of the
depicted motif, not its representation, but also the torn canvas loaded with
numerous contexts and associations – transparencies and openings, and
also what was behind it. The painting, which had only had a flat surface
before, enclosed what was once external. The real life, not covered by its
imitation, permeated through the rip (2).
Later Katarzyna Miller activated the whole space around the painting as an
object, incorporating it into the area of installation, which further extended
its scope and meaning. The whole message became the painting, without
dividing it into the painting canvas and the independent surroundings.
The art itself was also revalued. It lost the fetish value, was demythicised,
degraded both as a value and as an object. It suffered physical destruction
that reinvigorated it, making it an element of life. Painting gained
specific quality as a substitute for what had so far been perceived only as
a recognised gap.
The means of artistic expression used in the creative process constitute the
elements of an original painting language. Once it belonged to the world
of illusion and it depicted the world in a fallacious way. Gradually the artist
changed this language, rejecting false elements in order to leave only those
which were not artificial and mendacious.
Such an artistic and human act required a radical action. That is why,
when it was not enough to abandon the old painting practices, the artist
entered the space of the installation. A broken, degraded (or just getting
more powerful) painting stretcher dramatizes and lends credence to the
artist’s experience. Finally it comes to the integration of visual and verbal
components (the installation Voice Release – Painting Release) – intimate
recordings which are complementary to the works of art, contributing the
element of the truth to the comprehensively understood notion of the
After passionate negation of the traditional form of a painting, Katarzyna
Miller returned to it, but today the painting is different. It is spatial,
including morphological components which are independent of it, and
technologically it makes an impact with varied textures. The images of
women in her works are suspended in space, timeless, helpless, as if without
any weight, similar to the figures on Mannerist gravestones and paintings.
It might be the moment just before crossing the boundary, before the final
removal of the obstacle which prevents us from recognizing the source of
life inherent in man.
When viewing these latest paintings (a type of vertical works showing
elongated, incomplete figures), we should remember that they are the
result of a dramatic search, a logical evolution, during which superfluous,
photographic details defining the human figure were abandoned, in which
the rules of composition resulting from the division of paintings were subject
to destruction. We should have in mind the special, toned and cool palette
of colours discovered by the artist to signal the mental states typical of the
situations of negation, disaffection and self-criticism. The figure in the form
of a stencil becomes a universal sign. Rendering individual projections into
the form of diptychs or triptychs makes the message even more universal.
The painting simultaneously reveals existential questions that provoke
a further search and, in the artistic layer, they force the emergence of new,
seemingly similar though different works.
In the traditional approach to art the painting represented the artist and
the artist stood behind the painting. Here the painting becomes part of the
experience, a witness to the human drama. It goes beyond the limits of the
frame. It is not just a reflection of the reality, attractive yet untrue. It is not
an illusion, not a mask. It is life.
(1) The artist acts like Joseph Beuys – though here the actions were prompted by a bit
different motivations – who related to sculpting in a wide context; it was both a physical
act but also an idea. For him a sculpture was, for example the students’ party founded
by the artist, the organisation of ‘non-voters’, or a written document, not to mention
the compositions made of grease or felt. See P. Krakowski, O sztuce nowej i najnowszej,
Warszawa 1981, pp. 117-118; Joseph Beuys – teksty komentarze, wywiady, ed. Jaromir
Jedliński, Warszawa 1990, passim.
(2) Wolfgang Welsch writes about breaking the ‘reality’ by modern art: ‘The traditional art put
trust in the existence of the reality which it could reproduce, surpass or beautify. (…)
When, after all, the contemporary painting refers to the reality, it is only to show how unreal
the reality is’. W. Welsch, The birth of postmodern philosophy from the spirit of modern art,
„History of European Ideas” 1992, 14 (3), pp. 379-398. Quoted by W. Welsch, Narodziny
filozofii postmodernistycznej z ducha sztuki modernistycznej, transl. J. Balbierz, [in:] Odkrywanie
modernizmu. Przekłady i komentarze, ed. R. Nycz, Kraków 1998, pp. 437-438. Translated from
Polish version Elżbieta Rodzeń-Le¶nikowska.
Transl. Elżbieta Rodzeń-Le¶nikowska
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