Lesław Mi¶kiewicz   »

Lesław Mi¶kiewicz, a very much reserved artist, nearly ascetic in his art, managed to shape his artistic vision in such a suggestive way, that his expression encoded in graphic pictures is always convincing and personal, when compared with works of other Polish contemporary artists.

This clarity of creative concept resulted in the author's strong position among the most outstanding Polish graphic artists. Originality of his artistic achievements originates both from the poetic and contemplative character of his artistic vision, the purity of his workshop which means being faithful to the technique of classical woodcut, rigorous discipline of work and last but not least precision, subtlety and unusual visual sensitivity. Since the very beginning of his independent creative work Lesław Mi¶kiewicz has been faithful to one technique. In spite of his very good knowledge of the newest techniques, especially electronic ones, despite all the potential alternatives offered by materials other than wooden plate used in relief print, like for example linoleum - he has been using the technique of classical woodcut for many years, treating it as the embodiment of his creative concept.

The few linocuts were mainly connected with early figurative works made in the late 1970s and early 1980s. According to the author's documents, the last linocut was made in 1987. Lesław Mi¶kiewicz's creative work is exceptionally uniform. Since the individual stylistic features were established, his graphic works have been characterised by a quasi - abstract form and great subtlety of means of visual expression. The artist reduces the potential of visual language to much limited means of expression such as line, point, sets of points and lines, a surface obtained by multiplication of lines. We can notice how rich and varied this language is only in the course of the analysis of particular works.

Lesław Mi¶kiewicz started his artistic activity with relatively varied works as far as style is concerned, both figurative and abstract, made in the late 1970s and in the early 1980s. The middle of 1980s was the turning point when purified uniform bright woodcuts appeared composed on the basis of thin lines, reminding of a delicate transient fabric or network penetrated by light. The early figurative works had a clearly expressionist character, which can also be observed in abstract graphic works from the period between 1980 -1984. The later works from the late 1980s are typical of Mi¶kiewicz's personality. The works which are perceived as an individual artistic expression and bring the artist many awards, among which there is twice the 2nd award at the 6th and 7th all-Poland Graphic Competition named after Józef Gielniak in Jelenia Góra (1987 and 1989), Statutory Award - Prix ex aequo at the International Biennial of Graphics in Kraków (1988), the 1st award at the 11th all-Poland Competition of Graphics in ŁódĽ (1989).

It is not an easy task to find the right key to analyse Lesław Mi¶kiewicz's graphic work. We can certainly do a diachronic analysis and go into the genesis, development and character of the author's works in the particular periods of his artistic activity. It would also be worth making a comparative presentation concerning the use of classical woodcut graphic workshop by Lesław Mi¶kiewicz and other contemporary Polish graphic artists who chose the technique as the predominant one - in order to prove the artist's creative uniqueness. Despite all the attempts necessary to make a reliable critical review they are hardly helpful to reveal the content of the author's work which at present is in current artistic circulation and has its own distinct stylistic and meaningful characteristics.

For me Lesław Mi¶kiewicz's work is a continuous exercise connected with the woodcut technique - the exercise which is technical, artistic and spiritual. It is an attempt to achieve self-improvement in order to reach the mastery of form. Mi¶kiewicz is interested in the relationship between what is physical and visual - physical and material aspects which are the basis of visuality. The author exploits the visual potential of one technique - the area of visuality this technique offers. We should take into account woodcut as an autonomous artistic technique independent of reproductive functions connected with print or the one which serves the purpose of painting or drawing. Lesław Mi¶kiewicz seems to be truly concerned with penetrating the extreme potential powers of woodcut technique. In this sense his work takes such an important position in the present picture of Polish graphic art.

So frequently emphasised unistic and geometric elements in Mi¶kiewicz's work are the groundwork, motif rather than the essence or the 35 main subject of his works. The main subject is the interpretation of the woodcut technique performed on the foundation of pure visuality. These experiments with powers of woodcut are always very personal in their character, predominated by subtlety and poetry. The period taken into consideration by this review includes the last six years of the author's work (1994 - 2000 editor's note). In Lesław Mi¶kiewicz's artistic work this period is a very important moment. At this time many significant works were created. Despite the fact that this period is not distinguished by any radically different character of works, the graphic works made at this time enrich the previous work of the artist in a very serious way adding new reflections and solutions to the seemingly established phenomenon which the artist's work was, so much welcome at the turn of the 1980s and 1990s.

Besides the works which surprise by their visual and technical solutions, like a relatively gloomy work from 1996 with a dense network of soft lines, thicker vertical ones and thin horizontal ones, reminding of the relation between the weft and warp, for which the artist got another 2nd award at the 9th all - Poland Competition named after Józef Gielniak (1996) - there are also very personal graphic works: from 1998 - 'Pamięci Matki' ('In Memory of Mother') or from 1999 - 'Pamięci Ojca' ('In Memoty of Father'). Both graphic works mentioned above as well as the third untitled work from 1999 are a kind of plates reminding of the 17th century Polish folk woodcuts with the signs of Zachariah's cross, which had a magic power (e.g. they were to protect against diseases), interpreted by Józef Gielniak too ('Przeciw chorobom' ('Against Diseases')), (1960). The first two works are based on very simple symmetrical axial division of the circle, discreetly referring to the sign of cross and they are built of the simplest perceptive elements - different size of points. Emanation of light was obtained by point congestion and scattering, though each point is endowed with its own individual visual life which is the result of the technique of cutting out the matrix manually.

The third of the works mentioned here is made of short mobile pieces of lines vibrating around two small circles situated on both sides of the graphic works. The impression of twinkling brightness which the author obtained in this graphic work reminds of some formal effects adopted from Van Gogh with a painted vibrating sun. Lesław Mi¶kiewicz's works from the late 1990s seem to be the essence of his experience so far and simultaneously they are an announcement of new creative powers, opening the sequence of various thematic areas. They are an example of great productive freedom and, despite the whole reduction of means of expression, they are much varied as far as the final visual solutions are concerned.

Lesław Mi¶kiewicz's work constitutes a fundamental element of the ŁódĽ graphic scene - it originates from the artistic line of professor Stanisław Fijałkowski and professor Andrzej Marian Bartczak, who were his teachers and from whom he obtained a lot for his own work. It seems, however, that working out his own artistic solutions, especially in the works from the late 1980s and 1990s, he gradually managed to transfer all these elements into his own artistic vision. The author works in the environment of graphic artists connected with the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in ŁódĽ belonging to the in-between generation, together with Krzysztof Wawrzyniak, Zbigniew Purczyński czy Witold Kaliński he creates an interesting generation picture of the ŁódĽ graphic art in its part strongly marked with success in the field of relief print.

The concept of graphic art represented by Lesław Mi¶kiewicz is radical in its classical character. Exploring exclusively black and white one - matrix print causes that the whole message conveyed is focussed on its visual layer. The carrier of a picture stays neutral - making the picture more precise as the perceptual phenomenon becomes the most important element. Lesław Mi¶kiewicz rarely uses a patch, his graphic pictures are to a large extent based on the line value, especially on its musical melodic character (...)

A fragment of a review referring to Lesław Mi¶kiewicz's artistic and didactic activity included in the procedure of appointing him a professor.

Professor Jan Pamuła,
Kraków, 14th May, 2000

achievements in a given discipline, which is also the result of international exhibitions, and which, in a natural way, influences particular personalities to some extent, we can still observe the existence of particular creative centres distinguished by defined characteristic features. Thus there are a few easily recognised centres in our country, which could be defined as the 'schools of graphic art'. This name deliberately includes the role of an artistic school active in a given area, not only teaching the subsequent generations of artists but also attracting a certain group of active artists - academic teachers as well as being a mediator of achievements, tradition, approach to many issues for different generations. Therefore the statement that there is the 'ŁódĽ school of graphic art' on our Polish territory, having this double meaning: the centre with its tradition and contemporary features and the high school with its teachers, programmes and achievements, is not made without any reason.

(...) At present Lesław Mi¶kiewicz is the one who takes a significant position in this environment, being a graduate and experienced academic teacher of the ŁódĽ school, (...) and parallelly - of the Institute of Computer Science at the Technical University of ŁódĽ. I personally met his graphic works at various exhibitions and have been following his artistic achievements with a great interest for a long time. Professor Stanisław Fijałkowski's and professor Andrzej Bartczak's former student, he preserved in his work the method whose tradition I tried to emphasise in the introduction, contributing his own personal features of concentration and delicacy into it.

From the wide range of potentials existing in graphic art he chose the technique which some specialists define as the one having the most limited formal powers and requiring the biggest synthesis. In the early works from the period between 1981-84 he uses legible figurative elements mingled with the consistent rigour of composition. Yet even though these are the suggestions of a landscape or a human silhouette, it is a landscape or a human figure in general, deprived of any individual features and any given situation. In later works these suggestions completely disappear on behalf of, what I would define as, abstracted situations, pure mutual relations evoked by the very plastic elements, coming into certain states of dependence with one another. At the same time the clarity of the whole arrangement, its apparent 'tranquillity' distinguish in a nearly dramatic way even the least accent destroying that seeming peace and quiet. (Speaking of 'tranquillity', of a uniform surface, we could recall here Strzemiński's words: 'Unism in painting tends to reach flat optical unity, closed and indifferent to the surrounding.') The author, in his own typical way, used a few directions of parallel cut, which originates from the Renaissance woodcut, yet it defines the form in a definitely different way. There are huge arrangements of areas of various temperatures of grey, with some little accents of black, white, nearly calligraphic line, and even a certain spacious suggestion of a given element.

At this moment we should pay attention to a kind of general spaciousness - or rather layering of these compositions, actually 'written out' on the surface of paper. Accents, sometimes supported by a suggestion of a cast shadow, 'unwinding' the rhythm, contrast of the warm white on the cool grey - slightly 'roll up' some fragments in relation to the surface of the picture or they withdraw the background, forming an extra space layer. At the same time they are subject to big clear compositional divisions. The author deliberately avoids any narrative suggestions giving no titles to his particular works, which means that what is essential is 'between the lines' and 'inside', with no direct reference to a given situation. He resigned from this principle only in two cases, yet it might be interpreted not as a title but as a dedication ('Pamięci Matki' ('In Memory of Mother') 1998 and 'Pamięci Ojca' ('In Memoty of Father') 1999), which additionally intensifies dramatism of the situation. These compositions are a little different from the others - it is a play of points which builds mood, and an explicit juxtaposition of single lines dramatises the expression of the whole composition.

One more reflection of a viewer which I asked the author about - is a clear association with musical impressions. However, it might be a subjective feeling probably based on the similar principles of structuring musical compositions.

Once writing about the relationships between Polish contemporary woodcut and traditional Japanese graphic art I mentioned Lesław Mi¶kiewicz's woodcuts. I certainly did not mean any direct influences - it would be a misleading simplification. What I meant was a kind of sublimation and an element of contemplation, maximum restriction of means of expression and the role of the sign itself.

The tradition of western art seems to be dominated by figurative approach and a certain kind of expression. Concentration nearly metaphysical, sign conventionality and abstraction, sophisticated restraint - are the features of Chinese and Japanese ink painting and Japanese woodcut, deeply rooted in their culture; out of this source they radiated to the art of the West (...)

A fragment of an overview referring to Lesław Mi¶kiewicz's artistic and didactic work included in the procedure of appointing him a professor.

Professor Franciszek Bunsch,
Kraków, 1st March, 2000

At the beginning I would like to stress the fact that I am neither a graphic artist nor a critic of this 37 kind of art (artistic graphics - editor's note) and my knowledge of its workshop issues is quite superficial; however, I am an art historian and theoretician and I am concerned with Lesław Mi¶kiewicz's work in this context, (...) thus I shall express my personal opinion - like someone who has been concerned with contemplating pictures for years trying to reach their profound methodological thought.

The cycle of woodcut plates, which the author made available to me (I am also familiar with the earlier linocuts which are worth seeing, yet I will refer only to the works from the last five years of work (the period between 1988 - 1993 editor's note)), constitutes a kind of continuum which enables an attempt of uniform characteristics. They are plates of similar formats, and obviously uniform expression: a delicate line multiplied in a parallel mode, builds surfaces which are the basis for the elements of arrangement by which the author achieves a unique, explicitly defined construction of the whole work. Out of nine works I had at disposal only one was distinguished by its format and the type of composition: it was a 'standing' rectangle with a clearly marked axis of symmetry, open at both ends. The axis is formed by two partly overlapping surfaces, which obtain their value due to diagonal 'hatching' with delicate lines, being the result of an incredibly precise cut. The lines could have reminded of the effect of copper plate engraving (or dry point) rather than of woodcut, if it hadn't been for the slight hesitation of hand as well as the softness of their edges impossible in case of the metal-cut technique.

The result is a vivid 'organic' surface on which each minimal change, no mater if it is the line density or its direction, is noticeable. The same way of obtaining the value of the surface is a characteristic feature of eight other works presented to me by Lesław Mi¶kiewicz, yet the elementary difference is based on the closed arrangement introduced here eight times, solved within the imposed composition in a square. 'Perfection' of this form was already appreciated by the ancients. In the limited 'restrained' space, divided by reasonable cuts, directions, hierarchies, classical proportions and rhythms speak. The divisions are formed owing to adjoined edges of two tones, two textures, or - sometimes - the line division. The symmetric arrangements, especially those having the up and down axis of a picture, are privileged. The movement upwards is sometimes in the opposition to the horizontal 'screen' of the surface contrasting with it, yet dynamism of this contrast is hardly observed: with simultaneous visual approach to the whole composition, the feeling of equal tensions and a perfect internal connection of elements is predominant.

This undoubtedly reasonable skeleton of Mi¶kiewicz's works, however, does not eliminate other impressions which are perceived simultaneously, based on the easily noticed 'detail' determining the structure of the woodcut surface. Firstly, the surface does not make the area univocal with the area of the ground; it has its reliefs, bends, spikes and slits, actually forming almost naturalistic sculpture of the space.

Secondly, the multiplied parallelism of lines which shape this 'sculpture' turns out to be violated by making particular bands similar to ribbons, winding or crossing one another, or coming off the ground. This ambiguous game, this oscillation between the geometric arrangement and organic form determines, in my view, the unique character of Lesław Mi¶kiewicz's work. Apart from the strong foundation of extremely rationalised compositional assumptions of his works, what seems particularly important to me are just those features, which make the artist's intuition and spontaneity influence the viewer's emotions and not only their intellect.

Due to these particular 'double' values the woodcuts under discussion can be situated both in the trend of Constructivism and in the totally remote 'arte povera' trend - as they are so modest, vivid and full of sense impossible to be rationalised. (...)

I think that at the time characterised by the lack of thinking about form, when a project of a work frequently substitutes the work itself, doing without any visualisation, when art is considered to be a process of creating rather than its result - the works presented above, explicitly reflecting the author's views on the position of art in the sphere of culture, deserve a special honourable mention. No matter what their aesthetic values are - by which I mean the satisfaction they provide our eyes with - they provoke viewers' emotions simultaneously stimulating for some intellectual analyses. (...)

A fragment of an appraisal concerning a qualifying work for Lesław Miskiewicz's 2nd degree procedure.

Professor Krystyna Zwolińska,
Warszawa, 9th May, 1994


Zbigniew Dominiak "Od okna do okna" /'From Window To Window'/ Drzeworyty Lesława Mi¶kiewicza /Lesław Mi¶kiewicz's woodcuts/. Wydawnictwo Correspondance des Arts II, ŁódĽ 1991, 75 egzemplarzy numerowanych /numbered copies/.