Space personified. On the work of Jerzy Gluszek

In the work of Jerzy Gluszek, a Polish artist from Wroclaw, one can clearly see an interest in space. The painter collects information about it, processing in a distinctive way the recorded images and phenomena. Next he filters them through his imagination, and encrypts them using symbols. At the same time Gluszek plays with our habits of perceiving the surrounding world, with traditional patterns of thought and limitations of our senses, especially the sense of sight. Even the very titles of his works reveal this game.

The key to the world created by the Wroclaw artist can be dream symbols, archetypes, or surreal tropes. The extraordinary illustrative character of his work is enriched and expanded by means used by the avant-garde of the 1920s, or in the literature and art of the Surrealists and writers of magical realism. Looking at Latarniczka (“A Woman Lighthouse Keeper”) (2010) or Czarny kot (“A Black Cat”) (2011), we can recall descriptions from Bruno Schulz’ novels, but also Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, and the contemporary ironic and postmodern stories by Zyta Rudzka and Natasha Goerke – saturated with associations, archetypes, allusions, and symbols.

Gluszek creates new entities not using words, but deriving dreamlike images from various phenomena and concepts. For instance, in his Kocie łby (“Cobblestones”, which in Polish are literally called “cats’ heads”) he uses the term in both a figurative and literal way: the illustration shows one of Wroclaw streets leading to the legendary Brama Kluskowa (“The Dumpling Gate”), and instead of real cobblestones we see cats’ heads of various colours and sizes. This rather funny situation changes the character of the place, well-known to the locals and tourists alike. Thanks to this idea, the place becomes somehow unreal, fabulous.

The artist’s work is not about building a sphere of the sacred; it is rather a kind of creative exercise and exploration of the intricacies of the mind to find new opportunities for disclosure in space what constitutes its uniqueness. Gluszek, like Proust, seeks to reveal the characteristics and meanings of places where human existence develops. For this purpose, he brings to life anthropomorphic spaces and entities (a lighthouse as a woman raising her skirt, or a bridge braided from a woman's hair) and theriomorphic ones (a bull who takes the sky on his horns, and who is also a constellation, a moth-bridge, or a giraffe who breaks into pieces, and who embodies cracked desert earth, but also the very notion of thirst).

The motifs of mountains, cities, desert, sea, houses, and finally the human mind itself, in the artist's illustrations, reflect their personality, reveal what is most precious in them, what they impress us with, attract, surprise, but often also amuse. Because in the painter’s work the unreal is combined with a sense of humour, a satirical twist. Gluszek, in a paradoxical way, demythologizes certain images and ideas. For instance, his Wędrowiec (“A Wayfarer”) does not contemplate the majesty of the mountains, but is staring at a forest of windmills producing energy (a clear, ironic reference to the romantic work of Caspar David Friedrich). A housewife pictured in one of the illustrations, in the throes of ironing, uses, as an ironing board, a wing of an aircraft that is passing outside her window. The artist provides this work with a satirical title In the Air Tonight.

A remarkable aspect of Jerzy Gluszek’s illustrations is their decorativeness and visual appeal in conjunction with a potentiality of making multiple readings, a possibility of interpretation. This challenge put before the audience makes the works attract our attention.


Gabriela Dragun