Multiple Portrait of Witkacy 2021

We have the pleasure of inviting you to the exhibition within the Białystok Interphoto Festival 2021:

Multiple Portrait of Witkacy 2021

exhibition opening: September 24, 2021, 17:00
exhibition open until October 17, 2021 from 14:00 to 21:00
Forum cinema, 5 Legionowa Street

free admission

Photographic self-portraits of Witkiewicz constitute only a part of his autobiographical records. This multi-talented artist and philosopher used a variety of art techniques, such as drawing, lithography, painting and literature. His early philosophical work from 1903 had a significant title Marzenia improduktywa (Dywagacja metafizyczna) and his first autobiographical novel The 622 Downfalls of Bungo, written between 1909-1911, carried a fundamental meaning. The author said that “he wanted to learn about himself from his own work”. Witkiewicz confronted the most controversial sides of his own psyche, searching for his individual artistic path and the meaning of our existence. Even though the oil self-portraits painted earlier than 1914 were absolutely masterful and accurately reflected the looks and spiritual state of the artist at that time, they were far more conservative than the cutting-edge photographs he took of himself. Thus it was photography, as a more liberating discipline, that gave the artist the room to contemplate and search for more unconventional, groundbreaking, even historic techniques. The outcomes proved to have an invaluable impact on the history of this field of art. The innovative forms of cropping, especially the so called tight crop, were successfully used by Witkacy in pastel portraits. What is really important is that portraying himself by means of photography, painting, literature and voluminous correspondence, gave Witkacy the opportunity not only to shape but also thoroughly express his own image as an artist. Photographic self portraits and portraits of his nearest and dearest he took before 1914 were related to his life, which revolved around art mainly. Similarly, the photos from the interwar period presented various activities and paratheatrical experiments. His creative personality, constantly seeking fulfillment through absurd, nonsense and madness, was close to the intuition of the dadaists and surrealists. However, the photographs Witkacy took were too personal to present them publicly. He did not consider his audience at all, apart from his immediate circle of friends, who he sometimes gifted with signed photos presenting him in some shocking poses. According to his Theory of Pure Form, the naturalistic character of photography did not classify it as art. Yet, he was fully aware of the significance of these photos, widely misunderstood by his contemporaries. He would keep them in albums in his Muzeum Osobliwosci (Museum of Peculiarities), together with a collection of other bizarre objects, symbolic of the complex reality, accessed only by the chosen people. It was in the 1930s, when Witkacy was talking to Marian and Witold Dederko, the authors of his portrait and inventors of the photonite technique, that he made his famous statement: “You deal with photography, I play with it”. Little did he know then, that his photos would arouse such great interest in the future. Moreover, Witkacy could not even imagine that he would pave the way for the upcoming paratheatrical and performative activities, stagings and happenings. His inventiveness in this area has fascinated and inspired many contemporary artists ever since. As a result of the 20th century revolution in art and growing interest in photography, starting from the 70’s, the photographic works of Witkacy were displayed in art galleries not only in Europe, but also the most prominent museums in the world, mainly American museums of the greatest renown: MOMA in New York- Museum of Modern Art and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Gallery of Modern Art, Washington- one of the 10 largest museums in the world, LACMA – Los Angeles County Museum of Art and The Art Institute of Chicago.

Photographs from Stefan Okołowicz Collection

Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz-Witkacy
Born in Warsaw on 24 February 1885, died by commiting suicide in town of Jeziory, Polesie region, on 18 September 1939. The events that contributed to this tragic decision were related to the outbreak of war- the German attack on Poland on 1 September and the Red Army’s invasion  on 17 September. The suicide theme was reoccurring in his life and works as “the only way out”. Witkiewicz was an exceptionally talented artist, philosopher, painter, playwright, novelist, art and literary critic, the author of the Theory of Pure Form in art and theatre formulated in two works: New Forms in Painting and the Misunderstandings Arising Therefrom and Theatre. Introduction to the Theory of Pure Form in Theatre. Throughout the years 1919 to 1924 he wrote more than forty dramas. He is also the author of four novels. As an opponent of mass culture and the society’s progressing mechanization, he depicted a catastrophic vision of the future threatened by the western civilization in two significant novels: Farewell to Autumn (1927) and Insatiability (1930), as well as his famous play Shoemakers (1927-1934). He believed that if religion “died a long time ago”, the truth about “the atrocity of our existence” lies in contemporary art forms, and that unfortunately the end of art is also inevitable. Out of purely commercial reasons, in 1925 he established a Portrait Painting Company S. I. Witkiewicz, which soon became a form of artistic expression. In 1935 he published another significant work: Concepts and Statements Implied by the Idea of Existence,  in which he presented his entire system of philosophy and emphasised that “…the views expressed here were formulated in 1917 and haven’t changed significantly since then”. Jan Leszczynski, co-author of Spór o Monadyzm (Dispute over Monadism), the work initiated by Witkiewicz, one of the most fascinating polemic in the history of Polish philosophic thought of the inter-war period, claimed that Witkacy “wasn’t merely practicing philosophy, he was experiencing it. Both his life and works revolved around philosophical obsession at its most intense level”. The life and art of Witkacy are inseparable, “inextricably entwined”, and just like some contemporary artists’ works, prioritizes the artist, who analyzes reality and transforms it into art.  Starting from early youth throughout his life, Witkiewicz was fascinated by scientific discoveries, especially in the field of mathematics and physics. Somehow these fields  enabled understanding the phenomenon of The Universe and perhaps gave an electrifying illusion of partaking in the unfathomable concept of The Secret of Existence.

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