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Opening Hours

Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm


Art Agenda Nova
Batorego 2, Krakow

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Maciej Szczurek


2007-10-19 – 2007-11-21
Vernissage: October 19, 2007, at 18.00 (Friday)
Art Agenda Nova, ul. Kochanowskiego10 (entrance from the yard)


The exhibition of Maciej Szczurek “I’m only here for a moment” organized by Art Agenda Nova is the first individual exhibition of the artist’s works. Earlier, Szczurek’s work could be seen at several collective exhibitions in Warsaw and Krakow.

The artist is primarily interested in human existence, finding an equivalent in the existence of a plant that both emanates from itself and brings together all the qualities of the world. And, above all, existence as a process.

One of the most interesting issues in Szczurek’s works is the issue of being “in between”. Both “between” existence and not existence, beginning and end, as well as painting and drawing. In his works, painting elements emphasize the drawing, emphasize the form of the presented object and reveal the artist’s sensitivity and emotions, according to which painting, in addition to encouraging reflection, should also affect feelings. Szczurek is guided by the words of Balthus, “painting is a language that can not be replaced by others.”

For this reason, the artist carefully chooses the color to properly influence the camera of sight, giving the kind of accompanying emotions. He avoids literalism, searches for colors that are not subject to simple terms. Hence in his painting such a scale of gray, escaping classification, relative, depending on the lighting or time of day. In contrast, the drawing in his works delimits and refines the artist’s observations.

“Drawing […] is for me an attempt to come to what is tangible – bone, tissue, matter, form. For me, painting is not only a vision of the world, but above all a sensitive burial in its intestines. ”

The most important, however, are not the observations themselves, but with their help to capture the process of duration, span in time.
The motif of the plant, appearing in the vast majority of works by the Krakow artist, is for him a pretext for reflections on the subject of passing away.

“I watch how the detached leaves lose their vital juices, wrinkle, dry up, shrink, until they eventually take the form of fragile (o) flakes – barely a sign of what they were until recently. I watch the buds of flowers, in which the energy of life accumulates, so that along with flowering, in the volcanic rhythm of activity, explode with a shimmering color glow. I note these observations in small sketches, shreds of thoughts that lead me to small sizes of canvases, and these in turn are usually the prelude to work on larger formats. ”

The artist does not give titles to his paintings, because words can interrupt and narrow down the reception, and he also considers explaining the emotions accompanying the creation of the image unnecessary. The recipient leaves a free interpretation of the houses, flowers or objects that he paints. In his painting, which strongly emphasizes, the most important is understanding, but survival, opening up to the picture. His art is characterized by the lack of rush, precision and focus, he wants the viewer to feel the slow process of arising, maturing and dying when looking at the picture.
Szczurek fragmentarily captures the presented reality. It cuts out part of the space seen from behind the window, concentrating on a specific performance. The artist is interested in finding the bergsonian elan vital, the “testimony of immortality” in what is most ordinary and ordinary. The most important for him is the process of changes taking place in the object, which allow them to be unforgettable, to stop the essence of being in them. Because time captured in even the smallest element of the world is only an introduction to showing eternity in the whole macrocosm. Houses that have recently become the dominant feature of the artist’s work are a continuation of the subject of transience. Destroyed buildings, broken walls and roofs are a remnant, the last traces of the people who lived in them. Unreal, empty, shown in the next, inevitable stage of destruction, provoke a reflective mood.

“When you study Japanese art, you see that a wise, intelligent man, a philosopher spends time on what? On studying the distance from the earth to the moon? At the study of Bismarck’s policy? No, I’m studying a blade of grass. But this blade allows him to draw all plants, and then the seasons, landscapes, animals, and finally the human figure. In this way, he spends his life and life is too short for him to do anything, “repeats Szczurek after Van Gogh.

The artist does not hide his inspirations from Chinese painting from the Song era, the works of Paul Klee, Marc Tobey or Roman Opałka. In these inspirations we can just see the source of Szczurek’s joining a kind of calligraphic sign with a color stain instinctively tossed on the canvas surface. The artist’s paintings, which were repeatedly emphasized, are a record of the passage of time which materializes on the canvas by precisely building the form with a series of small strokes.

“It’s kind of my personal magazine. The final effect is not important, but the way is important – the time spent in front of the canvas, its detailed delineation ”

Karolina Żaba


The autumn repertoire of Galeria Nova is a series of expositions “with existentialism in the background”. After the exhibition of Katarzyna Skrobiszewska, this year’s graduate of the Krakow Academy of Fine Arts – Maciek Szczurek showed his works, for whom he is the premiere solo exhibition.

The first association arising after entering the gallery space is a common denominator with the work of Georgia O’Keeffe – the leitmotif of the exhibition is the representation of flowers and plants in general. O’Keeffe, when asked about the source of her interest in the subject of floristics, initially patiently explained: “Most people in cities live in a constant hurry, they do not have time to look at flowers. I want them to see it, no matter if they want it or not “; “Nobody actually sees a flower really, it is so small. We do not have time, and this requires seeing – just like nurturing friendship. ” Bored and irritated by repeated questions about the source of inspiration, she was even to ironically say: “I hate flowers. I paint them only because they are cheaper than models and they do not move. ”


Even a preliminary glance lets us see that these Szczurek motives are alien, he had a completely different purpose. The artist breaks with the image of a flower as a wonderful product of nature with a sophisticated shape and unusual color. Flowers of Szczurek show their second face (or rather the second bottom) – they are not presented for themselves (and especially their beauty), but they are the carrier of the idea of passing away, and so they can be treated as contemporary vanitas vanitatum, combined with memento mori.
The Baroque “impermanence of the things of this world” is, of course, associated with 17th-century Dutch painters. There was no better way of rendering the temporality and transience of human life than using the metaphor which he represented with his ephemeral existence a flower. In meticulous presentations of bouquets, Jan van Huysum, using a subtle play of chiaroscuro, color, shape and texture, presented in a miniature the world, which was the image of human life in its various variations and ambiguities. Despite the fanciful shapes and the richness of colors, the fragility and fragility of the flower is still striking – just like the impermanence of its counterpart, of human life. Similarly with Ambrosiert the Elder – flowers openly symbolize passing away, they are a signal that everything that is physical, rubs against some kind of death.

Considering only the usual symbolism of the flowers presented by Szczurek, we get the key to interpretation: the violet, abundantly exploited by the artist, is a frequent motif of gravestone ornaments (beginning with romanticism), used as a symbol of death and penance (as well as ascesis and humility); whereas the cyclamen appearing on the remaining paintings signify resignation and parting.

The small size of the presented works brings associations with the herbalist’s card, where apart from the figure there is room for the description and classification of the given exemplum. Indeed, Szczurek approaches the subject in an almost scientific manner. Like a researcher, he shows all the physiological aspects of a plant without covering its mundane side and ugliness. With the same attention as devotion to leaves is shown, symptoms of decomposition, destruction caused by the passage of time, visible effects of destruction processes are also shown. A bit like the documentation of “cases” in medicine – because most of the presented plants are wrong. Wounded, suffering leaves, with visible traces of decay in the form of cracks, perforations, similar to open wounds in the human body. Wrinkled, curled, dried like skin subjected to the unrelenting effect of time. This effect is caused by the red coloration of cyclamen: inevitable associations with the blood system and its diseases related to old age are born. In another picture, the green paint with which the juice sipping from the leaf was given) is similar to the blood flowing out of the wound. The naturalism of tangled rhizomes on the next canvas, which seem to live their own lives, emphasizes the physiological aspect, the entire mundane nature of existence with all its consequences.

In a way, the works document the entire cycle of the plant’s development: from the bud, through the mature form to the final disappearance. Part of the leaves still alive, green, full of life energy – elan vital, is surrounded by dried, wrinkled, twisted, deformed units (a specific metaphor of the structure of societies – division into age groups). Youth is bright (literally) contrasted with old age. Being from the beginning is marked by the stigma of death, the young seem to be aware of what they will look like in a short time; even the newly blossomed threat is overwhelming. Sometimes this feeling is additionally intensified by the grim color of the canvas on which the drawing is thrown. Elsewhere, a perfectly rendered vision of a leaf is disturbed by spontaneously smudged streaks and paint stains in vivid, contrasting colors – like an ominous announcement of what is to come, a harbinger and, at the same time, a warning.

Szczurek’s studies do not evoke positive emotions: they are not pleasant, banal pictures with flowers. Plants have their own internal life, they are not just one-dimensional decorative objects or representations used for scientific purposes. Violet, depicted as an incomprehensible jumble of glistening ominous leaves and stems in the dark (which lack symmetry and organization), is like a voracious creature. There is disorder, internal contradiction, breakage, and tear. This aspect of the plant is also characteristic for the work of O’Keeffe, which primarily wanted to pay attention to the complex structure of plants, their specific “monstrosity”.

Incidentally, it is worth adding that the next point of convergence of these artists’ creativity is what they say about their own art. The famous phrase of Georgia O’Keeffe “… I discovered that I can speak a lot of things with color and shape and would not say it in any other way”, seems to be a precise description of the attitude that Szczurek presents in relation to what he does.

Spectral buildings
Flowers constitute only 2/3 of Maciej Szczurek’s exhibition. The remaining part presents constructions, or rather – destructions, which, however, carry the same message. The otherwise familiar silhouette of the Forum hotel is striking with a calligraphy, one of the negative icons of Krakow’s urban landscape (next to the so-called “Skeleton”). The hotel, a monumental investment built over a decade, has been used for the next 18 years, remaining empty for several years, and now serves as the largest advertising space in the country. It is not known exactly what future the object is waiting for; at the present moment it is a ghost building in the urban tissue. From the outside it presents a pretty good condition, but inside it is dead – it completely denies the purpose it was built in.

Abandoned buildings are also shown on several subsequent canvases: unused, left alone, with cavities that caused time, give the impression of being unfinished, scrapped. There is not much left of the life that once lived inside these walls. Dark windows resemble empty cavities. The roofs that are wrinkled with old reflect the bent designs of F. Gehry. The stigma of death worn by ruins is mitigated by a delicate modeling and oneiric atmosphere. It seems that the buildings emerge from the mist of oblivion.

There is a noticeable analogy here with the work of Franz Kline. His works were compared to the enlarged Chinese calligraphy, but in fact he drew inspiration from wandering around New York during the rapid growth of the city. He was enchanted by the silhouettes of scaffolding against the sky and the patterns he created. He wanted to translate the complex structures of buildings that are for the outside observer only incomprehensible cobwebs and ladders. Most of his works refer to demolished or semi-constructed skyscrapers. Kline was also attracted by other manifestations of human construction and construction activity, such as: bridges, tunnels, machines, railway tractions, i.e. everything that can be called architectural and industrial icons.

Terror and authenticity
The transposition of the transitoriness of human existence into the impermanent existence of a plant, or the destructible structures erected with human hand, is a very successful procedure used by Szczurek in order to arouse reflection in the recipient. The works of the young artist relentlessly remind us, though in an extremely sublimated way, that death still exists, despite the fact that the civilization and culture in which we now live, with premeditation, if it does not completely negate, at least puts this possibility to a decidedly distant future.

Anxiety, a sense of threat and the threat of an imminent end that evokes Szczurek’s work can be seen in the context of Martin Heidegger’s philosophy. Formulated by him the term Dasein, meaning “being in time”, captures man as a temporal being: with the past, present and future that constantly affect each other. Awareness of our own existence, the ability to think about it and make attempts to understand it, points to the difference between human existence and other forms of life.

The subsequent concept introduced by Heidegger – “fear” – has become one of the key issues of existential philosophy. In contrast to anxiety, which has a specific localized source, the cause of “fear” is not fully specified: “That’s why we feel fear, is nowhere.” This “fear”, experienced as the overwhelming sense of the inexorable presence and at the same time the utter senselessness of being, compels a man to become aware of his own existence and, above all, to consider his possible future prospects.

Heidegger argued that realizing his own mortality is the key to authenticity. Recognizing that death deprives everything of meaning and eliminates all possibilities, we realize that we can either face this fact or try to draw attention away from it. So we have freedom and at the same time the responsibility to shape our lives in a way that allows them to be used as fully as possible. Human beings, however, constantly turn away from these possibilities, hiding in anonymous and unreflective social life. Dasein consists not only of being in the community, but also being as an isolated individual.

From here it is close to Jean-Paul Sartre, who when writing about “bad faith” meant depersonalization, understood as automating his life, depriving himself of this reflection, adjusting to general requirements and expectations of others, subjecting to conventions, cutting off from his real ” I”. Authentic life is lived not only in the sense of self-awareness and one’s own temporality, but also in the framework provided by historicality and destiny.

Technique and transmission

The technique plays a key role in Szczurek’s paintings, because it is thanks to the use of a specific combination of drawing and painting, on the one hand, we get an intimate mood, quietness. On the other hand, the type of tension and characteristic suspension. The use of paint, clearly a stage later in relation to the carefully applied hatch, somewhat contradicts the drawing and questions its whole meaning. It seems that the concentration, the concentration accompanying the diligent drawing of the surface of the canvas are for the artist a way that allows him to achieve a state similar to meditation.
Color palette Szczurek is not particularly rich; similarly to the mentioned Franz Kline, for which the most characteristic is the use of white and black. The artist’s works, at first glance full of dynamics, spontaneous, operating with a strong dramatic load, were in fact the result of tedious preparations. The artist first made numerous studies and sketches, often on the pages of telephone directories. The basic meaning for him: composition and, almost architectural, construction. Critics often tried to combine Kline’s paintings with Chinese art or Japanese calligraphy, although the artist himself always denied these associations. When asked about the workshop he said that during painting he tries to free his mind from everything and “from this situation completely attack him”. The painting process was understood by Kline as a “situation”, putting the first streaks of paint on canvas as “starting a situation”.

Mimicry and the desire to deceive see the reality of painting were not the most important for eastern painting. The goal they wanted to achieve was the “idea” of the object, landscape or form. Nature, which is above a painter, does not need imitation, illusion, it is perfect in itself and unattainable with the help of artistic forms. Faithful reflection of the world is not only impossible, but more importantly – there is no sense, because the picture will always remain only an image. The way to achieve the ideal is a technique that is based on an in-depth study of nature. Themes were often simplified to a maximum, and the reason for this was in the motif of a painter’s many years of practice. The overarching issue emphasized by every teacher of Chinese classical painting was to develop a technique.

Another feature is the antithesis to the western horror vacui – deliberately left empty space plays a significant role. Emptiness was just as important an element of the image as filling and was never the result of chance. It was preceded by careful thought and, as a result, it expressed many emotions and states. According to legend, one of the Chinese painting teachers compared empty spots in the picture to moments of silence between the sounds of the melody in the symphony.

The classic Zen painting in Japan has developed under the influence of Zen Buddhism and Chinese designs. It required a long-lasting hand job and a clean mind capable of concentrating the Zen masters of that time. The painting was made alla prima, laid without any later amendments or alterations. After rubbing some of the parts with your finger, the obtained spots had an extraordinary expression power and a rich tone scale, depending on whether they were obtained with a gentle brush or a strong impact.
Japanese paintings create the impression of unfinished, unsaid – in order to give the viewer the opportunity to interpret and move his imagination. A similar approach is close to the aesthetic ideas of a phenomenologist – an existentialist Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Art for it is the freedom to establish senses and meanings (because in this way it becomes an expression of the authenticity of existence). It seems that these ideas are not alien to Szczurek. His paintings lack titles; the artist clearly does not want to impose only one specific way of interpretation. Perhaps he professes the same principle that Franz Kline formulated: “the final test of the value of the picture is whether the artist’s feelings become understandable”.