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Understanding the Structure

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author: Janusz Zagrodzki


Photography alone can liberate... new structures... When I begin to work on images of strict geometrical structures of the grid, no matter if they are enlarged, flipped or reduced, I move them around, rotate, put them together, laying one upon the other... Through these stages of metamorphosis I create many levels of transformation... This transformation is the effect of interaction between photographic chemicals and the energy of light... Together with three-dimensional/ architectural structures, this process takes me, as a result, in a further experimental journey towards discovering an open free form”.

Tadeusz Mysłowski (1994)


Tadeusz Mysłowski is a well known and appreciated artist. Many critics commented on his work, referring to philosophical inspiration, metaphysical sources, geometry and biology, to the architecture of the square and to the organic construction, as well as to homage he pays to the precursors of the avant-garde. A number of astute texts were written by Ronny Cohen, Grzegorz Sztabiński, Leszek Brogowski, Bernard Fauchille, Szymon Bojko, Andrzej Turowski and others, yet the artist's motto could be put simply – every area can be treated as a visual system of signs, which become a universal structure. Mysłowski's work is a pictorial verification of the mathematical theory. The images of structures selected by the artist are a strong argument in the process of organizing natural forms existing within the primeval, seemingly disordered matter.

By combining the findings of Euclid's geometry with Bertrand Riemann's new dimensions and Benoit Mandelbrot's sets, which verify the Theory of Chaos, Mysłowski gained a powerful instrument for transforming imagery. Even before moving to Paris, during his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków (1963–1969), Mysłowski conducted extensive research on the works collected by the a.r. group within the “International Collection of Modern Art” in Łódź. He mainly analyzed spatial relationships between forms, surfaces and the essence of the work of Polish avant-garde masters, such as Władysław Strzemiński, Katarzyna Kobro and Henryk Stażewski. He compared works of artists from the circles of Piet Mondrian and De Stijl group, from that collection, he reflected on the synthesis of organic shapes applied by Jean Arp in his “concrete art” works. To those assertions he then added the graphic structures by Wacław Szpakowski – a depiction of the world with an infinite unicursal line. He expanded his Łódź experiences further in Paris (1969), and in New York (1970). The same grid – a structure of horizontal and vertical lines drawn by streets and buildings – was found in Mondrian's paintings. He was equally interested in the work of Kazimierz Malewicz. Similarly, he adopted the symbolic impact of black and white as the basic means of expression. He recalled the idea of suprematist space, including Malewicz's shape of the cross.

From the very beginning, the photo camera has been an important creative tool for Mysłowski.

Through photography, he liberated “new structures imprisoned in the topographic grid.” He has treated the grid of lines as the basic structure, the “key drawing” which evokes further “transformations.” The fragments of reality transformed into a rhythm of signs do not tell a story, they are to draw the internal construction of the on-going process, subordinating the realities of the everyday images of city life. “The camera let me analytically systemize my work” – claims Mysłowski – “as a research tool, it establishes a certain logic deriving from its mechanical/optical nature”. Photography shaped the basic knowledge of the object, drawing its outlines, recalling the limits of the existing forms; the real images overlap, creating a strict system of permeating lines and planes. The artist analyzes the photographical records. By examining their structure he creates relations between recognizable fragments of reality and their simplified signs, he makes an arbitrary decision – constructs an alternative, structural image of the contemporary world.

The records were based on a syncretic idea of combining the organic shapes with the modern technology constructions – of putting together the basic elements of the city, defined both by architecture and the figures of the people in constant motion. In 1974, the artist began to work on a series of photographic and computer portraits “New York Faces”, and consequently, by adding the screen printing technique to his interests, created another cycle “The Avenue of the Americas”, transforming the photos into graphic black and white structures, as well as into paintings and spatial forms. The aim was to extract the construction, to find a visual language summarizing the metropolitan organism. Manhattan became the main subject, with the symbolic “Seagram Building” by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, which for Mysłowski became a “black icon,” “a formula of modernist strength.” His explorations from between 1972 and 1994 were put together as a series “Towards Organic Geometry,” published in the form of an art book at the Irena Hochman Fine Art Ltd. Gallery; on the book cover he placed the “Black Square,” homage to Malewicz. Mysłowski's investigations stress the coherency between the basic ideas concerning existential issues with the attempts to depict them. His dictionary of visual phrases was successively created from the most simple forms. Apart from the point, line, disc and column, square, and cube, one such form was the perpendicular section of two lines. Mysłowski chose the black cross on white as a particular “image-symbol”. The cycle “Cross Expanding Series” (1976-1988) contains the whole iconography of this representation. The artist defines the cross as a universal metaphor, not just a religious one, he calls it “the oldest symbol” manifesting itself in almost every culture. The cross in his works becomes “the key to the cosmic structure”, “the symbol of the world archetype”, “the recurrent energy”, “continuous movement between the vertical and the horizontal towards infinity.” The symbol determines the visual code, creates the symbolic language. Mysłowski considers strategies of dealing with the cross in various areas of reality, he derives its special features, its construction rules and possible transformations.

The analysis of the symbol leads to synthesized images. The structures of single and multiplied crosses – drawings and computer graphics, on paper and wooden boards assembled into spatial installations, formed also out of concrete slabs, granite cubes, cubes cut out of white marble – have been presented in many American and European galleries.

The two-dimensional photographic images became the basis for three-dimensional forms. The iconic image of the cross was the beginning, followed by transformed “Isometric Floor Drawings” (1995), giving origin to sixty wooden “Endless Columns” (1995) – unfinished columns on a square base. They were inspired, as Mysłowski wrote, by “the analysis of the square and the cube,” referring to the ”Platonic thought of Kazimierz Malewicz, Katarzyna Kobro, Władysław Strzemiński, Wacław Szpakowski, Piet Mondrian, Mies van der Rohe, Barnett Newman, Ad Reinhard, Josef Albers and Donald Judd.” He tried to visually determine the logic of the cognitive process characteristic of their work: “I was enchanted by objects, the form whereof was the essence of genius . Hence, just a step to my “ChairThrone” project. The chair, a useful object, grew over the ages with mythology, which glorified wisdom, dignity, majesty, power. The chair was synonymous with many things, and above all – with changed proportions – it became a meaningful object.” The shape of the “ChairThrones” (2003-2010) was the effect of structural analysis of the works of the chosen artists. By translating internal relations between elements into visual symbols, the artist demonstrated the properties of the structure typical for each of the artists, which became the basis for a simplified spatial form – the “Sign Imagery”. “ChairThrones” are three-dimensional models, objects one can sit on, resulting from the planes and lines found in the work of avant-garde precursors, which the author respected. Parallel to them, summarizing his experiences, the artist developed a series of "organic architectones", indicating the direction for further research – Benoit Mandelbrot's fractals and DNA molecules.

Reference to fractal geometry has opened a wide field for investigation of visual nature, a new way of describing complex forms hidden in the real world. A separate work, which paid tribute to murdered prisoners, was the multimedia installation “Shrine” (1999), realized at the former Nazi death camp – now Majdanek Museum, in collaboration with composer Zbigniew Bargielski and TeatrNN Tomasz Pietrasiewicz. The installation is composed of charcoal drawings, forming a kind of altar of symbols and of fifty-two cocoon-like lamps that are “a metaphor of smoldering life." The sound is based on a combination of the four languages ​​used by the prisoners, thus forming an “abstract language of lamentation.” A work bringing together the organic and inorganic matter is “He & She MAKEOVER” (2009). The diptych of figural structures, a major part of it being natural size figures of man and woman being reborn, was awarded at the International Print Triennial in Kraków (2009).

Mysłowski's work can be compared to a deductive system, resulting from a variety of ways of comparing the records of reality and their further development. The artist shifts the emphasis to studying the properties of individual works. Respecting the rules in defining and transforming simple systems, ensure a consistency of pictorial language. All objects belong to the same set, all retain the characteristics of the starting material, the basic structure from which they originated. They belong to the same category, defined by the degree of abstraction. Mathematical properties and cognitive values of complementary axioms are revealed in his series of works. In science, in order to determine the interdependence between shapes and signs the terms “metalogic” and “metamathematics” are used. Both terms may be used to give proof, through sets of ordered collections of images. Also from the point of view of semantics, individual expressions of this visual language are arranged in a coherent system of signs.

Mysłowski's records result from images created both naturally and mechanically, and their indisputable common feature is the fact that they are the “cultural property of man” as Claude Levi-Strauss put it. Living organisms are an important complement to the matter formed of lines, planes or constructions. The realities of everyday life, objects, architecture pervade human life, marking it with a variety of symbols. The task of the artist is to examine the records analytically, which can be expressed by "image-symbols". According to Levi-Strauss's considerations: “The revealed structures are only stages of reduction, serving to disclose the most basic structures, such as matter and the law of randomness which governs it.” Mathematics as the science of formal relationships may facilitate the expression of interdependence between theory and content. The pictorial matter, arranged in series, is used to represent the yet unstructured reality. The images obtained in this way create composite form layouts and visual synthesis, undergoing geometrical procedures, and are transformed into mathematical operations. The combination of the various elements, is achieved by defining the variables and presenting them as simplified structures. The mathematization of art can be referred to only when the formalization stage is reached. Only then series of images are created, among which relationships occur, enabling syntactic reasoning. Mysłowski's logical, yet mathematical structures are therefore descriptions of selected symbols, simultaneously being an instrument for testing the form. An Instrument for expressing views, a framework of the adopted theory of symbols.

For the artist, the photographic record is the main source of visual information, the material which forms the basis for communication. It facilitates the process of finding dependencies which can be called spatial or topological experiences. Organizing individual images, putting them in sets synthesizing given features of the object – although resulting from arbitrary decisions – does not change the values of mathematical reference. The artist examines the usefulness of the transformations he makes, and combines them according to their cognitive value. In his synthesis, you can always find the source of concrete solutions. The analysis of visual language made by Mysłowski, include recognition of the vision of his precursors, leading to separation of the “metastructure” as the basis of all existing structures and organisms. His work relates to broadly investigated dependencies, leading to the primeval structure dissected from a very complicated maze of references, its construction resulting from a systemic combination of both organic and inorganic elements. The attempts to find the basic structures can be treated as a way of communicating philosophical reflection, in visual form. The vision of the artist completes the work in other areas of cognitive research. What are Mysłowski's structures? A record of the construction of the human world, but also of particular action, specifying the nature of transformation, an individual interpretation, and the artist's attempt to understand himself. Mysłowski is trying to define objective patterns of understanding issues and problems, by examining the nature of things, and synthesizing various aspects, although he is not always free from emotions. Art goes beyond scientific inquiry, but relationships with philosophy can be found in it, manifested primarily in the field of “speculative thinking” – as Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote.

Computers can facilitate the search for order, referring to the structural laws of nature, despite the danger of over-simplification of the phenomena occurring in real life. Tadeusz Mysłowski focuses on spatial models reduced to a minimum, summarizing the richness and complexity of the analyzed shapes. When the formal synthesis is replaced by complex algorithms of computer programs, numerical problem solving challenges the artist to ask further questions, forces him to make radical decisions. Mental states can not be translated into computer awareness. The description of the complexity of the real world defies computers. So again, the final conclusions, the definitive solutions, are left to the artist. By interfering with the record, and changing its form, the artist constructs a new quality, according to the assumption that the image can be deconstructed into any elements and then combined again to create a new entity. Empirically derived visual content, despite building up transformations, remains in a constant relationship with the original subject. The natural image of reality is transformed into a structural reality.


Mysłowski T., Towards Organic Geometry, 1972-1994, New York, 1994.
R. Cohen, Introduction, in: Tadeusz Mysłowski. Selected Works. Expanding Cross Series 1976 - 1988, New York, 1990.
G. Sztabin, Between geometry and biology, "Obieg", No. 9-10, 1991.
L. Brogowski, Tadeusz Mysłowski: Wholeness and Meaning, Detail and Monsters, in: Tadeusz Mysłowski. Drawings. Paintings. Sculptures. Ceramics. Photography. Graphics, BWA Gallery, Wrocław, Lublin 1997.
B. Fauchille, Between Heaven and Earth, ibidem
S. Bojko, Tadeusz Mysłowski's ChairThrones, in: Tadeusz Mysłowski, Museum of Architecture, Wrocław 2011.
A. Turowski, Between the Metaphysics of Space and Organics. Transformations of the square, in: Tadeusz Mysłowski, Museum of Lublin, Lublin 2011.
T. Mysłowski, Notation on the Cross. Sign. Imagery. Ideas, in: Tadeusz Mysłowski. Drawings. Paintings. Sculptures. Ceramics. Photography. Graphics, BWA Gallery, Wrocław, Lublin 1997.
T. Mysłowski, Some Reflections on a sculptural project, in: Tadeusz Mysłowski. Drawings. Paiitngs. Sculptures. Ceramics. Photography. Graphics, BWA Gallery, Wrocław, Lublin 1997.

T. Mysłowski, ChairThrones, in: Tadeusz Mysłowski, Museum of Architecture, Wrocław 2011.
C. Levi-Strauss, Structural Anthropology, Warsaw 1970.