Nov 9, 2017 - Apr 2, 2018

Relentless Discovery

Muzeum Historii Katowic

Neo-avant-garde in Upper Silesia

Zdzisław Stanek
Zdzisław Stanek (1925–1996) a painter and sculptor, one of the founders of the Katowice avant-garde group St-53 in the 1950s, was considered one of the most interesting artists, ceaselessly experimenting and never yielding to any fashion or trend. Fascinated with the figure of Władysław Strzemiński and his theory of art, he tried to continue his explorations, constantly discovering new aspects of light in the painting.His hard early years – the World War II, the underground, a labour camp, then a Stalinist prison – did not augur Stanek’s amazing career. Yet, they provided him with an amazing inner strength, necessary in an avant-garde artist, as well as with the ability to strive for his goals despite the circumstances, without conforming to, among others, the requirements of the market or to any temporary success.

I owe much to Strzemiński. He was a man who taught how to grow beyond the mediocrity of vision, how to grow up to the space of the continuous discovery of new manners of perception, existing never before.This is an endless path.
Zdzisław Stanek, 1980.

"Zdzichu painted the most of us all. Soon, he enlarged the flat by the adjacent attic space, thus forming a huge studio, ever more crammed with canvases.

I do not know WHY even now I have such a vivid image: in Zdzichu’s room, we are listening to the song of Bertold Brecht’s Mother Courage performed by Helena Weigiel (Konrad sent us the record from Berlin). The poignant lyrics, the moving singing… It was a real HOLIDAY – despite the complexity of the times, the empty shops, the shortage of paints and brushes, the tangible sense of threat…

My contact with Zdzichu was the closest of all within the group. He was passionate and so direct..."

Urszula Broll about St-35 group, 2009

Lights in the Interspace
"The most gifted among the youngest artists of Stalinogród was doubtlessly Zdzisław Stanek, a talent swiftly developing. His beautiful still life entitled „Bottles and Light” is already an achievement. In the painting, the principle is consistently implemented of merging the shapes disrupted by the light, colliding with one another and then – in the sight of our wandering eye – reunited in a rhythm different from the previous one. There is a permeating and flowing motion in the image, as well as the complementation of the form. Stanek owed much to the purist experiments, but he did not limit himself to just these. I foresee a bright future awaiting this talent." Julian Przyboś, 1956

"Stanek does not expect any accidental effects. His compositions are solidly worked on; the artist imposes on himself a strict discipline, correcting critically almost any juxtaposition of colour, line, or shape. He constructs his painterly structures with the consideration and purpose of an architect designing buildings."
Bożena Kowalska, 1958.

Intraspace is what I am interested in – what happens between objects in space. New objects and spaces are created by the light.
Zdzisław Stanek, 1980.

All day long, he paints and sculpts, never leaving his flat, but on Friday he has Sunday. He goes out to a club to talk and drink with his colleagues. He knows that Władula will come by taxi to fetch him back. She will take Zdzisiu, ”feeble” by now, home to their studio in Drzymały Street. […]

Zdzichu is still talking – about the wisdom of nature. He has taken a piece of moon in his hand and is analysing it.
– I am a ”deformator”. And sometimes I am pure abstraction.
This is what Zdzichu says. So, I take his word for that."

Jacek Durski

I am also interested in the problem of light – light is one of the elements in the structure of the painting. I always seek color which would complement the light.
Zdzisław Stanek, 1970.

Nature
Nature is the main inspiration for my work. I do not imitate it, though, but seek new values. Zdzisław Stanek, 1970.

I frequently work on series thematically related to the trifle affairs of nature – series of flowers, trees and stones. I am also fascinated by insects, their shape and structure – they are amazing, incredibly attractive forms.
Zdzisław Stanek, 1970.

Lightrees
I am by no means hermetical – I am all there is around me, around us – through my paintings I build the unity of our identity in the world or nature. I do not paint the view of nature, I present the inside of my perception, which is embedded in nature. Zdzisław Stanek, 1980.

"I have seen a few dozen of sketches, later destroyed, exploring the theme of the tree core bristling with the thorns of dead twigs, eroded by sand and sea salt.
Stanek’s sketches captivated the viewer leading him into a kind of spectral laboratory, in which all shadows and lights ever cast on the wood evoked an aura emanating from its slightly luminous surface. Moreover, all this was kept in a stark, black and white tone in order to impose on himself even greater discipline."
Andrzej Wydrzyński 1959

"The artist applies onto the surface of his paintings colourful forms which are ”sculpted” in thick layers of oil-based paint, which he enriches with patters of lines carved in the paint. Thus, the ever changing play of light and shadow generated by the abundant relief of the surface complements the colour. The forms themselves are semi-abstract. They are mid-way between the image of nature in the paintings of the series ”Flowers”and the total abstraction of ”Lights in the Interspace”. What Stanek places here are artistic signs of particular objects and natural phenomena. Attentive examination of these paintings and being open to the influence of their shapes and colors may start long chains of poetic associations in the viewer’s imagination."
Alfred Ligocki, 1965.

Wall painting
Although most of his works are small in size, his eminent outdoor works must be mentioned as well. These are especially the mosaics (such as the ones in Mysłowice, Gliwice and Łaziska), his monumental murals (for example, in Tychy) and the most famous Paintingforms: on the top walls of blocks of flats in Lublin or, familiar to the Katowice dwellers, the spatial compositions on the side walls of Handlowy Dom Dziecka (Children’s Department Store) in Katowice (today in the collection of the Silesian Museum).
Lightsmelters
In the series „Lightsmelters” the artist explored the light and its surprising harmonies in the Silesian industrial landscape.

Continuously developing his experimental concepts, Stanek progressed from flat painting surface to ever distinct texture, then to collage, to relief to sculptural forms.

Lightforms
I thought that the surface of the painting could be enriched – after all, one looks at a painting from more than from one direction – therefore, I sought more spatial forms.                             Zdzisław Stanek

I wish to present the phenomenality of nature. It is constantly moving, it is transience itself. I want to reveal the mutual permeation of its forms – to see them beginning and ending in one fraction of perception.
Zdzisław Stanek 1980.

Paintingform
"His last works are a consistent continuation of the first attempts. Changes taking place in them result from the artist’s development and his pursuit of new means of expression. Though, unfortunately, the above may sound cliché, in Stanek’s case it describes a genuine phenomenon. Initially, he tried to solve the problem of the play of light and shadow on the two-dimensional surface of the canvas. However, illusionist rendering of the three-dimensional nature did not satisfy his creative ambition. He then began a series of paintings with distinct, almost relief-like texture, moving towards releasing the third dimension from the canvas surface in his final works, resulting in the image ceasing to be a painting, while still not becoming a sculpture yet. Thus, it turned into something entirely new and autonomous." Wojciech Sztaba, 1970.

In the 1970s, Stanek created intriguing, precisely shaped spatial works called Paintingforms and Lightforms. These works, which were reliefs rather than paintings despite their suggestive, frequently contrasting colours, were created with the use of polychromed wood, aluminum sheet and plexi plates.

Recognition and Awards
In the 1950s to 1980s, Stanek was one of the most interesting and outstanding artists of Silesian and Polish Neo avant-garde, gaining recognition not only in the country, but also abroad. He was a professor of the Faculty of Art of the Polish University Abroad, a member or the Roman Accademia Internazionale d’Arte Moderna, Accademia Italia delle Arti e dell Lavoro and IAA AIAP UNESCO, as well as a laureate of numerous prestigious awards. Among others, he received a silver medal and the title of Artifex Doctus IPKART for lifetime achievement (1978), a gold medal of the International Painting Competition Italia 2000 (1979), gold medal Il Trofeo Internazionale Medusa Aurea (1980) and a gold badge of ZPAP (Association of Polish Artists and Designers) (1996).

Look at the paintings. Get to know them. Then write… I just paint them… Look. The paintings are there. I will not complement them with words…
Zdzisław Stanek 1980

Collections
75 works by Zdzisław Stanek of the years 1952–1980 have been gathered in the collection of the Museum of Katowice History. They are also to be found in the National Museum in Warsaw, Poznań, Szczecin and Wrocław, the Silesian Museum in Katowice, Museum in Bielsko-Biała, Bytom, Chorzów, Lublin, Słupsk, Tarnów, Toruń, BWA (Artistic Exhibitions Bureau) Contemporary Art Gallery in Katowice, Zachęta National Gallery of Art in Warsaw, Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm and in many private collections in Poland and abroad.

"Zdzisław Stanek is an eminent personality in the Polish art of the post-war era. As one of the few in this part of Europe, he creatively continued Strzemiński’s ideas, combining them with a specific mysticism of light. So far, his modesty and the fact that he lived in Silesia have not been conducive for his art becoming more widely known and appreciated, although it deserves the highest attention."
Andrzej Urbanowicz 2009.

Muzeum Historii Katowic
Credits: Story

Curator: Natalia Kruszyna
Photographer: Aleksandra Kuś
Translator: Monika Hartman
Project Coordinator: Magdalena Niziołek

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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