Ewa Wojtyniak-Dębińska   »

Indeed, the true miracle of the language of art is not that it enables the artist to create the illusion of reality. (…) In teaching us to see the visible world afresh, he gives us the illusion of looking into the invisible realms of the mind (…). Ernst Gombrich

Ewa Wojtyniak-Dębińska’s work undoubtedly fulfills the belief of the Austrian art historian. Her oeuvre comprises a number of graphic cycles made in a variety of techniques. It is based on the characteristic repetitive imagery motives. Together they compose some kind of scenery which is built of fragments of landscape, images of plants, relics of architecture. Although in most of her works - at different levels and to a varied extent - the artist uses photography, we have no chance to see those images as a whole and in detail, in their ‘objectively’ captured shape. That discomfort is deepened by the fact that since the very beginning the authoress, prompted by intuition, has been trying to capture what is hard to perceive, to define, leaving the seemingly rational process of creation to the subconscious.

Ewa Wojtyniak-Dębińska submits her images to transformation, metamorphoses – at first just depriving them of details by the use of strong values, due to the increase of contrast between black and white, later by cutting out, subtracting fragments of space, using selected pieces of a landscape in a new function and in new places, adding new elements: lines, planes, gestural interference.

The array of motives, contexts in which they appear, also the titles of some cycles and works (No Way Out, Internal Landscapes, Requiem) indicate clearly that this creation is infused with existential elements. The reality of Ewa Wojtyniak-Dębińska’s works is the world which is divided, even split up, full of antimonies. We can find there general existential questions as well as, undoubtedly, individual problems originating from personal experience, reflections and the artist’s anxiety. In many works the particular fragments of that reality – perhaps even signs of human intimate reality – exist on the verge, on the edge, staying in contrast or opposition to one another.

Numerous borders visible there are to evoke such impressions, the limits of nature and civilisation, of darkness and light, of potency (expressed even in images of plants soaring to the light) and of decay, destruction, as well as images of various apertures and cracks, borders of two realities. ‘Verily verily I say unto you great is the abyss between us and the light’ – Zbigniew Herbert wrote. It reminds us of the topos of ‘the rite of passage’ which we are frequently submitted to in our life.

They are questions concerning the sense and the way, the life aim when facing the omnipresence of destruction and decadence, questions about having a choice. Questions raised to find out if we are able, being a part of nature, like the tree – the subject of the artist’s later graphic works – to last and overcome difficulties. And revive even stronger. General solutions, not only of existential but also ontological nature, are embodied by symbols of squares or triangles, present in the created spaces (and on the plane of works), carrying the richness of universal interpretations, by means of juxtapositions of horizontal and vertical lines (in the form of suitably composed fragments of landscape or lines drawn and running in the right directions) verbalizing the oppositions and mutual completion of various contrasts, the opportunity to create the unity.

Intruders, hand-created, simplified, sometimes geometrical elements bring the subsequent, plastic and symbolic contrast with shapes having spatial realistic character. Some contexts that emerge: shapes of forms (similar to sacred buildings), the choice of colours (presence of the blue), evoke reflections of metaphysical nature, referring us to the cultural space in which the sacred and the profane clash (Temples, Totem).

So far only visual motives have been mentioned, which unquestionably function in the image space and despite the artist’s destructive impact they are recognisable. The second group of objects consists of motives which exist merely due to the authoress’s artistic acts, her suggestions conveyed by the titles, a resemblance to truly existing objects, and most of all thanks to our intuition and imagination provoked by the artist, references to the mechanisms of our perception, and last but not least, our approval of the convention. The authoress’s calculated play with the audience allows us to recognize and interpret some motives as – actually non-existing – sceneries (as they look like ranges of mountains or forestlands, banks of rivers, live thicket), to see human profiles (as the appearance of some trees often resembles human faces, and contours of some planes make borders-outlines of human silhouettes); the illusion is intensified by the light contrasts – it is the light that apart from its mood - and symbol-creative influence, is the factor inspiring imagination, as e.g. in the cycles: Created by Light, Transformations.

In her self-reviews the artist clearly points to the fact that the essence of that kind of acts relies on transition of considerations concerning the relation between the perception of senses and the rational interpretation of phenomena into the language of art. She is interested in ‘search for the border between what belongs to the objective world, recorded in our retina, and what is subjective, imposed by our mind’. She speculates on to what extent, owing to cultural habits and an appropriate approach, to patterns formulated and preserved in our memory, we give priority to cognition rather than to perception.

These reflections are noteworthy as they refer to the development of these theories at two levels: the common human perception of the world, biased by patterns of interpreting reality in a given way deeply rooted in our awareness, and – on the other hand – the artist’s way of interpreting the world, who perceives the reality not only like others do, but who overlaps that process of perception with the process of selection conditioned by the rules of art.

Therefore some landscapes are additionally cropped, the artist selects only fragments out of the whole, parts that seem to be a separate autonomous value when we take into account the structure of compositional elements, occurrence of specific tensions: of lines, light or texture. As if it was a doubly complicated perception of the world.

It is also a tool of artistic creation. We might recall here the historical term of the ‘compositional key’ whose aim was to organise the mechanism of interpreting the work of art in accordance with the author’s intention. The artist’s manipulation makes us finally see what does not exist or what the artists themselves want us to perceive. We are deceived by the very psychic process of perception, and it is still intensified by deliberate use of certain means of expression.

What is also interesting here is the way the artist graphically animates and juxtaposes the reflections of the real world and the world that partly or as a whole is the result of the artist’s creative acts. Ewa Wojtyniak-Dębińska’s work is very consistent. Every theoretical issue she has been concerned with is successively developed within a number of cycles. The motive of the relation between different ways of perception typical of the artist is first present in the works where the mimetic factor is biggest.

Photographs of fragments of reality, though transformed as far as values are concerned, make the background for the screen printing technique, the one that is to the greatest extent connected with the ‘reproduction’ of reality – out of the techniques used by the graphic artist. It is the stage that is the most intensively marked by the material aspect of reality. When the artist enriches her work with some acts that draw our attention to psychic mechanisms present in the process of perception – she introduces definitely more ‘invasive’ elements of techniques (cutting off, etching): aquatint and linocut.

The latter always appears when the artist introduces an emotional gesture, when the photography impact vanishes, when it is necessary to attract the viewer’s attention to the aspect of creativity and – at the same time – open the way to thoughts and emotions.

Thus gradually the relatively neutral images of nature coexisting or competing with – unfortunately impermanent and nature-devastating – manifestations of civilisation and human presence are disturbed by the artist’s visible deliberate interferences. A part of the image is half covered by veils. There are additional partly transparent square frames whose content contributes to the new autonomous value, the work’s space is disturbed or even deprived of some fragments. As time goes by the element of the original image disappears, is moved to a new context; in that new position it is endowed with the new meaning and becomes the foundation for a new image. From the mimetic factor we proceed to the creative aspect, from ‘reproduction’ to the art of gesture.

In the subsequent cycles (from Dream about a Tree till Gestures), in which the image of a tree is the leading motive – the element of nature but also the personification of the cycle of human life – we can observe a similar method. First natural, though presented by means of intensified value contrast, ‘sculptural’ portraits of wooden trunks with faces covered by wrinkled bark transform into the suggestive images of human bodies in the succeeding cycles – taking advantage of our perceptive habits and the right attitude – they morph into suggestive images of human bodies so that they could finally assume the form of a synthetic sign, made as an artistic gesture, where there is no material original image of the plant (yet it stays deep inside).

Philosophical and psychological considerations which are the roots of Ewa Wojtyniak-Dębińska’s creation go together with her personal theoretical reflection which appeared in numerous critical texts. They are undoubtedly the essential component of her works which we can also perceive as works of graphic art endowed with the specific atmosphere, carefully designed and coherent. No matter if we consider the whole cycles or individual graphic works of art they preserve the uniform character, despite the multitude and variety of shapes originating from the object reality and the world of abstraction. Fragments of transformed photos are juxtaposed with creative planes with the cool palette of hues, which introduce the metaphysical aspect; they are grey, blue in the ‘deconstructed’ cycles dating back to the 1990s and the beginning of the next decade and the warmer tones, when the tree becomes the dominating motive.

Ewa Wojtyniak-Dębińska’s works raise many different questions. They are also questions about art values. She examines, tries to answer to what degree the material and psychic aspects rooted in works of art become essential and determine the profound character of the work and its understanding, both for the artist and for the art consumer. In a way they also reveal the relations between representational and abstract art. They show how it is possible to perceive and accept works of art in which the emotional non-object expression of psychic aspects of creation substitutes the recognisable material elements. What is the way to construct them in the process of creation and what is the mechanism of their perception by the audience.

Fortunately that creation, characterised by the analytical speculative approach, is at the same time very human. The existential content which forms its background makes us perceive it as something that derives from ourselves: from the continuous need to explore what is invisible and what – no one knows why – preys on our mind.

Dariusz Le¶nikowski

Transl. Elżbieta Rodzeń-Le¶nikowska