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EssayMałgorzata Jastrzębska

By Bogusław Deptuła

Colourful geometry of the eye

As is known, there’s no geometry of the eye. What Małgorzata Jastrzębska paints is something I’m inclined to call a ‘geometry of the eye’ all the same.

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There’s no doubt that something called iridology does exist, though. I mean, the science investigating into the eye’s iris. The name comes from irydos, being the Greek for rainbow. Once rainbow is mentioned, painting is but one step away from us.

The colourful circles in the Jastrzębska paintings remind one of the origins of abstract painting. Between 1910 and 1915, those appeared in the works of several painters – English, German, Portuguese, Czech, or French. Multi-coloured circles have fertilised Europe’s painting imagination. They seem to be an ideal idea of a modern piece of painting not representing a reality. The colours’ sphere edges embrace one another whilst preserving their independent statuses. The colours swirl and gyrate whilst remaining separable and autonomous each. It is hard to determine a dominant colour cast, or indicate the most important fragment; but this is good, as it is – this being the way to confirm the independence of a colour. Colour may remain the painting’s only theme – the one being entirely independent. This is the result of impressionists’ searches, and a great triumph of the pointillist technique and of Georges Seurat’s painting principle in one.

The most famous painter who painted multi-coloured circles was Robert Delaunay. It was his oeuvre that has won the poetic name of orphism, after Orpheus. And it was Apollinaire to have described that art using the term in 1912, to emphasise the joyful, multi-coloured manner in which Delaunay’s paintings were different from those made by cubists. Orphism’s life was not too long; it was a miraculous revelation, an excellent formal idea of how to make a painting, which, however, expired as a concept rather soon. Although Delaunay himself would intersperse his later composition with orphic motifs, he remained alone in this respect.

I can’t even tell to what an extent Małgorzata Jastrzębska’s compositions make a conscious reference to that historic moment in the history of early abstract art. Certainly, she is aware of that orphism has existed. What makes her output significantly different, though, from the phenomenon’s precursors in the domain of art is a rigorous attitude. Those painters of yore were spontaneous, whilst she is rigorous in what she does; they would consciously leave traces of paintbrush on the canvas, whereas she is consistent in her blurring them. At the same time, one finds is rather hard to call what Jastrzębska paints a ‘geometry’. Perhaps it’s just an attempt to add up an appearance of rigour to her rampant temper.

Her small square-shaped pictures have become more and more multithreaded. The composing exercise, which consists in structuring of the painting’s complex iris, gets disturbed by the white colour riffing in more and more unobtrusively. Her complicating the circles she outlines seems to be inevitable; initially, those were but circles, and now, they tend to be several times crossed out by diagonals. The iris gets decomposed, the straight lines disassemble the circular order of colourful rings, and the white rushes in everywhere. White spots appearing in the iris is something like an illness; in Jastrzębska’s paintings, the white colour is like a victory of her independent thinking about the painting and about its own independent composition.

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Goethe was one of those to paint rings of colours. In 1809, he drafted the most famous of his Farbkreis exercises. It has lastly appeared on the cover of a verse collection by Wisława Szymborska, the Polish Nobel laureate, titled Dwukropek [A Colon], a fact that will doubtless contribute to popularising some aspects of the German poet’s scientific search. It was Goethe, namely, that tried to set the Farbenlehre – the ‘science on colours’ – in an order, by writing a work bearing such title for many years of his life. Although much appreciated by the author himself, it poses a considerable issue today to scientists representing varied areas of research. A careful mixture of physics, biology, and psychology with remarks on arts causes that one finds it difficult to classify the work, which nonetheless has remained an important reference point for many artistic considerations. Let me believe this is the case with Małgorzata Jastrzębska as well.

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When talking of (an) eye, we usually mean the pupil and not the iris, although whilst taking on an eye’s colour – the factor determining the eye’s otherness and specificity – what we mean is exactly iris.

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I have recently read Josif Brodsky’s Watermark once again, the superb essay on Venice. To my great astonishment, I found several references to eye in this text. This is quite a singular trait of Brodsky’s writing. His comments on eye, recollections of the iris, is all very rare moments in literature. All the more that really surprising statement claiming that it is with our eyes that we cognise the world and we do know quite well what it means to be deprived of sight, whereas only very few of us tend to remember about the eyes. The significance of what the Russian writer has said on the topic is all the greater, then. Brodsky has namely reminded us of how important eye is: Eye is prior to the pen. … In this town [i.e. Venice], the eye gains an autonomy being remindful of autonomy of the tear. The only difference is that the eye wouldn’t get separated from the body, but instead, made the body completely subordinated to itself.

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The most important colour is light.

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Małgorzata Jastrzębska has already painted several beautiful pictures. But the most promising ones, truly, are those not-as-yet-existent. And I’m waiting to see those, impatiently.