Sunday, June 12, 2005

The Art of Ryszard Gancarz



By David William Parry
Semantically, the words fate and destiny are not seen as synonyms. Most people choose to lead quite ordinary lives and in that sense accept their fate. They could be compared to sleep-walkers who stumble through life, never realising the astonishing fact that miraculous powers surround them. Only on the rarest of occasions do they stir from their dissatisfying slumbers, irritated by the unsettling thought that there must be more to existence than the pedestrian pleasures of mundane experience. Yet this very irritation has caused some people to awaken into a new life of freedom and creativity. The prickling of their dissatisfaction has acted like a grain of aspirational sand in an oyster shell and produced one of the blackest pearls. This is the power of modern art at its best and is potently manifest in the works of the relatively unknown Polish painter Ryszard Gancarz.

When encountering his work for the first time many observers are almost forced to leave the twenty-four hour nightmare of self imposed limitation behind them. They are reborn into the realities of a higher knowledge: a type of learning which completely transforms a person and takes them beyond the sphere of the simply human into the world of contemporary imagism. There are others of course, and the names of the men and women who have recently taken this irrecoverable step are known to both the history of art and literary legend. Having said that, in ages past, imagist experiments sometimes caught critical attention for the wrong reasons. In Edwardian England for example, the notorious Aleister Crowley seems to have set the precedent by leading a life devoted to sexuality and symbol, thereby focusing the hypocritical sensibilities of his peers on scandal rather than artistic endeavour.

At times, Crowley even seems to have forgotten that the impact of visual languages derived ! from an image seek to evoke the atmosphere or mood surrounding material things, whereas symbols dialogue with the numinous itself and require a theological methodology. Moreover, the transitory and often lurid visions of certain other confused imagists defended by some of the better known Parisian Salons during the late 1800s occasionally reached an abstract (albeit largely misinterpreted) moral level. In order to achieve this bewildering status, critics claimed that the armour of artistic integrity had to be laid aside and the dubious protection assured by the gift of discernment openly spurned. These comments caused an open hostility to arise between the already contentious factions struggling at the fringes of this embryonic movement and allowed the ascent of a number of weird and wonderful people into the public world of so-called symbolist "decadence". Perhaps this is typified in the character of the Sar Peladan and his fanatical followers. To be sure Peladan, for all ! of his energetic enthusiasm, never really seems to have been regarded as a first rate figure in his own day either as an occult novelist or as an aesthetician. Unsurprisingly, pundits were quick to point out that his best known work "Le Vice Supreme" (published in 1884), received strangely pedantic reviews. Nevertheless, he has remained a rather picturesque individual whose own personal participation in "forbidden" pursuits appear to be somewhat negligible.

From the beginning of his rather chequered career Peladan attracted a retinue of reprobates and villains. One of these was the befudelled esoteric thinker Stanislas De Guaita who didn't seem to grasp the subtle and yet profound differences between the occult and the iconic arts. When they first met they fanned each other's egos into a frenzy of pseudo-Rosicrucian ideas with the intention of stimulating the paintings and sculptures of their clique. It should be remembered that Christian Rosenkreutz was a legendary fifteenth century seer of doubtful historicity whose supposed doctrines were in succeeding centuries heavily embellished by exotic ideas and extravagant hallmarks drawn from a wide range of German and Jewish folktales. However, undeterred by a factual analysis of these events Peladan decided to become a prominent figure in the liminal world of French Rosicrucianiam.

This attitude reveals an age-old distinction between those who pursue imagism as a means to an end and true imagists who recognise that they are actually explorers in the realm of imagination. Gancarz without the slightest doubt belongs to the latter school. This is why I should warn the reader from the outset, that his art is dangerous and must be approached with great caution. For Gancarz, imagination should not be confused with fantasy, which seems to be only a collection of random erotic associations and distorted sensory information. On the contrary, imagination is an empathic faculty of the psyche, which may be developed into an organ of subjective perception through which valuable altered states of awareness can be grasped. In a sense, imagism could be called the science of the imagination and stands along with logic as one of the greatest achievements of the human spirit. With this in mind it may be helpful to examine the techniques Gancarz employs to strengthen the ! third eye of his imaginative cognition.

His art seems to argue that everything in this world is relatively true and that the power of image is the binding agent, which secures each creative success or traps the otherwise evolving soul. Only the free flow of form, emancipated from false notions of intellectual quality can release the instincts of the heart. Indeed, his thesis explores contradiction along with restricted comprehension as the principle modalities conditioning our encounter with art. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Gancarz allows classic images to surface from the blurred ephemeral boundaries of post-modernity. Through the active chaos created by his clever use of colour-metaphor, we may observe anonymous human heads, buildings, highly sexualised female torsos, scribbled text in both English and Polish, a bleak and colourless church, ironically repetitious scenarios vaguely reminiscent of Andy Warhol at his best, and even the occasional phallus. Nevertheless, the sign or mark of his personal a! rtistry may be read throughout every composition. Moreover, Gancarz has gone further than other contemporary imagists due to the indirect suggestion that a visual doctrine of correspondences underlies his work. This idea is vital to the practise of his art because Gancarz is contending that all material things have a natural as well as an aesthetic meaning. He is attempting to guide his admirers through a sentient hieroglyphic labyrinth, inscribed with depictions of deeper realities. What is more, Gancarz claims that once read and decoded into manageable portraits these living images can be finally grasped. Fascinatingly, he then alludes to the possibility that they may be re-built in the sensuous mind transforming both body and essence. His art therefore, is a disturbing journey into alchemical cartographies.

There is a long creative history behind pictures of this kind and Gancarz has made a significant as well as provocatively innovative contribution to the imagist movement. It may be that for Gancarz, the primary error of received imagism was to put "expertise" on a pedestal and then defend its fallible pronouncements as though they were insights into a fixed aesthetic order. For him, this overly theoretical scheme of interpretation is vacuous. On the other hand, he is fully aware that discovering art may be a labour of love, but it is also a victim of human lethargy. For Gancarz, these are the twin Herculean pillars upholding the prominent imagist notion that art demands personal sacrifice. It can only be lamented then, that so few artists in their beleaguered attempts to define the parameters of painting have proved capable of rising to the challenge posed by his work. Instead, his colleagues have tended to compound the problem by embracing a naïve multi-cultural overview, ! which increasingly obscures artistic clarity. If present day imagists, bereft of any intellectually shared visual language, endlessly extend their yogic contortions to include allegedly analogous shapes (themselves divorced from any meaningful context), then the notion of creative coherence has finally been abandoned. Certainly, western hubris usually accompanies these broad brush-strokes of misinterpretation, often allied to the unfortunate fact that these superfluous depictions prove, on closer inspection, to need additional development themselves. Yet, this is the moment of triumph, not defeat. Gancarz has announced that uncharted imagist expeditions have ended and a new age of imaginative integrity has begun.

David Parry's poetry collection 'Caliban's Redemption' is published by Mandrake and features a cover illustration by Gancarz

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