Ways out of the labyrinth (1988)

New works by Polish artist Jan Niksinski on show at the Institute of Modern Art in Nuremberg

In conversation, Jan Niksinski repeatedly returns to the fact that his work should not be too closely associated with language and that he cannot really do this. The concern is well-founded, because it is the kind of art that hovers in the middle between figuration and abstraction. Art that moves so introvertedly into the realm of meditation and has nothing narrative about it is much more dependent on aesthetic-intuitive understanding than on rational and conscious understanding. The 26-year-old Pole Jan Niksiński, who now lives in Warsaw, is no longer a stranger to Nuremberg; in 1985 some of his works were shown at the Triennale of Drawing, and in 1986 the Varisella Gallery dedicated a solo exhibition to him. He has exhibited several times in the West, including Berlin and Vienna. He studied in Gdansk, Warsaw and – thanks to a scholarship – in Vienna. In 1982 he was an assistant at the Summer Academy in Salzburg. An artist of great sensitivity and an ‘einzelgänger’ in his homeland.

The Institute of Modern Art (at the Schmidt-Bank-Galerie on Lorenzen Platz) in Nuremberg is now presenting a renewed version of his work. The new works are even quieter than the earlier ones, but also clearer in their tonal, almost grey-blue, never poster-like colours. The exhibition features eighteen paintings in mixed media on chipboard, as well as an installation created for this show with a cut-out drawing in the centre, as well as fabric, suspended stone and reeds. If there was nothing on the walls around the paintings, the meaning of this spatial fantasy would remain completely unclear. However, we know that the painter and draughtsman Niksinski always thinks three-dimensionally in his visual concepts. Thus, the paintings have several layers, both in terms of fact, material and painting. “Source of Light” is the title of one of these paintings: in its centre, a vibrant white stripe runs vertically from the top to its bottom edge, optically detached from the grainy, matte blue surface, which is split in the right half at an obtuse angle. The two carefully painted reeds appear to float between the background and the white band of light – the realism of the drawing goes so far as to trompe-l’oeil to fool the eye, so physical is their contrast to the background with their shadows.

The titles were created retrospectively and were never the programme for his paintings. Technique mixes freely and variously: notches in the chipboard provide relief, fine, very homogeneous hatching creates surface elements, constructive geometric elements are superimposed on sharp, pointed mouldings that have a completely different internal drawing. They press against each other, just as ice floes overlap each other in pressure. If this tectonics of parts of the form often also has a penetrating, almost painful fragility, the roughness is again tempered by delicate colours. “Another Country”, for example, has this excruciating roughness and at the same time soft colours. The painful passages signal the fear of meeting someone who is not me. Niksinski’s sensitivity is particularly evident in such paintings.

And in almost all paintings there are these realistically painted reeds, like a spell. Years ago, the painter saw such reeds lying on a piece of rock. (Own comment: the journalist ‘critic’ Walter Fenn misunderstood my statement about the reeds or misinterpreted it. I did not see these reeds on the rocks. I discovered them in the Strandja Mountains in Bulgaria near some stream. I was puzzled by their form, as they looked like thin bamboos. I immediately got the idea to take them to the rocks on the Black Sea near the village of Varvara. I took this mass of photographs of my installations of these reeds on the rocks and decided to paint a series of paintings from these photographs. In this way, I had already formed the idea for the whole of my future exhibition at the Institute of Modern Art in Nuremberg) The image that impressed him at the time became the focal point of all his paintings: a gritty rocky ground, transferred to the painting by photographic means, and above it structural elements, sticks at the top, sometimes collage elements ‘Picture the exit from the labyrinth’ is one of the titles. The painter draws the viewer into a labyrinth of imagination and emotion, but at the same time gives clues in the paintings to find the way out again. (Until 6 September)