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October, 30, 2019
Art on Art, Marcin Osiowski by HOS Gallery in Babka

Until today, I have not been to an exhibition at HOS Gallery, and I still cannot say that this state of affairs has changed much. Yesterday’s opening of Marcin Osiowski’s Art on Art, although organized by HOS Gallery, took place in BABKA on one thousand square metres of space … Luckily, because I cannot imagine where else such an unbridled exhibition would have fit: almost four decades of creation! I have no idea how many paintings there were; somewhere between 150 and 200…

Marcin Osiowski’s output is so rich in context and intertext that at least three doctorates could be written about it. Considering the average pace of writing doctoral theses in Poland, Osiowski may add real easy another set of paintings from next decade.

Writing about his work resembles stuffing the contents of a wardrobe into a matchbox or the universe into a grain of sand (although William Blake argues the opposite, about the universe, of course, not about Osiowski). This is an extremely demanding exhibition. It requires space, time and attention, not just for becoming familiarized with the paintings, but also for the never-ending but great curatorial texts, full of quotations from Ludwig Wittgenstein – the axis around which Osiowski rotates.

It is more than that. Osiowski rotates between/circulates around Orwell and Bulgakov, between Japanese woodcuts and the Polish carp, between absurdity and Dadaist humour (his “art grinder”, meatgrinder for art is wonderful!), between the pop-cultural pulp and sacrum (the depiction of Nikolai Copernicus’ real face rather than the “iconic” one, or erasing Lech Wałęsa), and critical art (he comes down on politicians and mechanisms of social oppression) or formal experiments digging composition and the shade, saturation or brightness of colours. Nothing can beat Osiowski’s play with Kazimir Malevich’s black square. Nothing.

Another genius creation is a series of five paintings of the four seasons … based on a changing relationship of four colours (white, black, gold and blue-gray) which correspond to the seasons.

Since the 1980s, Osiowski, inspired by Wittgenstein and his language games, has been exploiting the use of language in colour. The world is perceived with the senses (including sight) but described with words (language). This is the basis for close to me concept of the language image of the world, and to which I have devoted a chapter in my book. The concept is older than the Internet, which seems impossible as nothing is older than the Internet; fish had not even come out of the ocean before that. While the concept of the language image of the world dates back to Martin Luther, it is primarily associated with Wilhelm von Humboldt and – as usual – the nineteenth century. Still, it made a career in the twentieth century thanks to Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf. They proposed the hypothesis of linguistic relativity: how language affects thinking and perceiving the world, or even determines it. They were concerned with this much earlier than Wittgenstein, but it was he who extended the lingual image of the world to aesthetics and the language – or rather the logic – of colour.

Much like Wittgenstein’s Remarks on Colour (which Osiowski had translated for his use before an official Polish translation appeared), highly fragmentary, full of questions lacking answers, forcing the brain to shift into higher gear, Osiowski’s paintings approach a million issues.

Whereas Wittgenstein’s reflections lie at their source, Osiowski takes a step further. He places the philosopher’s propositions and direct quotations both in the titles of some paintings and in/on the paintings themselves, provoking the viewer all the more strongly to consider famous questions such as “Must white be the lightest colour?”. Spoiler alert: in Osiowski’s work, the white in subsequent renditions of the Polish flag grays and melts into the red, not resulting in a millennial pink – contrary to what we might imagine – but in gray slush. A flag deprived of both its symbolic meaning and, ultimately, of the logic and rules governing colours.

Osiowski’s paintings are like philosophical-linguistic treatises – luckily free from the heft of purebred phenomenology, like Dadaist experiments, like painted charades of absurdities, everyday life and politics. He reworks cultural resources (beyond those of the visual culture), fragments of other paintings, songs, often hinting at where the tropes came from, like the famous “little hat” in the painting Salisbury Cathedral.

I was staring at the paintings so much, that – like never before! – some of my photos came out crooked.

Kamila Tuszyńska, Ph.D.

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