May 27, 2022

Destruction and spirituality. Art by Jacek Sempoliński

Jagienka Parteka, Agata Matusielańska


"What happens on the plane of the painting should be called an outrage, an invasion. The invasion of an attacker who does not leave a scorched land behind but who deals ostentatiously with the existing heritage without erasing the evidence of his brutality. He leaves behind its mistreated remains to make his destructive work more visible. He desecrates churches, cemeteries, and profanes holiness in order to establish new order on their ruins. He leaves his aggressive, destructive mark on them." 

Maria Poprzęcka

The art of Jacek Sempoliński introduces viewers to a different state of mind. In his work, the subject matter is the dominant, and the form is the transmitter. The artist's accomplishments should be viewed in light of two post-World War II movements in Polish art: the Polish colorist tradition and the Arsenal '55 generation, which was a ground-breaking phenomenon in socialism realism. The legacy of the artists associated with colorism inspired the creator to evoke emotions in the audience through his activities on the plane of the painting, also the destructive ones. This effect was achieved by applying the paint in a free, impasto manner onto the surface of the canvas. This idea originated from medieval philosophical studies on existential motifs, which, with time, became an increasingly frequent source of inspiration for Sempoliński.

Over time, the artist's paintings have been evolving and are now classified as abstract. He began his studies in 1946 at the Faculty of Painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. First, the artist studied under the supervision of Jan Seweryn Sokołowski, later in the studio of Eugeniusz Eibisch. In the beginning, he dealt with scenography and frescoes in addition to painting. At that time, he also collaborated with set designer Władysław Daszewski, being his assistant at the National Theatre in Warsaw. In the latter half of the 1950s, the artist drew inspiration from music and its iconographic themes. Then he turned his interest to landscape. Following his fascination, he increasingly isolated elements of a painting, such as color, light, or form, making them subjects of his research.

Color was especially important to the artist. In the 1970s, his paintings began to be dominated by colors such as purple, blue, and shades of gray. The artist used purple as a symbol of suffering and death. During this period, his paintings also underwent numerous interventions. Subsequently, new series were created, such as "Face" (since 1971), "Crucifixion" (since 1975), "The Power of Verdi's Destiny" (1977), and "Skull" (since the 1980s). The artistic intervention, applied to some of the canvases during their creation, took the form of pitting, splashing paint, and smashing. Gestures and their effects were the final elements of the composition. In the "Skulls" series, the artist refers to themes associated with the Passion of Jesus. The works from the series are the representations of curtains of skulls, veils of Veronica, or even expressions of physical suffering. Livid, seedy, and in various ways tarnished canvases represented pain and death, while the artistic destruction of paintings may be also associated with martial law in Poland in 1983. During this period, the author was a part of the independent culture movement.

Sempoliński was regarded as a painter-philosopher who, by paying close attention to details, explored themes of identity and humanity in his art. His art has never been cheerful or easy. In contrast, it provoked the viewer to reflect on his or her own fate.