Feb. 18, 2022

The Paper World of Wojciech Fangor

Wiktor Komorowski
Agata Matusielańska

Although the figure of Wojciech Fangor and his work need no introduction, there is still one area of his artistic activity which remains - quite inappropriately - in the shadow of his great canvases. 


The works in question are those created using different techniques such as oil crayons on paper. Despite numerous monographic presentations devoted to this area - i.a. the key exhibition entitled ‘Works on paper in the colour of Wojciech Fangor' organised at the aTAK Gallery in Warsaw in 2007 - it remains mostly enigmatic. For many, works on paper are just a variation or preparatory studies of what Fangor created on canvases. Although it remains a contentious matter, it is the works on paper, and not the oil paintings, that reveal Fangor's creative method in its fullest. The drawings are characterised by a much more simplified form, allowing one to get to know both the ‘master's hand' as well as the analytical process that the artist had to go through when transferring the imagined visual onto the paper. 

The drawings perfectly illustrate what in Fangor's terms is referred to as ‘A Positive Illusory Space' - a theory developed by Fangor after he rejected socialist realism and figurative painting. The artist was famous for interdisciplinarity and significant stylistic changes. He created both figurative works, as well as abstract ones. In the 1950s, he not only followed the socialist realism trend but also co-created within the Polish School of Posters. In the mid-fifties, Wojciech Fangor rejected the strict frames of socialist realism and turned towards research on the properties of space and the possibility of transmitting the feeling of spatiality via two-dimensional surfaces. 


A spatial turn took place as a result of a fruitful cooperation with leading Polish architects such as Jerzy Sołtan and Stanisław Zamecznik undertaken by the artist. With the former, he worked on the underground interior design of the Warszawa Śródmieście Railway Station. Following this commission, Fangor began to analyse the relationship between objects and the space surrounding them. Thanks to the co-operation with Zamecznik, however, this analytical method reached full maturity. It resulted in a jointly prepared exhibition entitled ‘A Study of Space' which the artists presented in 1958 at the Salon Nowej Kultury in Warsaw. The exhibition was the first spatial installation in the history of Polish art, which consisted of 20 optical paintings in different formats. Only four out of those works were hung on walls, with the rest placed on special easels. Those viewing the exhibition co-created the installation by entering an optical interaction with the work. Fangor mentioned himself that he discovered the optical image completely by accident. Initially, Fangor's canvases were supposed to be filled with blurry geometric figures, against the background of which various figurative elements were to appear. Yet, the moment the artist painted the abstract background, he noticed the blurred figures were affecting the space outside the painting. As opposed to perspective appearing in typical easel paintings, in which the main aim is to create a sense of depth within the painting, Fangor's works generate a sense of space between the viewer and the canvas.

In the case of drawings, the oil works are subjected to a vivisection process and the viewer can comprehend how the space illusion is generated by the gradation of colour intensity and the contour sharpness. Therefore, drawings truly enable the viewer to look at the world through the eyes of Wojciech Fangor. Thus, it is in the drawings where the creative process is best visible - and is not hidden behind a skilful sfumato layer, as is the case with the canvas works. 

The ‘Works on Paper. Post-War and Contemporary Art' auction taking place on the 22 February will feature three works on paper by Wojciech Fangor. One of them is a characteristic ring from 1969. Two sketches from the mock-up for the ‘Works on Paper in Colour' (pol.  "Prace na papierze w kolorze") album will also be put under the hammer. While preparing the album's outline, the artist made smaller versions of his iconic works. Two of them will be available for purchase this Tuesday on the 22 February.