Why can't Nowosielski's swimmers swim?
"A woman is a symbol of the Church. Churches and nudes are similar. The shape of a Baroque dome resembles the shape of a woman's body. The Church and the woman are the kingdom of God on earth."
- Jerzy Nowosielski
From a young age, duality dominated Jerzy Nowosielski's life (1923–2011). The artist was raised in a dual-faith, dual-national Ukrainian-German family, which had a significant influence on both his national and religious identity as well as his art. His father was Greek Catholic and his mother was a Catholic. While enrolled in Piarists' Catholic Junior High School, the young Nowosielski also attended services at the Uniate Church. His life's ongoing confrontations with various cultural influences came to a head in 1939 when the Nowosielski family was forced to flee to Lviv due to the outbreak of war. It was there that the young Jerzy went to the Ukrainian Museum and saw the rich collection of icons that would later come to define his art. The future artist was amazed by the decorativeness of the hieratic performances, which, as he himself acknowledged, was a mystical experience. Nowosielski entered the novitiate in a Greek Catholic monastery near Lviv in 1942, where the monastic rigid principles defined his later strict work ethic. The creator was unable to stay in the lavra due to his deteriorating health, but this brief stay in the order gave him the opportunity to study the craft of icon writing. Working with the so-called "podlinniki," canonical icon patterns used by the iconographers during revelations, was an equally mystical experience for the artist. Since 1951, Nowosielski collaborated with Poland's Orthodox Church, as well as with the Roman Catholic Church since 1956, and the Greek Catholic Church since 1968. He identified himself as an atheist until the middle of the 1950s, but between 1954 and 1958, the creator converted, and since the 1960s, he publicly identified himself as Orthodox.
Dualism was also present in Nowosielski's work, with the artist developing his abstract and figurative elements in parallel. Since the early 1970s, his figurative works took the form of the so-called period of white and black paintings (black nudes). Nowosielski also translated his mystical experiences onto secular canvases. In the 1950s, he depicted sportswomen, that is simplified, frequently lumpy silhouettes of women engaged in athletic activity, most frequently swimmers or naked women in the water. The artist rarely presented women entering the water, which is intriguing and raises a lot of questions. Given that women were elevated to the status of absolute holiness by Nowosielski, presenting them immersed to the neck in water might have been considered sacrilege by the artist. On the other hand, such representation would make it impossible to render the corporeality of a female figure, which could disassociate the viewer from metaphysical reflections on what is right for the soul and inaccessible to the senses. This aspect makes the dualism in Nowosielski's work very clear, and the studies of female bodies paradoxically introduce the viewer to the immaterial world.