Witold URBANOWICZ (born 1931 in Oszmiana, now in Lithuania). In the years 1950-1956 he studied
at the Cracow Academy of Fine Arts. In the late fifties he joined the current of matter painting, which had
become one of the most interesting phenomena in the post-war art. In his reliefs the artist used dried-up
paint, mixtures of grains, coffee and pigments, pieces of fabrics, shreds and cords. He sew up, baked,
polished his paintings, he soaked them with mortar. The matter painting, pervaded with pessimism, was
a direct equivalent of the west-European currents of structuralism, art brut or the informel, deriving from
the philosophy of existentialism.
Witold Urbanowicz's further artistic career was marked by a series of departures and
comebacks from figuration to abstraction, from calming down to aggressive expression. From a closed
circle of painting - which the matter painting proved to be for the hot tempered painter - Urbanowicz
broke free towards the painting of expressive figuration inspired by surrealism. In the following years he
resorted to various means of expression: he geometrized shapes, used collage, press quotation, he
returned to colouristic expression.
In recent years the artist has synthesized his hitherto experiences; he returns to structural
painting, combining it with expressive colour and dynamically drawn line. In a series of his new paintings
he alludes to his famous Squares cycle from the beginning of the sixties. Recently he has taken up the
subject of vanitas, using the language of abstraction to express it - "cellular" arrangements, calligraphic
signs of non-existing script and the play of crumpled, foaming, relief-like-treated texture.
[...] Throughout his entire career, Urbanowicz remained faithful to his "intensivist" vocation. He
was faithful to it even when together with his colleagues from the Nowa Huta Group he fell under the
spell of matter painting creating pictures-objects in which he wanted to enclose "absolute peace and
quiet". Yet the period of matter painting was an exception due to yet another reason. Namely,
Urbanowicz had abandoned figuration for the duration of a few years. I was aware of the fact that the
artist's sense of abstraction and figuration is equally strong, but it seems that at that time, the artist's
decision to sever his ties with figuration was meant to be a kind of a manifestation. The struggle
between the two approaches was also presented on canvas, in the form of picture sized 1 × 2 m. On
this picture, painted in 1957, the artist presented a metaphorical composition entitled Running, but in the
end, he decided to destroy it. At the turn of 1959, in its place there arose another painting entitled A
Silver One which was emblematic of Urbanowicz's fascination with matter painting. At that time, the
element of figuration must have given way to the element of abstraction. [...] Yet this initial abandonment
of figuration was decidedly less painful for the artist than his later parting of ways with matter painting.
The access of Urbanowicz and a group of his friends from the Nowa Huta Group to the new trend which
matter painting had become at the end of the fifties, had a taste of a somewhat refreshing adventure.
Wishing to discover new lands, a traveller leaves behind unnecessary baggage without regret. But
matter painting did not give Urbanowicz the kind of possibilities he expected it to have.
[...] Urbanowicz became attracted to the element of figuration yet again. The artist's parting of
ways with matter painting occurred in the year 1964, following his several month long stay in Paris. At
that time, it was already quite evident that the trend which had been lively up until recently, had
somewhat lost its vitality and had now become the haunt of followers. What predominated in Paris now
was the so called "New Realism". Urbanowicz had returned to figuration, but this time, it was figuration
understood in an individualistic manner. For long years to come, the artist became involved in painting
strange, partly grotesque and partly macabre monsters, animals and people who as a result of some
ominous symbiosis, became transformed into people-animals or animal-people.
[...] Witold Urbanowicz's most recent paintings are truly dazzling. [...] These paintings which, as
usual in Urbanowicz's art, are painted with gusto, strike one with their almost Baroque-like exuberance
of form and colour, at the same time, they have something "wild" about them. However, there is no
hustle and bustle but rather harmony which is surprising taking into account the artist's selection of
means of expression. The artist who is in his seventies has attained the gift of synthesis of everything
that he had done before.
Anna Baranowa, "The Intenseness of Witold Urbanowicz's Art", in: The Old and New Art
of Witold Urbanowicz, exh. cat. IRSA Fine Art, Cracow-Warsaw 2004.