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Grażyna Ryba

University of Rzeszów


In February 2009, to celebrate the opening of the Centre for the Documentation of Modern Sacred Art in Rzeszów, a small exhibition entitled Expressing the Inexpressible was organized. Its purpose was to give a succinct presentation of the ways in which metaphysical experience and reflection are expressed in contemporary art which takes its origins from Judeo-Christian tradition. The exhibition displayed works by three artists affiliated with the local university. Each represented a different current in contemporary painting: Tadeusz Wiktor (born in 1946), an abstract painter, exhibited his An Icon for Stanisław. A prayer for Father (1993), Stanisław Białogłowicz (b. 1947), who draws inspiration from the classical icon, presented his A hidden record according to the icon “St Luke painting theHodegetria” (2006), and Tadeusz Boruta (b. 1957), usually associated with the figurative trend, displayed a painting entitled Doubting Thomas (1999).

The work of Tadeusz Boruta apparently rejects collective experience in the search for God, placing emphasis on its individual and subjective character. His art can be seen as expressing the first stage of the creative effort, which involves the processes of knowing, experiencing, and understanding. Stanisław Białogłowicz moves his focus to the second stage, the actual creation, and Tadeusz Wiktor emphasizes the communicative aspect, concentrating on the experience of the Absolute in relation to the fellow man, who is specifically defined as the addressee of the artist’s vision.

Interestingly, none of the artists attempts to actually show the Inexpressible. This phenomenon is symptomatic of contemporary art in general and can be explained by the rise of individualism and subjectivism over the last two centuries, which also finds its specific manifestation in artistic attitudes and approaches to reality.

Keywords: religious painting, Tadeusz Wiktor, Tadeusz Boruta, Stanisław Białogłowicz


Exhibitions, like rosary beads, or like knots on the thread of time, mark subsequent stages in the work of almost every contemporary artist. They provide an opportunity for reflection and summing up, verified by critics and the audience. Sometimes an exhibition becomes a kind of dialogue between the author of its scenario and one or more artists-participants while works of art become the authors’ eloquent reply to questions asked, a reply that they themselves find surprising. Viewers are witnesses to this silent conversation: the viewers who can thus anew or more fully read the message contained in works of art, seeing in them the content which even their authors are sometimes unaware of.

In February 2009, in connection with the inauguration of the Rzeszów Documentation Centre of Contemporary Sacred Art, a small exhibition was organized which was aimed at brief, comprehensive presentation of the expression of metaphysical experiences and reflections dominant in contemporary art, stemming from the Judeo-Christian cultural tradition. The ascetic formula of the exhibition allowed for the presentation of only three artists associated with the local university and representing different trends of contemporary painting: Tadeusz Boruta, Stanisław Białogłowicz and Tadeusz Wiktor. The criterion for selection was the striking individuality of their personal style: the striking formal differentiation of the expression of similar content. At the request of the organizers, each of them had made a choice of only one work which, according to him, best corresponded to the theme of the exhibition, expressed by the oxymoron: “Expressing the Inexpressible.”


Presented at the Rzeszów exhibition, Tadeusz Boruta’s Doubting Thomas [Fig. 1] shows in a seemingly random and fragmentary way two human figures shown in half-figure against a flat, neutral background. The artist focuses on the portrayal of a dialogue between Christ and the gestures of Thomas, who is approaching him. Depiction from a lower point of view heroizes the scene, and by leaving Christ’s face outside the frame allows us to more fully concentrate on the expression of the gestures: Christ’s right hand – blessing and the left one – pointing to the wound, and the apostle’s hand outstretched gently. Thomas looks carefully in the Risen One’s face, which, however, cannot be seen by the viewer following his sight. The face of one who believed because he saw (Jn 20, 29) as is typical of the work of Tadeusz Boruta, has the features of the artist himself, perhaps identifying himself with the attitude of Christ’s disciple. The depiction is made complete by the colours which have clear symbolic meaning: golden yellow and purple red of the rich draperies of the robes, painted in the way characteristic of the artist’s style. The painting Doubting Thomas raises the problem of the importance of cognition as a stage of the creative process. By allowing the apostle to contemplate Christ’s face, inaccessible to the viewer, the painter suggests that the sensitivity of the artist gives him the possibility to penetrate into areas inaccessible to the recipient’s perception.

Realism of the form of Tadeusz Boruta’s painting, coupled with elimination of unnecessary detail and a clear message, helped the exhibition visitors transcend the surrounding banality and the often mindlessly recorded everyday reality, and meditate on the content proposed by the two other artists.

The secong painting: A hidden record according to the icon “St Luke painting the Hodegetria” [Zapis ukryty według ikony “Święty Łukasz malujący Hodegetrię”] [Fig. 2] introduced a new formal language and a different interpretation of the exhibition’s theme. The powerful and expressive, bright and aggressive form of presentation of Doubting Thomaswas replaced by the subtle and ethereal, delicate and dreamlike painting by Stanislaw Białogłowicz. While Boruta reinterprets the topic, present in the iconographic tradition of Western Christianity, Białogłowicz is inspired by forms of imagery adopted in the Byzantine-Ruthenian art [Fig. 3].[1]


The theme of the picture is the stage of creation itself, the “expression of the Inexpressible”. Byzantine art, creating the iconographic scheme of St Luke painting the Virgin Mary, has objectified an individual, legendary event and gave it a deep theological meaning, related to the importance that Eastern Christianity attaches to the process of creation of a work of sacred art.[2]

St Luke, an artist, is sitting on a stool with a footstool under his feet; in front of him there is a pulpit and a rack with a painted image of the Hodegetria. Inspiration in the form of an angel standing behind the artist suggests to him how to render the vision: the silhouette standing before the easel of Our Lady and Child standing in front of the easel. Preserving the traditional compositional scheme, Stanisław Białogłowicz individualizes the form by giving it a stamp of his own experience, while not losing any of the wealth of theological content of the original. The reversed perspective of the Byzantine icon, repeated in the painting by the modern artist, removes from the objects the conventional realism of icon painting, making them primarily a decorative geometric arrangement of flat colour patches. Stanisław Białogłowicz’s composition is characterized by: simplified synthetic forms, lack of internal contour and delicate application of glazes of paint, using the opportunities offered by the oil painting technique – unlike in icon painting, which uses mainly tempera. The main scene is surrounded by miniature pictures more personal and mysterious.[3] However, unlike those in the traditional icons, they do not depict the lives of the figures represented in the main scene but contain the artist’s poetic reflection on his work. The whole is maintained in brown and vermilion colours, passing into delicate pinks and contrasting white spots. The first part of the title “a hidden record”, relating this painting to a large cycle of the artist’s works of the same title, requires one to return to the painting to read another code, an even more personal one, hidden in the forms already found.[4]

The last part of the Rzeszow exhibition was Tadeusz Wiktor’s painting An Icon for Stanisław. A prayer for Father[Ikona dla Stanisława. Modlitwa za Ojca], placed the farthest and deepest in the series of the three paintings, in the greatest possible isolation, seemingly almost completely eliminating any anecdote [Fig. 4]. The title which defines this work draws attention to another important element of the existence and influence of a work of art, namely its function of a message for its recipient.

Tadeusz Wiktor’s vertical composition is limited to a slender, pointed arc, outlined in its central part, creating associations with Gothic architecture, intended by the artist. The painting is kept in shades of red: from pure vermilion, through the dominant broken colours, to browns and even black, in some parts gradually lightened even to the streaks of pure white. The outline of the arc was multiplied by bands of colour, painted with perfect geometrical unambiguity, shimmering with different shades: either juxtaposed in a contrasting way or interpenetrating gently. Its form was opposed to a smooth background, only slightly varied in its hues. Marked in the upper part, along the inner contour of the outline of the arc, a small section covering a whole range of colours ​​used in the painting introduces an element of anxiety and movement, reminiscent of unexpected lighting effects caused in church interiors by the glare of lumen divinis, filtered through medieval stained glass windows.

By means of reduction of form, which is close to abstraction, and by perfection of its elaboration, excluding any imperfection being a record of the direct action of the artist’s hand, Tadeusz Wiktor seeks to obtain the objectification of communication. His own statements on the concept of an “icon” – appearing in the title of the painting – show that he regards it as the illumination of the Absolute, in the creation of which an artist merely plays the role of an intermediary, often surprised by the existence of the form created by his means.[5] Wiktor distinguishes in an icon a cultural aspect, embedded in time and referring to the symbolism functioning in the collective consciousness, and the timeless, essential dimension, available only to such an individual who “during contemplation of an icon transcends the sphere of its transcient attributes” and, discarding the ego, unites himself with the Absolute.[6]

Meanwhile, the cycle to which the icon An Icon for Stanisław. A prayer for Father belongs points to yet another aspect of icon creation in the artist’s work: the personal and subjective one, which is a particular form of its cultural dimension. The outline of the Gothic arc and the play of light on the surface of its geometric structure has clear cultural connotations relating to faith, but also reflects the fascination and the experiences the artist had as a child in contact with the forms of medieval architecture, as well as a strange dream: the state of special illumination which he experienced as an adult.[7] The part of the title: A prayer for Father suggests that the painting is precisely the transposition of the artist’s specific state of mind: experiencing contact with the Absolute, not as an intermediary experiencing illumination (which he wrote about), but as a subject seeking contact with him (the Spirit, the Absolute), and the reason for the search is a particular person, someone close to him. At the same time, in the title the painter emphasizes the importance of a real yet symbolic receiver of the message: the only, special person before whom he reveals the mystery of his presence in his own experience of the Absolute.

Therefore even this work, of the three ones shown at the exhibition, despite the assumption of objective “expressing the Inexpressible”, is primarily a story of the artist himself, his relationship with another person and metaphysical experiences in contact with the extrasensory reality.


All the authors of the works presented in Rzeszow derive from the Kraków artistic environment. They are alumni and graduates of Kraków’s Academy of Fine Arts. Tadeusz Wiktor (born 1946)[8] and Stanisław Białogłowicz (born 1947)[9] had studied in Kraków at the turn of the 1960s and 1970s.

Tadeusz Wiktor became a student of Adam Marczyński[10] while the work of that artist had already passed into the geometric phase. He took up his master’s search and has continued it with admirable consistency, striving – within the accepted convention of broadly defined geometric abstraction – to record the universal principle of the existence of the world. Studying at the Cracow Academy of fine Arts at the same time, Stanisław Białogłowicz chose the popular studio of Wacław Taranczewski,[11] cultivating the traditions of the Polish colourism and of the impressionist, subjective transformation of the themes of the surrounding reality.

Tadeusz Boruta’s artistic path (born 1957)[12] began to form within the walls of the same university ten years later. While Wiktor and Białogłowicz could, when starting independent work, afford artistic inquiry of the universal or personal character, ignoring the reality of real socialism, in which they lived, Tadeusz Boruta’s artistic activity began in the specific period of the early 1980s. During the already famous “Decade”, art again began to play an important role in the Polish society while artists gathered around the Church gained – unheard of before or after – huge numbers of recipients of their works, thus playing the role of moral authorities and waking up people’s consciences.[13] That is probably why Tadeusz Boruta, a painter and philosopher involved in social activity,[14] when entering the path of creative self-development, chose the realistic convention, close to a wide range of recipients. He formulated his message in a strong and clear way, while avoiding simplifications and being shallow. Undoubtedly, the formation of his artistic career was influenced in his student years by the studio of Stanisław Rodziński,[15] an independent artist who took up religious themes, unacceptable for years in the official circulation of art in the communist Poland. Another, no less important, was Boruta’s master Zbylut Grzywacz,[16] thanks to whom the young artist developed close contacts with representatives of the so-called Kraków figuration, centered around the group “Wprost”.

All three authors of the works presented at the exhibition “Expressing the Inexpressible”, having travelled a specific artistic journey, as mature, well-known and recognized masters with academic experience, came to Rzeszów and took up positions at the local university: Stanisław Białogłowicz and Tadeusz Wiktor[17] in 1996, eight years later they were joined by Tadeusz Boruta. The works presented at the exhibition had been created at the turn of the century, in the years 1993–2006.

An icon for Stanisław. A prayer for Father (1993) by Tadeusz Wiktor is one of the first paintings of the open cycle of works that has been created since 1992. The first compositions belonging to this cycle come from the period of the artist’s stay in Częstochowa[18] and it may be the atmosphere of Jasna Góra, towering over the city, that became an inspiration for those works, regarded as some of the more personal in the artist’s career.

Each work in the cycle was devoted to another loved person; and a kind of pendant to An icon for Stanisław. A prayer for Father is constituted by An icon for Eugenia. A prayer for Mother [Ikona dla Eugenii. Modlitwa za Matkę] [Fig. 5], very different in mood, painted in gentle blues. The other compositions were made either ​​in light and delicate or dark and strong broken colour shades, where the outline of the arc had varying proportions: multiplied or vanishing, outlined with a variable line of light passing into a dark contour.

This cycle suggests associations with programme music, in which a leading theme recurs in various configurations and the titles of each part allow for finding the narrative hidden in an abstract form of colours – sounds. The titles of subsequent works, rhythmically repeating one phrase like a litany, have special importance; in a brief and extremely precise way they define the relations: the artist – another person – the Absolute and the artist – the recipient.[19]

An icon for Stanisław is perhaps the most striking work in the cycle, both by its colour, and by unequivocality of its strong and decisive form. It is also a painting that is highly valued by the artist himself, and often exhibited.[20]

A special complement to the cycle Ikony [Icons] is a set of compositions Siedem modlitw za Eugenię [Seven prayers for Eugenia] (2003), devoted to the artist’s mother [Fig. 6, 7]. The motif of the cross, dominant in these paintings, appears in Tadeusz Wiktor’s work very often and is associated with the artist’s peculiar theosophy.[21] In the paintingsSeven prayers for Eugenia, painted during the illness and after the death of the artist’s mother, this universal form is marked by the stigma of personal suffering, through which began the artist’s slow return to incarnate God of Christianity.

The artist’s painting has been metaphysical on principle but the search for a possible universal concept of the Absolute has referred to the tradition of Christian art to a lesser extent, while it has resulted more from fascination with the philosophy of the Far East. On the other hand, the artist’s works which come the closest to the concept of personal God, characteristic of the Judeo-Christian civilization, are very personal, even intimate, far from the teaching of the institutional Church. That is probably why in Tadeusz Wiktor’s work, so steeped in mysticism, there have been no paintings of such religious character that they could function in specific church interiors.

The painting Doubting Thomas (1999) by Tadeusz Boruta, presented at this exhibition, is a version of the topic to which the painter had returned several times in the years preceding his arrival in Rzeszów. In the 1995 drawing, the artist focuses on the expressive gestures of hands, gathered around the open wounds of Christ. In the compositions of the paintings from 1996 [Fig. 8] and 2003 [Fig. 9], very close to each other, the artist departs from this arrangement, although the form of hand gestures is still the axis of the dramatic tension of the scene. In these works the figure of Christ was only suggested on the edge of the canvas, and the silhouette of Thomas leaning toward the wounds shown by Christ is almost completely hidden under a richly folded, golden-yellow drapery of his robes. Its officious pomp dominates the composition and seems to obscure the essence of the depicted scene but at the same time, by contrast, it stresses the significance of Thomas’ facial expressions and the significance of Christ’s and his disciple’s hand gestures, depicted on the edge of the painting. In the 1996 version, the apostle with his face hidden in shadow humbly bends toward the wound which is opened for him by Crist’s hand. In a later variant, Thomas’ face is lighted and his hand touches the side of the Risen One. The version presented at the Rzeszów exhibition is the one from 1999 [Fig. 1]; it is an attempt to develop the theme: it is more complex and dynamic but perhaps a little weaker, less thought out and consistent. That is probably why in the 2003 composition the artist returns to the previous arrangement, perhaps discouraged as if, in the course of developing the theme, he began to notice that the area of the mystery is expanding instead of shrinking and what is available to our perception is located just on the verge of “the Inexpressible”. In the same year of 2003, Tadeusz Boruta paints yet another Doubting Thomas [Fig. 10], which constitutes the surprising conclusion of the artist’s several years’ exploration. The composition shows the silhouettes of two naked men, visible in half figure, in profile. One figure is the mirror image of the other, and Thomas can be recognized only by the patch of yellow drapery, which had covered him so tightly in the previous compositions. Each of the men looks at his own body, and the blessing gesture of Christ’s raised hand is almost identical to the position of Thomas’ hand, outstretched toward him. Perhaps the artist is trying to suggest that we can know God only so far as we can experience the existence of ourselves.[22]

In the light of this last picture, the painter’s reflections on St Thomas, cognition and transformation should be regarded as a complement to the better known cycle Architectus Mundi,[23] painted parallel to the work discussed here. In this cycle, Boruta tries to explore the issue of the role of the artist’s creative process. Interpretation of the subsequent works of this series allows for the conclusion, formulated also by the artist himself,[24] who stated that the artist’s creation ultimately leads to self-creation (conscious or not), and the desire for knowledge only allows for better awareness of the scale of the area of the inconceivable.

This Rzeszów artist, consciously referring to the tradition of modern painting, significantly shifts the accents in theDoubting Thomas series of paintings. In the compositions by nineteenth-century academics as well as Renaissance painters, the encounter of Christ and Thomas is a scene in a particular landscape or an interior space, set among a large group of witnesses, the apostles. At the beginning of the 17th century, in his moving and, in some respects, innovative vision [Fig. 11], Caravaggio rejected unnecessary detail and concentrated solely on the characters, their faces and gestures, limiting the group of witnesses to a few people, whose commitment intensified the drama of Christ’s confrontation with doubting Thomas. This concept was taken over by numerous Caravaggionists, offering different variants of the psychological characteristics of the participants of this event [Fig. 12]. In each of the paintings created then, it was was the reaction of Christ, expressed not only in his gestures and facial expression but also in his face and sight, that was as important as or even more important than the behaviour of Thomas and his companions.[25] Boruta deliberately ignores all these elements, focusing almost exclusively on the person of Thomas; witnesses to his encounter with Christ are eliminated, and the figure of the Risen One, shown fragmentarily, is only a supplement to the apostle.

Tadeusz Boruta is considered a religious painter; he is associated with the tradition of Kraków’s environment, dating back to the art of the Young Poland. Despite the dominance of the religious themes in his work, the artist has to his credit only a few religious works, primarily in the field of monumental painting, created in the years 1992–2001 and in 2011[26].

Stanisław Białogłowicz’s A hidden record according to the icon “St Luke painting the Hodegetria” (2006), presented at the exhibition, is a painting of the cycle of Hidden records [Zapisy ukryte], created in the early 21st century. The cycle includes works of great formal diversity and different degrees of transformation of icon painting motifs. The painting shown at the exhibition in Rzeszów is among those (like for example Deesis of 2005) in which traditional iconographic themes are extremely legible. Among the compositions prevailing in the cycle: poetic, very freely transforming the form of the icon (among others, A hidden record – signs of purification of 2006), are the miniatures located on the edges of the work depicting St Luke.

The artist returned to the theme of the painting shown at the Rzeszów exhibition in another work, started in 2009 and still being created, initially called by the author Still untitled… [Jeszcze bez tytułu]. This work is an important complement to the message of A hidden record according to the icon “St Luke painting the Hodegetria” because it contains an even more personal and in-depth analysis of the artistic creation process and may provide the key to understanding the entire oeuvre of the artist, hiding his “whisper and scream” behind a safe system of signs. The special significance of this painting for the author is revealed in the fact that the composition is still being repainted, and subsequent versions of this work are now known only from the photographic documentation.

In the center of the 2009 version of Still untitled… [Fig. 13] there is an easel with an icon of Our Lady of the Way (the Hodegetria), known from the painting A hidden record according to the icon “St Luke painting the Hodegetria”. In front of the easel, below the rectangle of the canvas, there are also other elements known from the 2006 composition: a shelf with paints, and underneath it a cupboard for painting tools. In front of the icon of Mary there is a woman with her hair done in a characteristic bun; she is stretching out her hand in which she is holding a white handkerchief. However, this is an illusion – this figure is also painted and as such, along with the icon that she is looking at, she is part of a large rectangle of the canvas set inside the field of the actual painting. This large canvas as well as the canvas which is more in the background, both located almost parallel to the plane of the real work, constitute two rectangular fields which like screens mark inside the whole composition a space for the artist – a seated figure in red, over whom an angel is leaning. Moreover, the rectangle the large canvas in the real painting is penetrated by yet another figure, encouraged with the gesture made by the man in red.

The work Still untitled… is an intimate story of the artist’s work, not painting but inviting the creations of his imagination to be willing to enter into his paintings. This is the mysterious moment of a work of art coming into being, when the artist’s vision is just beginning to colour a white canvas. In the space defined by his paintings, the artist is alone. He is accompanied only by the white figure of an angel, symbolizing inspiration. Only the artist sees the reverse sides of his works and he is the only witness of the penetration of his visions into the canvas. Viewers can only have the access to the obverse, they can only see the emergence of a work but are not able to explore this process.

The slender figure with a characteristic bun, who is present in the painting-screen, resembles the silhouette of the artist’s wife, also present in many of his earlier compositions. The woman is contemplating his work already created and still being created; she is separated from the artist by the barrier of the canvas and deprived by him of real existence, being only a figure of his imagination. The whole composition, covered with tiny bright spots like silvery dust, creates the impression of mystery and fable.

Stanisław Białogłowicz’s Still untitled… is another personal statement made by this artist about his work and the condition of the artist in general. The painter wants to understand, analyze and visualize the mystery of the creative process. He uses the popular and often described motive of a picture within a picture, distinguishing in successive layers – “pictures trapped in a picture” – the mystery of painting the sacred and the visible world.

The 2010 state of the work [Fig. 14] presents a completely different story. The representation described above has been carelessly painted over by the artist, as though the process of examination of self-awareness through creation was valid only in a certain present while a record of the past became irrelevant, even superfluous, just like the viewer. All understatements disappeared, the composition became compact and clear, and the figure of the wife became identified with the canonical scheme of a saint in the Byzantine icon. The ethereal and slightly silvery colours were replaced with hot and heavy browns and vermilions.

In the years 1979–1998, Stanisław Białogłowicz made ​​several works of sacred art ordered by a church patron.[27] Religious themes and personal reflections, occurring rather sporadically in the 1980s, have appeared in his paintings on a large scale only since the mid-1990s, more or less since the time of the artist’s arrival in Rzeszów, and have gradually dominated his field of art. His inspiration found in icon painting allows Białogłowicz to combine the fairly intelligible iconographic message, rich in theological content, with the subjective experience of faith. His work is a manifestation of the trend, increasing especially since the second half of the 20th century in Western religious painting, and deriving out of fascination with the art of Eastern Christianity[28] as a source of new formal values, which could become the expression of the religiousness of modern man.

The few religious works by Stanisław Białogłowicz, a student of Wacław Taranczewski, may also be identified with that particular developmental trend of Polish religious art of the 20th century which is derived from the concept of monumental painting by Felicjan Szczęsny Kowarski. These assumptions were taken up in a specific way by Wacław Taranczewski, and they have to some extent been continued by his many students,[29] among whom in Rzeszów are Emil Polit and the late Zygmunt Czyż.


In the original assumption, the first part of the title of the exhibition “Expressing the Inexpressible” was to refer only to the art form which serves illustration of the appropriate topic, i.e. the inconceivable Absolute, specified in the latter part of this title. Actually, all three artists focused on man-the artist, his quest to understand the Ineffable, his attitude towards the Incomprehensible. The first two (Boruta, Białogłowicz) somehow identify with the depicted figures, the latter (Wiktor) also speaks of himself, but hiding behind the form which is close to abstraction. Tadeusz Boruta focuses on the stage of cognition, rejecting the collective experience and highlighting the individual and subjective nature of the search for God. His painting appears to show the first stage of the creative process, based on cognition, experience and understanding. Stanisław Białogłowicz renders the next step: the process of creation whereas Tadeusz Wiktor emphasizes the aspect of communication: the experience of the Absolute in relation to another person, who as the recipient of the artist’s vision has been carefully defined: this is someone special, who plays an important role in the artist’s life.

Thus, all three works unwittingly became an illustration of the fundamental aspects of the creative process: cognition, creation and communication, as well as a study of man-the artist. However, none of the artists undertook to express the very Inexpressible. The reason for this seemingly surprising interpretation of the exhibition theme was explained by the artists’ statements relating to their own work.

In a text of 2007 Tadeusz Boruta states, “Art is significant to me when it responds to an inner need to know oneself”, and “for me, the iconographic inspiration is a cultural opening, creating existential situations which are full of tension. It is the starting point for talking about modern man in the dimension of essential questions”.[30]

In a commentary on his work in 2005, Stanisław Białogłowicz remarks that his aim is “an endless record of man”,[31] painting is his “desire to expose or explore this wondrous truth about oneself and the world ‘to the end and without end’ by means of painting”. Even if the artist mentions prayer, which may in some way refer to his relationship with God, he mainly tries to analyze himself and his own experiences. He writes, “In all paintings I undertake an attempt of a conversation, the last prayer, in which I experience myself, I recognize myself in respect to others and to nature”.[32]

Only Tadeusz Wiktor understands artistic work as a “total commitment of the subject to the supernatural mediation” while the painter – “as a conductive and intermediate medium” – is for him “barely an intermediary for ‘the knowing Spirit’ being revealed in a painting”.[33] In his mysticism, close to the concept of the Platonic Demiurge, indifferent to the fate of the world, the artist at that time omitted the aspect of the Christian Incarnation, God’s active activity towards man. But even he chose one of the works marked by personal experience.

In the statements by Tadeusz Boruta and Stanisław Białogłowicz, quoted above, the artists, who represent the figurative trend, define the area of their creative fascinations as primarily focused on man and his existence. This attitude explains not only the criterion of their choice of works to be presented at the exhibition “Expressing the Inexpressible”, but also their reluctance to engage in cult-related art. These artists, although identified with the category of “religious painters” (Boruta) and representatives of the “religious figuration” (Białogłowicz), have had disproportionately few works that may be ranked in the field of sacred art.

Tadeusz Boruta even writes: “Do not I separate the sacred from the profane. For the believer, the whole existential experience is religious in nature. […] Except for a few works made for churches, most of my paintings are not intended for religious worship. No one prays before them, they do not participate in the liturgy. […] through the iconographic context I want to give a deeper perspective to human experience. To speak of loneliness, suffering, transience, death. It’s an art that raises existential questions about human identity”[34].

A similar phenomenon of marginalization of sacred art is also found in the works by other artists considered to be the creators of religious art. Among others, Stanisław Rodziński, the former professor of Tadeusz Boruta and one of the artists for years identified with religious themes, says, “Although most of my paintings are devoted to sacred themes, yet there are few works I have made ​​directly for the Church.” In order to explain this situation, he states that painting the works which are to serve as sacred, he is “subject to confrontation by viewers, who probably have their opinions and ideas” about the form of certain representations of the scope of Christian iconography. In contrast, in other works he shows his “own experience of this world […] experience and feeling”.[35] Antoni Rząsa, whose work is dominated by motifs from the Christological iconography, wrote in a letter to his brother, “I try to include in a sculpture the various psychological states of a human being: good-naturedness, sacrifice, love, good, wisdom, suffering, despair, terror. Sometimes my characters express the implicit question of who man is and of the purpose of his passing. […] I try to call for human dignity, which is disappearing nowadays”.[36] Even Eugeniusz Mucha, a respected author of several original works of the sacred monumental painting, talks about working on his murals, “For me it was a burden, I found it difficult to work on projects that had been approved. I was embarrassed and scared by the fact that I had to follow them. Easel painting is more mine, more personal.”[37]

Since the phenomenon of marginalization of religious art in the works of the artists associated with the tradition of Christian culture has a broader dimension and is not just limited to the above examples, it may be regarded as symptomatic of contemporary Polish art defined as religious. It should be linked to individualism and subjectivism, growing for the last two centuries and being manifested also in the attitudes of artists and in their relationship to the surrounding reality.


Metaphysical considerations, references to God and religion, or more broadly: to the Absolute, constitute an important field of inquiry of contemporary artists.[38] The artists presented above: Tadeusz Boruta, Stanisław Białogłowicz and Tadeusz Wiktor, are representatives of three main trends, three ways of searching for the sacred in contemporary art.

In the circle of European culture, almost since the beginning have there been two ways of expressing the sacred related to the spirituality associated with the western and eastern Christianity. The third way: metaphysical, dominant in abstract art, which appeared at the beginning of the last century, is an expression of the deistic longing of the secular civilization, being the fruit of the philosophy of the Enlightenment, rejecting God in the institutionalized form of religion.

In the Christianity of the past centuries, especially in the Middle Ages, the artist and his experiences were not as important. According to social expectations, an artist was only an intermediary in contact with the Absolute. It is above all the concept of God revealing himself and speaking through his Revelation in creation, that was vital and important. Therefore objectification of the message was possible: the common experience of the artist and the recipient, allowing the artist to realise himself in the sacred art and to create masterpieces.

For a medieval artist omnis natura Deum loquitur [the whole nature became the image of God]. The beautiful Madonna was primarily the Mother of God, and then the happy mother of a lovely child. The creators of the modern era in their own way filled human existence with the divine presence; they carried the Revelation into the real world, the world that was close to their recipients, i.e. the faithful who crowded the temples.

Until the advent of the Reformation,Western religious art was dominated by sacred art. Since the end of the 16thcentury, its scope within religious art has gradually been reduced, primarily as a result of the rejection of the doctrine by the Reformed churches, and consequently, by Protestant writers. Religious themes constituted for them only a source of reflection on the human condition. Gradually, the phenomenon has spread, appearing in the works of artists not necessarily related to a particular religion.

In contemporary art, the focus of the relationship: God – man the artist – the recipient shifts to its latter part, also among the artists associated with Catholicism. As proved by the statements quoted above, the artist finds it more important to present his own feelings and reflections in contact with God than strive to discover and show His objective image. The need for rendering the individual dominates the need to define what is common to all, and that is why artists are reluctant to cultivate sacred art, often creating works in this field that are of a lower artistic level and devoid of creativity.

On the other hand, the image of God (the Absolute) in the objectivist currents of abstract art creates in its universalism some logical structures that require the recipient of a given vision to actively co-search the perfect idea. It is a difficult art but solutions in the spirit of abstraction – in view of a certain crisis of the two previous trends – are gradually becoming an important alternative to the church interior renderings dominant so far.[39]

The documents of the Church after Vatican II indicate the great importance of sacred art in the transmission of the faith, emphasizing the prophetic mission of the artist and his work in closer knowledge of God and the transcendent issues inaccessible to mental cognition.[40] However, few contemporary artists want to be prophets leading the faithful towards the knowledge of supersensual reality. They prefer to conduct their own, intimate dialogue with God, and the change of this attitude would have to be related to broader changes of civilization, only to a small extent related to the activities of the institution even as powerful as the Catholic Church.


Translated by Agnieszka Gicala

[1] Stanisław Białogłowicz found a direct inspiration in the painting St Luke painting the Hodegetria in the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow (Fig. 3, information obtained form the artist in a conversation on 12 Feb. 2009).

[2] L. Uspienski, Teologia ikony, Poznań 1983.

[3] They are not found in the icon that had inspired the artist.

[4] “A hidden record of a small homeland and every passing moment will sometimes fly here like an indelible memory of past happiness which transcends any record, transcends time and death, it is a thought about a human being, the mother of memories and an inseparable companion of melancholy.” Stanisław Białogłowicz. Malarstwo. Znaki oczyszczenia. Zapis ukryty, texts by S. Białogłowicz, K. Węgrzyn-Białogłowicz, Rzeszów, no date, p. 3.

[5] T.G. Wiktor, B. Kowalska, Wiktor – wieloobrazy/pan-obraz: malarstwo 1972–2005: studio badań panobrazu, ikonozofia wieczysta, transrealizm, metaplastycyzm, Katowice 2006, p. 212.

[6] Ibidem.

[7] Tadeusz Wiktor’s account of his childhood fascinations with Gothic architecture resembles the atmosphere of Proust’s description of the interior of the church in Cambrai, as seen through the eyes of the child as well. The painter also accurately describes the strange dream, regarded by him as a special illumination, which he had already experienced in adulthood. He describes this dream in: T. Wiktor, Kalendarium indywidualne, in: Teksty artystów,Kraków 1994, p. 16; Bożena Kowalska also mentions the dream in Siedem szkiców o Wiktorze, in: Wiktor, Kowalska (ft. 5), p. 26. The Gothic arc motif, repeated by Wiktor in Ikony suggests, among others, associations with the mystical landscapes of romantic painters.

[8] The artist’s biography includes numerous catalogues of exhibitions in which he participated (including Piękno w sztuce, exhibition catalogue, Kraków 2008, p. 86). The most complete information on his biography is in: Wiktor, Kowalska (ft. 5).

[9] The painter’s biography is included in the catalogues of his exhibitions and in the publications of the Polish Painting Forum [Forum Malarstwa Polskiego] (among others in: Ecce homo. IV Forum Malarstwa Polskiego. Lesko 2004, Lesko–Toruń 2005, p. 42; Piękno w sztuce (ft. 8), p. 34). The most complete information on his biography is found in:Stanisław Białogłowicz (ft. 4).

[10] 175 lat nauczania malarstwa rzeźby i grafiki w krakowskiej Akademii Sztuk Pięknych, Kraków 1994, pp. 371–372.

[11] Ibidem, pp. 369–370.

[12] M. Kitowska-Łysiak, Tadeusz Boruta, 2004, Culture.pl (accessed 3 XI 2011).

[13] A. Wojciechowski, Czas smutku, czas nadziei. Sztuka niezależna lat osiemdziesiątych, Warszawa 1992; idem,Dekada, “Biuletyn Historii Sztuki”, 2003, no. 3–4, pp. 501–522.

[14] A participant of the Independent Culture Movement [Ruch Kultury Niezależnej]; organizer of the exhibitions: “W stronę osoby” [Towards a person], “Wszystkie nasze dzienne sprawy” [All of our daily affairs], “Misterium Męki, Śmierci i Zmartwychwstania” [Mystery of the Passion, Death and Resurrection], cf.: Pokolenie. Niezależna twórczość młodych w latach 1980–1989, exhibition catalogue, ed. T. Boruta, Kraków 2011.

[15] 175 lat nauczania… (ft. 10), pp. 381–382.

[16] Ibidem, pp. 380–381.

[17] Since 2010, Tadeusz Wiktor has also worked at Kraków’s Academy of Fine Arts.

[18] In 1990–1994, the artist worked in the Higher School of Pedagogy [Wyższa Szkoła Pedagogiczna] in Częstochowa, in the years 1994–1996 he was a professor at the Politechnika [Technical University] of Częstochowa, cf.: Piękno w sztuce (ft. 8), p. 86.

[19] Tadeusz Wiktor attaches great importance to the titles of his works. “To give an accurate poetic name to a painting so that it sounds complementary to it is a great and very rarely manifested skill”, he writes in a commentary on the work of a colleague (T. Wiktor, Rodowody duchowej figuracji Stanisława Białogłowicza, in: Stanisław Białogłowicz. Droga. Malarstwo, exhibition catalogue, Gallery-crypt at the Piarist church, Kraków 2001).

[20] The painting has been exhibited in Nałęczów (1995), Kraków (1996), Częstochowa (1997), Lublin (2001), Elbląg (2002), Orońsko (2003), Olsztyn (2003), Rzeszów (2009).

[21] “It proved to be a permanent value: a sign which I would intuitively reach for not only as the symbol but as a universal sign of the pictorial Logos”, after: Wiktor, Kowalska (ft. 5), p. 162.

[22] It is to this particular work that Joanna Stasiak’s comment, attached to the drawing Doubting Thomas of 1995, may be referred to: “The pertinence of this picture is based on the presence of two people who are identical. Here the unfaithful one and the faithful one meet in one person”, cf.: “Gregory Bednarski, Tadeusz Boruta, Andrzej Kapusta, Aldona Mickiewicz, exhibition catalogue, www.in spe.art.pl (accessed: 14 February 2009).

[23] Architectus (1996), Architectus Mundi (1998), Architectus Mundi. Narcyz (2002), Poszukiwanie formy na Polonię [Searching for a form for Polonia] (2000).

[24] Tadeusz Boruta in an interview with Magdalena Musialik: Kreacja przestrzeni. Rozmowa z malarzem Tadeuszem Borutą, in: “Sztuka Sakralna”, 2004, no. 6, p. 39.

[25] Rubens and Rembrandt in their paintings on this subject also emphasize the moment of Christ’s revelation, shifting Thomas’ impression to the second plane.

[26] The altar paintings in the former Benedictine monastery at Monte San Savino in Italy (1992–1993), polychromy in the parish church in Lubień (1996), polychromy in the parish church in Harbutowice near Sułkowice (2001).

[27] The polychromy in the seminary chapel of the College of the Divine Word Missionaries in Nysa, a cross and a stained glass window in the church of St James and St Agnes in Nysa, The Apocalypse in the parish church of Loburg Ostbevern in Germany; inventory of sacred works by: Piękno w sztuce (ft. 8), p. 34.

[28] I. Luba, W stronę ikony – mistycyzm czy stylizacja? “Bizantynizm” w malarstwie polskim lat 1910–1940, in: “Biuletyn Historii Sztuki”, 2000, no. 3–4, pp. 545–574; R. Rogozińska, Ex oriente lux. Recepcja ikony w sztuce polskiej. Wybrane zagadnienia (lata 1960–2007), in: “Sacrum et Decorum” 2, 2009, pp. 49–82; eadem, Ikona w sztuce XX wieku, Kraków 2010.

[29] Taranczewski as a teacher was described by F. Chmielowski in connection with the exhibition of the work of this master and his pupils in the BWA exhibition centre in Kraków  in 1979  (F. Chmielowski, Pracownia, in: “Sztuka”, 1979, no. 1, pp. 32–33).

[30] T. Boruta, Od autora, in: Tadeusz Boruta. Przemiany, exhibition catalogue, Miejska Galeria Sztuki [Municipal Art Gallery] in Częstochowa, September 2007, Częstochowa 2007, p. 4.

[31] Stanisław Białogłowicz… (ft. 4), p. 3. Tadeusz Wiktor, commenting on the work of this artist, aptly adds: “The prayer and contemplative motifs of sacred images existing in the Tradition are transformed by Białogłowicz in such a painterly way and absorbed by him so spiritually that he frees himself from their formal ground, creating a highly personal vision of a quasi-religious figuration”, after: Wiktor (ft. 19).

[32] Stanisław Białogłowicz… (ft. 4), p. 11.

[33] Wiktor, Kowalska (ft. 5), p. 212.

[34] Chmielowski (ft. 29), pp. 32–33.

[35] M. Musialik, Konfrontacja doświadczenia. Rozmowa z profesorem Stanisławem Rodzińskim, in: “Sztuka Sakralna”, 2002, no. 1, pp. 22–24.

[36] A. Rząsa, Listy do brata, Zakopane 2003.

[37] Part of an interview with the artist conducted by M. Wieczorek and reproduced in the appendix to his M.A. thesisPolichromia Eugeniusza Muchy w kościele pw. Wniebowzięcia Najświętszej Marii Panny i św. Józefa w Lutczy, written in 2010 under the direction of the author of this article at the Faculty of Arts, University of Rzeszów.

[38] Some expand the limits of the so-called religious art, including in its scope any work that encourages reflection of the existential nature, probably due to the often subconscious confusion of religion with the concept of art as its substitute.

[39] F. Drugeon, Sacrées abstractions. Abstraction et Église catholique en France 1945–1965, Paris 2011.

[40] B. Snela, Przestrzeń kościelna, in: Liturgika ogólna, Lublin 1973, p. 204.

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