Richard French – imagination part II

I wrote a blog post in January that I called “Imagination — Part One”, in

which I referred to what the English poet Coleridge had to say about

primary and secondary imagination.

I’ve been looking for an example to illustrate his points and I believe I

found one at the Peak Gallery in Toronto. Dariusz Krzeminski is a painter

from Poland who studied modern art in Germany and earned a BFA in visual

art from York University in Toronto. He has studied privately with two

Canadian artists.

Thirteen of his recent paintings are on exhibit at the Peak Gallery until

March 10. You can find a short video in which the artist describes his

work at

Coleridge wrote that the primary imagination is “the living Power and

prime Agent of all human perception — a repetition in the finite mind of

the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM.” Everyone possesses a

share of this power. The secondary imagination is an echo of the first and

differs only in degree and the way it works. The secondary imagination

“dissolves, diffuses, and dissipates, in order to recreate.”

Dariusz’s paintings are bursts of bright color against the white walls of

the Peak Gallery. According to the price list, the two largest are seven

feet square and the smallest is 6″ x 10″. My untrained eye saw in several

of the paintings a dynamic, playful interaction between abstraction and

objects that may exist in reality: a bridge and stream, say, in one called

“The Poet” and the slats of a picket fence, all painted green or black,

and turned awry on each side of a pale green-blue space in another called

“The Gap”. A third is called “Cubist Table with Bubble Gum” to commemorate

his young son’s search for gum on the undersides of restaurant tables.

Dariusz does what Coleridge expects. He “dissolves, diffuses, and

dissipates, in order to create”. Zack, who runs Peak gallery, told me that

for Dariusz, each painting presents a unique challenge. He doesn’t go by a

formula or what tradition says a painting should be. In a sense, the

objects in a particular painting suggest the direction he should go.

Dariusz wrote in his artists’ statement that he “explores the clumsiness

and inherent instability of the physical world.” He takes forms apart and

puts them together in new ways to create life-affirming images.

Coleridge coined the word “esemplastic” to describe the secondary

imagination at work: “the power to shape disparate things into a unified

whole” (The Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary”, tenth edition), into a

work that includes “hidden ideas and hidden meanings”.

I suspect that this process isn’t always easy and that it may take an

artist a long time to to find harmonious shapes colors and and proportions

that make a new, pleasing whole.

As I looked at Dariusz’s paintings the other afternoon, I felt at ease

with his bright, humorous array of colors and designs. The longer I

observed, though, the more I became aware of another dimension to his

work. He wrote in his statement that he liked to take a painting “to a

point just before the viewer is able to find the comfortable familiarity

of the known…the viewer must remain engaged in looking.”

So Dariusz is a generous artist, who remembers what viewers need and how

to keep us involved with his work. What’s more, he provides an opportunity

for us to use our own secondary powers of imagination.


An Interview with Dariusz Krzeminski

By: Kevin Rodgers for Modern Fuel gallery in Kingston

1. Where did the impetus for this new series come from?

    This new series of paintings comes from my experience living in a

Toronto suburban development. These developments exemplify in some way

what is desired, but they are built out of two-by-fours. It is especially

interesting to watch the clumsiness of the new developments going up, as

it allows one to have a sneak peek before it is all covered with faux

stone. There is a revealing quality about how it is built and about how we

make it ours. Where does my property end and how high does it go up? I am

interested in these lines in our heads and how we try to materialize them.

2. Have you found a productive point of tension between abstraction and

representation–or does that point remain elusive?

    My work is becoming increasingly more abstract, but it has to have a

sense of place. For me it needs to be grounded in my experience of life. I

often start with an idea that has a question imbedded in it. It does not

matter if the painting starts abstract or more representational: I follow

the “not understood” in my painting process. This generally leads the

painting to move towards abstraction.

So as the representational slowly breaks down it begins to reveal more

universal patterns. I am interested in establishing a tension between the

remnants of the subject matter and the abstraction. The degree to which

the abstraction takes place depends on what reveals itself during the

painting or sketching process. In a sense I discover the painting during

the working process. It is a delicate balance between doing and listening

to the demands of the painting. I find this process always difficult and


3. How important is scale in your works?

  Scale, of course is very important as an expressive tool. I work mostly

medium and large scale, but not exclusively. larger scale surface allows

my body to make the most direct and confrontational mark. I find that as I

work smaller, I am engaged in additional process of scaling down. Looking

at larger painting to me is like looking at un unzipped file: it is there,

ready to confront.

4. You spent your formative years in Germany in the 1980s, where painting

was undergoing a resurgence. Were there any particular artists that you

found yourself drawn to?

   Although my love affair with art began in Warsaw and galleries I would

frequent there as a young teenager, it is the extensive exposure to

Western and German art in particular that shifted my perspective in art. I

found the direct and uncompromising quality of German painting very

relevant. German Expressionism

immediately comes to mind. More contemporary German artists such as

Gerhard Richter, Georg Baselitz, or Anselm Kiefer still remain of

particular interest to me.

5. Is there a place for irony in your work? (Im thinking of how German

painter Martin Kippenberger approached his paintings).

   I don’t consciously create irony the way Kippenberger does, but irony

often finds its way into my work although it is generally more subtle. I

admire the work of Martin Kippenberger but his use of irony gives his work

a different point of entry into consciousness, and I can see the intent.

Above all I have to bring my work to a point where it can affect me, as I

am its only barometer until it is finished. Certainly a bold use of irony

offers interesting possibilities that I might

delve into in the future, but it must feel honest and natural to me.

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