Jan de Weryha-Wysoczański

Jan de Weryha standing in front of his work “Wooden Panel” (2001)
Jan de Weryha standing in front of his work “Wooden Panel” (2001). Various types of wood, nails, 412 x 216 x 18 cm. Taken in the de Weryha Collection, Hamburg, 2014
Jan de Weryha – Modern Abstract Art in Wood


Parallels with abstract modernism are obvious. Memories are evoked by a tour of the museum-like exhibition rooms in Hamburg-Bergedorf (the so-called de Weryha Collection), which are affiliated to the studio of the Polish-born sculptor (ill. 94-97) and which offer a representative cross-section of his work over the last two decades. When people with some knowledge of art look at de Weryha's works, they can discern tendencies in abstract modernism that go back to the second decade of the twentieth century. Above all, they are able to identify those movements and currents of abstract art in which geometry, serial structures, and a radiance of the material – whatever its manifestations – which played pivotal roles, and which still retain their significance and exert their influence over generations of artists today.

In particular, the "Wooden Panels" created by de Weryha since 2001 reveal geometric, grid-like and reticular structures that were invented in painting in the years after 1910 and were further developed in object art in the following decades. In de Weryha's work these structures can be rigorous and regular (ill. 45, 58, 91), or they can exhibit irregularities caused by the natural shape of the material, its processing or its arrangement (ill. 34, 39, 80). The Dutch artist Piet Mondrian laid the foundation for regular geometric patterns in the visual arts in Paris before the First World War, when he decided to break with the figurative forms of the Cubists Braque and Picasso and translate impressions of nature, such as the structure of a firewall or the rhythm of the sea, into grid-like rectangular patterns and short, intersecting lines in grey and white.

The group De Stijl, founded in 1917 in Leiden by Mondrian, Theo van Doesburg and Georges Vantongerloo, consistently replaced impressions of the representational world with geometric compositions in order to contrast the outwardly perceived shape of things with a pure man-made art. The aesthetic balance of different sized forms and colours in the painted pictorial surface, soon applied to interiors and architecture. Depending on the artist, this could pursue meditative dimensions, prepare egalitarian structures in society, or present art appropriate to the machine age and its anonymised work processes. Serial patterns did not yet play a role. However, non-objective, numbered picture titles became the norm. This custom has been preserved to this day in many areas of contemporary art by dispensing with work titles or always using the same designations. Nowadays, after several years of "untitled" works, De Weryha generally uses the terms "wooden object" or "wooden panel": terms that differ only in the years of origin.

The possible redundancy in the exclusive use of rectangles was addressed by De Stijl artists like Bart van der Leck and Vilmos Huszar who introduced irregular polygons and triangles. This can also be observed in de Weryha (ill. 76, 91). Their German successors like Friedrich Vordemberge-Gildewart, Carl Buchheister and Erich Buchholz (now known as constructivists), added new colours, serial strokes and combinations of rectangles and circles. In the 1940s Mondrian readmitted serial patterns and impressions from the environment, for example from music. Just as he once led the viewer rhythmically through the picture along lines and serial squares to prominent rectangular shapes, de Weryha now guides the viewer along a comparatively regular grid through rhythmic distributions to ever new formal experiences across the surface of his objects (ill. 34). Anyone who wants, can also find in de Weryha's work the original form of the abstract geometric design, the "Black Square" (1913/15) by Kasimir Malewitsch, albeit with altered dimensions and in modified colours (ill. 68, 70). The monochrome square, which Malevich called the "sensation of non-objectivity", enables de Weryha to concentrate entirely on the optical and haptic quality of his material. Indeed, wood as a material in different colours and shapes and wood-like scraps of plant like bark and reed play a decisive role in his work. Through the use of geometric arrangement, de Weryha liberates the material from its natural contexts and transforms it into an objectified form.

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