Working in isolation, Wacław Szpakowski made mazelike drawings from single, continuous lines.
When he was eighty-five, Wacław Szpakowski wrote a treatise for a lifetime project that no one had known about. Titled “Rhythmical Lines,” it describes a series of labyrinthine geometrical abstractions, each one produced from a single continuous line. He’d begun these drawings around 1900, when he was just seventeen—what started as sketches he then formalized, compiled, and made ever more intricate over the course of his life. His essay is written from the contrived vantage of the third person, betraying an anxiety about his own artistic validity. The drawings, he explains, “were experiments with the straight line conducted not in research laboratories but produced spontaneously at various places and random moments since all that was needed to make them was a piece of paper and a pencil.” Though the kernels of his ideas came from informal notebooks, the imposing virtuosity and opaqueness of Szpakowski’s final drawings are anything but spontaneous or random. His enigmatic process—how he could draw with such supreme evenhandedness, could make his designs so pristine and yet so intricate—is hinted at only in his few visible erasure marks. One drawing reveals two lines bordering the thick final one, a possible clue that Szpakowski may have gone over each design’s path three separate times.
These works did not reach an audience until 1978, five years after Szpakowki’s death; today they’re still obscure and easily misunderstood. They’ve crept into exhibitions over the years, but mostly in the artist’s native Poland—there’s a rare opportunity now at New York’s Miguel Abreu Gallery, currently hosting the largest display of Szpakowski’s work ever mounted in the U.S. Read More