Still, the strongest pull was and is exerted on Strumiłło by Asia. Its size, vastness, past, scale, and contrasts. […] He has traversed Mongolia and Nepal with mountaineering expeditions. He knows well India, China and Vietnam. Wherever he went, he accumulated documentation that was one of a kind: trophies and products of culture as well as handfuls of minerals, tens of thousands of photographs, hundreds of drawings, in addition to notes and poems. Everything is necessary; everything is mutually complementary. ‘Photography retains the surface of phenomena; drawing probes their essence. And there are always things that deserve this.’ A note retains the names of places and people, dates, and technical observations. A poem can save a mood, a flash of reflection, some transient yet significant associations.
In 2015 the Manggha Museum opened a new space: the Europe–Far East Gallery. The principal idea of the Gallery – the mutual interaction of the East and the West – is based on a clash of cultures, expressed in the tension that arises at the point of contact between different civilizations. The programme of the Gallery places emphasis on what connects rather than divides. As Bogna Dziechciaruk-Maj has written, this is why ‘in our approach to the Far East, we try to avoid the postcolonial way of thinking and the perspective of Orientalism; we are moving away from negatively-charged concepts based on stereotypes, apprehensions, mutual prejudices…’ The idea to build the gallery was initiated and persistently advocated by the founders of the Manggha, Krystyna Zachwatowicz and Andrzej Wajda. And it was Andrzej Wajda who, pondering on the programme of the new institution, suggested – as something obvious, something only natural – the idea to hold an exhibition of Andrzej Strumiłło’s works inspired by his travels in the Far East. In fulfilment of the wish of the late Andrzej Wajda, the Manggha Museum offers the exhibition ‘Andrzej Strumiłło. Asia’, yet another presentation of the West’s fascination with the art and culture of the Far East.
Andrzej Strumiłło, painter, printmaker, sculptor, photographer, writer and poet, a versatile artist with an enormous and diverse body of work to his credit, expresses himself through a wide variety of materials and techniques. He lives and works in Maćkowa Ruda in the Suwałki Region. Since 2008, Suwałki has also been the home of his art gallery, funded by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, showing the work of this versatile artist as well as parts of his Asian collection – woodblock and other prints, ceramics, religious artefacts, and objects of everyday use.
In his works Strumiłło combines various themes and orders, using with ease both metaphorically poetic and abstract languages, creating contemplative spaces, pervaded by existential reflection. He describes himself as an ‘artist in the borderland of the elements, those hidden in nature and those latent in man, the builder of civilization’.
His travels to the Far East had a decisive, formative influence upon his work. This is how the painter reminisces on his earliest Asiatic experiences:
In Beijing I had my first exhibition as part of a cultural exchange. It was 1954. My experiences of the avant-garde of Władysław Strzemiński, under whom I had studied in Łódź, and the colourists at Kraków’s Academy of Fine Arts, where I had graduated, were enhanced by calligraphy, symbol, succinct reduction, and the mystery of millennia-old layers of ink spread over stone. This fascinated me.
From those earliest trips he brought back his characteristic reportage drawings, akin to those created by Julian Fałat while travelling in the Far East: people and landscapes, architecture intriguing through its exotic ‘otherness’, and everyday life scenes. He was also interested in Asian – Chinese and Japanese – aesthetics, calligraphy, and their stenographic skill of recording reality. He might repeat after Henri Michaux: ‘Chinese painting enters into me in depth, converts me. As soon as I see it, I become a complete adept of the world of signs and lines.’
The exhibition at the Manggha Museum’s Europe–Far East Gallery shows the reportage drawings from his trips to Vietnam Mongolia, India, Nepal, China, and Syria, works from his Catalogue series, accompanied by an installation composed of stones, the series Lamaistic Symbols, granite sculptures Adsum and Om, as well photographs from the series Meditations. Two different spiritualities – of the East and of the West – meet in these sophisticated, simplified works by Andrzej Strumiłło, permeating each other, constructing a common space of quiet concentration and meditation.