Zygmunt Moryto. Three is a Crowd

The exhibition of works by Zygmunt Moryto focuses on the art and biography of an artist shrouded in legend.

Moryto is remembered by the residents of Opole as an exceedingly authentic creator known for having the perspective of an outsider. For many years, he worked from his home studio – his private temple, which provided this sensitive observer of reality with a safe haven for his collection of experiences. Moryto’s apartment was also a gallery of sorts – the artworks on display were always changing and growing in number. Few had the fortune of seeing them in their entirety. Those outside his immediate circle were treated to his work only at irregular intervals, during his infrequent exhibitions, held mainly in Opole, or by being gifted an image by the artist himself. The exhibition curators have moved the collection of works from the artist’s former studio to the Contemporary Art Gallery, supplementing it with artefacts on loan from local museums.

Two interweaving threads are at the forefront of Zygmunt Moryto’s work – painting and printmaking. He treated the former as sketches for the latter, while, at other times, he emphasised that he felt happy only when he was painting. The exhibition illustrates this unusual symbiosis. The works of art on display come from different periods of Moryto’s life, with the earliest work dating to the late 1970s and the most recent images created just before his death in 2021. The exhibition’s title Three’s a Crowd has its source in a series of prints created by the artist between 1979 and 1983 (and in later variations on the topic). It serves as a commentary on all the introverted qualities of the characters featured in Moryto’s works, regardless of the medium used.

Zygmunt Moryto recalled that he ‘fell in love with graphics in metal’ while at university; he was fascinated by etching and aquatint. The artist’s prints feature individual figures surrounded by objects, animals, and urban landscapes. These figures seem lonely, even if they are accompanied by other people. Elements of still life, forming a backdrop for the person depicted, take the form of poetic prostheses which preserve the imperfect world of the everyday. ‘Zygmunt Moryto – despite being considered a loner and an individualist – has repeatedly admitted to using interpersonal relationships as the impetus for his graphics – he said in one interview [...]. His graphics, therefore, tell the story of the people from the world that surrounds him; they are the account of an onlooker...’.

In essence, the artist’s paintings duplicate the character of the prints, depicting figures anxious about their everyday life and full of ‘tumultuous apathy’. However, they seem to be more inward-looking. Frail women, children and men that fill each canvas are suspended in an indefinite space of the painting that does not show any specific interior. The painted figures become trapped in the artist’s own sensitivity; they are separate, living entities yet marked by the inevitable thought of their own demise. Moryto consistently emphasises the frail biological nature of the people depicted in his canvases; he surrounds them with an aura of unspeakable fear and leaves the images ‘untitled’. All his protagonists seem to be feeling the senselessness of their existence.

A confrontation between life and death is constantly palpable in Moryto’s work. ‘The artist frequently depicts the profile of a human silhouette, half-lit by light, half-hidden in the shadows, seen against an intensive play of colours – this seems to have a symbolic function; it shows the struggle, or perhaps, on the contrary, it depicts unity, a moment of happiness and the twitch of a dying organism. [...]This endowment of life with symptoms of death (and vice versa) is most expressive in the painter’s ever-recurring classic nude theme.

Zygmunt Moryto’s nudes are ghostly pale, faded and lethargic. The horizontal positioning of the model is reminiscent of a body lying on a catafalque and is more associated with a funeral ceremony than the pleasures of the alcove [...] there is a constant principle in Moryto’s painting – the more sunlight, the more intense the darkness.’

The works shown as part of the exhibition tell the story of an artist searching for truth in everyday practices. Like a meticulous employee of an enormous laboratory, he examined and dissected the samples of human materials provided to him; distilling them to remove unnecessary staffage, rinsing them and trying to reach their very essence, all the while asking ‘what lies at their core?’ The answer might be considered troubling.

Regardless of his creative technique, Moryto spoke again and again of alienation, anxiety and ghostly corporality that leads us to an inevitable end. For him, art was the primary means of communicating with the surrounding world, without superfluous words, gestures or over-interpretation.

  • The quotes were taken from the publication accompanying the exhibition. Joanna Filipczyk, Łukasz Kropiowski, Zygmunt Moryto, Malarstwo i grafika, Opole 2018.
  • Curators: Joanna Filipczyk, Agnieszka Dela-Kropiowska

  • Join us for a tour of the exhibition in English on: 23.03, 6 p.m.
  • The exhibition will be open from 17 February to 16 April 2023.