Kasia Zelaska's Magical Geometry

Kasia Zelaska, a Polish painter living in Paris and a graduate from the Warsaw Academy of Fine Art, is in love with geometry. Just like the ancient Egyptians and their pupil Pythagoras she sees it as a sacred art revealing the structure and harmony of the universe. We know that the universe for the Greeks was a "cosmos" - a divine order following perpetual, balanced motions. The same spirit may be found in Zelaska's post-minimalist paintings on canvas and wood, frequently cut in the shapes of elliptic clouds, circles and streams flowing and rolling through wooden gates and windows and all kinds of open-work.

What is most fascinating in her painting is the interpenetration of square and rectangular "male" forms with spiral, elliptic and circular "female" shapes. She often flirts with the ancient problem of squaring the circle. Surprisingly there are very few triangles or trapezoids. This highly contemplative painting is concerned not only with defining the archetypal forms but with their cosmic energy, the kinds and ways of its flow, flux and stasis. Zelaska portrays the world of the four elements (earth, water, fire, wind) by trying to define their structure and character.

Some paintings, specially the ones showing three empty window frames (each painted in a different colour), are reminiscent of Kazimierz Malewicz, other of Lazar Lissitzki and Piet Mondrian, all great masters of geometric rigour. What strikes at first glance in Zelaska's paintings is discipline. Nothing is left to chance. It is quite surprising to find a female painter not indulging in moods and feelings but expressing such "male" faculties as love of discipline and logic.

The presentation of her world of geometry is not a stereo-metric cubist one but rather a plane-oriented one. The viewer must make an effort of entering and passing beyond those see-through planes overlaying and overlapping one another. Some pictures are static, remaining in the suprematist tradition, but most are very dynamic with fire burning, water flowing and the wind blowing away. Waves and clouds are her favourite energy containers, a predilection she shares with the ancient Chinese Zen painters.

Yes, Kasia is inspired not only by the European tradition of sacred geometry but also by the Oriental and other exotic art. She draws from Japanese woodcuts, origami paper work and screen painting (take a close look at the waves rolling out in expanding curls), as well as Hindu inspired yantras and mandalas. Some works remind one of Navaho ritual sand art.

Her painting is highly rational, emotions are held at bay, there is no sentimentalism whatsoever, only clarity and intellectual sophistication. When organic forms are quoted they are also transformed by the principles of geometry. I hesitate to call her art geometric postminimalism, it's too rich for that, there is so much colour, elegance and playfulness. Kasia plays the glass bead game and therefore one may call her painting magical geometrism.

It would be easy to criticise her painting for being too graphic, as if she did not accept the cubist lesson. But Kasia undertakes a most difficult task. Braque or Gris showed the object from all sides, whereas she reduces all dimensions to layers. She prefers the abstract sign of the archetype to the multi-dimensional "wholeness" of an object. Here she remains faithful to the ascetic spirit of abstractionist minimalism, yet infused with rich, intense magical hues and exquisite, capricious contours.

In her work Kasia is a very serious lady, perhaps even too serious. I hope that, given her tremendous sense of humour, if she loosens her corset of iron-clad discipline a little bit and dares to be more playful and spontaneous her painting will exude an even finer perfume of freedom.

The world of phenomena is powered by the dance of geometric forms. The brushes of the great masters dance freely. Joan Miro and the great Chinese painters invite Kasia to this cosmic dance with the planets, the trees, the streams and the clouds. "Veux-tu danser avec moi, Alouette? " I asked my wife after getting up from the computer.

Jacek Dobrowolski

Poet, translator, critic.