Owing to the success of her figurative work as well as her 2012 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Polish artist Alina Szapocznikow is widely recognized for her uncanny mixed-media sculptures that incorporate cast body parts with everyday objects. Often overlooked, however, are her drawings of abstracted figures—erotic, restless, and vulnerable—though they are a central part of her practice. Human Landscape(s) at Loevenbruck in Paris presents a small but welcome corrective.
Fifteen drawings in ink, felt-tip pen, and watercolor on paper are arranged in five groups of three, with each group emphasizing a subtly different aspect of her style. Viewers first encounter a set of drawings in fine black ink. Body parts such as a finger or a breast are discernible, but on the whole, the aggregated contours of each drawing are predominantly suggestive rather than pictorial. Szapocznikow’s early life was shaped by the trauma of her imprisonment in two Jewish ghettoes and three Nazi concentration camps. Yet nearly thirty years after the war, her depictions are delicate, almost tender; the line work is more like a lover’s light touch than a mark of agitation, and the verticality of these images creates an upward, lifting movement.
In contrast, the figures in the second set of drawings are oriented horizontally, and definable imagery is less elusive. The pen lines of Paysage Humain [Human Landscape] (1971) stretch across the page, giving the impression of being pulled from both left and right. In the central foreground, in front of rolling hills, a shapely mound suggests a pregnant woman; curved lines and shading indicate the roundness of her swollen belly. But where a face might be, there is only a skull. Szapocznikow’s marks are energetic, established in melancholic black and dark purple. Birth and death are proximal to one another, and imminent.