Jerzy Ryszard (Jurry) Zielinski, “Dead Hope” 1974, oil on canvas

Jurry Zielinski’s 1974 painting is one of the most intriguing works in our collection.

It seems formally simple: planes of strong color and reduced one-dimensional shapes. However, the meaning of the various elements and their interconnection raises many questions. In the foreground we see a pair of large yellow legs, from the knees down, as if their owner is lying on his (or maybe her) back and looking ahead. This person sees two spaces spreading in front of them: green at the bottom, and blue at the top. If we assume that the line where these two planes meet is the horizon line, then the surreal form of a mouth with an eye in the center appears in the sky. A sun seems to be setting, which can be seen in red reflections on a green sheet of water. One gets the impression that our hero, or heroine, is drifting on their back, watching this sunset.

The ambiguity of the scene is emphasized by the title that the artist gave it. Questions arise: “Who are the dead?” “What and whose hope is at issue?” and most obviously: “What hope could the dead be actually thinking about?” Should it be understood that this drifting body is a dead body? Or perhaps not, because dead it can only become what the setting eye of providence predicts for it. Is this sun a hope that will disappear over the horizon, never to reappear again? Could it be that our hero (or heroine) is watching their own inevitable end?

The painting emanates a catastrophic aura and premonition of the end. Perhaps it is the author himself who foresees the coming end and knows that there is no way to reverse the status quo. The world as we know it, as we ourselves have created it, is moving towards an end that is happening before our very eyes. And we, alive but in fact dead, are simply drifting in that direction.

Paulina Olszewska


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