Jan Tyniec’s Photographs, 1997-99: Designs for the Sky by Robert Morgan, 1999

The tradition of the sublime in American art is well-known. It ranges from the Hudson Valley landscape painting to Abstract Expressionism, from Secessionist photography to color field painting, from Earth art to recent Postmodern architecture. The sublime in art suggests a grand vista — one that overwhelms the emotional structure of one’s perceptions. It suggests an experience that goes beyond what the mind can categorize, a heightened moment caught within a historical passage of time, saturated with a sense of the monumental.

The sublime holds a certain tension between beauty and terror, between the vastness of archetypal signs and the consciousness that encompasses them. It is a way of seeing that relates to the openness of space, a potential expansion of the senses that moves from the optic nerve to the unfettered spaces of the mind. The sublime emits a space-time conjugation of the mind’s eyesearching for solace within the reserves of nature, within the construction of “the natural” as an embedded effect of consciousness. In works of art, the sublime may express itself through language, through notation, or through the representation of visual signs.

“Designs for the Sky” is a photographic suite of 24 prints composed by Jan Tyniec over a two-year period. Tyniec, who considers himself first a painter, transforms everyday reality into a magnified vision of the sublime. Having worked as an abstract painter for more than a decade, his photographs of skies retain a certain tension that is characteristic of his work in general. In contrast to the “Equivalent” series produced by Alfred Stieglitz at the outset of this century, Tyniec’s cloud formations are less about the symbolic aspects of feeling than about a certain strangeness. If anything, Tyniec’s clouds are possessed by a sense of disinterested longing.

There is a subtle form of alienation in these photographs that is different from previous expressions of romantic desire that employ the depiction of clouds and the monumental yet elusive openness of the sky. I would characterize Tyniec’s paintings from the early ’90s as coming from a “conceptual” position. They often incorporate two horizontal panels, one representing a map and the other a landscape. This approach gradually gave way to a more lyrical style of expression that eventually began to employ more systematically ordered arrangements of smaller panels. What the photographs achieve — specifically the clouds — is something both complementary and distinct from the paintings.

“Designs for the Sky” is not an arrogant statement about the control of nature or the irony of trying to impose a structure on nature from the outside. Rather the photographs reveal a vision of romantic desire within the concept of a design. In doing so, they subvert the traditional notion of the sublime yet, concurrently, make us aware of the artist’s investment in nature as a source of intuitive power. Put another way, Jan Tyniec offers a glimpse of the process that transforms his perception of nature into art. This is not a process of mimesis. It is a process of knowing the limits of one’s craft and of revealing the potential of one’s vision in order to make art.

Robert C. MorganĀ 
April 1999