Tag Archives: Polish contemporary art

Studying Art (19) – Recent Work

On this Work (Artist’s Statement)

What do we know about the universe and how do we know it? How does nature maintain its order and beauty being a maze of random matter and forces? What is the origin of life and what is its essence?

This work bridges my theoretical interests in science and philosophy with the practical challenge of the visual studies. The paintings have evolved in a long process of a natural selection by obliterating ‘weaker’ expressions in order to form integrated entities.
These ‘survivors’ are endowed with a definite, yet fragile presence of organic creatures.

Structured complexity and ordered randomness of nature becomes an epitome of the creative process. Art is asked to take a part in the universal quest to address the questions, which everything starts with…

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Creature (Ego), oil/mixed media on board

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Creature (Ego),  details

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Creature (Albus), oil/mixed media on canvas

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Creature (Albus), details

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Creature (Silva phallum), acrylic/oil/mixed media on paper

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Creature (Digitus), acrylic/oil/mixed media on paper

More images: My Work – May 2009

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This work is a challenge in itself – challenge to be accepted just as it enfolds for its own ‘maker’… The paintings are, at the same time, a sort of a pleasant surprise and a disappointment for me (don’t ask how is it possible, don’t know). They are like shadows of those images, that I didn’t manage to extract from my mind, my imagination and my experience in order to ‘write them down’ on the canvas. Yet, they also have an expanding quality – as a concept/intent they may possess just enough energy and potential to act against the contracting forces, to survive and – time will tell – to develop in the future…

I like their frail and complex tissue of appearance, I dislike their  elaborateness, which I’m tempted to name as ‘redundant’… I cannot help thinking that nature would make ten perfectly functioning organisms out of one of mine, nature doesn’t know what the indulgent expression is… Do I make things more complicated that they actually are… or – perhaps – it’s a valid approach, when one has the very first date with those puzzling scientific and philosophical questions from above?…

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Contemporary Art (6) – Jakub Julian Ziolkowski

Untitled , 2007,  oil on canvas,  15.75″ x 12.5″

The Great Battle Under the Table, 2006
Oil on canvas
190 x 165 cm / 74 3/4 x 65 in

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The Garden, 2008
Oil on canvas
105 x 82 cm / 41 3/8 x 32 1/4 in

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Jakub Julian Ziolkowski (b. 1980) – Polish painter, lives and works in Krakow, Poland.

Well, there seems to be a considerable, positive ‘buzz’ around this artist on the international art-scene… A Cinderella story, if one considers a newly graduated painter from a (still) ‘provincial’ Eastern Europe (Ziolkowski graduated from “Jan Matejko Academy of Art” in Krakow in 2005) having a successful, acclaimed exhibition in the Hauser and Wirth in London. At the moment, one can find his paintings  among others in the NEW MUSEUM – NY, at the prestigious “The Generational: Younger than Jesus” exhibition – a visionary event aiming at promoting the youngest, promising artists from around the world. And Jerry Saltz writes about them in the ‘New York – Art Magazine’: Jakub Julian Ziolkowski’s paintings aren’t about academic ideas of formalism, happy doodling, or mannered figuration; they’re visionary Bosch-meets-Ensor. (click on the link to read the entire review).

Not too bad at all as for an emerging artist…

Personally, what I find especially compelling about Ziolkowski’s work, is … its perverse realism...

“Realism?!” – I can hear you doubting – Call it sur-, call it magical -, call it dada-, but not just ‘realism’, for Christ’s sake ...

Well, they are realistic paintings – I can guess so, seeing this particular painter as my never-met mate from the same yard. We share our generation, our actual and, in parts – spiritual landscape – being born and brought up in one culture at the same time… Our education belonged to one of the most classical in Europe (in the world?), we had been taught, with the utmost solemnity,  that Greek/Roman mythology, classical philosophy, together with The Bible are totally responsible for how we think and perceive reality and ourselves.

So, reality is anything but a plaything to be messed with, reality is the residence of gods’ and humans’ stories – it exists to be reported, to be told, not to be ignored or subverted for the rebellion’s own sake… We may be tempted, of course, to turn our backs on it, to exorcise it from all the evil, cruelty and confusion so deeply ingrained into its tissue. We are the Polish X-generation from 90s, 00s – born out of oppressed parents (due to the Communists’ rule) into a world that could hardly offer us anything, except a perpetual struggle for survival –  to a country being itself  a huge mess due to a political, economic and cultural transformation… Hundreds of thousands if not millions of us from this very generation, from highly educated to those ‘just’ ‘resourceful’ ones, had left their homes as soon as the borders of Europe had been finally opened… And crossing the borders, alike staying behind on a land being slowly deserted by familiar faces and ideas – that makes one a realist – no matter what – a realist in a deep conflict with reality…

And there are hints of those intimate wars being fought in Ziolkowski’s paintings – battles between a duty to tell the ‘gods and humans’ stories as they are, and the perversion of imagination, troubled by the insecure, heartless world around.  Battles are fought under a table, while a huge spider-web covers after-Van Gogh’s-like wheat-field (Untitled, above) … well,  it didn’t surprise me when I read a reputable Polish author (of the older generation) commenting on Ziolkowski’s ‘dreamy hallucinations’ and his ‘private worlds of phobias’… Traditionalists would never accept Francis Bacon’s concept of the ‘concentrated reality’ –  being conveyed not merely as an illustration but an extract of it – presenting itself so intensely real that… mesmerizingly or shockingly unreal…

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Katarzyna Kozyra – asking for identity

Katarzyna Kozyra (b. 1963, Warsaw) is one of the most internationally acclaimed Polish contemporary artists. She works as a sculptor, a video/media artist and an installation artist. In 1999 she represented Poland on the Venice Biennial where her video-installation Mens’ Bathhouse has been awarded with the special prize.


She had shocked the wide public right on a start of her career presenting as a graduation piece The pyramid of animals (1993) – an installation (sculpture?) of four stuffed animals and a video piece documenting a scene of killing and skinning a horse.

The artist had used found skins of a dead dog and a cat and bought skins of two remaining animals, which were meant to be butchered. By doing this she had broken at least two important stereotypes about art – that it is meant to be…fine, spirit – uplifting, ethically pure and that it is a representation/imitation rather than a presentation of a thing per se. Would the artist be able to achieve the same effect simply by carving the animals out of marble (stone/wood/plaster)? Scarcely, since the meaning of the work is touching the chilly dilemma how living creatures present themselves after their death (the pyramid of animals is actually the pyramid of death as Kozyra’s teachers comment on it).

She made butchers to drug the animals rather than to perform the usual practice of killing (with an axe, knife, hammer or any other violent tool), she can also be seen weeping over their bodies. But all what the general public had manged to get (some fellow-artists too…) was a scandal of an artistic abuse, a profane piece of insensitivity… Well, it wasn’t the first case when the audience proved not be able to follow an artwork at all…Was it?…

The label controversial/scandalous has been stuck to her to be never removed (not in Poland, at least), which seriously limits any deeper reception of her work for a layman. Katarzyna’s outspoken, non-compromising works are reaching far to the challenging dilemma which contemporary humanity is dealing with; first and foremost – dilemma of human identity in general and the artist’s (as an individual) own identity – how humans function here and now, how they face death in health-obsessed/death-indifferent reality, their complex relationships with other living creatures (ie. moral questions about killing animals) and their genre identity – well-explored in Kozyra’s latest work.

Her Boys (2001-2002) video series is just a witty comment on masculinity – the eye-pleasing boys are left for themselves to behave as they wish but they are dressed up in a vaginal sort of devices. We can see how they try to play the attractive male role, but look just boyz_sexy-1.jpghilariously. This work can be interpreted as a study of today’s androgynous vision of the sex, where the boundaries between male/female characteristics and the social roles are being blurred. It’s also a clear message that the appearance of the human body is the most deceiving phenomenon under the sun, the simplest (yet meaningful or/and symbolic) device is able to put it totally out of the commonly accepted context. That body identity concept appears to be Kozyra’s artistic signature for she’s been using her own (mostly naked) body as a medium, subject and object in one and a living sculpture (here we are coming back to The Pyramid of Animals – rejecting mere imitation, looking for real, tangible experience).

One of her latest works is a huge multimedia project started in 2003 and still being continued – In Art Dreams Come True.
It functions as a traveling (around Europe) performance-act, video art and even opera all in one exhibition…Katarzyna uses herself to render very different representations of female roles, being accompanied by masters she learns how to identify with an opera star, transsexual, femme fatale or a fairy tale princess. By doing this she explores how the modern times transformed woman into an artificial dolly creature forcing her to play throughout her life different social roles – not only these of being a mother/homemaker but also these of being good-looking, emotional (or over-emotional), sweet, irrational and so on, and so on.

I’m probably one of those people who has to set their sights on an impossible goal. That’s how I give myself chance, because I really believe in it, and take it seriously; I really give myself a chance to explore things that are completely new for me. Kozyra is one of those artists who with an amazing ease makes us see those completely new things, which become strangely familiar once we have a chance of fresh reflection on them.


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