No 2 (86) 2011
April - June

A Garden in Mid Winter

A garden bloomed in January at the XX1 Gallery which was appreciated by cheerful comments of viewers. A large room featured a painting jungle of philodendrons, while poppies flowered in a smaller one. All these thanks to two artists.

Eulalia Domanowska

B. in 1960. Art historian, critic, curator. She publishes texts on contemporary art.

Eulalia Domanowska

A SERIES OF PHILODENDRONS IS THE WORK BY PAWEŁ BOŁTRYK who started with abstract and expressive pictures, to follow them for a decade now with painting plants, to be more exact, just one of them, called in Latin Philodendron hastatum. Large size canvases show the green microcosm - close-ups of leaves and stalks. What at the first glance seems to be an abstract chaos, after a moment of observation turns into a well planned, harmonious composition. A philodendron is a plant with large, lancet like leaves which take over all the picture. The horror vacui rule, i.e., fear of blank, open composition, made the artist surround a viewer with these floristic paintings. Paweł Bołtryk knows how to depict nature without becoming over decorative. He has applied a sophisticated palette, an ornamental tangle of stalks and leaves, nearly calligraphic precise lines, thus achieving an effect that is more than merely pleasing to the eye. The compositions, he has been working on for long months, illustrate the plant growth dynamics, its complex structure and abundance of spatial relations between twisting shoots. The nature here adopts nearly mystic qualities, as in the deliberations by John Ruskin, an English nineteenth century philosopher who considered it a divine, excellent creation, as opposed to imperfect works of human hands. The Hortus conclusus title refers to the Medieval symbolism in painting.

The term itself means a small garden surrounded with a wall where they planted roses and lilies (a symbol of Holy Mother), herbs, boxwood hedges and some single trees. Painting iconography offers Marian scenes taking place in this type of garden to symbolize the immaculate conception and innocence. The philodendrons by Paweł Bołtryk are his private hortus conclusus, as well as an evidence of his fascination with nature that he is capable to render. This painting has proved considerable artistic culture and erudition of the author who is well familiar with history of art and takes freely from its tradition, both the Mediterranean and Anglo-Saxon.

The second room of the XX1 Gallery has been festooned with garlands of red poppies that meandered,  as though in a narcotic dream, against the background of a dazzlingly white wall. Katarzyna Krzykawska, the author, has made a kind of environment, the space of art to be entered by viewers. The #D4213D, exhibition title is a parameter of red, as in the Polish national flag. The artist has referred here to the patriotic tradition and stressed that "A combination of a floral motive and patriotism has a long tradition, and it is a frequently applied metaphor in literature where the contrast, between a beautiful, ephemeral flower and the fate of those who fight for independence and national identity, appeals to the Polish soul". However, the poppies she has presented, offer a far more complex set of symbols.

On one hand a poppy stands for the resurrection, purity, love, summer, fertility; on the other - night, forgetfulness, ignorance, night dream, lethargy, indifference, silence, laziness, drugs, stupor, gossip, misfortune, lack of harmony, short-lived pleasure, blood. Soporific, intoxicating qualities of poppy juice, and its aftereffects, were known as early as in the Ancient times. A poppy wreath adorned the head of Morpheus, the god of dreams; poppies grew in Hades over the river of oblivion. They symbolized sleep and death in the literature and art of the former turn of the century. These Polish Modernistic traditions have been particularly strong in Cracow, where Katarzyna Krzykawska lives. The poppies have been elaborately made of crepe paper by her mother and aunt who are from the Podhale mountain region. Personal and folk elements have given the work homey and rustic atmosphere. The work brings to mind romantic Polish landscapes - cornfields with occasional red poppies, as in the song about Monte Cassino. The artist has entered the game with the tradition and national identity, while her environment is an aesthetically pleasing voice in the political and cultural debate. Among flowers, one can spot tiny, fake flies, deceptively similar to the real ones - a humorous accent that puts the serious topic in inverted commas. Contrasting the "real" with the artificial and showing the dual nature of things are the voice of common sense of the artist, a call for moderation, a call to cut down narcotic intoxication with the "patriotism" slogan. As one can see, gardens are not only for pleasure.

Paweł Bołtryk Heban, "Hortus Conclusus"; Katarzyna Krzykawska, "#D4213D"; the XX1 Gallery, Warsaw, January - February 2011.