No 2 (90) 2012
April - June

On the Brink

Rafał Karcz is a rare example of a Polish artist - following in the footsteps of French Modernists and Decadents from the turn of the 19th and 20th century - who penetrates pubs frequented by teenagers and looks there for experience to base his own program on.

Krzysztof Jurecki

B. in 1960. Art historian, AICA member. Lecturer at the Łódź Academy of Arts and Design.

Krzysztof Jurecki

INITIALLY, HIS INSPIRATIONS REACHED TO HISTORIC DEPICTION IN THE PAINTING of the Young Poland (Polish Modernism), when grotesque landscapes (Witold Wojtkiewicz) and portraits (Stanisław Wyspiański, Olga Boznańska) revealed completely new qualities related to postimpressionism and Art Nouveau, leading to expressionism, nevertheless resulting from similar conditions that can be connected with the concept of spleen and creative freedom. Similar stylistic meanders - combined with exploration of such techniques as water colors and gouache, currently with the search for new technology of photography etched with acids - have been a trade mark of the work by Rafał.

In the course of several years of his style transformations, one can observe a passage from aesthetic oriented formal approach - with the stress put on a drawn line, as in the Polish Modernism - through the coal drawing technique (Twelve O'clock Rasta Time, 2009) and acrylic on paper technique, to simple by assumption digital photography which may function as such, or can be further processed manually, thus offering uncertainty, if not threat. The world of chaos, the asylum of freedom for carefree clubbing youth, reveals various characters; one is peeping at fragments of their stories.

The works by the artist share the climate with music underground culture, and atmosphere of the 60's, for example, Velvet Underground and the Detroit alternative music stage (such bands as Black Lips, The Drags, Coyote Men). The criticism of the world of celebrities is another important aspect, as illustrated in the I wanna kill Cindy Sherman series which seems to be the most significant achievement by this artist. His grotesque description presents hedonistic way of life; including dance, alcohol and drugs. The photos, processed by the artist, offer a somnambulistic, decadent world, close to the attributes of death. Rafał has a rare gift not only to make his way through to a given social group, but to register crazy, frequently intimate situations which he later strips off their documentary features, adds color, and finally - in most cases - achieves a surprising effect.

Gradually, the artist has been proving that he is a talented portrait and documentary photographer. I think that the works of this type will be most significant in the future, unless he transforms photographs into quasi paintings. I like the fact Karcz does not expose his characters who are real losers - for the time being or for life. He is not pulling them apart, though he easily could. The painting costume - a result of gouache intervention which is hard to control - leads to the images of post/ modern life. These are not "bare" photos as Barthes offered, i.e., press photography material. Strongly expressionistic, deformed through manual interventions photography - occasionally too much focused on abstraction in all aspects of life - is the means and the outcome. In this case the abstract has an additional function to annihilate life.

It is not easy to analyze these works with regard to their numbers. Out of what I have seen, I believe that documentary photographs, and painting transformed photographs printed on paper are the most convincing. Specks of dirt on the emulsion and the postimpressionistic form describe scantiness and the transitory nature of the postmodern life. Some pieces might bring to one's mind the paintings and photographs from the Atlas by Gerhard Richter, being the effect of a similar approach to the photographic material, treated as the visualization of the emotional condition. Others follow the tradition of the trend that has penetrated subcultures, as the exhibitionistic photography by Nan Goldin, or the output by Larry Clark, tragic in its message. Thus, the quest on the brink of life have always been an essential component of photography. Rafał has developed a personal, not to be repeated, type of a hybrid picture with the form containing anarchical and iconoclastic elements, occasionally ludic.