No 2 (94) 2013
April - June

About Civilization of Plenty

Hosts of exalted aesthetes who expect only visual bliss from art shouldn't bother with Albert Oszek's works. His pieces don't satisfy escapist fantasies, they are not fulfilled through harmonious formalism nor do they levitate at the heights of esoteric abstraction.

Paweł Jagiełło

B. in 1981. Historian and art. critic. He cooperates with the Ars Nova Gallery in Łódź.

Paweł Jagiełło

INSTEAD, HIS ART IS ABOUT SOMETHING - a statement set in a certain context, a comment on what is happening here and now. The artist doesn't relate only to specific situations but more importantly calls a spade a spade - a rare virtue in contemporary painting. Two (cycles) series deserve attention in particular, as they cons-titute a detached view of the civilization of plenty and present man who dwells in it entangled in the mechanisms of mass culture. The ideological significance of these works is further emphasized by their form derived from both Pop Art and Expressionism.

Paintings from the series "The Infantilizators" are populated by the contemporary consumer-men, individuals shocked by the surrounding reality, overwhelmed with an excess of stimuli, their faces frozen in a bizarre grimace combining greed and surprise. Goggleeyed and with bared teeth, the characters resemble zombies - hypnotized creatures, stripped off any free will or conscience, automatically responding to external stimuli. In case of infantilizers, the stimuli are of course audio-visual and come from the mass media, billboards and shop windows attacking the consumers from all sides with offers of yet another product without which our lives will surely be deficient. Interestingly enough, all this takes place against a plain background of homogeneous color. The whole abundance of products is usually reduced to a single item - the character's facial expression reveals the rest.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the title of the series brings to mind Benjamin R. Barber's book Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole, which is an attempt at a critical analysis of the socio-economic situation in the Western World. As Barber points out, large corporations ensure that they reduce adult consumers of goods and entertainment to children who easily act upon the impulse to own, and that children themselves are raised to be ready-made consumers never allowed to confront their infantile id ruled by the pleasure principle and determined to satisfy its basic drives. A similar thought can be found in Albert Oszek's paintings, whose subjects include adults with child-like mentality, or children whose ability to critically assess the usefulness of material goods is disabled at the early stages of development. Another cycle with similar connotations is "Bumvertising" - a series of works depicting wellknown corporate logos often painted on the packaging held by tramps. Following a strictly journalistic line of analysis of Oszek's works, one inevitably associates these particular pieces with another important book of the last decade, namely No Logo - the "alter-globalist bible" by Naomi Klein. Indeed, it seems impossible to escape the impression that under a thick layer of paint, there is a distinct element of civilian protest against the ubiquitous logo, which for many people sensitive to the nuances of the contemporary culture has become the symbol of unbridled capitalism and arrogance of the business world.

Since the homeless don't participate in the neverending ritual of exchange, they don't propel the market, thus being useless to advertisers - beyond their area of interest or influence. In the reality dominated by mass culture vagrants are second-class citizens - they are not a tar-get group to be lured into buying a product or lifestyle. At the same time, using objects manufactured for advertising purposes - in this case bags - they become living billboards, unwittingly publicizing the corporate logotype. The artist skillfully utilizes the resulting contrast between an evidence of overproduction and the still unresolved social issue stemming from huge disproportions in wealth distribution.

I strongly advise those who might think Oszek's art borders on moralizing or blatant journalism to look at the canvases again and see how wrong they are. The carefully designed visual form where homogeneous backgrounds and poster-like simplicity harmoniously coexist with the freedom of expression visible in the way silhouettes and faces are depicted. A brave use of color completes the rest and lends the paintings a strong decorative aspect, though (for-tunately) it is difficult to imagine they could exist in a purely aesthetic context. It is good to know that someone still uses an easel to create art that can't be reduced to mere postage stamp images.

Translated by Dobrochna Wojda

Albert Oszek, „A Wanderer", the Ars Nova Gallery, Łódź, April 2013.