No 3 (95) 2013
July - September


Perception Gymnastics

Jasper Johns said once that a picture should not differ from other objects, while its function was to be turned into an item exactly the same as a radiator in the interior space. One can say that Jakub Ciężki - after graduation from the Lublin Maria Curie-Skłodowska University Art Department in 2003 - approached the statement by the American painter in a slightly subversive manner, and simply painted a refrigerator.

Marta Smolińska

Historian and art critic. Assistant Professor at the Toruń Nicolas Copernicus University Art History and Culture Faculty.

Marta Smolińska

THE LATTER CERTAINLY INCLUDE AN INCLINATION TO SELECT the motives that can be characterized with their own visual rhythm and the repetitiveness of elements, i.e., radiator ribs or ladder steps, as well as an interesting analysis of a given object in the space, depicted on the plain surface, and in relation to both, its two dimensional qualities and to the canvas size and borders. Undoubtedly, one can mention the metalevel reflections, pertaining to the condition of painting, the status of paint, the role of a painter's gesture, the relation of a picture to nature, and an intriguing game with the perception of a viewer. The latter - facing usually large size pieces by Ciężki - receives them in a psychomotor way, as a whole body experience. In spite of the fact that he shows rudimentary objects - apparently not attractive for a painter - the pictures by this artist bring about extensive sequences of associations, reaching as deep, as the theory and history of art. Mail boxes, familiar from staircases in apartment blocks - painted in the period 2004-2005 - can be compared with the canvases by Maciej Bieniasz from the Cracow Wprost Group, going back to the late 70's of the 20th century. The 1976 work without a title by Bieniasz presents motives of a metal balcony railing, TV aerial fixed onto it and hotel commercial logo in the background. Inessential, whether he has done this consciously or not, Ciężki has developed this painting approach, and created recognizable picture oriented idiom of his own.

In 2006 he offered an extensive series entitled "A Playground", dominated by motives of small ladder steps typical of children's playgrounds. Against consistently light pink background, one can see the haptic structures maintained in the palette dominated by three primary painting colors: red, blue and yellow, occasionally enriched with green. The constructions have been entered into frame size, so as to astonish a viewer with their shape, and to penetrate far deep an illusory space of a picture. The items seem to encourage a spectator to grasp them with his hands and to climb up, by the same token, to get inside the presentation. They lure with their subtle palette, as though they were soft bedding or childhood memories. On the other hand, the fact that the structures have been suspended in the light pink, gives an impression that they have not been fitted strongly enough in the surrounding that one can recognize. All these add to the confusion and slightly disturb one's sense of security. The applied expression means lead to visual rhythms that guide a spectator's eyesight along the constructions that unexpectedly appear as autonomous visual objects separated from their everyday functions, referring to the eternal for painting tension between space and plain surface. Playground physical exercise has been turned into perception exercise.

Interested in metal structures, Ciężki focused on iron fences and bars in 2009, making the "To Read between the Lines"1) series. A year latter he was attracted by scaffoldings. This motive, applied in a number of works, won him the "Bielsko Autumn 2011" Painting Biennial Grand Prix. The scaffolding series yet another time has brought back a surprising manner of framing, a fragment oriented approach, ambiguous backgrounds, tangible features of the painted constructions combined with their autonomous qualities and lack of utility. Space between individual elements, as in the earlier canvases with ladders and fences, carries an essential function, creating an impression that these objects have been suspended everywhere and - at the same time - nowhere, as though they were stripped of their weight and any relation with gravitation forces. Speaking the language of Jacques Derrida, these seemingly insignificant places in between, "take responsibility"2) and greatly contribute to an overall impact the pictures cause. White paint splashes on metal pipes are an important aspect of these representations. They resemble a concept applied earlier, in the 2004 picture with a radiator. One can risk a statement that the very painting process has been subject oriented; related to both, working on the picture in Ciężki's atelier, and to painting walls, possibly on a scaffolding that had there its real life useful function. Thus, two types of painting strike a dialogue, referring to the fascinations of American painters - active in the second half of the 20th century, such as Frank Stella and Ad Reinhardt - with the tools and working methods used by wall painters.

The "Haven't We Met Before" series, while being a continuation of work typical of Ciężki, has strongly accentuated issues related with the role of a shadow cast by a painted object, and specific examination, analyzed on examples of neon constructions looked at from underneath or from the back sight. The shadow - that has had a fundamental role in the birth of painting according to the myth handed over by Pliny the Elder in "Natural History", considered a means of expression that underlies illusory qualities of presented objects - in the pictures by Ciężki appears in relation to a grid composed of irregular triangles and trapezoids, casting dark lines below it. The paradox is that the shadow course does not run logically to the grid pattern, adopting the life of its own it undermines a connection between a metal structure and a source of light. Cast close to the grid, it sends a signal that the picture space is relatively shallow: might there be a wall behind the structure? Again, Ciężki has been luring a spectator with haptic bars, while discouraging him from touching them by means of a lack of logic in shades arrangement. Thus, he has suggested that the illusion originates on the surface, and it considerably differs from reality. A viewer - in exactly the same way as when faced with the pictures from the "To Read between the Lines" series - feels in a way imprisoned, confronted with enclosing, oppressive bars that embroil perception mechanisms present in every inch of the viewer's body. A spectator is put in a quite peculiar position, dealing with the pictures that present neon signs seen from the back. It is hard to read them, since letters have been turned over, while focus is put on a supportive frame which is usually hidden from our eyesight to draw one's attention to an attractive commercial slogan. Ciężki - in a literal and metaphorical sense - raises the curtain to show the rust, and to probe - paraphrasing the words by Hubert Damisch - what has been hidden under the layer of painting and reality.

The pictures Ciężki is in the course of working on, have been entitled "Blackout", referring to the phenomena of darkening and daze. Black is a dominant color; meant both, as a black hole, and as (non) hue, bringing an impression of tangible presence on the surface. Analogically to black pictures by Ad Reinhardt, a key issue here is a game with light which follows the rhythm of the viewer's movement to reveal the pictures texture; matt or glossy, while a perceiving eye cannot determine and freeze a constantly changing image. Further, for the first time ever Ciężki has crossed the painting genre limits for the sake of pictures - objects made of glazed ceramics, perfectly black and shiny, and developed objects stripped of their original functions, i.e., he transformed ladder steps from children's playground and placed them in front of the pictures. They enter into a dialogue with structures outlined in black on the surface and initiate, typical of Ciężki, perception gymnastics. The tension between plain surface and space, so far introduced on canvases only - has adopted third dimension and developed the nocturnal space, where spectator will "stumble" over the threshold of (non) visibility more than once yet. 

1) I have mentioned this series in the text published in the "EXIT": The Potential of Bars/ Potencjał Kraty, in: "EXIT. New Art in Poland" 3 (91), 2012, p. 6216-6219.

2) See the statement by J. Derrida in his conversation with H. Rons in: J. Derrida, Stands: Talking to Henri Rons, Julia Kristeva, Jean-Louis Houdebin and Guy Scarpetta, translated by A. Dziadek, 2nd edition, Katowice 2007, p. 7.

Jakub Ciężki

Born in Lublin in 1979. 1998-2003 studies at the Maria Skłodowska-Curie University Art Department. A diploma with distinction at the Painting Faculty by Prof. Jacek Wojciechowski. He works at the Maria Skłodowska-Curie University Art Department.

Wystawy indywidualne/One-man exhibitions

2012 - Urodziny (akcja z Tomaszem Kulką), Galeria Propaganda, Warszawa
- Haven't We Met Before?, Galeria Propaganda, Warszawa
- Sceny rodzajowe 2012 (wystawa z Tomaszem Kulką), Galeria Propaganda, Warszawa
2010 - To read between the lines, BWA Sanok, Sanok
2009 - to read between the lines, Lubelskie Towarzystwo Zachęty Sztuk Pięknych, Lublin
2007 - Malarstwo, Galeria Olympia, Kraków
- ZABAWnie, Galeria Promocyjna, Warszawa
2005 - Istota Rzeczy, Galeria Promocyjna, Warszawa
- Malarstwo, Galeria „ES', Międzyrzec Podlaski
- Malarstwo, Galeria Podlaska, Biała Podlaska
2003 - Malarstwo, Galeria ZPAP „Pod podłogą", Lublin

He has taken part in several dozens collective exhibitions at home and abroad.

Awards and Grants:

2013 - Holder of the Minister of Culture Grant under the Young Poland grant program
2011 - Lublin Mayor distinction for achievements in artistic output
- Grand Prix on the "Bielsko Autumn 2011" Painting Biennial, the Artistic Exhibitions Bureau Gallery, Bielsko-Biała
2006 - The 1st award in the "Autograph 2005" competition at the Lublin Castle
2004 - Grand Prix in the Franciszek Eibisch Foundation Competition, National Museum in Warsaw
- Grant of the Lublin Region Governor for 2004
- The 1st award granted by His Magnificence, Maria Skłodowska-Curie University Chancellor in the "Autograph 2003" competition at the Lublin Castle
2003 - Chancellor award to honor the best Maria Skłodowska-Curie University Art Department diploma in 2003