Jarosław Lewera   »

Degraded and elevated reality The traditionally thinking recipients of art claim that today’s aesthetics is first of all the aesthetics of commonness, imperfection and ugliness. They believe that the categories of perfection, order and harmony have disappeared.

The opponents do not treat this statement as an accusation. They reckon that art does not have to be beautiful. What is important is that it appeals to people, is a material for discussion and brings value. They argue that the contemporary culture represents the degraded and humiliated, but still sacred things, hidden under the form of the profane.

Following this way of thinking, one could say that the reality presented in many paintings by Jarosław Lewera is not a reflection of beauty. The artist himself does not probably look for beauty either. Of course, only when we see this concept in traditional categories. Lewera closely watches the reality that surrounds him.

Objects that inspire him aesthetically belong to two different worlds. The first expressive and arousing interest objects are those that embody the material evidence of transience and destruction. The artist draws our attention to those elements whose existence is feeble and marked by the dramatic decline of the aesthetic factor. These are trivial attributes of reality: wall fragments stripped of plaster, shabby walls, garbage containers, bent, battered car bodies, rusty, worn-out vehicle components, dirty truck tarpaulins. The grey reality in the grey and mediocre courtyards, scrap yards. Rust and dust as attributes of destruction.

Lewera’s paintings are not an apologia for wear and destruction. Thanks to the artist’s choice, the neglected signs of everyday life regain their identity and dignity. They are given a ‘second life’ - it does not matter that it is manifested only on canvas, since they are theoretically reborn ‘forever’. The reality and objects of ‘lower rank humiliated and rejected, are re-elevated. They enter the space of art. Here, in painting full of silence, they are stigmatized with a special kind of mystery, the source of which is the aura, typical of the areas of pure poetry, infeasible to fully describe and interpret.

One of the causative factors is in this case a special method of creation that brings to life hyperrealistic images. Their superrealism is based on the fact that the artist uses a camera. A photo is needed to preserve the look or situation at the initial stage of work - so that it can be reproduced. In this way, the author creates an image not of the object itself, but the image of its photo. He paints a photograph (and thus an illusion, indeed a temporary one) of reality. He creates an ultimately lasting, timeless illusion of illusion.

The elevation of the despised object belongs to the activities that semantise the object and the context of its functioning. Representatives of European New Realism or American Neo-Dada, such as Cesar, Arman or Rauschenberg, used worn-out waste of social and industrial consumption to create artistic objects. The objects themselves regained their dignity in artwork made in traditional painting techniques, in assemblages, sculptural installations.

The artists revived the past of the object, evoked nostalgia for what was individual, endowed with identity, history, at the time of uniformisation, the mass character of the consumer and industrial society. Lewera’s paintings also evoke existential reflections - they tell stories about passing, destruction and the inevitability of death, just like the Baroque vanitas. The sacralization of common and low objects gains power there.

Thus, the photorealistic art is only apparently neutral, it seems not to absorb or activate us. It sensitizes us to the surroundings, to what the daily routine pushes into the unnoticed and consigns to oblivion. It also appeals to us to find among the phenomena which are repetitive and seemingly unattractive the ones that inspire reflection on life. It therefore contradicts attributing antiemotionalism and anti-subjectivism to the hyperrealistic artwork.

The visual components of Jarosław Lewera’s paintings, separated from the exemplary semantic contexts indicated above, become also attractive elements of compositions realized in accordance with the principles of abstract art. Then they strike us with their forms, proportions, the character of the surface, colour combinations. The image of ‘scruffy’ reality becomes - paradoxically - visually attractive. Its components present themselves in new, unknown colours.

The photographic culture, based among others on temporality, spontaneity, was frequently criticized for neglecting the rules of composition, harmony, emphasizing reportage values. Jarosław Lewera’s paintings are diligently composed. Looking at them, we do not have the impression of randomness typical of a quick photographic shot. The composition is a consequence of choice here. In the paintings we notice relations of the plane size, a clearly marked perspective, sophisticated colour arrangements. The palette of colours is characterized by concentration - coolness rather than heat of contrasts. Juxtaposition of this background with blues and rusty red colours, or a yellow spot of a car tarpaulin on a grey-blue truck are even more surprising.

While analyzing his surroundings, the artist builds the image of contemporary civilization. The appropriately cropped fragments of the surrounding space selected by Lewera are simultaneously a sign of the whole culture of excess and satiation. The works which become meaningful in this context are the ones in which, not as it has been before, the author observes the components of the industrial landscape of the city, draws attention to the aspects of modernity, the attractiveness of its image, pretence and glitz, for example, the one that hides in the views of office buildings reflected in windowpanes, shiny shop windows, glossy car and motorcycle bodies.

The multiplicity of images, events, impulses and messages around us has been expressed as compositions, mosaic, ambiguous, full of illusory optical illusions, effects of multiplied views, distortions in the depth of focus. The paintings are read as an essay about the nature of the world in which we live and about the condition of modern man. What is significant in these painting compositions is the place which the artist assigns to human silhouettes. They rarely appear as part of the depicted landscape. The man there is usually one of many equally significant components of reality.

The figures in the paintings are people at the airport, at the bar, in the underground railway carriage. They give the impression of being locked in a glass sphere, isolated from direct contacts by the screen of a mobile phone, deaf to others due to headphones; they are anonymous and lonely people. We see deindividualized beings without any identity. Alienated, lost in thought, wandering from a stop to a stop. We look at people and places in Lewera’s paintings like at the figures and interiors in Edward Hopper’s artwork. We observe their loneliness in a big city. We ourselves interpret this vision as known and unknown to us, both close and distant. People also seem to be simultaneously strangers and in a way similar to us.

The expressiveness and sharpness of objects, the great accuracy with which they were rendered, the lack of randomness arouse the feeling of artificiality. It is intensified by the static and classical-like composition, the impression that the presented scenes appear to be stopped in motion. The special aura emanated by the work evokes special emotions in us.

The off-putting though attractive atmosphere of metal and glass, the glossiness of objects, the coolness of colours introduce the mood of unreality, paradoxically, because the image is surrealistic. Such paradoxes are, among other things, the source of a critical, committed attitude to the presented reality. Ultimately, the artwork by Jarosław Lewera goes beyond the limits of traditional realism. We begin to understand that his painting does not derive only from the desire to compete with photography, that it is not only about superficial, efficient imitation.

The artist shows us that - beyond this epidermal - there is still some other reality that he is trying to explore and give us to provoke our reflection. It is a specific version of contestation, an expression of a profound attitude aimed at unmasking today’s commercialized pleasure.

Dariusz Le¶nikowski

Transl. Elżbieta Rodzeń-Le¶nikowska