Piotr Robert Stachlewski »
While participating in young artists' exhibitions we more and more often wonder how incredibly sound questions which were raised until quite recently about the identity of art, the continuity of artistic search and especially about new creative potentials of painting art.
Such reflections come to our mind particularly when we face works referring to modern or remote tradition and using this tradition to find an original idea. Thus we do not face this creation which secondarily uses previously worked out means of expression, as it often happened e.g. in case of New Expression, and not that one which makes iconographic and formal references be a subject of parody or pastiche like in case of determined moderate eclectics, followers of post-modernist poetic; we face the one which originates in the past and at the same time gives a testimony of individual search.
Undoubtedly Piotr Robert Stachlewski belongs to the group of these young artists who work within their own system of values and are very disciplined in it.
We can already find some characteristic features of his work in the diploma series of linocuts, and comparing the three basic periods of his artistic work we can observe rather a consequent logical evolution.
In the diploma graphics we are first of all struck by a homogenous arrangement of surfaces, limited to a division into three compositional zones. These half-figurative works derive from the inspiration by a human silhouette, or, to be precise, a nude. In each graphic the contours of silhouettes take the positions on the edge, simultaneously pointing out the shape of a third, middle form, which in an equally schematic and simplified way suggests a shape of a woman body - like in the mischievous drawing experiments with perspective.
What strikes us in these works is modesty of means of expression. Colour spectrum is nearly limited to a monochrome, yet the artist - staying within this limit and treating simplicity of means of expression as a challenge - tries to obtain the maximum artistic effect. He uses a wide range of possibilities given by juxtaposition of surfaces having different power and temperature of colour. Wide tonally differentiated "painting" surfaces associated with smooth "drawing" lines and "graphic" details clearly show that Stachlewski wishes to combine the method of aesthetic expression in graphic by means of drawing and form with purely painting issues of matter and colour.
Suggestive ambiguous half-object representations, figures intensified by an expressive line are characteristic of the cycle of smaller linocuts inspired by music reality. Objects define themselves by a formal arrangement of elements. Graphics express the relation of forms, on one hand they show their contrasts and tension built up by forms, on the other hand their similarities and their co-operation in creating plastic rhythms. The forms seem to "sound" like instruments and music motives which have become an inspiration here. What is most important is the direct impression and aesthetic sensitiveness, and to a smaller extent capability of intellectual analysis of a painting.
The intensified search of values beyond the anecdotal layer of a work characterises another, this time painting stage of Stachlewski's work. His painting is still allusive (though sometimes it is observed in intention and the title of a work rather than in its subject layer ) but close to non-geometrical abstraction. The elements of figuration which are present here constitute the surfaces of cool and dark colours. Streams of grasping and hot tissue of colours penetrate them. Paint soluted in Venetian distemper freely flows down the canvas. The vivid painting matter impresses by its rich texture and colour. An intention to draw attention to the effect of its physical tangible presence makes - like in case of other followers of Tachisme or Informel approach - the artist blur the traces of figurativeness by a palette-knife or a brush, creating unusual reality of synthetic imagination. He transforms the external form according to his own internal rules and needs, creating compositions in a way decorative, often having a character of "abstract landscapes". Even the few portraits lose their realism by dense "hatching", by mingling streams of paint which blur the contours and details of objects.
In the series of the latest big paintings the source of emotional experience and intellectual and artistic search of the artist is - or becomes as clearly as never before - man, the permanence and continuity of their cultural output. Despite this we often find it difficult to recognise the images of human silhouettes in the artist's paintings. They assume long, sometimes distorted forms, sill close to abstraction. They come out of silence, stay in shadow, ambiguous, petrified in the mood of dignity and anticipation. The stylised movement (most often the moment of entrance or exit, or rather running in or out) and gesture define their situation in the world presented in a painting. Finally the figure is reduced to a silhouette, nearly a sign which consists of colourful surfaces and is created by means of expressive, vigorous strokes of a brush. The form is realised due to merely a few colourful lines which introduce allusiveness and let us recognise the character of the objects created by a brush.
In these paintings man is crowded out of the centre, having a compositional equivalent in dense flat forms of the other side of a painting, less concrete shapes, bringing back objects, fragments of architecture, and even in abstract compositions of colour patches, with no semantic references. These particular compositional frames point out the area of a painting centre. Owing to colour it is located in another space background and it is shown to us like after drawing the curtain in some allegoric performances.
The silhouettes from the left side of paintings come from the world they observe but they stay passive. Watching the performance, the painter himself seems to be like a reserved director who only peeps at his characters and systematically, frame after frame, he presents the world of his experience to us. Accompanying the author we have a look behind the scenes, and going beyond the border of colour plans we enter the past, like in a virtual game, soaking in its atmosphere, understanding and sensing its rules. Finally we yield to the illusion of perceiving the multiplied space of numerous epochs and cultures, like in a unique state of weightlessness which goes with the perception of ideal synchrony of various experiences. We slowly penetrate the common space of a human being, connected with thoughts and psyche, we start understanding the sphere of emotional and intellectual motivations of the creator.
Stachlewski does not make this task easy. He does not create a drama. He does not tell a story. Although the characters of his paintings emit some energy they are not active; yet their presence creates the climate of a composition. The revealed centre of the painting is only filled with drizzling, light-and-colour magma. Therefore they are not the stories we can just "read", full of details about a given part of the world. We do not stand in front of Stachlewski's canvases like passive observers, but, on the contrary, we are forced to use our imagination which lets us penetrate the area of implied, metaphorical cultural space. This space suggested by the meaningful titles of paintings: Banita (An Outlaw), Hospodar (Hospodar), Święty Sebastian (Saint Sebastian) Casanova, Haremia - is interpreted in different ways, depending on observers' competence and sensitivity. Using our imagination we will be able to see both the blue of the southern sky, the colours of the Venetian carnival and landscapes of exotic lands. Listening carefully, we may hear hum of debating nobles, voices of women in harem, a baths attendant shouting or a fragment of music concert.
Staring at the artist's paintings we can have the impression that in every case - both earlier and at present - the author presents to us a general scheme of the world of his imagination, an algorithm according to which the events occur in this world. For the existence of a work details are not important - what is important is a general relation.
It is revealed in every literary or artistic analysis of a work, when we descend "floor after floor" until its basic elements are presented. We can recall the theory of the Soviet semioticist Propp who researched enormous material of folk fairy-tales in their various variants and plot differentiations as if they were one text. He looked for common characteristic features. He came to a conclusion that not plot motives but constant relations to a given mythical theme were significant.
"It is not important where somebody starts from, from a hut or a castle, or who sets off, a stupid brother or a prince, it is not important if he uses any means of transport or walks. It is important that he i s a b o u t t o g o "beyond the woods", "overseas", "far away" - that he goes to "another world" - it is a function. It is a relation of going to "another world". And again the plot character of the obstacle- a dragon, a mountain, the sea, a wizard - does not matter - "overcoming difficulties" is important as a function. And so we go on analysing, building up the whole register of these functions, coming up with the rules of operating with these elements, their consequence, interchangeability, replacement, etc., the rules of coding and decoding of the meanings modelling the fairy-tale world." /S. Żółkiewski, Preface to Semiotyka kultury, edited by E. Janus, M. R. Mayenowa, Warsaw 1977, p.34-35. Transl. E. R-L/.
The artist's approach certainly influences the careful arrangement of painting's composition. Stachlewski sets elements in agreement with the idea accepted and easily perceived by an observer. No matter if in the works we notice the vertical division of surfaces into three spheres or the tendency to central and symmetric, balanced Renaissance composition, they will always be governed by the principle of forms concentrated in the closed frames of a painting. In case of large works there is additionally a particular "set of coordinates", which elements of a composition may be referred to, and which consists of constructive lines where the particular parts of canvases are linked. As the author does not make any attempts of masking them, they introduce an additional, unique element of compositional balance within the large surface of a work.
Due to the similar composition, Piotr Robert Stachlewski's paintings constitute a kind of series, in which however, every canvas appears to be a closed distinctive value. The author consciously sets himself free from the burden of the work just finished (even destroying some of them) and he undertakes another challenge. The similar form of paintings is not the result of the artist's dissatisfaction with the effect achieved before. The artist is not limited by the assumed homogenous compositional shape any longer, what is more, the theatrical centre, like a cadence at a music concert, each time becomes the place of workshop presentation.
Stachlewski paints with a great sense of colour, no matter if he juxtaposes vibrating , flamboyant, contrastive shades or, more frequently, uses more monochromatic sets of colour patches different in their value. Various colour plans of compositions stay in the relation of dynamic tension to one another. The open space of a painting centre seems to be exciting, emits the latent energy. Colour evokes light, has suggestive impact, points out the meaning hidden in a metaphor and difficult to be clearly interpreted.
The artist who is aware of the expression of painting techniques uses them all - dry brush and wash drawing, scumbling and impasto - emphasising their creative potential. Surfaces varied in texture, set within the frame of one painting, accents of rhythms, cracks and splits show the energy of plans, are the source of dynamic tensions and become a kind of nervous stimulation of painting matter.
The goals seen in this context, humanistic aspect of this creation, appealing to historical accessories imply the sources of inspiration, being the background of the artist's endeavours. It is the kind of painting of the past epochs and its "old-fashioned", dating back to Renaissance, artistic means of expression: colour, light and created space. Although the way of using these means of expression is extremely modern, we clearly perceive the need to depend on tradition. Referring to it means only calm and deep affirmation and not regress to safe self-reassurance and averageness. Discipline the artist imposes on himself proves the awareness of this search and gives hope for maintaining his creative identity.
Translated by Elżbieta Rodzeń-Leśnikowska