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All the Seasons of the Landscape.

Contemporary Polish Painting

January 19,2023 - April 09,2023
Stanislaw Baj, River Bug, oil on canvas, 200x450, 2016

January 19, 2023 April 9, 2023

The starting point for the exhibition “All the Seasons of the Landscape. Contemporary Polish Painting” is a question about the condition of the landscape, its specificity and place on the pluralist map of art, as well as its role in times of excess of visual stimuli and of prevelance of image recording techniques. The exhibition takes into account significant tendencies in this classic genre successfully created nowadays, presents a multitude of creative attitudes and approaches to the subject. By bringing together the works of recognized artists belonging to different generations and coming from various backgrounds, we show the vital potential of landscape painting and the influence of 20th-century trends in art on its evolution. Not only the legacy of traditional realism, but also the influence of abstraction, both in its meditative and expressive  variations, is clearly visible in contemporary landscape interpretations. What also seems significant is the return to beauty and contemplation, which inspires the viewer to rediscover the beauty of the world, being at the same time an excellent lesson in looking.

The exhibition includes the artworks of: Katarzyna Adamek-Chase, Stanisław Baj, Rafał Borcz, Krzysztof Klimek, Olga Pawłowska, Łukasz Patelczyk i Grażyna Smalej.

Hunger, I thought: it is a hunger of the eyes that I feel, such hunger that I am loath even to blink. These seas, these mountains: I want to burn them upon my sight so deeply that, no matter where I go, they will always be before me. I am hungry with love of this world’’.

The same admiration of the world and the desire to preserve it, which resound in the old woman’s monologue from the novel Age of Iron by Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee, begins our journey into the fascinating developments of landscape painting. Although the prevalence of photography and film brought into question the sense of the mimetic function of art, it also became a challenge for artists: how to convey the uniqueness of visual experience on canvas in the era of the expansion of modern image recording techniques? To what extent it is worth continuing the old tradition, which also generated great works in Poland, and to what extent it is necessary to go beyond it and look for new ways of expression? All the Seasons of the Landscape is intended to present the multiplicity of creative attitudes towards the classic genre of landscape painting, showing various individual sensitivities and styles. The starting point for the exhibition was a question about the condition of contemporary Polish landscape painting, its specificity and place in the pluralist art world, as well as an intuition to ask if the phenomenon we focus on still offers the viewer a unique quality of experience, responding to the universal urge for beauty and contemplation; a phenomenon we ask still resonates with a deep and personal wonder at the beauty of the visible world with its changeability, space and mystery? In a sense these are rare values in the world of excess of visual stimuli in which we find ourselves immersed nowadays.

 The works presented at the exhibition enter into a dialogue with the great painting tradition, but they also express how we feel, how we see the landscape today. The invited outstanding artists belong to different generations and come from different and varied backgrounds. The doyen in this group is Stanisław Baj (born in 1953), a professor of the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts, who draws inspiration from the views of the Bug River near the village of Dołhobrody where he was born. His synthetically painted landscapes, created in the open air, emanate atmospheric, nocturnal poetics, created by color-light interactions of water, sky and trees, in his more recent period heading towards contemplative abstraction. Baj’s paintings, frozen in the moment, evoke the flow but also simultaneously the stopping of time, of duration, as Czesław Miłosz wrote in his poem Rivers

While your endless flowing carries us on and on
And neither is nor was. The moment only, eternal”.

Baj’s large-format paintings of the Bug River enabled us to create a kind of environment which allows for greater immersion for the viewer into the work, to become saturated in its atmosphere.

The canvases of Rafał Borcz (born in 1973), a professor of the Krakow Academy of Fine Arts, seem to be somewhat similar in climate, but for the artist the place of inspirations are the Bieszczady Mountains. Vast spaces, lakes, gradual tree-covered slopes and shores, alders and birches or fauna motives have been returning in his mature work like leitmotifs for years. Borcz’s landscapes, unlike those painted by Baj, are created in the studio.  A painstaking, precise technique allows the painter to depict the mastery of nature: delicate drawings of grass and branches, subtle interplay of reflections, starry sky…  But here too there is a spirit of contemplation, an immersion in endless silence, an admiration of light and twilight. In both cases, therefore, there is an echo of the romantic melting in the mystery of nature that transcends the human scale. 

In the landscapes created by Krzysztof Klimek (born in 1962), an affinity with the tradition of realism resounds more strongly. The artist, fascinated by the beauty of seemingly uninteresting, ordinary places in Poland, set up his easels at various times of the day and year, in various surroundings: by roads, parking lots, courtyards, river banks, in fields, forests and mountains. The work resulting from direct observation in the open air brings the artist incomparably greater satisfaction and more interesting artistic results than the use of photography. The sense of synthesis, which for years dominated Klimek’s landscape painting, has recently been overcome with a sensitivity to detail. However, this does not change the fact that his paintings seem to hold a hidden rhythm of reality, with its constant returning and passing. Whether they are Brueghelian bird’s-eye views or studies of winter and thaws, or corners of the province, or tree verticals reminiscent of the works of Gustav Klimt, they reflect much more than what is perhaps immediately visible. 

Artists of a younger generation also start from synthesis – Olga Pawłowska (born 1988) and Łukasz Patelczyk (born 1986). In their case, the realism of a specific place gives way to a generalized landscape, sometimes imaginary, into which the world of internal feelings or abstract structures is projected. Searching for a new language for a somewhat traditional genre, the painters condense the mood through the use of unreal color or the introduction of elements that break up a sensually perceived nature. Pawłowska purifies the form, intensifying impressions of nostalgia and anxiety, so that sometimes there are associations with film frames or the climate of contemporary literature. Patelczyk, on the other hand, uses a very interesting symbiosis of figuration and abstraction, mostly geometric. In this way he intentionally complicates space, at the same time making it evoke a cosmic dimension. Lines or figures interfering with his compositions have yet another role – they are formally attractive, they show invisible tensions and give a sense of transcending the universe, discovering the metaphysical side of reality.

The works of Katarzyna Adamek-Chase (born 1980) are also made more dynamic by abstract lines. These delicately painted, unique interpretations, which reflect the artist’s sensitivity, are a kind of record of fleeting impressions, feelings and memory. The ephemerality and fluidity of the brushstrokes contrast interestingly with the geometric divisions of the canvases. The evoked flow of air, the flight of birds, the ever-becoming, the volatility… intertwine with structures that remind us of the orderliness of the cosmos. With the power of her imagination, Adamek-Chase transcends the classically understood landscape towards a subjective, lyrical impression.

The constellation of artists taking part in the exhibition is completed by Grażyna Smalej (born 1976), an author whose oeuvre is varied in terms of style. At the exhibition, we present a selection of canvases painted freely, thickly, almost impasto. There are above all expressive paintings of great vitality, sometimes turning into abstraction. The landscape changes here into a colorful interplay of energy, in which individual shapes often disappear. The way the artist transposes the views of nature seems to be completely different from the contemplative approach of Baj or Borcz, but what they have in common is the impression of the sublimity of nature, its immensity and the joy of communing with it.

The proposed review of tendencies of the landscape shows that neither the avant-garde movement in the last century, nor the expansion of new media managed to question the development of this traditional genre; on the contrary, new and interesting perspectives have instead been opened up. Painting is organically related to the very process of seeing and returns to what is of primary importance in human visual experience – to admiration for the immensity and beauty of the world. The evolution of the landscape observed in recent decades in Poland allows us to observe several original directions of its development and to assume that this area is still not yet exhausted.

Agnieszka Tes


Main photo: Stanislaw Baj, River Bug, oil on canvas, 200×450, 2016

Rynek 5
Stary Sącz, 33-340
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