Katarzyna Jarząb, Courtesy of the artist

Grids and Lines In Conversation with Katarzyna Jarząb

Katarzyna Jarząb has been recently awarded with the honourable mention by the editors of Contemporary Lynx Magazine at the Art Competition “Nowy Obraz. Nowe Spojrzenie 2020” organised by University of the Arts in Poznan. Katarzyna works with paintings, objects, installations and sound art. She is interested in exploring the process of composing music and images. We speak about her beginnings, artists she admires the most and her current projects. 

Courtesy of the artist
Courtesy of the artist

SK: This year, Editors of Contemporary Lynx Magazine decided to award you with the special mention “Nowy Obraz. Nowe Spojrzenie 2020” (New Images. New Outlook) Art Prize. What made you enter the competition? Big congratulations. 

KJ: Thank you. I am incredibly flattered.

Why did I participate? I think for the reasons being as always. This competition was known to me, and it is an opportunity to push your works further, to compare them with others. Competitions also cause the so-called visibility, and it seems to be one of the most important issues in art.

SK: Can you elaborate more on your artworks that you submitted?

KJ: I submitted three diploma works and two smaller, more recent projects, from the post-academy period, for the competition. And here it should be explained what it is all about, and where did I get this chequered pattern from. In my artistic practice, I use the concept of a field, i.e. specific space, terrain, designated area of activity. The starting point for me is an empty sheet of a notebook, which surface is organised by grid, line – a designated area. The use of a grid is important because in its essence it is non-mimetic, non-representative, it can only be repeated and extended in space, the development of which is not linear but in different directions. Limiting and delineating certain areas has been around for a long time, and I have also used them unconsciously. I used this strategy at the end of my studies, and I also use it today. Earlier I referred to certain ways and concepts of composing contemporary music: repetition, Steve Reich’s phase shifting, or the whole work, matrix, module, which can be found in Karlheinz Stockhausen. Now I am realising my doctoral project more specifically and on more problematic level around the thoughts of the Italian composer Giacinto Scelsi, who said: “To be a composer means to ‘componere’, to add one thing to another. I do not do that. You come to something by negation”, what raises the question of the possibility or impossibility of entering the same issues in the field of visual art.

I do not think about my paintings individually, I mean they are for me successive elements and a part of a larger whole. What matters to me is them being able to be used as modules, compiling and creating compilations. It is also more about implementation and translation, or using the same constructs as in composing music but in visual arts, which has nothing to do with synesthetic experiences. I also like minimalist approach, that is to reject the unnecessary and focus, look at the essence. As Scelsi did in his music, he rejected the entire Western way of composing and, for example, in Quattro Pezzi per orchestra (1959) we deal with a situation in which each piece is based on practically one pitch.

SK: Do you remember the moment when you knew you wanted to become an artist?

KJ: To be honest, for as long as I remember, drawing and painting was always present and close to me; however, as a child I also had few various ideas for myself. I wanted to be an archaeologist, like the ones working at the pyramids in Egypt (albeit I have never been there), and later I wanted to be a surgeon. In gymnasium, where I was in the art class, I met an artist who worked in my hometown Mikołów, and thanks to her I became even more interested in art and worked harder. Without a shadow of doubt, it had some influence on my later decisions. And I think it might be then when I announced my wish of becoming an artist for the first time. At that time, I was looking through albums of old masters. I remember reading The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí and somehow, I was impressed by this eccentricity and the feeling that artists are probably allowed to do anything. Then, I hastily submitted an application for the public high school of art in Katowice because until the last moment I thought I would go to an ordinary high school, which was only two minutes away from my home, yet practical considerations did not outweigh the scales. This art school had to be in Katowice. I went there on an open-door day, felt the whole ambiance, saw the studios, and fell in love. I thought to myself that I want to spend high school days by painting, creating. I got in. And so here it is, when I had to be at school by 8, I had to wake at 5:30 and commute all the way there. Till this day, I wonder how was I able to do that. Especially me being a night owl, I usually go to bed late; even then I would go to sleep at around 2 in the morning. I am telling you this to show how determined I was. Later, I moved from Silesia region to Kraków – chapter titled Academy of Fine Arts.

SK: How did you decide to study at an art academy?

KJ: During high school, I was thinking of becoming an architect because it is so practical, a specific profession, etc. Math was not a problem for me. Even though I am surrounded by humanists, I found out that I have a scientific mind. Also, as a Silesian, I consider myself a straight up person, which is also important.

So, I understood that I wanted to paint, and finally rejected the thought of becoming an architect because I did not like the idea of doing the work for the client, for example: following certain guidelines, drawing in a specific technical way. Even now when I think about custom-made jobs, which I used to do during studies, I shudder. The patter was always the same, postponing such matters until they really had to be done. Meeting the client’s expectations causes some terrible reluctance in me. I wanted freedom in creating, painting. At the time, before the academy, I painted realistically, quickly, and expressively, something completely different to how I work now. Two concepts – paining and freedom, I only saw possible by studying painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków; therefore, I got in. Honestly though, it was all very natural and sequential. In fact, I always chose art as the most important thing for me.

SK: If you could collaborate with any living or deceased artist, who would it be?

KJ: There are many artists and composers, musician whom I value immensely and have a greater or lesser influence on what I do, but I don’t think I even thought about wanting to collaborate with or to exhibit. I think it does not work this way. Collaborative exhibitions, projects yet require a different kind of reflexion because it is not that I only like artworks of those from my, let us call it, “aesthetic circle”. I value creativity of Agnes Martin, Hanne Darboven, Al Held, Panayiotis Vassilakis (Takis), François Morellet, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Małgorzata Szymankiewicz (and I could name many more, but these were the first ones to pop into my head, so let us leave them). Also, at the same time I should mention: Luc Tuymans, Gottfried Helnwein or Njideka Akunyili Crosby. From my music inspirations, it would be: Giacinto Scelsi, Gérard Grisey, Steve Reich, Olga Neuwirth, Georg Friedrich Haas or Beat Furrer. Lots of names indeed, but somehow quite often I refer to their practices.

read also Rзtг Merk, Image by Robertas Narkus

Rute Merk: Portrait Gallery of the 21st Century

Contemporary Lynx Team Mar 04, 2021

At first, it may seem that the particularly smooth painterly surfaces of the paintings are created by spraying paint. Besides, when you look at the painting in close proximity, you get the impression that its individual parts are precisely cut out and glued onto the canvas. The portrait seems to be made up of different fragments: face, hair, and costume details are as if taken from somewhere and placed on top of each other just like by copy-pasting. 

SK: What is your biggest failure?

KJ: I must admit that I thought about this question for a long time, and I cannot really think of a specific answer. That is not because fails and failures do not happen to me, on the contrary, but precisely because I try not to focus on them, but to treat them as a natural element of any process. Among other things, the period of the second/third year seems as a failure to me. I have the impression that I did not do nor paint anything of value then, and I destroyed many of the works. However, in retrospect, I can see that it was a moment of trials, hesitations, intense searches, experiments. I just needed it. I had to build my world of art from scratch, revise some things. Anyway, the whole period of graduation and the Academy should be described as a laboratory. In fact, what I am doing now is to some extent the result of those ideas and practices. Maybe all my entries to different competitions that have gone unnoticed are also a failure? Although, I am aware that my proposals will not get everywhere, and completions have special situations. They consist of many factors, they are the combinations of several views, perceptions, and the “result” is their resultant. Therefore, even here it is problematic to name them as fails.

SK: What is your biggest success?

K.J.: During my diploma year (2018/2019), I received a scholarship from the Minister of Culture and National Heritage, this gives me a feeling that all this work and effort have been appreciated and noticed.

As my personal success, I consider to be the fact that I am in the place where I am. Meaning that I managed to implement almost all my plans, for instance: defending the diploma (still in normal, pre-COVID conditions), a few important for me exhibitions, and now doctorate, which I hope to defend one day. I am in the “experimental” doctorate year, as it was the first year after the introduction of the 2.0 law (reform of high educational laws in Poland).

SK: What are you working on at the moment?

The same thing we do every night, Pinky,
Try to take over the world!” (*Pinky and the Brain)[laugh].

At the moment I am working on taking over the world with my paintings, hopefully!

Currently, I have prepared two large canvases, 160 x 110 cm. It would be difficult for me to afford any larger ones in the current conditions because now I paint at home, in Silesia. I have room here as my art studio. The art studio in Kraków, which I still rent, serves as a warehouse for me.

Recently, I have created rather smaller formats, although the sketchbook where I note my ideas is constantly filling up. These works are the result of reflections and research on issues related to my doctoral project. Anyway, it would be difficult to distinguish between a doctoral project and not; art and not art; and a Sunday’s work. I do have two projects planned, which are the reason for taking to the artist, but in the current climate of a constantly developing pandemic, it is unknown to what extent such planning and setting deadlines makes sense.

Katarzyna Jarząb, Courtesy of the artist
Katarzyna Jarząb, Courtesy of the artist
Katarzyna Jarząb, Courtesy of the artist
Katarzyna Jarząb, Courtesy of the artist

Nowy Obraz. Nowe Spojrzenie” is an annula art competition organised by University of the Arts in Poznan.

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About The Author


Founder of Contemporary Lynx (2013). Editor-in-chief of the Contemporary Lynx in print and online. The art historian with a Master of Arts degree in Arts Policy & Management (the University of London, Birkbeck College) and Master of Arts in History of Art (Jagiellonian University in Cracow).

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