Painter. Born in Warsaw in 1948.
From an artistic family, his father, Józef Korolkiewicz, was a painter of portraits, landscapes and genre scenes. After experimenting with new figuration and photorealism Łukasz Korolkiewicz created his own painting style, a style that could be termed "neo-modernist".
He studied at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts between 1965 and 1971, earning his degree under Professor Stefan Gierowski. He is employed at the Academy since 1980 and is a professor since 1996, teaching painting at the Faculty of Industrial Design. He was a member of the artistic collective Śmietanka in the 1970s, members included Andrzej Bielawski and Ewa Kuryluk. He also took part in the "O poprawę" movement.
Korolkiewicz's earliest works did not clearly tie into his later oeuvre. They were abstract exercises, nearly monochromatic, with motifs in which Ewa Kuryluk recognised elements of Roberto Matta's surrealism and Francis Bacon's figuration. The bewildering power of these compositions was enhanced by their considerable size, and when they were exhibited at Warsaw's Galeria Współczesna, the paintings seemed to be ahead of their time.
But considering the changes that would occur in Korolkiewicz's art over the following decades, it is still possible to detect in these juvenile projects suggestions of the themes, threads and motifs that have dominated his entire oeuvre. The early works evoke a mysterious, unrecognisable world, with barely-discernible outlines of landscapes, interiors and objects creating vague erotic allusions. They mark the first step on the artist's unique path, even if he himself was not conscious of it at the time.
The nature of Korolkiewicz's experiments was heavily influenced by his foreign travels between 1973 and 1975. A journey to Western Europe introduced him to the latest artistic trends, the most crucial experience being his encounter with hyperrealism and the work of David Hockney. But he was never an orthodox "follower" of the movement, in the sense that he never rejected the pictorial value of a painting - if anything, he began to emphasise pictoriality as time went on, fraying a patch of flat or differentiating and enriching colour. Still, the possibility of using photography for the purposes of painting fascinated him enough to start using his camera as a clipboard for recording a sketch of the world more quickly and faithfully than a pencil could. In photography, he was always more fond of transparencies than paper prints, chiefly because he could project them onto a canvas in the studio and use the projection as a starting point for a painting. But he was always more interested in the atmosphere of the represented world than in its physical appearance (be it a human figure, a plant or an object). He tried to break out of the visual sphere, as it were, putting the images of his male and female characters into the quotations marks of mystery and sometimes even sexual ambiguity. What characterises the majority of his paintings is suspension - suspension of an impression, a mood or a response to the viewer's glance.
Photography brought Korolkiewicz closer to the surrounding world, forcing him to focus on the familiar. He has been examining this world meticulously since the mid-1970s, which is the period when entirely legible, figurative elements began to appear in his art. They also defined the affiliation of his work, which ultimately lay not with hyperrealism but with a trend whose boundaries were less distinct: new figuration. Using techniques typical in new figuration, the artist created a series of compositions featuring silhouette-like figures that were characterised by an almost unequivocal patch of colour.
Several paintings stand out from among Korolkiewicz's earliest attempts at this style. They are all pictures of a young boy, firmly drawn and placed in the middle of scenes from the artist's childhood. These compositions make up a series of crypto-portraits painted from photographs, including Blue Boy (1973) and Major Cegielski on a Slide (1974). However, the majority of the paintings he did in the mid-1970s were large-format canvases marked by expressive colours and sometimes varied textures.
As opposed to the Polish new figuration's dominant existential tension and tone of social engagement, Korolkiewicz preferred to keep his distance, although he did not entirely shun "genre" themes (such as the sarcastic "character" scenes in the paintings Love (1977), Weariness (1979) and Residents of Sodom (1980)). His emphasis was as much on nostalgia as on irony, parody and the grotesque; his representations, combined with a touch of lyricism, revealed a sort of second layer, a secret "lining" of reality, lending them a dimension that was both magical and deeply disturbing. His technique demystified the photo-realistic "objectivism" of mechanical recording, highlighting its artificiality by calling attention to things like the photo"s inability to encompass a selected whole and its need to "frame" reality itself. But at the same time, his works also exhibited the photograph's unique ability to deceive the eye. They also enabled Korolkiewicz to develop a recognisable language of painting and to define it down to the tiniest detail. Although he started using ever more realistic means of expression at the end of the 1970s, increasingly highlighting the role of photography in his painting, the language itself did not significantly change. What did change was the colour scheme, as what began as more subtle, toned down, misty and greyish became more intense, sharper and more diverse over time.
Korolkiewicz's preferred themes also established themselves quite early on. Among these is the motif of a forgotten narrow courtyard (Black Courtyard, 1987) enlivened by the presence of a small girl (Poisons, 1995), a courtyard whose gloomy mood is ostentatiously brightened by the light dress of the courtyard's "princess" (Mystery Play, 1989; and Bianca, 1993). It is a courtyard with a mysterious garden, like the scene of an initiation (Albertine, 1980; and Under the Hill, 1991), and an "Alice" is hidden amid the lush vegetation bursting with juices and light. One of the artist's shows in 1981 was even entitled "The Garden of Knowledge". This was also the period when Korolkiewicz began a series of paintings representing artistic-bourgeois interiors filled with knick-knack reflected in windows and mirrors (White Morning, 1990; and In the Bathroom, 1991).
Besides these scenes, Korolkiewicz paints portraits of friends (Fog - Vague Premonitions, 1979) and "family portraits in interiors", in which the mirror image also plays a special role (Mirror, 1976; Beginning, 1988; Anima, 1993; and Dark Force, 1999). There are also self-portraits (Streaks of Shadow and Depression, both 1980; Unclear; and Through the Mirror, 1993), often accompanied by a prop that could be as bizarre - and symbolic - as a plastic spider (Self-Therapy, 1995) or a male nude (actually a self-nude, since the model was the artist himself) (Refuge, 1992; and Body, 1993). Generally, this is a type of art that focuses on the familiar, the well-known and the private; it elevates the average person, the everyday event, the ordinary fact and the commonplace, worn-out object. As the painter himself said:
By reconstructing (and sometimes transforming) certain moments, places, situations, human faces and banal objects - everything that I have witnessed and which today belongs to the past - (the idea is) to get to the bottom of reality and its mysteries. To access a frozen world that exists beyond everyday life and common habits, a world filed with nostalgia, unease and the atmosphere of the unspoken. Paradoxically, it seems to be on the verge of a dream or a hallucination.
What is hallucinogenic here is, above all, childhood, the un-Arcadian, spatio-temporal realm of the teenaged years - full of traps, desires, anxieties and unanswerable questions.
Some of the characteristic features of Korolkiewicz's painting emerged as a result of his artistic residence in the United States from 1987 to 1988. That was when he solidified his interest in the poetics of private life, but he also disrupted its integrity by introducing elements of mass culture like kitschy plastic toys (Crocodile, 1992; and Self-Therapy, 1995). These works also marked a change in tone, as Korolkiewicz moved from seriousness to irony. This was also true of the artist's self-portraits; the above-mentioned Refuge and Self-Therapy are both ruthless, mocking self-characterisations.
The intriguing, dreamy mood of Korolkiewicz's pictures reveals his fascination with the modernist painting of Jacek Malczewski, Józef Mehoffer, Władysław Podkowiński and Witold Wojtkiewicz; certain critics would mention Arnold Böcklin, James McNeill Whistler and Edgar Degas as well. One can also detect the influence of writers whose work explores the complex world of childhood, such as Marcel Proust (À la recherche du temps perdu) and Bruno Schulz (the short story Spring), as well as filmmakers like Peter Weir (Picnic at Hanging Rock). Korolkiewicz often refers directly to the work of these artists, whether through the names of their protagonists (Proust's Albertine and Schulz's Bianca appear in the aforementioned compositions), or the settings of his paintings (he used Weirian rock formations in Rocks, 1991). These affinities appear particularly striking when the artist paints a Balthusian nymphet in a provocative pose, playing in a garden, at rest or playing in the privacy of her home. The garden seduces the eye with its beauty, transforming childhood into a time of perversion (Daze, 1995). This phenomenon prompted Dorota Jarecka to state:
In exploring turn-of-the-century themes, Korolkiewicz drags them down from the height of metaphysics into the depths of the erotic.
As the artist himself said,
The dark power is the power of instinct - the power of sexuality, eroticism, all that we repress into the subconscious and which rises to the surface in our disturbing dreams.
Korolkiewicz's paintings from the 1980s are of a different nature entirely. This was the period of martial law, when the artist became involved with exhibitions organised as part of the independent culture movement. His art began to reflect upon public affairs, and he painted compositions that spoke movingly of the reality at hand (such as 13 December 1981 - Morning and Przemyk's Grave). But although his work referred to specific events through a clear code established by the collective experience of martial law, he avoided outright journalism, choosing instead to emphasise the mood of the time and the general atmosphere of dejection. The sacred places in this menacing world are the flower crosses on Warsaw's streets, or courtyard Virgin Mary shrines hung with garlands. Korolkiewicz's careful documentation of what he was witnessing earned him recognition from the Solidarity Independent Culture Committee, which honoured him with its top award in 1983. In 1991, the artist won the Jan Cybis Prize as well.
Comprehensive information about Korolkiewicz's work can be found in the catalogues of the following exhibitions: "Paintings" in Galeria ZPAP, Warsaw, 1992; "Paintings 1987-1994" in Galeria Miejska Arsenał, Poznań, 1994; "Epiphanies" in Galeria Kordegarda, Warsaw, 1996; and "At a Stationary Point" in Galeria Zachęta, Warsaw, 2003.
Author: Małgorzata Kitowska-Łysiak, Art History Institute of the Catholic University of Lublin, March 2004.
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