Painter, author of sculptures and objects. Born in 1979 in Gliwice. He lives and works between Poznań and Warsaw. In May 2007, he and Wojciech Bąkowski, Tomasz Mróz, Konrad Smoleński, Piotr Bosacki, Magdalena Starska, and Izabela Tarasewicz founded the Penerstwo art group
Radosław (Radek) Szlaga graduated (with honours) in painting from the Academy of Fine Arts in Poznań in 2005, where his studies were supervised by Prof. Jerzy Kałucki. He worked at the White Cube Gallery in London as Tracey Emin's assistant. He is an illustrator for Tempo.mgz and Pornoffiti magazines. He designed the bulletin board Dzień Sądu / Judgment Day at Poznań's Arsenał Gallery. He currently works at the Poznań Academy of Fine Arts as a junior lecturer in the studio of Wojciech Łazarczyk. In Warsaw he is represented by the Leto Gallery and the Alexander Ochs Gallery in Berlin.
Szlaga has been hailed as one of the most interesting Polish painters of the young generation. His graduation paintings attracted attention with their free style, bold treatment of colours, sophisticated primitivisation of form, and blending of different styles and themes. A recurring motif that would also appear in Szlaga's subsequent paintings was the word malarstwo (painting) in a font copied from a Marlboro cigarette pack. Hung in a row, in the form of a frieze, these same-sized paintings seemed like a single work divided into many elements, a visual patchwork.
Szlaga paints from photos, draws motifs from the iconosphere of culture and pop culture in a broad sense, he is fascinated with mass media, often turns to politics, history, and religion, mixing everything with everything according to a recipe known only to himself, where the main ingredients are sensitivity and artistic intuition.
Mutated messages from different media written up in a primitive way sound like the dialogue script of a comedy with no plot that is split into a series of anecdotes and a kaleidoscope of images. This chronicler's work has its critical aspect concealed beneath a well thought-out aesthetic - the result is a pictographic (the most appropriate), multiple-themed caricature of the global village.
What emerges from Szlaga's canvases is a mutated world of visual quotes, organised according to a strange logic - the logic of chaos and emotions. These emotions are manifested through psychedelic tones in expressively painted images, while chaos, or the lack of principles, leads to a fusion of different aesthetics and grammars. Next to botched, yet controlled, fragments and shortcomings (dripping paint, vague motifs, clashing colours, scrawls and scribbles), his paintings include very refined fragments that testify to the artist's claim that actually, I know how to paint nicely.
Szlaga's early works have a journalistic lean. His canvases can be interpreted as ironic, mocking commentaries on our times or on history. Sometimes they have a moral theme, for instance in the Seven Deadly Sins cycle shown at his one-man show Atlantis (2007). Here, human weaknesses are magnified and exaggerated, at times presented in the form of an amusing puzzle. The artist boldly presents the battle between good and evil, placing sins in the familiar environment of media images. The sin of greed is illustrated with his own example: equipped with four arms, the artist will paint twice as many pictures and get rich quicker, then take the capital to the bank, whose logo, composed of Szlaga's signature, is visible above his head. Hellfire and punishment for sins are the dominating theme of the cycle Złe rysunki / Bad Drawings (2007) which the artist drew using his left hand.
Szlaga first gained fame in 2004, when - as a fourth-year student of the Poznań Academy of Fine Arts - he took part in the exhibition www.kałucki.free.art.pl at the Arsenał Gallery in Białystok. His installation was an intentional reference to what had occurred at the exact same venue a year before, when Beata Antypiuk, a town councillor from the League of Polish Families (LPR) party, demanded that a work by Piotr Kurka which had allegedly offended her religious feelings be removed from the exhibition Pies w sztuce polskiej / The Dog in Polish Art. Refering back to the tendencies of censorship characteristic of the LPR and Młodzież Wszechpolska [All-Polish Youth, a nationalist youth organization], Szlaga built a dog cage with the inscription Overseer the sheepdog, censorus all-polus, beast, do not stroke. This angered LPR MP Andrzej Fedorowicz so much that he vandalised the work by scribbling over the inscriptions, thus censoring Szlaga's work about censorship.
Szlaga has said:
My work documents a process, it is a record of a state of consciousness, a reflection of mythology that I create on an ongoing basis and update. It is an endemic and complex world. I speak about a small section of reality. However, I describe it not by looking through the window at the playing field, I speak of reality seen through culture, its scraps and fragments, both highbrow and pop culture, from literary forms, films, music, also art itself in all its manifestations. Cultural patterns flowing from distant places to the peripheries are usually somewhat lacking in style, crinkled, deformed. On the way from the source to my studio, they become crooked, or limp, imperfect, broken, flawed. Here, they are subjected to new processing and transformation. The process of degradation taking place here is also a source of inspiration and the subject of my work.
The visible lack of a linear narrative structure in Szlaga's works, the many dead ends, tangled themes, fragmentary messages, leave the audience a lot of freedom of interpretation, allowing everyone to read them according to their own associations and intuition, which don't always have to correspond to the direction chosen by the artist. Szlaga's paintings are dominated by the aesthetics of comic strips (inscriptions, balloons, concise narrative) combined with elements of street art (graffiti, stencils) and hip-hop culture. One can also sense a strong spirit of Basquiat. Among the inscriptions/captions often appearing on his canvases are short forms typical of rapper language, leaving out the vowels in words - this also resulted in the artist's signature RDK or PAN RDK (e.g. Chciwość / Greed, Czarny Koń / The Black Horse, Panzer Kardinal). The signature's placement in the centre of the painting suggests it is something more than a sign identifying the artist - it becomes an important motif of the work itself.
In 2007, Szlaga was one of the founders of the art group Penerstwo, formed by graduates of the Poznań Academy of Fine Arts. The term penerstwo originates from Poznań slang and was invented to describe a special kind of moral crappiness which emerged naturally and took root in the urban tissue of Poznań (Piotr Bosacki). Even though it applies mainly to the dregs of society, from it these Poznań artists have extracted a climate of forbidden regions, imagination and expression taken straight from school locker rooms, decrepit staircases, or exercise-book margins. The group's initial members were Radosław Szlaga, Wojciech Bąkowski, Tomasz Mróz, Konrad Smoleński, and Piotr Bosacki, who were later joined by Magdalena Starska and Izabela Tarasewicz. Though the artists making up Penerstwo use different media, different means of artistic expression, and it would be hard to find common themes in their output, they do share a similar vision of art, a similar kind of expression, and a penerstwo-like sensitivity to the world. In Szlaga's case, messy scrawls, paint dripping from paintings, and intentional chaos become an expression of free discourse with the idea of painting.
Szlaga has been included in the roster of artists exhibited at the Waterside Contemporary Gallery. The show brings together six artists whose practices reflect on the role of ideology in a post-ideological landscape. The artists, aware of these mechanisms, reject the obvious, doubting the potential of ideologised thought and production. Yet here, the focus is rather on the here and now of the artist, his or her own vision and narrative - bringing the viewer straight into the experience of each work without the barriers of context or category, such as Radek Szlaga's grotesque universe of trolls, pigs and troglodytes - a world without boundaries. See more on the exhibition: They don't know why but they keep doing it - Post Ideological Perspectives in Art.
Author: Ewa Gorządek, July 2010. Translated by Joanna Dutkiewicz, October 2010. Updated July 2011.
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