Painter and installation artist. Born on the 4th of April 1965 in Biała Podlaska. Lives and works in Warsaw.
In the artist's early works there are clear echoes of geometric abstractions from the 1920s. Maciejuk is conscious of this tradition but at the same time he maintains a clear distance. Maciejuk claims he believes in painting but doesn’t consider this medium to be a means of searching for the absolute - as did the modernists. In his works, he's used a variety of influences to create a style of his very own, experimenting with perspective, form and genres.
In the years 1985-90 he studied painting at the Warsaw Academy of fine Arts in the classes of Professor Stefan Gierowski and Professor Ryszard Winiarski. Between 1991-1996 he worked as an assistant at the academy. In 2011 he received the Jan Cybis Prize granted by the Warsaw Chapter of the Association of Polish Artists and Designers.
In the beginning of his artistic career Robert Maciejuk made paintings which were clearly inspired by renaissance architecture and linear perspective (Exercises in Perspective after Ucello, 1991). The canvases full of singular, simple architectural motives such as stairs, walls, canopies or windows, brought about an atmosphere of surrealism. Deserted, empty spaces with monumental interiors or fragments of sterile cities heralded some sort of mystery. One could have decomposed each painting into geometric elements and planes. This suggested that for the artist construction is of utmost importance.
After a certain time the architectural structures in Maciejuk’s canvases began to change into flat, abstract signs such as circles, rings or colourful rectangles. The geometric forms usually appeared on monochromatic backgrounds and were hand painted by the artist, who didn’t use a compass or a ruler to outline them. As a result his canvases weren’t tainted by the geometric coldness typical for abstraction, giving them a more personal character that other works of the type. The non-representational paintings by Maciejuk refer to the representing world, which is reduced to its most simple form – architectural concretes.
Around 1995 Maciejuk focused his attention on signs, especially on the emblems and logos of big corporations and organizations (NATO, the flag of the European Union) but also on traffic signs, information , railway, flag and trade signs (BMW) and on other abstract symbols (Polsat’s Passport).
The artist began collecting them and later conducted painting work on them on canvas. He used "second-hand" abstractions, signs, which become omnipresent in the contemporary iconosphere and which impose themselves on us with their simplicity and graphicness. To Maciejuk signs are a pretext to present his own vision of painting and purely painting values, just as architectural and geometrical forms served him in earlier years. The artist never copies a sign. Instead he paints its portrait, differentiates its colour and size subtly and changes small details. Compiling signs into a great panneau he builds semantic collages and semantic narrations. Juggling commonly recognizable signs he shows how closely we are attached to symbolism.
Inspired by the book Warplanes of World War II he began to paint a series of pictures with aerial heraldry. Aerial signs served Maciejuk as the basis for three multi-element cycles: in the first one he painted the signs exactly, in the second one he reduced their colour scheme to black and white, and in the third one he added the discolourations, which appeared on the photographs as an effect of aging. He painted each emblem (in the third cycle there was 35 of them) on a separate picture. The pictures had a uniformed format and were later combined into a huge, multipartite painting. This enabled him to extract from the aerial symbols an expression of colour and shape and also an "energy existing between the particular signs".
In 2000 Maciejuk painted a series of signs with skulls (approximately seventy images collected from various sources), which he showed for the first time at the exhibition Scene 2000 in the Warsaw Centre for Contemporary Art. Another cycle consisted of depictions of flowers and medicinal plants painted from old sound postcards (2001).
At the individual exhibition in Zachęta entitled American Night (2006) Maciejuk presented "fairytale" paintings, which brought to mind the way of filming of old American movies in which night scenes were shot in the daytime using special filters and lenses attached to the camera. This technique resulted in a peculiar effect of artificiality and the night, although dark, wasn’t really a night. Maciejuk also painted fairytale landscapes using various effects, tricks and styles. Sometimes the artist painted the same element of scenography a number of times, as he did in the case of the covered in powder snow landscape with a broken tree and a fragment of a house, which became the exhibition’s main motif. The painting has an oval shape and appears in a black and white version as well as a coloured one. Maciejuk created the work in a clear painting style but also made variants using the pointillist method à la Cybis and the patching method à la Seurat. In some of the canvases the artist employed the aesthetic of an old, black and white or coloured reproduction from an art book. However every time his paintings have one thing in common – they are two-dimensional representations of fragments of film sets.
Maciejuk achieved an exceptionally intriguing effect using the pointillist technique. This method is best at showing vibrations of colour and natural reflections of changing daylight. The artist used it in an environment entirely foreign to this technique – he represented an artificial scenography, in which the light of a lamp doesn’t change at all. The artist emphasised that this is a new stage of his creative work, "My earlier work on fairytales consisted of searching through them for singular, attractive motifs that I could later transform. Now I stopped at a few frames and focused on the way of painting them".
The exhibition American Night was entirely arranged by the artist and took on the form of a painting installation. Earlier Maciejuk presented his paintings on walls painted in polychromatic dots or in delicate, toned colours. At Zachęta the artist grouped the works in themes, which suggested a certain narration. He paid much attention to the lighting of the particular rooms and by the walls he placed English-language slogans from old American commercials, which were either painted from a template or sculpted: Fun, Nothing could be finer, Beautiful, This looks like a good place, I want you. The vivid rhetoric of the advertisements of the idyllic world of consumption of the fifties confronted with the fairytale landscapes seemed grotesque and perhaps even in a slightly perverse manner introduced a justified anxiety to the perception of the works. The artist himself claims that the more we are persuaded that something is beautiful the more we doubt it.
In the same year 2006 Robert Maciejuk participated in the project In the Very Center of Attention organised by the Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle. His project was entitled The Diverse, Rich in Variety Art of Our Times, which Flows through Numerous Riverbeds, which was a quote from a fragment of a sentence about the painting of Zenon Kononowicz, a colourist from the Prism group. In the exhibition Maciejuk conducts a discourse with the conventions of realistic painting. He does this being completely conscious that this genre of representative art has lost its authenticity. The realistic landscapes, interiors and portraits he painted are devoid of their real designata. They originate from the world of artificial naturalness of animated films, postcards and reproductions. The portrait of Kyoko, the interiors of Bob the Builder’s apartments, the landscapes in which Teddy Floppy-Ear strolled are a feigned realism of childhood escapes, and Real is only a stylized slogan from an advertisement, which was attached to a theatrical stage curtain at the exhibition. At the showing the visitors didn’t see views of nature, but, rather, its models, which were filtered by various aesthetic conventions present between the viewers and the representation.
In 2008 at the exhibition in the Warsaw gallery Showcase Maciejuk realized his first sculpture. The work, entitled + + + (Nothing, like Something, Happens Anywhere) - a quote from the volume of poems The Less Decieved (1955) by Philip Larkin. The artist transferred a three-dimensional winter landscape from the fairytale about Teddy Floppy-Ear into the room of the story’s protagonist, thus presenting a model within a model. This time the fairytale landscape wasn’t reproduced exactly. Maciejuk even exposed his work to dampness and sunlight, which resulted in the covering of the sculpture with a green moss during the exhibition.
For the Poznań gallery Starter Maciejuk prepared a project entitled Mirror of Nature (2008). In the former living spaces of the gallery he placed paintings, drawings and plates, mainly with motifs taken from animated fairytales. All of the works were perfectly matched to the homely context of the place. This effect was additionally enhanced by their look: the paintings, and above all the drawings seemed a bit aged and faded, as if they were found after many years. In Maciejuk’s work the title mirror of nature reflects all displays of realness, both from the world experienced by the senses and from the artificially created world.
In recent years Robert Maciejuk began dabbling in other forms of art, seeking new forms of expresion in unfamiliar areas. His works of pottery have been photographed and published as a hand-assembled album in a series of 200 in 2011 artist Honza Zamojski through his Morava publishing house. In 2012 the Starter Gallery hosted a show of these pieces, which strive towards the age-old forms of traditional pottery while allowing for a measure of imperfection. The exhibition of objects, photographs and paintings was curated by Honza Zamojski.
Author: Ewa Gorządek, Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, April 2004; updated: June 2009. Translated by Marek Kępa
Photos courtesy of the Le Guern Gallery
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