Jakub Ciężki studies the field of visual perception on the basis of exploring the painting methods of visualising particular objects. By using various perspectives – close-ups, zoom-outs, photographic methods of cropping the images at the bottom and at the top, and also at different angles – he discovers new ways of perceiving them. His painting is characterised by photorealistic illusion. Presenting objects in an uncommon manner and abstracting them from the natural environment brings to mind geometric abstraction in the spirit of De Stijl, represented by Piet Mondrian and his continuators, and also the practice of designing items in computer 3D software. Ciężki’s detailed painting studies unveil new dimensions of perceiving the given snippets of reality: a playground, a school and the supermarket fences. This framing of everyday items not only touches upon the problems of visual perception, but also recognises its meanings in the social context and everyday life. By invoking both the universal and the singular fields of vision, it sensitises us to the way we look at particular items, how we feel them and how we come into contact with them.
Early works; Playground
In his early works from the years 2002-2005, Ciężki portrayed objects which brought the concept of degradation to mind (urban concrete trash can, cardboard) or were partly degraded themselves (bathtub, sculpting table, radiator and rusted mailboxes). These items, covered in dust, filth and rust, rejected and kept in dark tone, evoke Tadeusz Kantor’s objets trouvés. 2006’s Playground is a departure from the style of the first experiments. It is a series of thirteen paintings portraying respective ‘ladders’ abstracted from the reality of childhood games, maintaining bright hues and a deep colour scheme. The ladder steps, each time placed on a pinkish background and painted in blue, yellow, green and red, are devoid of degrading elements characterising objects from the artist’s previous works. These items seem more aesthetised, but in some places the ladder is starting to get covered in rust or mirrors the characteristic imperfection of real ladders, which are most often painted by the playground creators with assiduous accuracy. The artist turns into a ladder painter inside his own painting, at the same time manipulating the viewer’s sight of view. The magnitude of the first ladders make it seem as if we were viewing it through the eyes of a young child who is going to climb the slide. The scale of subsequent ladders in the paintings changes: most often we observe them in fragments, in close-ups, but also in their entirety, in a bird’s-eye view. In the second case they resemble stills from 3D design software. Thus, Ciężki’s painting craftsmanship combines with the praxis of digital culture.
Lines and Scaffoldings
2009’s To Read Between The Lines is a series of twelve paintings depicting lines framed in various ways: diagonally, up-down, down-up, from the side, in close-up and in far-away perspective. The use of such varied shots makes it seem as if we are observing them from all the angles, which gives the feeling of being limited and enclosed in a cage. These lines depict supermarket fences – the characteristic bends are indicative of this. The accumulation of rust-covered bars shows an abstract combination of lines forming into optical illusions and having an impact similar to those of op-art experiments (Line 1 and Line 2). Some of them seem to echo Mondrian’s neoplasticism methods (Line 3, Line 5 and Line 12). The Dutch painter believed that a battle fought between contrasts lies in opposition to vertical and horizontal lines: that of spirit and matter, masculinity and femininity, positivity and negativity. This battle influences the world’s progress. Ciężki consciously uses Mondrian’s two basic lines: vertical and horizontal, and also two non-colours: white and grey. While Mondrian’s neoplastic aesthetic was inseparably connected with the views of the mystic M.H.J. Schoenmarker, Ciężki’s lines are devoid of theosophical character. By intersecting horizontally and vertically, they are ultimately just attributes of an ordinary fence.
The artist created a series of three Scaffolding canvases (2010) in a similar spirit. The painting, depicting scaffoldings, used for painting big wall surfaces and erecting constructions, was painted with photorealistic accuracy. In a way characteristic of the artist, these objects were abstracted from their actual environment and deprived of their functional character. They turn out to be an aesthetic object in their own right, and their colour scheme resembles Ciężki’s first works. These geometrical structures of rusted rails against a dark blue background are covered in fragments of white paints, which were meticulously imitated by the artist, as if he was a painter inside his own painting. Ciężki won the main prize in the Bielska Jesień competition, which allowed him to create his own exhibition concept titled Blackout in Bielska Gallery BWA.
The Blackout series consists of darkened, monochrome images devoid of colour, normally crucial to Ciężki's work. Some paintings from the series depict black paintings wrapped in black packaging. The imprinting packages with concave lines bring Lucio Fontana’s experiments of cutting canvases to mind. In turn in other paintings appear black shiny lines on black background, showing in a subtle way darkened wood constructions in various shots which embrace abstract forms in a way characteristic of Ciężki. They resemble a series of black canvases painted by Rafał Bujnowski since 2007, breaking the conventional flatness of painting. The inspiration from Kraków-based artist’s monochrome paintings seems well visible in Blackout. They are, however, apparent only in the practice of using black colour. In Ciężki’s series, the strategy of combining the structures of particular items and spheres of abstraction characteristic of the painter is in the foreground.
Ciężki systematically and deliberately develops the practice of manipulating our field of view and combines it with the actual perception of given snippets of reality. In the Corporal Punishments series (2015-2016), he transfers us to a school – an institution which shapes personality. It is precisely the school system of prizes and punishments that sets up the essential rules of an individual’s life in society. The artist uses a title which brings to mind the school’s oppressive character. In the paintings, we can see the visualisations of fragments of bathrooms, gym hall parquets and rails. Wood stain used in the Parquet I-VI canvases affects the sense of smell in equal degree. Here the cycle is characterised by multisensory sensations, and the gym hall’s odour brings back memories from PE classes – the most corporal classes in school. In this series, we observe the painting’s world through the eyes of a schoolkid gazing at the floor, staring, probably turning his back on the teacher who punishes for given misdemeanours. Hanging a floor fragment on the wall in the painting is an interesting and unobvious act. As the exhibition viewers, we do not direct our sight downwards, but in front of us, and the parquet seems as another sequence of recognitions of the variants of abstraction characteristic of the artist. In the semantic perspective, it is a series different from Playgrounds, since school games and amusements are not abstracted from reality, but packed into the institutionalised scheme of the system of power imposed on us.
Originally written in Polish by Przemysław Strożek, Nov 2017, translated by Patryk Grabowski, Nov 2017