Piotr Janas is a painter. He was born in 1970 in Warsaw.
Janas studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, under Prof. Jerzy Tchórzewski. He is associated with the Warsaw-based Foksal Gallery Foundation, the Bortolami Gallery in New York, and Galerie Giti Nourbakhsch in Berlin. He lives and works in Warsaw.
Janas's painting is often described as representing the “traditional approach.” Art critics point to the classical link between his work and the surrealist current, at the same time highlighting the influence of his master – Jerzy Tchórzewski. Stach Szabłowski even wrote:
If Janas' works were not signed, he could easily be taken for a forgotten surrealist from 1940s, one of those dark visionaries who abandoned the realm of figurative representations and immersed themselves in the abyss of the imagination.
Jakub Banasiak identified Janas as the precursor of the young Polish neo-surrealists, whom he referred to as “tired of reality,” thus bracketing artists such as Jakub Julian Ziółkowski and Tomek Kowalski.
Janas first emerged on the art scene when he took part in the 2001 exhibition Zawody malarskie (Painters' Competition), curated by Adam Szymczyk in Bielsko-Biała. Only two years later, Francesco Bonami presented his works at the Venice Biennale. The painter also started cooperating with Western galleries. From the very beginning, his canvases have been notorious for their oscillation between abstraction and figuration. Adam Szymczyk wrote:
These ostentatiously non-representational compositions with traces of figuration have irritated many. They are perfect in their panache towards the expectations of the cultural audience – one rarely comes across paintings that can offend the taste of the viewers so flawlessly and leave them completely clueless as to the source of this distaste.
A pristinely white painting support is the meeting area of mechanical forms (sharply formed, resembling machines, and “piercing” the canvas surface) with amorphous ones (organic, amoeba-like, “fluid,” bodily). This contrast is also reflected in the colour combinations: reds and pinks, reminiscent of the living world, as well as dark and grimy shades – associated with death and sin. As Szymczyk wrote:
There is no narrative or formal unity. The three-dimensional objects are transformed into flat, organic fragments, connected with diagrams, the dirt and splashes neighbour the immaculately painted surfaces.
The difficulty of verbally describing or interpreting Janas' paintings has also always been an issue.
The role of chance is certainly what associates Janas' art with the surrealist tradition. It is the source of the irregular patches, amorphous shapes or the dripping paint which the artist sometimes tries to endow with somewhat more realistic meanings by means of simple painted solutions. He illuminates them by adding fragmentary citations of reality. Tomasz Fudala wrote that Janas “can still dare to basically spill paint over a large canvas and layer another one on top, face to face. Later on, noticing the result, he might also paint eyes and lips on the thus created stains.” The artist described that process in an interview:
I am interested in the moment of metamorphosis, when the paint is confusingly similar to another substance, and, just like a good actor on a stage, impersonates a given character so well that the viewer forgets that this is just an actor and starts believing him.
On one hand, Janas' paintings may seem uncanny and engrossing. On the other, however, they are definitely tinged with irony and humour, even if dark. Jakub Banasiak also hinted at the proximity of his canvases to the kitsch aesthetics:
Some paintings by Janas are so risky that they border on kitsch (musical notes flying here, a guitar strumming there, a heart is pierced by Cupid's arrow somewhere, and next to it there are little people levitating, with pink and round, lollipop-like heads), but the artist always manages to stay a step away from the catastrophe.
Selected solo exhibitions
- Rotunda Gallery, Warsaw, Poland
- Malarstwo / Painting – Foksal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw, Poland
- Piotr Janas – Transmission Gallery, Glasgow, UK
- Piotr Janas – Galerie Giti Nourbahksch, Berlin, Germany
- Wrong Gallery, New York, USA (with Tommy White)
- Przygody / Adventures – Foksal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw, Poland
- Piotr Janas – Galerie Giti Nourbakhsch, Berlin, Germany
- Piotr Janas – Bortolami, New York, USA
- From Scherzhauserfeld – Galerie Giti Nourbakhsch, Berlin, Germany
- Zet, ziet, żet – Foksal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw, Poland
Selected group exhibitions
- Painters' Competition – Galeria Bielska BWA, Bielsko-Biała, Poland
- Minus – Galeria Promocyjna, Warsaw, Poland
- Johnen & Schöttle, Cologne, Germany
- The Dictatorship of the Viewer – La Biennale di Venezia, Italy
- Flesh at War with Enigma – Kunsthalle Basel, Basil, Switzerland
- Infinite Painting – Contemporary Painting and Global Realism – Villa Manin, Centro d'Arte Contemporanea, Codroipo, Italy
- Malarstwo polskie XXI wieku / Polish Painting of the 21st Century – Zachęta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw, Poland
- Willa Warszawa / Villa Warsaw – Warsaw, Poland
Author: Karol Sienkiewicz, July 2009. Transl. Ania Micińska, November 2015.