“There is no fantasy in my paintings; I rarely make things up. Something needs to happen, something which gains importance for me”.
The sketches presented at the exhibition do not revolve around any particular topic; they do not come from a specific place. They present “snapshots”, fleeting perceptions that have been sketched, and often constitute a starting point for later paintings. They are connected by the curiosity of the artist, his observations and even voyeurism of the reality, and the surprising scenes which arise out of it. The places and events presented by Modzelewski are shown in all their simplicity, in all their modesty and inconspicuousness.
During his studies, at the time of the unusual popularity of expressionist stylistics, Modzelewski was classified by many critics as one of the New Wild Ones, although he emphasised back then that he wipes off all the stains he makes with a piece of cloth. Modzelewski, as a Gierowski’s student, assumes that the painting must be well-composed and well thought-out. In the works of his teacher, he particularly valued such features as order and discipline. His work is an expression of respect for the idea of good skills, taking into account the importance of a correct composition, well thought-out arrangement of space and light.
It is possible to identify in his works certain stages, the world created on his early canvases and sketches is simplified and subjected to synthesis, while his latest works are an expression of longing for detail. This change was a consequence of the decision to abandon oil paints for the use of egg tempera, created independently by the artist. The paint dries quickly, is matt and leaves a trace of artistic gesture, his brush stroke and its hardness. At the same time, due to its specificity, it cannot be made “for a rainy day”, it cannot be corrected or painted over, so the artist using this technique must be able to predict what and how he wants to convey with specified means. Sketches which always precede the creation of a painting can prevent mistakes and help search for the perfect solution. They are also an expression of the artist’s meticulousness and his need to explore the subject, reach the idea of the phenomenon, as well as to his own expectations regarding his work. Sketching in the artist’s perception is the recording of signals emitted by the surroundings, recording “on the go” what moved and fascinated the artist at that moment. Sketches, rarely photographs, precede paintings, but they cannot be regarded as his inferior or less important artistic output. Modzelewski simply said that although painting is his favourite medium, it is at the same time something a tedious and laborious process. The process of working out and reaching the idea, achieving the compatibility with it on canvas requires much work done on paper with a pencil, allows for analysis, corrections and changes. Reaching the desired results can take as long as a few years, even though the painting is engraved in the artist’s mind and imposed in a way on him; the painting needs to be constantly elaborated upon through drawings.
The starting point for Modzelewski are always phenomena and events observed on a daily basis, but by simplifying forms and removing details – they are an attempt at synthesising and making the greatest possible generalisation, thus reaching the essence of each phenomenon. That is why each scene, each landscape captured by Modzelewski is filled with serenity and harmony. However, combining the careful observation of reality and preserving the snapshots of it in connection with the workshop virtuosity and artistic creation creates the impression of unreality and mystery. Modzelewski’s artistic output is regarded as “purified”, reduced to the essence and arbitrariness, but the artist himself stresses that he does not perceive the latter as a flaw because “it gives a chance for some order in front of his eyes” (quoted after: Marta Tarabuła, Świat z różnych stron. O malarstwie Jarosława Modzelewskiego [The World From Different Perspectives. On Jarosław Modzelewski’s paintings], [in] Jarosław Modzelewski, Obrazy 1977-2006 [Paintings 1977-2006], [ed.] Jan Michalski, Krakow 2006, p. 33)
Modzelewski began painting still lifes at the end of the 1990s, at a time when Polish art was opening up to novelties coming from the West, based on the use of new media, as well as on the attitudes contesting the existing social, political and institutional order. This genre demanded from the artist, a watchful and direct observation and closeness to portrayed objects. The subject of the painting which is undertaken by students of the Academy of Fine Arts often against their will is, in the case of Modzelewski, an indispensable step in the stylistic evolution and the role of the watchful viewer chosen by him. However, unlike the academic exercises, Modzelewski’s still lifes are not arranged, they are observed and belong to the closest and at the same time the most intimate surroundings, usually the artist’s studio in Golków and Nieporęt.
Modzelewski’s work as counter-reaction can be seen as a personal dialogue with traditions that at that time were considered anachronistic, as a need to face what is considered obvious and evident. Marta Tarabuła wrote that Modzelewski’s work can be defined as “existential realism” and as such is “typical painting of the middle – it is impossible to accuse him of epigonism, neither does he have revolutionary ambitions. However, if one day we manage to temporarily turn our eyes away from the international scene and if – as during the interwar period – we will want to define the characteristics of the “national style” typical of our times, Modzelewski may turn out to be an important point of reference” (ibidem, p. 10)
DESA Unicum Piękna 1Aul. Piękna 1A, 00-477 Warszawa