The notion of the dress became an ultimate clarification of my practice at the time of MFA. Throughout the last couple of years, I have concerned myself with a figurative representation of women to finally realise that in fact, the weight of my practice is shifting towards the dress as the garment that is equally or at times even more significant than the wearer.
The dress as an object has very complex semiotics. I do focus on the interpretation of the dress as the portrait of the wearer in their absence, as well as the feminine means of empowerment. The subsequent aspects that interest me are aesthetics of fabric and design, crossover of fine art and fashion, dress as a carrier of identity.
The above photo presents the selection of works that I have decided to present during the degree show. They reflect my focus on depicting women, whether directly or indirectly, and this makes the connection between them. There’s also a relation between “a painting” within the painting and smaller works to the right. Another dialog between those three painting happens through connecting visual elements, such as dots and the use of blue colour. In terms of further curation the height of significant horizontal lines have been aligned among the paintings and also with the neighbouring work on screen.
“Happy sailing” ,oil on panel, 120x210cm.
The largest painting in the group is my latest attempt during MFA course to push my practice further. I have constructed a more complex image than my previous decontextualized representations of subjects. The dress in the first plan represents the absent person (the artist?) according to my refusal of portraying women in domestic interiors in the spirit of second wave feminism (although the interior here is quite undefined, without any signifiers of being residential). In this under-described space, there is the image of a woman on the beach of an ambiguous character. The viewer can not be certain whether they are looking at the painting on the wall or at the window view. In the far distance the end of disappearing orange canoe can be spotted, as if from the realm of Peter Doig painting.
“Somewhere in between, I’ll be waiting”, oil on panel, 50x60cm.
This work combines few traits significant to my practice. It is a feminist portrait of a woman, who is not confined in a domestic environment, an independent venturer with an appreciation for fashion. In the context of barely suggested individual features, the dress takes on the main role. The woman is described through the garment she wears, in magnificent kings blue. The painting fluctuates between figurative representation and abstract forms, giving the viewer clear indication of the image narrative, yet at the same time allowing unrelated contemplation of colour, shapes and mark making. In terms of painterly pursuits this work also calls upon the question important in my practice - “Where does the painting stop?”. Finding the balance between resolved and unfinished, where the work is not overdone, is one of my continuous interests.
“The village and I”, oil on panel, 50x60cm.
This painting draws on all elements discussed above. The face of the portrayed woman is more defined, and visual connection to the large painting through red lips and eyes that contain the background of the image are made. Furthermore all paintings are connected thorough presence of small round marks, be it dots on the dress or buttons on the coat.
In my works I like to make a nod to art pieces that influenced me at any point. The title of this work clearly refers to Marc Chagall’s “I and the village”, having said so, the entirely different interpretation of the subject is offered here. Marc Chagall is not an artist whose works I have been exploring recently, I suppose however that being exposed to his works in an early childhood left some imprints of sentimentality and nostalgia.
The aesthetics of absence.
Untitled, embossed print, 70x100cm.
I look at the dress as the memory of the absent This work however takes the enquiry a step further - this is the memory of the dress. This pure image has been described by my peers as “haunting”. It’s ghostly character describes well the theme of loss and certain brutality related to it. Loss is unavoidable and often unsurprising, yet it is always traumatising. Someone commented that this work could describe the loss of femininity understood as youthful sexual appearance. I welcome different interpretations of viewers , especially they don’t seem to stray away from my leading themes, which reassures me that I can convey them quite successfully.
The embossing printmaking technique applied here allowed me to visually investigate the qualities of the fabric, as well as the dress itself, in a very different way than it can be done in painting. This is something I would like to explore further, perhaps enriching prints with embroidery as I have made some attempts of embroidering on paper already.
Untitled, oil on paper, 50x70cm.
This work also explores the memory of the dress. The painting has been informed by photographic visual research that I conducted in the park. Contrary to majority of my works, the background here is more resolved than the subject which completely changes the dynamic of the painting and lends itself well to investigation of the notion of memory and absence.
The notion of portrait
“The doorstep in blue”. Oil on paper, 50x70cm.
This work belongs to the body of works inspired by archival photos that I collect that focuses on portraying female predecessors. New solution has been proposed in this work - in comparison to previous ones - such as background elements (context) and composition where the figure is not central and occupying the majority of space.in painting. The figures in this painting are not isolated. Through contextualising the figures the narrative appears - the viewer has some clues to speculate where and when the two ladies were and what might be the relationship between them. I also proposed the use of much brighter colour than my usual palette.
The contemporary portrait I propose reclaims women’s image. I present them through through my own, female gaze. They are not depicted with intention to please the “male gaze”. I am reluctantly using this linguistic construct here, as much as it is widely accepted to describe objectifying, sexually predatory approach to women, it is also a very much stereotypization.
The feminine glamour - beautiful clothes, make up, hair nicely done - is women’s choice to please themselves. It is an affirmation of life, an aesthetic need that needs to be fulfilled. It is also a means of empowerment, or even a political resilience, as in instance of Frida Kahlo or Polish women in ghetto during WWII.
Painting and Photography
Photography has an important place in development of my practice. I do collect archival images, which I will discuss later, I also take my own photographs and through the medium of photography I am conducting visual research of my subject. Most interesting photos in my opinion are the ones taken on lightbox using Hipstamatic app.
Below there’s the gallery that contains the selection of photos feeding into the research of the dress, some already has been translated into paintings, some not just yet.
Here is the selection of photographic research on group of clothes, currently kept on the back burner. The photos were taken in a flea market, charity shops and underground passage, both in London and Kraków.
Upon completing the first year of my MFA I have continued to work with archival photos as they perpetually fascinate and inspire me. I made different attempts in ways I do acquire them only to go back and remain rigorous in my way of collecting - I buy single ones in person, from Mr Andrzej who sells on the flea market in Krakow, and occasionally when I travel elsewhere. Archival photos are my source material but also they do become the collection in its own right. What I find particularly rewarding is that people do start to recognise me as an artist who collects photos and they share their family treasured photographs with me.
The best way to describe the relation these photographs have with my paintings is to quote Marlene Dumas again - “The second hand images becoming the first hand emotions”. I find those orphan images, I build my relationship with them - sometimes I interact with them for months before I proceed with particular painting. By then the connection is so strong that it translates into emotive painterly images. I invent colours. I move even further from “the originals” by removing many important signifiers. As the result my paintings drift away from their cultural context and became open to more universal interpretations.
Significant works form earlier months
“The artist is absent”. Oil on panel, 150cmx70cm. Self portrait.
This earlier work (November 2018) has instigated series of work where I represent the absent wearer through their clothes, specifically dress/ dresses. The photograph of my closet, taken by myself, provided a visual reference for this painting. The painting it is the self-portrait that speaks of non-appearance and floating, nomadic existence, lack of an anchor and lack of a home.
The attention has been given to visual representation of fabrics. This was done not through the photographically accurate detail yet rather through attempt to capture the essence of the textile in the matter of paint. This painting is also characterised by high contrast, which distinguish it from my earlier works.
“The dutiful daughter”, moving image, in collaboration with Jan Masny
As sartorial stories were taking over my attention I have decided to construct the piece around my daughter prom dress, as it is such symbolic garment of a rite of passage.
I have decided on the title “The dutiful daughter” to reflect the reversed parent-child relationship when the strain of responsibility is on a child.
The initial idea of a light projection was executed in collaboration with a photographer Jan Masny. Jan is an expert in photographic light projection, I have asked him to apply his magic onto this particular dress. We have establish the use of mannequin (inobtrusive, invisible). Jan additionally proposed taking subsequent images of the dress turned around in small increments. He made them into time lapse moving image. The animation on the left is made by using a single image and Pixaloop app on my phone. I wanted o reflect more static and viewer confronting character of my paintings.
After this work I have decided to stop making digital works. I strongly dislike the process and I am not fond of presentation requirements. It is important for me to actually enjoy my practice and that conscious realisation brought me back to full on painting.
“Lulu” , oil on panel, 90x200cm
This is the painting when I have started to work with a dress as a primary subject - I have only realised that reflecting back.
It is probably the first portrait of my contemporary too.
This work brings back very charged memories.