13th Geppert Competition
Every single day, the world reproduces and exposes us to ten million pictures. In turn, our ability to acquire and process them is minimal. Do we need new pictures, then? Artists, painters will answer – yes, we do need them.
Picasso said: “If you are inside an aquarium, you are not able to see its beauty”. This clever quote provokes reflection on the background of a contemporary painter’s existence. Today, an aquarium is not a charming lagoon, full of sophisticated colours and amazing shapes, but rather a confluence of all rivers and seas, currents of many directions, with a lurking (ecological) disaster in the background. I daresay artists are in the middle of this aquarium, and if we add the assumption that they still “see more” than others, then it turns out they are stuck in a surplus of stimuli on an unprecedented scale.
The internet is predominantly the modern painter’s natural environment today. It has become the most frequented sphere of everyday life. Nowadays, all kinds of plein airs and artistic surveys are actually located there. In terms of access to content and impulses, the range of online inspirations is endless. In practice it means a free use of the visual library of existing images and access to reality intermediated by all kinds of archives. The internet is a depository of burning issues to solve, to which the art world must or wants to react, and the painter asks himself or herself – and effectively his viewers as well – the following question: to what extent the distance, or conversely – excessive desire for artefacts of contemporary life – reflect the psychological condition of man?
The artist’s entanglement in the mechanisms of not only mass culture but lifestyle as well endangers the ideals of creation much more than ever before. I would agree that art is able to influence reality if it has full autonomy, understood as ability to set its own objectives. There were times when artists would choose their theme and search area themselves, often creating ideas which had never existed before. The world of phenomena distributed by the internet, to which a number of artists, including painters, seem to be addicted, despite its boundless content and potential attractiveness, is flawed with the horror of secondariness. We often witness, via the social media, a spectacle of redistributing artistic content: ornaments, forms, shapes, even poses, which unexpectedly become Creative Commons-style universal goods, banishing the category of uniqueness.
In reality, those deceptively attractive images and phenomena of the virtual world are far from the human affairs. We may openly call it a de-humanized world. Therefore, the “imagined” pictures are their opposites, having a much stronger connection with the energy and matter surrounding us. What seems to be an ideal of creative work is a mechanism in which rather than reproducing, an artist accumulates images and then “translates” them for the viewers, opening new fields of perception. Painting is not only an easily identifiable visual object. Admittedly, it is not always capable of telling stories and explaining the world like e.g. photography, which is pragmatically trustworthy, but through its emotionality painting is capable of creating new interpersonal relationships or initiating changes in the existing ones. After all, art is predominantly about honesty, which is – occasionally – accompanied by originality.
Fortunately, there is no shortage of audacious painters today who use the pinnacle of the internet world to make their assertions as emphatically as Caravaggio once did. Young, impressively talented artists are gaining ground, trying to grasp the difficult co-existence of styles, going beyond the topicality of the times they describe. They are well aware of the fact that knowledge which poses no new questions dies all too quickly. They use the internet with panache, a tool which after all remains powerful and omnipresent. Those painters tell all kinds of things and reflect on everything without complexes. Culture, psychology, economics, education, health, science – nothing, absolutely nothing is neglected. The reflection is inextricably linked with what seems insufficiently stressed nowadays – an effort to respect the fundamentals of painting technique. They know that an image seen from a distance exposes its sense and message, as well as a basic set of formal characteristics, but at the same time constitutes but a preview of the quality of its matter. They agree that a close view of a painting work, in which its structure can be observed and absorbed, is the ultimate assessment of its quality. (It is a climax and critical point in any kind of painting, excluding no expression, when the viewer achieves close contact with the method of building the picture, analyses its constituent parts, reaches the essence and experiences its deepest layers).
Writing that “what was clear before we looked at, is not ours”, Marcel Proust praised the artist who searches for the truth in himself, extracting from his own darkness what others do not know. Therefore, the best pictures are those which owe their meaning to the courage of formally enclosing certain judgements and intuitions, making the impression of final and definite, but displaying frailty which results from the fact that they are carriers of subtle ideas.
We need new pictures.
Wrocław, 18 February 2020
painter, curator, lecturer at the Academy of Fine Arts in Wrocław