Adam Wsiołkowski review

Adam Wsiołkowski

The painting of Bogusława Bortnik-Morajda came to my attention shortly after her graduation. At the time it was an interesting combination of two seemingly distant, perhaps even opposed artistic attitudes: Colourism and Expressionism. The former was of course due to the teaching influence of Juliusz Joniak, a continuator of the tradition of the Krakow Colourist. The latter was undoubtedly a result of the artist’s fascination with the work of Francis Bacon, greatly admired by critics and audiences worldwide. Those pictures were virtually monothematic. To put it as succinctly as possible, their principal subject was the human figure in space… The pencil jerked in my hand as I wrote these words. Do we see closed spaces, i.e. interiors in which he hide from the world, secluding ourselves physically and mentally? Or is it an open space tempting us with infinite possibilities for dislocation which makes possible the discovery of unknown territories, offering an opportunity to see new people and events but, at the same time, carrying unforeseen risks? I think it will be appropriate to use the term ‘painterly space’, as its elaborate, decidedly pictorial structure does not usually permit a definitive resolution of this issue.

Take, for instance, Dwoje I (The Two of Them I) – two figures in a clearly interactive situation, sitting opposite each other on a… bench, chairs? In armchairs? They are apparently ‘objects for sitting’, or, as furniture designers say, ‘seats’. This scene is set in a hot red and purple, quivering blob of ‘Colourist’ plasma, which may equally well be the interior of a flat or a flowery garden. The same indeterminacy can be seen in the paintings Odbicie (Reflection), Spotkanie (Meeting), Osoby (Persons) and Siedząca kobieta (Sitting Woman), where the ‘props’ – what few there are – do not give a clear indication of where the action takes place.

In these universal surroundings, the main characters are people, or, more exactly, their expressively deformed, ‘Baconized’ images; dispersed, flattened, twisted, ‘knotted’ bodies maximize the dynamism of the composition, which is vibrant with colour. In the late 1990s (although it sounds strange in the case of such a young person), Ms. Bogusława’s work begins to evolve, retaining, however, its individual, recognizable character. There is still the figure, but its form is more and more often integrated, one could say, generally consistent with normal human anatomy (Schody /Stairway, 1996/97/, Przebieralnia (The Dressing Room) 2001). The space in which this existential theatrum takes place also become more concrete in comparison with the earlier canvases, revealing its decidedly architectural provenance.

Bogusława Bortnik’s postdoctoral qualification exhibition, which took place in the Painting Gallery of our Academy last April, marked another stage of her artistic career. Several of the paintings on display particularly attracted my attention. The culmination of the series ‘Moje psy’ (My Dogs), which shows our four-legged companions in ordinary domestic situations, is the composition Kama z Aniołem (Kama and the Angel) from 2007. It is a homage to Ms. Bogusława’s favourite bitch, telling of the boxer’s passage from earthly existence into a spiritual dimension, symbolized by the figure of a dancing Buddhist monk. Although both the animal and the man are strongly expressive, a quality emphasized by the hot palette of red, orange, yellow and golden colours, they do not show the features of post-Baconian deformation; their expression results from the dynamism of movement (the monk) and the use of a vibrating patch of colour inside the figure (the dog), juxtaposed with the smooth, geometrically divided or barely internally contrasted planes of the background. This is also the case with the painting L.E. from the series ‘Kobieta’ (Woman), which shows a lone figure in a spacious modern interior.

The artist’s latest works are evidence of her efforts to explore new formal and semantic areas. The painting B.B. (2007) is literally a portrait of a woman, depicted in winter scenery against a palisade of snow-covered birch trunks, which produces an infectious sense of the loneliness or even rejection of the represented person. The large painting Małżeństwo – M.G. (Marriage – M.G., 2007) is similar in tone. Here, we also have a real landscape: a shallow body of water with an archipelago of boulders that bring to mind the backs of a herd of walruses, stretching to the upper edge of the canvas. Four human figures shown from a bird’s eye perspective wander haphazardly about these rocks in different directions , as if each were concentrated on pursuing his own goal. The symbolism of this scene seems clear vis-à-vis the title – social alienation, even from the people closest us, is frequent in our times.

These recent works by Bortnik clearly demonstrate that even though the painter has developed her own distinct style, she continues to look for new means of expression, drawing on her considerable artistic experience. We can also see that the character of space in Bortnik’s paintings plays an increasingly important role, interacting with the depicted creatures and determining the meaning of the work.

The artist discusses this issue at length in her dissertation ‘The Hidden Space’. Citing the reflections of Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Heidegger and Plato, she writes about the repeated attempts to reach that eponymous space and concludes that it is equivalent to the truth about man. Although the path to discovering it is difficult, and one’s own abilities often insufficient, what matters is continuous creative work. It is important and necessary for the artist, just as the imperative of navigare necesse est is important to the sailor.

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