In an interview in the Polish art magazine Notes, Marcin Maciejowski described being in a theme park with his children – a place designed to provide entertainment and to thrill and excite – as leaving a painfully sad impression on his mind. He was responding to being questioned as to whether art today is merely another form of entertainment. I would argue that art has always been a form of entertainment to some extent – alongside being many, many other things – as one aspect of art’s affect can be pleasure. But the pleasure very often also belies something else. Which is what Maciejowski seems to be getting at: that the surface of something, or the outward image it projects, does not necessarily tell us what this thing really is, or what the experience of it might be, or feel like.
This could equally apply to Maciejowski’s paintings: on one level their surface is everything. They are paintings. And to some extent are ‘about’ painting. The attention to detail of brush stroke, and their quality of mattness, creates a kind of impenetrable skin – that although is not photo realistic, does give the sense of the flatness of a photographic print. Which makes sense, as Maciejowski paints from photographs he takes and from found images. But what I see when I see Maciejowski’s paintings – the ones that contain human beings – is skin. The quality of his rendering of human skin is so particular that I am finding it hard to find the words that describe, or conjure its qualities. There is a style to this skin. It is sculptural skin. It is usually unflawed, but it is not flat, or mask like. It is luminous. And it is filled with emotion.
For Maciejowski, the act of painting is a way to think about the world: to notice people and moments, from his life, from the media, and from history, that he wants to spend time with by making a painting. So, of course Maciejowski’s rendering of skin is emotional. In the aforementioned interview Maciejowski refers to an interview with the artist Cezary Poniatowski in which he is asked the question “So what is painting to you?”. Maciejowski’s own answer to this question was to imagine a formula for creating a painting, that factored in time, the body of the painter, the stimulants taken and the weather. He described a set of conditions that convey a hard and prosaic pragmatism. A kind of mocking, of how ‘creativity’ may or may not occur – and this satirical tone does underlie some of the work he makes. Yet these things are also fact: the completion of a task is effected by the environment that it takes place in and the person who is undertaking it. But what is perhaps most important in this formula is the ‘time’. The time Maciejowski spends making a painting (which he does whilst listening to audio books to engage his conscious mind in another world, not the ‘content’ of the painting) is perhaps the reason why the skin he creates is emotional: as it is the expression of his own embodiment in that moment, and his own psyche, both conscious and unconscious. So these paintings, that are portraits of others, are perhaps also self-portraits too.
Maciejowski paints people in his life, scenes from the media, famous people, and artists, writers and other cultural figures. The paintings that reference other artists could be read as a form of institutional critique, as Maciejowski performs the act of reimagining moments of history and culture that interest and influence him. The choice of title of the exhibition – Unsettled Matters – is a conscious reference to an article about contemporary art that refers to the past. Often art that does this accumulates these references in a kind of constellation of self-validation, creating a hollow surface that looks like art but would collapse if these references were removed. In opposition to this, Maciejowski’s approach to the representation of these people is the same as his approach to painting a person he loves. The images he selects to paint are the accumulation of a vocabulary of how he experiences the world – a strange concoction of the banal and the sublime, like feeling painfully sad in a theme park.