“In the Shadow of the Mountain” is an exhibition of three intimate painting narratives embedded in wider perspectives which are important for the three artists. The cycles of paintings by Martin, Kowal, and Baszynski are shown in the course of their creation, which makes it possible to capture the arduous process of negotiations between inward self-analysis and the effort of aligning with globally relevant issues.
Jan Kowal’s identity stems from his rural origins. His paintings are set in nature – during his long and lone walks in the wide plains of the Opole region, he is distancing himself from the problems of his family farmstead to find peace and his own self. St. Anne’s Mountain, lurking on the horizon, lets him put things in perspective and establish the relationships between humankind and nature. The artist shares this experience in his winter landscape paintings, into-camera performances, and on TikTok. He is always the main protagonist, but this mimetic value is not always crucial: the new paintings frequently feature several figures that differ in appearance, age, or energy which can be sensed in the colours. Like in Hesse’s Steppenwolf, the creator’s identity is dispersed, exploring patches of the protagonist’s personality and character.
In the new two- and three-person monochromatic compositions, gentle tension is easily perceptible. The silhouettes, seemingly frozen in their tracks, exchange furtive glances and subtle gestures. It seems hard to determine whether this is a moment before or after interaction. The tense ambience is taken over by nature: grass is shimmering with bright colours, with two of them coming to the fore. Green means energy, harmony, and the connection with the natural. Purple represents the non-obvious, sparks the imagination, and combines nobleness with mystery.
In her art, Honorata Martin records the human will to dominate nature, both in urban and rural environments. The artist sees trees in concrete pots, human-controlled gardens, ubiquitous insect traps and poisons, and neatly trimmed lawns, completely rid of plants that might be of use for pollinators. The road which leads to the sixth mass extinction in the history of our planet – and the first one to be caused by human activity – is covered in barren soil full of pesticides. Scientists have discovered that three-quarters of aerial insects have disappeared from German nature reserves, and France has seen a dramatic decline in the number of insect-eating birds. To the best of the current knowledge, it is hard to imagine life on Earth without these smallest species. Martin takes a handful of soil which is not filled with life the way it used to be when she was a child and touched it with a bit of disgust and a bunch of curiosity.
She painted her first piece representing maggots at the early stage of her pregnancy: she started using insects to teasingly reflect her feelings. The annoyance she felt back then was difficult to express in words. She did not want to grow distant from her loved ones but she was faced with the experience of multisensory irritation which originated from her body rather than her mind. The artist wanted to paint portraits of insects that would be full of respect and focus but her inner tickling, tingling, and hypersensitivity of the skin and muscles made her go in a different direction. The act of painting became a relief and a respite.
In the summer of 2017, hunting his childhood dream, Sasha Baszynski set off to the United States for a couple of months. The vision of the sunny paradise somewhere on the other side of the world that flowed from the TV sets in the 1980s and 1990s was ingrained in the memory of many of us. The palm trees, the ocean waves, the golden sand, the smell of beautiful and sweating bodies – the American dream of a young boy from Zhytomyr in Ukraine was shattered when confronted with reality. Expelled from his fantasy, the vagabond spent the nights roaming deserted parking lots and backyards of beach bars, overgrown with wilted plants, and felt melancholic disappointment. After returning to Europe and moving to Poland, he began to create his cycle titled Fun land’s backyard, where the bright vision of the Florida palm trees was replaced with stifling nocturnes.
The artist was probably doomed to overwhelming longing – like anyone that left their country forever. However, he could not expect that he was going to be confronted with a different type of emotions quite soon: emotions that would build a large lump in his throat. In the spring of 2022, the sentimental memories were invaded by pain and darkness, difficult to accommodate. When you are a forced migrant and your family home is quite literally burning, metaphors are hard to come by.
Our little problems are overshadowed by the big ones. We want to make an impact and a difference, we want our actions to make sense and to earn our place in history books, be it in small print. As a result, we constantly seesaw from a personal perspective to attempts at describing those problems in an objective manner.
Breaking away, over and over again, from the crisis of his family household, connected with global transformation and climate change, Kowal keeps examining the intricacies of his personality, transience, and corporality, in solitude. Answers tend to escape him and, like the silhouettes in his paintings, become blurred when clashed with the omnipresent and dominating nature. Eventually, they give way to it, turning into vague shadows of themselves. Priorities are set automatically – in terms of colours and shapes in his paintings as well as in real life.
All in all, Baszynski did not find repose in the shade of the California palm trees and he abandoned his dream of the Eden. Unexpectedly though, the stuffy frames of trees burning during riots helped him to express the anguish of being separated from his war-stricken hometown and homeland.
The bugs cherished by Martin must wait for their majestic portraits a little more. Ultimately, the series is intended to express the fascination with the smallest creatures on Earth and the respect for them, and to show that in the reflection of the catastrophe, new models can be created to depict the coexistence of a person with the self, with the other, and with the environment. For now, however, the artist’s long, consistent, in-depth, and empathetic musings on the condition of the world must yield to the need of expressing the physical and mental discomfort that results from her sensitivity.
Sasha Baszynski – was born in 1993 in Zhytomyr, Ukraine. He has graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Kiev in2017 and the Eugeniusz Geppert Academy of Art and Design in Wrocław in 2022. Winner of the Main Prize in the 3rd edition of the Wojciech Fangor National Student Painting Competition, Academy of Fine Arts in Gdańsk (2020). He lives and works in Wroclaw.
Jan Kowal – was born in 1997 in Piotrówka. Graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Katowice. He is interested in experimentation, within which he attempts intermedia projects. He practices video performance and painting. In his activity he confronts himself with the immediate surroundings of the village of his origin. He explores it looking for new meanings and interesting ways of narration. He likes to return to his village. Finalist of competitions: Artystyczna Podróż Hestii, Videonews, Młode Wilki, Scholarship of the Minister of Culture in 2021.
Honorata Martin – was born in Gdańsk. There, she graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts, having defended her MA thesis at the Faculty of Painting under Professor Mieczysław Olszewski and intermedia annex under Professor Wojciech Zamiara. Her PhD dissertation completed at the Faculty of Sculpture and Intermedia was supervised by Professor Bogna Burska. Martin creates paintings, installations, performances, and videos. Her activities normally take place in real time. Martin’s art often involves pushing the limits of her body. In her Social sculptures, she points to what brings people together rather than divides them. Martin is the winner of the Views Deutsche Bank Foundation Award (2017), the Splendor Gedanensis Award for outstanding achievements in art, and of the Polacy z Werwą” (“Poles with verve”) vote in the category of fine arts. She was nominated for the Polityka’s Passport Award and received the art scholarship granted by the Minister of Culture and the Marshal of the Pomeranian Voivodeship.
Title: In the Shadow of the Mountain
Artist: Sasha Baszynski, Jan Kowal, Honorata Martin
Curator: Joanna Rzepka
Address: Galeria SZARA, Bracka 23/28, WARSZAWA
Opening: 22.04, Saturday, 16:00–19:00
Exhibition: 22.04–27.05.2023
Opening hours: Tue – Sat, 1 pm – 6 pm