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Opening Hours

Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm


Art Agenda Nova
Batorego 2, Krakow

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Michał Zawada


Shadows exhibition is an exhibition created from a combination of several painting cycles, created by the artist over the last year. It focuses and shows the most important problems faced by a young artist.
Fascinated by the phenomenon of pictorial phenomenon of death, he presents his borderline situations. The protagonists of their canvases confront the final, painting the images of people just before or at the time of death.
Synthetic and sublime form maintained in three overlapping colors, creates tension and feelings of anxiety. Michał Zawada drawing inspiration from the world of other artists, but also from his own memories and experiences, he combines them in new, surprising montages.
Thanks to her own erudition, she unites many threads from contemporary culture in her paintings. Using quotes and borrowings, he does not leave the work as a spontaneous element but inscribes it in a wide context, in a creative conversation with artistic tradition and theory of art.
Very aware of his own approach to the problem, it seems to suggest that the image itself – the mapping (created according to the legend by tracing the shadow of a man on the sand) is a testimony of absence, of what has been presented on it. In this approach, the exhibition is a reflection on the very essence of painting as a depiction art.

Marta Skowrońska talked about the exhibition with artist Michał Zawada.
MS: Shadows is the title of the exhibition and one of the series of paintings … lights, shadows, highlights etc., a string of glitzy words smacks banal. Choice, however, aware, so how do you justify it?
MZ: I realize that choosing such a title for an exhibition can be debatable or even dangerous. On the one hand, it is somewhat pathetic, on the other – associated with glitzy or academic jargon. However, the ambiguity, the ambivalence of the nature of the work itself and this type of associations, started to please me, it became an element of the game. The Cienie cycle is an attempt to discover a death inscribed in the image, but not an individual death or a sentimental narrative. For most cultures, the foundation for the creation of the image is death, which, Belting would say, curses images into the riddle of absence. The shadow is an intermediate form, to a certain degree visualizing the absent, past. In the third song of God’s Comedy’s Purgatory, Dante discovers with horror that the sun is shining through the body of Virgil, without breaking down and finding no barrier in it. The shadow as the original image (according to the Greeks, it is from contouring the outline of the shadow leaving the warrior’s home, the history of drawing begins) is saturated with the inevitable drive of death, which are deposited in individual layers in my paintings.

The shadow / light / Form
MS: Most of your works are characterized by luminous, sweet and pleasant colors, disproportionate to the subject matter of the work.
MZ: Like in the case of the title, I was interested in the tension ambiguity. I assume that the image is taken as a time-stretched process in which the intensity of color, which is a combination of three basic printing colors (cyan, magenta and yellow) must work on the eye as the first stimulus. As the equivalent of the luminous space of the mixing RGB color bundles, narrowing the color range of my works to those applied with thin CMY layers has been the answer to my search for a painting’s equivalent of light and its restraining – shadow. With this range I start work on specific realizations – on the interpretation of photographs of death, those that give testimony to the process of dying, forgetting. I was interested in the moment of death, but also the moments preceding it or following just after. Death in the image also extends here to the death of the image. In contrast, in the case of Winterreise, in which the same colors tell complex narratives, which consist of ready images, already having their place in common awareness and functioning, although on different laws, in culture, but also private images, revealing their story much more privately. This incommensurability of form and content seems to be most strongly revealed in the Hiroshi Sugimoto-inspired series In Praise of Shadows.
Shadow / contrast
MS: Color contrasts, content contrasts, formal contrasts are the search for a clearer form of communication, are they a game, an artist’s fun experimenting?
MZ: Of course, it is never the case that a given image arises as a result of a well-thought-out formula established at the beginning without any surprises. The process of creation is a constant confrontation with a series of surprises, provoking new solutions specific to a particular work. In this sense, each of the pictures, despite being the next link in the cycle, becomes an individual experiment, born of the specifics of the painting process itself. When applying the first layer, I do not always know what will appear on top of it, what the next stage will look like, or whether such a set up will be able to give formally content anxiety. I never make digital simulations, I want painting to reveal new, even contradictory contexts. Still, I want the form, once – by strengthening, once – by contrast, to lead to what lurks underneath, to meaning, though never unambiguous and fixed once and for all.
A shadow of history
MS: What is the meaning of art history in your artistic career, your second “profession”? You seem to take both ways very seriously. Are they harmoniously overlapping or are you losing your orientation sometimes, are you losing your direction?
MZ: It’s funny, because at first it would seem that both disciplines must complement each other, that the theoretical foundation will be useful to the practicing artist, in particular that, which is not a secret, the low level of teaching the theory at the Academy is surprising to most students. However, the difference in the model of university education differs so far from the Academy standards that the attempt to combine experiences sometimes proved almost impossible. At such moments it is easy to lose orientation. At some point, one has to answer the question which areas are suitable for dialogue and which ones do not, otherwise, get into confusion. I would never like to answer the question myself whether I am simply an “artist” or simply a “theoretician”. I am not interested in such divisions, just as I would not be able to judge whether I prefer to look at pictures or rather listen to music. My creativity always tries to settle in a broader context, it is never purely formal, the awareness of the history of the image participates in the creative process with the same laws as the painting gesture.
In the shadow of great-photography
MS: Photography is one of the media you use, but also your paintings are inspired by the works of great predecessors – photographs that have gone down in the history of culture. Why?
MZ: The answer is provided by the famous sentence of Jean Luc Godard: There is no picture, only pictures. For me, there is no image that can affect only one layer, independent, whether it is artistic or content. For me, creating an image is creating a montage, just as reading each of the images is a pulsing process of its dismantling into small fragments – read, recognized stories, small, conscious or unconscious associations, and then putting them back together. Yes, how we can show the mechanism of memory functioning. Hence – I use ready-made images which, in the process of dialectical editing, bear new, new images. The juxtaposition of two photographs forms a whole different from its components, whereas the combination of this whole with subsequent images creates further dialogues and so into infinity. The images included in the cycle also have potential other than isolated, isolated.
Going out of the shadows
MS: Your works, however, hide personal memories, intimate images taken from your own past.
MZ: I am referring to both quickly recognizable images that have already gained place in the general consciousness, as well as those that, being private photographs, often only reveal a part of their history to me. Their compilation is a constantly surprising process, although I almost never act on the basis of chance. I integrate records of private memories that bring their own associations and reference systems into a sequence of images whose meaning functions more easily in the recipient’s memory. Often difficult to express, the phenomena inherent in my memory only through this process of symbolization receive their right to speech.
Fun with a shadow.
MS: Layering up images, stories and meanings is a reflection of your personality, scientific confinement or a youthful expression of searching for your own answers to age-old problems?
MZ: None of them, and certainly – none of them unambiguously. Although the work of assembling images may resemble to a certain extent the scientific collection of material, and the question about the picture can actually be included in these “eternal”, this process remains a creative activity, rarely subjected to control and rarely offering unambiguous answers. Anyway, I prefer to ask questions and watch how the image breaks against specific solutions and firm declarations. Ultimately, we are all subject to its vitality and expansiveness.
With disbelief in the picture

An independent, context-free picture does not exist. Multiplication of performances, views, uninterrupted association process, duplication, processing-memory generates further combinations. The mind of the contemporary artist is filled with thousands, millions of photographs, memories and impressions. The independent picture has died, followed by emptiness and longing, and the academies constantly return to the question about the meaning and value of painting.

Paradoxically, this unbelief in the independence of the image, the conviction about his individual absence became the foundation of the works of Michał Zawada. By creating montages from various productions that interact with each other, it creates new content. Zawada wants to draw into the game also the viewer, whose experiences will allow him to see new meanings. However, there is no question of complete freedom of interpretation here. Like a director, a painter gives a certain freedom to actors and viewers, but at the same time controls, keeping in check the content and form of images.

“There is no picture, only pictures” – cycles

The thought of Jean-Luc Godard became the foundation on which the creative process of Zawady is based. Paintings put together, come into relations, tell their own story. The creation of cycles deepens this narrative, providing the artist and the recipient with unpredictable side effects. Shadows is a cycle in which the image is juxtaposed with the phenomenon of death, its border points, which is a way to fight it and the following emptiness and lack.

“Shadows are pictures about death in which the three primary colors imprint on the canvas as a veil of its luminosity. I do not want to talk about death as a sentimental phenomenon, I want to try to get into the source, to its beginning, embedded in the absent one. I am looking for image-gaps, disappearing images. ”

Winterreise is a never-ending story, a juxtaposition of memories, autobiographical themes and accumulated images, which provokes the viewer to continue the story, to join in this visual journey. “I am interested in the painterly assembly of paintings, fragments, documents and testimonies, Benjamin’s dialectics that drives them. Mounting is what lets you see. ”

In Praise of Shadows (according to Hiroshi Sugimoto) is the most intimate cycle, which is the artist’s personal commentary on emptiness and absence. “The paintings mark their starting point in Hiroshiego Sugimoto’s photographic cycle, which is the documentation of the life of the candle flame, a record of her life on a photosensitive material. Using the experience of previous works, I try to face pictures, traces and signs. I want contact with the photographs of Sugimoto, to become an exchange of questions about lack, absence, has become the work of images. ”

Processuality of creation, processuality of interpretation

In his artistic work, Zawada never uses computer simulations, and the element of surprise that intensifies the painting technique is very important to him. It is not able to predict how individual, imposed layers will appear on the canvas. The most important thing for him is the process, which is also a challenge, an adventure from the moment of priming to the last stroke of the brush.

This processuality, the imposition of successive layers, the gradual building of narratives is crucial for the reception of Zawada’s works. By creating cycles, the artist wants to build a story that smoothly passes from successive layers to successive images. Zawada, also a graduate of the history of art at the Jagiellonian University, observes clear differences in the reception and contact with the work among theoreticians and practitioners. In his opinion, one of the errors that threaten art historians and theoreticians is to look at the picture through the prism of written ideas. Lack of freedom, opening in contact with the work and its creator, leads to a situation in which what for the practitioner is the obvious result of certain actions and gestures, for the theoretician is entangled only in the theory and philosophy of art.

Zawady’s work, however, combines these two forces – knowledge and talent, allowing to avoid interpretive bluffs and the use of mutually exclusive ideas. The paintings must first be seen before we start reading them.

Marta Skowrońska
(based on a conversation with the artist conducted in September this year in Krakow’s Salwator)