‘In the shadow line’

Sławomir Karpowicz, born 1952 – died 2001

A self-commentary on selected works from three series: ‘Christmas Eve 1982’, ‘Night Watch’ and ‘ Self-Portrait Attempts’

Shadow, umbra, is a word whose meaning is connected to painting. In Antiquity, in Plato’s works, it is a symbol of nothingness, of illusion and sin, of a damned world. Shadow is just the first step towards sensory cognition. In Christian tradition shadow acquires a particular symbolic meaning, subsequently to become a metaphysical being. Shadow accompanies us everywhere; it is a phenomenon in physics and a concept in philosophy. It has always fascinated artists, philosophers and scholars.

Various roles and traits have been ascribed to it, most of them being pejorative symbolic features. It was at the same time innovative, even revolutionary, in Renaissance and Baroque. The entire historical tradition related to shadow and its complexity is moving to the physicist, philosopher and art historian alike. I myself cannot describe shadow, which is but an optical phenomenon in nature; all I could do was attempt to provide it with form and content in my painting.

I usually use chiaroscuro as a means to enhance the dramatic effect, cause tension, the ever-sought-after lo stupore. It does not appear in my paintings for the sake of effect alone but rather in order to evoke aesthetic reflection. I use it advertently; by creating tension between light and darkness I give different forms to objects trapped in light and shadow.

I create a plot in which shadow can be the protagonist. Shadow and darkness (blackness) evoke primal terror, at the same time attracting us with their dark mystery. My journeys into the dark are risky, emotional anticipation of an unexpected adventure; they are supine drifting in the depths of the subconscious. The unstoppable willingness to touch the image of the unknown world is an impetuous effort to grasp at something that initially does not exist, having no form or content.

In my still lives I create a peculiar theatrum in which objects become characters. Heaps and multitudes of spheres, cones, ellipses and rectangles are in the geometrical arrangement of the stage, immersed in the background of nothingness. I have used those forms obsessively, searching for a place in which they acquire a metaphysical sense.

I wish to provide new content to those objects, content which makes the reality of objects unreal, suspended outside of the moment from which it was brought. I do not paint an apple for its beauty alone; an apple, a pear or an egg appear in a Cubist form against a dark background, present mainly in order to depict an unreal space, which is possible only in painting.

Using chiaroscuro according to the classical tradition, I simultaneously try to remake the banal reality outside of which all those ordinary objects would constitute a static spectacle.

Its borders are immersed in unmeasured and unknown spaces; they last until absence begins to take the shape of presence. This type of chiaroscuro form in painting allows me to fully experience space emotionally.

The image and content of my painting expression is built by a compulsive will to connect two mentalities: the classical and the romantic, light and shadow, chaos and order. This apparent duality becomes a mystery of the inseparability of two opposites. I would like to join them together and provide them with a common existential shape in my work.

At the same time I am aware of the fact that all those conflicting phenomena have become indivisible for me: together they constitute a new quality which is necessary for evolution to happen.

The self-portrait has become compelling to me, and my attempts at creating one particularly meaningful. I have always taken up this subject at moments of conflict, led by a necessity to depict, by artistic expression, my relationship with myself, the painting tradition and surrounding reality. Self-portraits are witnesses to the past, and simultaneously they are milestones on my exploring journey.

Forced as I am now, I am describing my inspirations, workshop and fascinations, which are not entirely known to me, hence I am writing about intuition regarding the truth rather than knowledge of it. Currently, I do not feel the need to study the nature of shadow outside of paintings, since it is in them that I have created space; it is for the sake of imagination rather than seeing or describing it in a rational manner. This message, this type of painting poetics, has become closest to me in my work. I deliberately provide my latest paintings with a nature which is dark, precipitous, sometimes horrifying, haunting me, inevitably accompanying me on my way to the heart of darkness.

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