by Vladimir BelogolovskyMar 10, 2022
The Polish painter Piotr Janas’ first exhibition Blue Is the Decayed Pink at Thomas Erben Gallery, New York, encompasses paintings created between 2008 and 2020. Janas’ paintings lie at the intersection of bio morphism and modernist abstraction language, which carry a hint of late-surrealist aesthetic – an extension of the Polish avant-garde of the ‘60s and ‘70s. The vast expanse of surrealism gives wide wings to creative imagination where the artist has the liberty to do anything and everything. Having tutelage under Prof. Jerzy Tchórzewski, the paintings offer a tactile reflection on the conditions of post-industrial life that took a toll on the human body and mind alike. Brimming with profound visceral quality, the canvas translates to be a physiognomy in the hands of Janas - it bleeds, bends and withers. The paintings if exude decadence also epitomise the will to resist the complete annihilation of the human self.
In an interview with STIR, Janas talks about the duality shared between body and canvas, “For me, the canvas is not necessarily a rectangle one can simply cover in paint. It is like a piece of the human body that can be explored in many different ways (stretch, puncture, and kiss). The rectangular shape of the canvas is not a window to a different universe but just an object.” Furthermore, the title of the exhibition raises the curiosity of the audience to know more about its coming into being. Sharing a response to such interests, Janas elucidates, “My works are strictly connected to the human body. At some point, I realised that almost all the colours I use throughout my work, with the exception of white and black, are shades of pink, which relate in an apparent manner to the human body. Other colours, such as different shades of green and blue, help me conceptualise the state of the body and manifest its evanescence. The background in my works is usually white; black is used to shape non-physical objects.”
The video of the visual artist opens the exhibition where he is seen stripped down to his underwear, holding a cigarette in hand and dancing on the backside of a painting, laid face-down on the floor of the studio. Janas explains, “The video is to manifest the artist being in the studio. The studio is the most essential thing for an artist — especially for a painter. Working in the studio is not just about the relationship between an artist and his canvas. It’s a process happening in a particular environment, place and time. That is the subject of the video, which ultimately didn't make it to the final exhibition.” During the performance to enact the classical ballet poses, Janas finds balance on the stretcher and bounces across the frame. The painting under the bodyweight of the artist is vulnerable enough to find itself in a state of rupture. The duality which is visible within the paintings does not escape the video: the cumbersome performance stands opposite to the harmony of the music; the firm canvas opposes the agile body. The artwork and artist anchor a flow of interdependency dotted with crest and trough.
The press release revisits the short story In the Penal Colony by the 19th century author Franz Kafka to draw a parallel between the futility of law and body. To briefly mention, on the imaginary prison island of the short story, a fancy execution device after functioning for a considerable duration of time carves the text of the law into the skin of the accused. The intense pain endured by the body is equivalent to the moment of quasi-religious epiphany, only to come to realise that the law is nothing more than the power of fate. Like every piece of the object, the machine succumbs to the cycle of decay. It continues to function, yet it falls short to inculcate the mystical experience among the victims.
The existential crisis kernel of the works of Kafka was a response to the absurdity of modern life where the political state and institutions cloaked by absolutism failed to be the upholder of morality. With the exhibition, Janas cajoles the viewers to leave their zones of comfort. “Not everything needs to be cool. Not everything needs to bring joy and pleasure. Not everything has to be a professional product,” mentions the artist. The abstract nature of law propounded by Kafka saw its manifestation in Jonas’s paintings where the body is nothing more than a sum of flesh and blood. As the ideals of law collapse in the story of Kafka, the figures of Janas too slip into the field of contradiction. On the verge of being aversive and attractive, the figures in Janas’ paintings disclose the predicament of a modernist life.