Running: 10.05.2015 – 5.06.2015

BWA Sanocka Gallery

Opening date: 9.05.2015 at 6 pm



The water in a vessel is sparkling; the water in the sea is dark.

The small truth has words which are clear; the great truth has great silence.

Rabindranath Tagore


At first we can’t see much, like when we enter into a cave, when our eyes have to become accustomed to the darkness. With time, we begin to make out familiar shapes. If we stand in front of the canvas long enough, we can see everything. Justyna Smoleń’s art is seemingly purist and uniform, complicated in its structure, diverse in its content, demanding. It’s easy to describe what isn’t there. It’s much more difficult to describe what it is
in essence, but as Kisiel wrote “someone’s attitude is often better described by the inexpressible than the expressible”.

The Lack exhibition is a presentation of the latest pictures from the Black series, initiated in 2014. This consistently and consciously developed collection is not a typical painting series in the sense of exploring one theme or motif around which solutions in terms of forms are executed. The object of the artist’s seeking is the material used , evolution in the sphere of technique, the way of composing. A multiplicity of themes with colour as a connector . Each of the canvases retains its separateness, but without affecting the integrity of the whole collection. There are many more antinomies in her work. A graduate of the Krakow Academy of Fine Arts, where traditions of colourism are still alive, she, however, abstains from the wealth of the palette. She chooses colour that enables her to simultaneously achieve the effect of absorption and reflection of light . The scenes presented by her don’t seem to fit into the space of the canvas, whilst the depicted figures (when we deem the ubiquitous blackness as the main contextual indicator) pose as abstraction. However, these techniques bring the artist closer to her goal, and all the opposing elements are like points moving away from each other, traveling in monotonous motion around the circumference of a circle.

The title of the Sanok exhibition, Lack, refers to the intentional abandonment of the richness of the palette, focusing on blackness as a holistic carrier of meaning. Black, absent from the range of colours resulting from dispersion of light by a prism, absorbs rays reaching it. Hue, as a perceptual quality of colour, is associated with texture. The artist makes use of the thermal effect of black, which may seem warm or cold, near or far, by the same token enabling clear discernment of forms. She works with painting material of heterogeneous texture – rough, smooth, dense, compact, gloss, matte – engendering a feeling of dynamism. The colour, although uniform, changes depending on the point of observation. By communing with the pictures for a longer period
of time, we can ascertain that black is the most “sensitive” of all colours – it reacts immediately to a change
in lighting.

The conviction that colour is the main “building block” of painting has been repeatedly verified. The dispute between the Rubenists and the Poussinists seems to be pointless – the attempt to establish a hierarchy between figura and colore. Artists choose appropriate artistic resources for their intentions, and the choices are virtually limitless. In Smoleń’s case, she develops the creative process (the seeking of formal resources for her art) in a particularly interesting way – by limiting the use of these resources. For Douglas Crimp, one of the many prophets of the end of painting, monochrome works were supposed to be evidence of the exhaustion of this field. Black, due to its exceptional metaphysical implications, is attractive for creators. Black pictures are associated with minimalism – Frank Stella, Robert Rauschenberg, Ad Reinhardt, and Mel Ramsden. These creators treated their paintings as objects. And though in Smoleń’s work, some fragments are close to the character and quality
of abstract impressionists’ paintings, the painting materials and finishes used in her work – whose main task may seem to be permanent adhesion to the surface of the canvas – also constitute a representation of objects. The works show observed spaces, natural structures, and fragments of the landscape. Smoleń depicts – among other things – nocturnes, water and rain in black. The stimulus for a picture may vary, but it is the stimulus
– if appropriately understood – that will allow us to discern the individual character of each of the canvases. Black decontextualizes the presented spaces, and manipulates their materiality. An example of this may be water painted by Smoleń, which in the collective consciousness is linked with the colour blue.


The titular “lack” also refers to openness of composition. We are aware of communing with an isolated scene; we have the impression of a continuation of the phenomenon beyond the painting. Smoleń proposes
a view of the real physical situation in an abstracted, fragmented and graduated way. Forms undergo synthesis, and although the artist avoids painting the world in an objective way, it is still representational art. In this way, she brings the viewer closer to the subject of her studies. What a colour has in the light disappears in the darkness.
In such an artistic situation, materiality is achieved by brush strokes – similarly to sculptural relief – which secondarily bestow a literal and concrete aspect. We get to look at the substance of a painting in a new way. The light draws the picture, whose starting point is the texture that has been “sculpted” by the painter. Pictures that are absolutely indiscernible close up, displaying complexity of achromatic tectonics, become clear and monumental from a distance. These are structures in which you can immerse yourself not just visually but also mentally.

The use of the colour black for Justyna Smoleń constitutes an escape from slavish imitation of the world. She compensates for the fact that black is perceived as a “non-colour” by extracting from it the essence of living hues, the richness of tones. In this respect, Lack is also an interesting experimental exhibition . Black paintings hang on uniformly black walls in the Sanok BWA (Art Exhibitions Office). The boundaries between the surface
of the canvas and the background are blurred. Only the light sculpting the painting material allows the content to be revealed to us. The mystery of these paintings attracts us. Perception of colour is subjective, which is why it
is worth finding out what influence Smoleń’s

pictures have on our perception. Will they become an absorbing abyss or will they push us away, affecting us only from a certain distance? For blackness in Smoleń’s art is not an emptiness but a depth – something full and intense, but at the same time discrete and quiet.

Martyna Sobczyk