The Uses of Enchantment at the BWA Warszawa Gallery brings together the works of Hanna Rechowicz (born 1926) with those of Yann Gerstberger and Sławomir Pawszak, artists both six decades younger. For Gerstberger—born in France, residing and working in Mexico today—this will be his first exhibition in Poland. Looming large, his oversize and multicolore paintings reveal the artist’s lean toward traditional craftsmanship, an occupation traditionally associated with women. While the technique of embroidery has evolved through mechanization over the years, which allows for more detailed precision, Gerstberger’s tapestries depict synthetic perspectives, built up through large splotches of fierce colors. In a way that is fully invested yet nonetheless nonchalant, the artist makes use of the decorative character of his paintings, which, in spite of modernist abstraction, make their mark on a narrative level. Gerstberger weaves together fragment of dreamscapes, inhabited by humans and animals. The tactile construction of his tapestries tempts the viewer to touch them, as if they could be moved aside to delve fully into his world of fantasy. In his works, Sławomir Pawszak sets the macro against the micro. The artist has cultivated a characteristic style through an extensive exploration of certain motifs which, in turn, he developed into a series of works. In contrast to the tradition of oil painting, which requires layer after layer of paint within the confines of the frame, Pawszak only paints what he deems essential. The tedious filling-in of backgrounds has never given him any pleasure, so he takes individual elements and composes them into intriguing arrangements set against a simple white background. This divests the paintings of their figurative quality and makes it seem as if they are levitating. The surround of white space further endows them with a universal quality. At the same time, this practice reveals the painterly process, leaving no room for error, which could otherwise be masked under a subsequent layer of paint. The cosmos has been a particular area of focus and exploration for Pawszak. A closer look at the web of corridors, orbs, and expressionist smudges brings to mind a galactic panorama—or perhaps the surface of a distant planet?
Is such a dynamic composition the effect of the expressive lines of Pawszak’s Aerograph, or the reflection of some structure, seemingly chaotic, but subtly ordered according to a code hidden within? Whatever the answer, the painting draws the viewer into a hypnotic trance. We take a few shortcuts to get to Pawszak’s studio, in Warsaw’s Żoliborz district, trudging through a bush-lined path between concrete tower blocks. He says he likes such places and finds there aren’t enough of them in today’s cities. I feel as if we’re in one of his paintings, passing through a colorful tunnel in which the imagination is let loose; as if we’re miles away from the neighboring streets, blocks, and sidewalks.
It isn’t necessary to visit Hanna Rechowicz’s studio to get a feel for the remarkable world she creates and inhabits. It’s enough to look at Madame Fantasy to understand how the place where she chooses to create her work must be as wonderful and completely magical as the artist herself. Anyone who’s ever had the chance to meet Rechowicz would never confuse her with another artist. The same goes for her works. Those on display in the exhibition were produced at a health resort in Ciechocinek, so they had to fulfill several functions. The Renaissance concept of the painting as a window isn’t enough. Better for it to blast through walls, opening up to a world infinitely more interesting than that of Ciechocinek at the end of the 1970s. This is the type of realm created by Rechowicz as she decorates the background tiles with exotic trees and birds in splendid colors, as if she were making them out of origami—seemingly familiar, but nonetheless impossible to place. The works of Hanna Rechowicz conjure up the postwar idea of the “plastic artist,” which is defunct today. Can a painting that’s pleasing to the eye also carry a message of wisdom? Can art that is ostensibly unengaged still carry content that is significant and valuable for society? In his book The Uses of Enchantment, Bruno Bettelheim undertakes an analysis of fairy tales, describing the particular worldview composed of the individual elements of these universal stories.
The new façade of the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw is engulfed by a monumental painting by Sławomir Pawszak—an elaboration on his cosmic constellations. The background is made up of the building itself, on the Vistula riverbank. It’s impossible not to notice it, and yet the painting has composed itself into the landscape as a form of “applied art.” It brings to mind another “decorative” façade, which once covered the glass panes of the museum’s former city-center location in the “Emilka” pavilion: Paulina Ołowska’s Face of Emilia, an homage to Emilia Plater, for whom the street the building was on is named after, as well as the personification of the iconic building itself. To create her work, Ołowska cited another artist, Jerzy Kolecki. The “face of Emilka” belongs to the girl in Kolecki’s poster for a staging of Alice in Wonderland by the Rabcio-Zdrowotek puppet theater from Rabka-Zdrój. Kolecki (born 1925) was director, set designer, and costume designer for the theater in the 1960s and 70s, co-producing theater performances for children staying at sanitariums throughout the town. His artistic vision came to life in his puppets and sets, creating a unified design for every element of his productions, including posters and other print materials, bringing a remarkable level of artistry to this small town in the south of Poland. When asked about the meaning behind his work, he once said: “I strove to create something uncommon in a common era. Wonderful? Yes. Useful? Yes.” And this is precisely how the works of the three artists in the show at BWA Warszawa ought to be described.