Tomasz Bielak successfully reconciles traditional skills of realistic painting with modern conceptual approach to art. In the two cycles of paintings he is exhibiting in Sandhofer Gallery, Something and Monkeys, realistic objects are seen against an abstract or semi-abstract background. This allows him to retain interesting visual form of contemporary painting and to offer a rich aesthetic experience and unexpected meanings.
In his Something series, Bielak makes use of popular imagery and turns it into the painterly poetry of everyday. Single objects selected from movies or daily life filtered by TV screen (our all too common experience) are placed in timeless space of neutral backgrounds. They are real and unreal at the same time. The mixture of realism and abstraction creates a poetical distance, a state of artificiality in which Bielak’s meaningful emblem-like objects exist. But these pictures are engaging too. Unimaginable immensity and emptiness of the cosmic space as a metaphor of an absolute loneliness of human existence in A Hundred Moments of Loneliness, the submarine floating in the depths of an abstract ocean, or the excavator in the mists of dream-like reality – these are evocative images, emotionally moving and visually interesting. Others are more like Andy Warhol’s pop-art celebrities who, like awakening Frankenstein, are the emblematic symbols of our times. Mickey Maus, in turn, unveils characteristic for Bielak’s art sense of humor and playing with paradoxes: a smiling death mask of immortal cartoon hero.
This paradoxical existence is a mark of the Monkeys series. Bielak loves to paint chimpanzees and gorillas and portrays them in a convention traditionally restricted for human beings. Though based on the pre-war photographs of a circus chimp, the apes are not for fun here. Bielak’s is a serious art which asks questions about who we are. The Monkeys paintings offer us a mirror in which to look at ourselves in post-humanist perspective. We the humans have proudly excluded ourselves from nature and placed above the rest of the living world including our closest evolutionary predecessors and relatives. The irreversible damage we have done to the natural environment, however, leads to question the value of our exceptionality as a species. Have we really evolved thus far? The mirror of Bielak’s Monkeys paintings is distorted and offers ambiguous answers. A monkey with a cigarette, wearing a T-shirt, looks like a human, but his or her humanity resides not in human-like attributes, but in the thoughtful gaze and the smile of complacency. Monkey with a palette is a kind of artistic manifesto. By giving to the chimpanzee painter’s attributes, a palette and a brush, Bielak seems to surrender his professional (and human) privileges. But his metaphors are never literal and unambiguous. Is the monkey a painter, or is the painter a monkey? In his Sunday-best suit, the chimp pretends to be a painter, or to mock him, but a painter he is not. He is painted instead. Bielak loves riddles and his riddles are never boring. It makes his paintings so pleasurable to look at.