Art as By-Produkt - Ryszard Gorecki

Ryszard Górecki
Ryszard Gorecki
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Art as a By-Product in the Process of Human Species' Development
Ewa Gorządek

The artist operates much like the inventor or explorer - all three search for new relationships between man and the world. This is a particularly fascinating occupation at time when the world is changing rapidly, transforming, before our very eyes, and technological, scientific, and economic progress is causing profound changes in human mentality and the functioning of entire nations. Ryszard Górecki is an attentive observer and a sort of analyst of contemporary social life. He closely watches the changes occurring and the issues resulting from them, and, determined not to stand aside, he discusses them in his art. His primary medium is painting, though the most important thing, he stresses, is the concept of the image. It is through the image that he visualises the problem that motivates the work itself. In Górecki's case, the paintings, ie the medium, aesthetically resemble the mass media, a specific cultural product of commercial and political application. In the post-industrial world, in the information society, the mass media have been increasingly dominated by advertising and marketing persuasion, communiqués using a specific language to convey their message. A language that is concise, conventional, and maximally simplified in order for the message to be as clear as possible.

Górecki borrows the aesthetics of consumerist persuasion, the iconography of marketing research, statistics, and opinion polls, the sign language characteristic for the electronic media. In his works he uses material found in the iconosphere of both high- and low-brow culture, using it to construct subjective commentaries on the phenomena and processes present in Poland's socio-political reality. He is also interested in the ephemeral visual elements circulating in the urban landscape: leaflets, logos, stickers, commercial typography, and so on. Most of such materials are abstract in form, and their lines and shapes have their roots in the "universal language". They have a short but very intense life. Their marginality, short lifespan, and repetitiveness enable them to penetrate the borders between the commercial, public, institutional, and private spaces.

The artist borrows not only forms and signs from the surrounding world, but also the colour patterns of his works. He functions as a sensitive receiver recording the colours appearing around him - in the urban space, in magazines, on product packagings, in office spaces. Some are more interesting than others, being new and more meaningful. This makes the works more logical, more up-to-date, but also compounds the sense that the images one is watching are artificial. Many of Górecki's works refer to the problem of artificiality: on the level of the generalisation, schematisation, standardisation, or transformation of existing images. Everything can be fitted into a pattern, subjected to unification and aestheticisation. The world we see in Górecki's paintings and murals is artificial in two ways: as an artefact, and as an image built with processed elements, existing in the modern man's environment, filled with saturated objects and patterns produced chiefly by machines and the digital media. The artist signals not only social threats but also shows to what extent we are immersed in our everyday life in artificiality, routine, and entrenched models organising our existence. We often function according to those existential stereotypes, unaware how superficial our freedom of choice really is.
In an interview with Sebastian Cichocki and Łukasz Gorczyca (catalogue, Paint It exhibition, Galeria Kronika, Bytom, 2004), Ryszard Górecki described his art as a protest against disturbing social processes taking place in the contemporary world. His works point to them in a very relevant and exhaustive way, though one not devoid of cool distance and irony. One can find in them a whole catalogue of issues pertaining to important aspects of our reality: globalisation and the growing power of multinational corporations, a post-industrial society specialised in selling services and marketing, the commercialisation of interpersonal relations, the unification of culture and the opposition against that process manifesting itself in cultural clashes, terrorism and the reactions to it, global politics. Besides macro-scale problems, Górecki also identifies micro-scale ones, present in our everyday life. People are becoming increasingly addicted to visits in their local shopping mall. It is the market that tells us what is good and what is not. Philosopher Zygmunt Bauman so explains this situation in his book The Legislators and the Interpreters: "There is a sense that to every problem there is a solution waiting in a store, and all that people need is the ability to find it." The ordinary man's hierarchy of values has undergone a fundamental transformation, and is currently characterised by a pleasure-seeking attitude accepting the temporariness and fleetingness of existence, and the highest good is an ability to achieve ever higher living standards. A persuasion industry is involved in convincing, soliciting, and exerting pressure. We are being attacked by an endless stream of advertising communications, subjected to the pressure of marketing. We are becoming totalistic consumers in the hands of professional manipulators - advertising agencies, manufacturers, retailers. All that can be deduced from Górecki's works, sometimes directly, sometimes as allusions, complex iconographic references, multi-level semantic structures, surprising juxtapositions that, thanks to their intellectual discipline, produce a clear and powerful message.

Roughly in the mid-1990s, Górecki started making objects inspired by the display cabinet, the all-too-familiar feature of chemistry or physics labs in high schools. In those small, glazed spaces he put instruction boards showing "everyday scenes from the life of the contemporary man." He built them with ready-made elements: children's toys, a rich assortment of products offered at modeller shops, cut-outs, or sometimes even food products. Those cabinets represent an ironic commentary on the stereotypes and models functioning in a society that has been increasingly susceptible to the pressure of advertising and the social engineering of corporations selling ready-made kits enabling consumers to organise virtually every area of their life in line with their preferred "lifestyle". As a software developer transforms selected fragments of reality into mathematical models, so the artist uses artificial elements to build social life modules, simplified and limited to several functions but thus more clearly explaining their underlying principles. "The school labs' walls are lined with display cabinets illustrating and explaining natural phenomena, technological processes, or the functioning of various machines. My works, while emulating the form of teaching aids, attempt to demonstrate the phenomena and relationships that man is subject to in the contemporary world. How, being the subject of social processes, one subordinates himself to them and agrees to follow certain behavioural patterns. Becoming a necessary object-component in a process aimed at generating a certain end-product. Each of such processes leads to the emergence of by-products, usually undesirable, inconvenient, or actually dangerous. My art is a by-product in the process of man's development."
After the showcases and objects, Górecki started making new series of paintings inspired by the aesthetics of information signs, charts, or clipart images. Made in the likeness of instruction boards or teaching aids, those works were the effect of the artist's fascination with the "aesthetics of statistics," and a desire to utilise its form and visual properties in his artistic practice. Colour charts present values of mysterious economic and market processes that cannot be comprehended outside the context they have been taken out of. The overall message, however, is about the high intensity of those processes, about sharp falls and steep rises, reflecting the tension and anxiety inevitably accompanying the financial consequences thereof. Górecki's charts show also research results and indicators measuring radically different areas of human activity, such as sexual drive. In a project called Libido (2002), presented in the form of a spatial installation consisting of two free-standing display cabinets, each of which contained realistically rendered groups of figures (1:22.5 scale) representing cleaner ladies and road workers at work, as well as men and women in a state of sexual arousal, one could also view a painting showing, in the form of a colour chart, how our libido rises depending on the place and situation we find ourselves in.
In 2003, Górecki made a series of small-size black-ink-on-canvas works resembling anti-globalist posters. They were drawn schematically, like icons in a PowerPoint presentation. Their politically committed message is very clear, bringing to mind the aesthetic of propaganda posters. One shows a man holding the globe under his one arm, and pointing a gun at the viewer with the other. Another shows an infinite row of identical figures in corporate suits, with briefcases in their hands, pressing a half-naked, long-haired young man holding behind his back, as a sort of defensive weapon, a pointed fragment of a growth graph. Still another shows the ideogram of a house with two human figures inside sitting on a couch and watching TV. The house's walls are lined with upright-standing long-range missiles. Some of the pictures ironically urge employees of multinational corporations to revolt. The works were originally made in a 24x18 cm size, but Górecki sometimes presents them in the form of monumental murals.

Besides stylistic similarity, Górecki's most recent paintings and objects share a directly expressed spirit of resistance and protest. That is bespoken by their titles, eg Warriors, Nie, No, Against, or Killzone. These works no longer feature the dehumanised computer icons of the earlier series. Two of them show human figures rendered as black silhouettes, similarly to politicians from an eponymous 2004 series, holding letters making up the words NIE and NO in their hands. In the painting No, a menacing group of three men, lit dramatically from the back, are looking at us with a ghastly gaze of white holes - we don't really know whether there aren't masked faces in the dark. In Against, a rock band performs against the background of a map of the world suspended in space, and the composition is integrated by white lines whirling like a twister. Killzone is the moment after an explosion, captured as if by a projector that has suddenly stopped: in the foreground, a splash of black paint, in the back, young people's bodies running and carried in the air by the force of the explosion. All four paintings share a uniform colour scheme of black, white, and various shades of blue, with only the large inscription KILLZONE rendered in yellow. The dominant blue makes the images slightly unreal, bringing to mind the glow of the TV screen, or the symbolism of death in Andrzej Wróblewski's paintings. The paintings differ significantly from Górecki's earlier works - they are expressive, charged with emotions, which brings us back to the beginning of his painting practice in the 1980s.

Figurative naturalistic elements and casually applied colour appear also in Górecki's sketches, small drawings that he has been making for years but seldom exhibiting. Those are multi-layered works resembling collages, consisting of found, recovered, recycled materials, arranged on a free-association basis, but interspersed with personal notes. Together, they form something of an artistic and intellectual diary, a mishmash of motifs borrowed from old brochures, product packagings, catalogues, short texts, catchwords, and slogans. Second- or third-hand elements bound together by a free, artistic gesture. The nature of those works reflects Górecki's hobby of collecting all kinds of printed materials, publications, posters, books. As well as his work method of sampling existing signs and images, a diligent archivist's practice of data accumulation.

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