Agata Bogacka in Contemporary Lynx

'Agata Bogacka. The Metaphor of Change' by Kasia Lorenc

8 December 2022 The individual exhibition of recent works by Agata Bogacka in Recklinghausen has become an opportunity to talk about the political nature of her painting, complex human relations and setting boundaries, and the sense of powerlessness. The exhibition was opened in mid-October and it will be open to visitors until 14 January 2023.


 Agata Bogacka, System of Divisions, installation view, Museum Jerke, Recklinghausen, Germany, 2022. Photo: Hanne Brandt. Courtesy of Gunia Nowik Gallery.


Kasia Lorenc: We are talking on the occasion of the exhibition ‘System of Divisions’ at Museum Jerke, your third solo exhibition in Germany. How did this exhibition come about?


Agata Bogacka: Two of my paintings have been at Museum Jerke for a long time now. Recently a third painting was added to the collection, and a decision to organise an exhibition just came out about naturally. The latter of the paintings is showcased at the exhibition. It’s ‘Equality Dream’ of 2019, one of the two ‘rainbow flag’ paintings I have created – the other one is part of the collection of Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź (Łódż Art Museum). These are the only works in which colours serve as a quotation inspired by the LGBTQI pride flag. At Museum Jerke the painting is also in harmony with the building window made by Wojciech Fangor. Paulina Olszewska, the author of the text, agreed to be the curator of the exhibition, and I think that we complement each other in a fantastic way. I’m very pleased with the co-operation. I also received a lot of support in the organisation of my exhibition from the fantastic Gunia Nowik Gallery I work with.


‘System of Divisions’ shows your latest works, mostly medium and large-scale formats. They are works that were created in this turbulent year of 2022 and especially for this exhibition. The abstractness of the motifs conceals a political stance. Is this socio-critical aspect the basis for your paintings?


My works take up the topic of human relationships at various scales. From the personal scale in close relationships, through functioning in societies, to the relations between citizens and those in power. I believe that all of them are based on the same principles, and that unknowingly we can enter the same type of a relationship at all of these levels. Here, I most often refer to the political situation, as the one which demonstrates the problem from a top-down perspective. As citizens, we elect the government, employing the people who should take care of us, representing our needs. In the meantime, the government is in opposition to us, becoming oppressive towards us. Despite that fact that it is dependent on us. We pay salaries to people who manage our affairs in an unfavourable way. It’s one of the systems I’m very interested in, and it is this type of situation that I refer to abstract compositions. One form dominates over the other, although it arises from it. My paintings are an attempt to translate real-life events into abstraction. The abstract which I derive from them and which I paint starts applying to us at so many levels. It becomes universal. The observation of the world helps me find proper means of expression. I sometimes avoid painting the central part of the image. It means that there is no answer, no solution. It is also a play with the viewers whose first impulse is to look to the middle of paintings, to search for a starting point, and I compel them to look around at the edges. I often cover one version of my painting with new layers, but I leave some pieces, after-images of previous compositions. I use shifts between gradient layers to show inconsistencies and opposing views, just like in the ‘Divided View’ series. In the most recent series called “Disagreement”, it is not about one specific reason for conflict, but about deriving an abstract which summarises multiple reasons. The disagreement has been reduced to a gesture, painting over the entire picture with a distinct stroke of brush.


Your work is about the repositioning of forms and shapes, the blending and merging of colours is an expression of interdependence. However, it is not a symbiotic relationship. Something/someone always prevails. This domination cannot be changed or broken. This is a very fatalistic point of view…


I’m interested precisely in this clinch. Oppressive relationships which are difficult to break in a single day. It takes time, persistence, resistance, a coup, fair elections, or a lot of other factors to overthrow a government. There are also relationships which are toxic in a smaller extent, but we still fail to leave them for some reason. Such minor inconsistencies and minimal differences of opinions are beautiful compositions.


But one can also see your works without the political aspect…


The topic is a general starting point and it doesn’t need to be revealed. The title of a painting outlines a given problem. What is left is the abstract painting which, at first sight, seems attractive, even perfect. Then we start noticing more and more imperfections, missed spots, or repainted fragments. The composition introduces a discord, we don’t know where to look, and we might experience discomfort, because we see this test of strength on the painting. At times we almost recognise a landscape, but the more we look at it, the more it doesn’t add up. We are dealing with illusion, imperfection and dissonance. These features of my paintings speak about life. The process taking place as we view the paintings, the recognition and the feelings are the most important.


You had your first successes with figurative paintings, which you call ‘linear portraits’. Your painting has always been and still is about the humankind and its connectedness and co-dependency, their relatedness and vulnerability. Yet you focus mainly on the negative aspects of coexistence. Where does that come from?


I was wondering how my paintings would look like if there weren’t any problems included in them. Carefree paintings would surely be a smooth patch of colour from one edge to the other, without any divisions. But I wish to work out problems in my painting, to analyse them, to look for an abstract and the essence of a given matter. We are experiencing global warming, democratic systems are becoming a utopia, and fascism is coming to power. We live in times which should leave no one in ignorance. It is difficult even to keep distance.


These are your words: ‘As an artist, I am a person who is searching. I never wanted to commit myself to a particular form of expression.’ You work in cycles and see painting as a living process, a development, an exploration… Could you tell us how your artistic process begins?


The technique should correspond to the message I want to express as much as possible, so that even a brush stroke could speak about the stance and the topic of the painting. The painting method I’m using at the moment gives me freedom, and at the same time imposes the type of situation. The gradient I use is a metaphor of change which takes place gradually and is unnoticeable to those participating in it. It becomes visible at a distance, when it is too late to react. The gradient is also about blurring boundaries. The entire play in the composition of my paintings consists in eliminating and establishing boundaries through a change in the painting direction or the use of contrasting paint layers. The planes may originate from a uniform colour to gradually reach the point of complete incompatibility. I’m trying not to plan anything in my paintings. I’m trying to switch off thinking, to become a medium, to approach paintings anew every day, to engage in a dialogue. I believe that a well-played composition is prophetic. Just like the painting entitled “Annexation” which I finished two weeks before Russia’s invasion against Ukraine. When I started painting it, I didn’t know what it would be about, I was just trying to find the way around this strange composition that was beginning to emerge.


The titles of the works are a kind of linguistic take on your themes. This is very helpful and an integral part of the artwork. What does the title of the exhibition – “System of Divisions” – at Museum Jerke refer to?


I repeat the titles of the works in series, sometimes even for years, such as ‘Divided View’, ‘Disagreement’, ’Relationship’, ‘Promises’, and ‘Opposition’ The title specifies the type of composition, and the way individual layers interact with one another. The title supplements the paintings and outlines the direction of their interpretation. The exhibition title, ‘System of Divisions’, has several meanings. It refers to the structure of the world we live in, this continued differentiation, social, economic, political and geographical divisions. We are trying to make the divisions less distinctive, but they immediately appear in other places.  Painting also always divides the space in which it is placed. A painting on the wall disturbs the space, it is an invasive medium. The irregular design of the hall at Museum Jerke is an interesting additional element. The system of divisions is also the most accurate definition of my painting method.

8 December 2022
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