Everyone finishes when they feel like it. Krzysztof Mętel
- Exhibition open everyday until 9 October 2022, 11 a.m - 7 p.m.
- Curator: Łukasz Kropiowski
A painting will be good if it obliges the addressee to ask about what it consists in. (1)
In one of his novels, Alfred Jarry describes a device whose role is to transform failed, pompous paintings into works of abstract art – the effects must have been quite spectacular: "[...] And after aiming the beneficent lance of the painting machine at the center of these quadrilaterals dishonored by irregular colors, [.] he embellished most painstakingly the impotent diversity of the grimaces from the National Department Store with the uniform stillness of chaos." (2) In his latest series of works, Krzysztof Mętel performs – to a less mechanical degree – a similar undertaking: he uses canvases that have been abandoned, classified as artistic failures, and by intervening in their shape, format or composition and by adding subsequent accents, elements or painting layers (while always allowing the 'original' to be noticed), he creates paintings that are granted his artistic acceptance.
Similarly as in the case of the French eccentric, who entrusted the supervision of the sixty-three-day repainting spectacle to his friend Henri "Le Douanier" Rousseau, a performative aspect plays an important role in Mętel's practice – albeit less exposed and ostentatious: the acquisition of canvases from other authors, the gesture of appropriation, the interference in the works – at times radical, accompanied by destruction (cutting, disassembling and then putting together fragments of different artworks), and ultimately the verdict – an act of judgement and final approval.
Appropriation, destruction, evaluation – although it all sounds somewhat threatening and incredibly authoritarian, irony, or rather subtle self-irony understood by those in the know, is also crucial to the artist's actions. Of course, the author "fixes" his canvases with great conviction – he adheres to formal discipline, strictly observing the rules of the painting's visual organisation; he controls the painting's structure while maintaining geometrical clarity, legibility of divisions and compositional relations, remembering to use rhythm and nuances in his manner of creating the painting. At the same time, almost demonstratively, the author is breaking with the rules of the workshop, mixing colours into brownish painterly mud or working with dubious grey hues. Arbitrariness is accentuated; however, it is accompanied by an equally strongly manifested scepticism towards the canon, the laws of the 'profession' and aesthetic judgements, manifesting itself in a specific play with the section of the painterly world that is not accepted by contemporary art, exposing fragments of artworks that are literally and figuratively decayed – corrugated, crumbling, and operating a failed academic aesthetic with the inept qualities of "traditional plastic arts". Not only does the artist stops short of mocking these failings, sending them back to a dusty painterly past, but he allows them to exist. He treats them with sentimentality, like a B-grade horror film watched on VHS advertised with the slogan "Death is just the beginning" (3). Like protagonists in horror films, painting has been dying for decades and, for its agonal (or even post-mortem) state, it is doing very well. Krzysztof Mętel's current interests could be given the motto expressed by the following sentence from the novel Frankenstein: "To examine the causes of life, we must first have recourse to death" (4). Like the figure of the tragic monster in Mary Shelley's proto-horror, his painting contains elements of decay and vitality, success and failure, and the question: "are artists arbitrators, recyclers or ironists in their current activities?" could probably be given a different answer: they are someone akin to Victor Frankenstein – a researcher inviting failed paintings and aesthetic corpses to join in the discourse on the topic of painting, dismembering them and reassembling them to create new entities, simultaneously analysing the profession of the painter (and, in Mętel's case, also that of a didactician), testing its vigour and trying to infuse it with new energy.
The hardest part of the game is playing it right (5)
Krzysztof Mętel's parataxis (6) does not stop with the simultaneous tying together of different layers, fragments of artworks and painting conventions; the author continues this montage by combining works with objects related to sport – known to the viewer from stadiums, playing fields and gymnasiums. So, just like in the case of Jarry's novel, a machine ultimately appears, although dedicated to sports rather than painting.
Similarly to the dialogue with the awkwardly academising plastic arts, this is a kind of a sentimental journey for the author – a reference to the days of Mętel's career in athletics, which he abandoned in favour of an art career. However, sentiment is not what matters here. By mixing the orderliness of sport with artistic contemplation, the painter finds a reflection that allows him to achieve an uncommon perspective (although throwing art into a sporting context is perhaps not so peculiar if we consider that not so long ago, until 1948, medals in art were awarded at the Olympic Games). He looks for analogies: both in painting and sport, it is important to be in "good shape" and use a "proper technique", which can be attained through training and discipline; the special social status of the artist and the athlete draws attention; the themes of a "spectacle" and competition (rankings, "stars", awards, medals) are shared; the favour of the public is also vital (although the painter, unlike the athlete, cannot count on loud applause); and finally, perhaps the most important aspects: the rules of the "game", arbitration and the dominating figure of the referee – a work of art that is outside the specific set-up of the "art world" (esteemed institutions, art historians, critics) is not recognised, nor even the most extraordinary world record achieved on an unapproved site, without the participation of arbitrators holding appropriate licences. The categories of rigour, competition and authority are striking in the above context. For this reason, Krzysztof Mętel's departure from unsuccessful, unknown, "second league" and unspectacular works seems all the more telling. Against reason and awareness of the rules and, above all, against the logic of the spectacle, the painter is inspired by defeat; he starts from what is unrepresentative, unfulfilling, from what can be found sitting "on the substitute bench" or even in the locker room. By playing this way, he reveals the rules of the game and the unstable behind-the-scenes construct. This backwards movement seems to be a dialectical questioning of both the essence of creativity, the meaning of "spectacle", and the meaning of failure.
Let us finish with one more reference to Jarry's work, this time to his novel The Supermale, whose theme is the pursuit of the absolute, relegated to an attempt to transcend the barrier of male erotic capacity (7) . The writer also captures the theme within the optics of sport – he combines the dimension of existential experience with the motif of breaking a sports record. In truth, Krzysztof Mętel actually breaks an anti-record, and he does so not with the help of supermales but with those who made a false start at the first attempt. Even so, the effect is similar: by entering into discourse with the principles and the art's value system, he allows us to see places that are uncomfortable, oppressive or possessive, and he seems to be having fun while doing it.
1. Jean-François Lyotard, The Differend
2. Alfred Jarry, Exploits And Opinions Of Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysician.
3. Slogan on the cover of the horror film Re-Animator (1985), directed by Stuart Gordon.
4. Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
5. The words of Baltasar Gracian, quoted in: McKenzie Wark, The Spectacle of Disintegration. Situationist Passages Out of the Twentieth Century
6. Parataxis is the placing of clauses or phrases one after another; it is also sometimes referred to as additive style.
7. Alfred Jarry, The Supermale