Once upon a time not too long ago, beyond the seven renders, beyond the seven gradients, there was a land inhabited by Homo Ludens. The people were led in kindness and a fondness of playful mischief by Dominik Rafał, who was most fully recognized for his virtuous spirit. This is a remarkable land, where the sterile, lab-like setting painted in grey does not fear the approach of the hot hue of joy. Where the figures of Ludens in their majestic poses transform, after a moment, into terrifying bodies that are ready to act on their licentious inclinations. Johan Huizinga once wrote about this mysterious tribe in prophetic tones. Their raw, untamed beauty, in spite of their cozy and tender charm, is not the most obvious to the eye. Their skin reveals scintillating shimmers that appears to have been formed from the same resin of shiny bicycle helmets. They may also be recognized thanks to their massive rakes and shoulders that the local chicks swoon over. And so, ruminations on the harmony of the world comes easily to them, even when they're balanced on their heads, with their legs contorted in the shape of a Nike swoosh. To put it plainly: The Ludens love to play and their images are highly in demand.
It might be quite a banal statement to suggest that Rafał Dominik has created an imagined world of enchantment through his art. It's a truism that could apply to any artist. Particularly within the institutional art circuit, such a thing is perceived, at the very least, as incredibly cheesy. And yet, banality and cheesiness are the very motifs that Dominik tends to flirt with in his practice. And so, I shall state it plainly after all: Rafał Dominik has created an imagined world of enchantment through his art.
Homo Ludens, the tribe inhabiting this world, is a concept drawn from the title of the book by the Dutch scholar Johan Huizinga. To put it as plainly as possible: Homo Ludens is a playful kind of being. And this play, this popular, folk, disco-polo-like, full of the clamor of bazaars and weddings and overall bawdiness, is closest to Dominik's heart. The sort that many of us, in our pompous and snobbish-intellectual circles of art, are afraid to accept, tending to treat it with disdain. Let him who has never indulged in singing a cheesy wedding party tune cast the first stone.
It's in this way that all the personages that Dominik has generated are luddic beings. In his slightly bungling figures reminiscent of the socialist laborer, who's engaged in rebuilding the nation, remixed with a video game character, plus a dash of influencer dust. It's a sort of contemporary "mutant" that Dominik reveals as the result of a hyperbolic approach to certain characteristics, pumping them up to the maximum. These enormous hands, broad jaws and massive buttocks become the equivalent of traits we know from the aesthetics of dysmorphia: swollen lips, silicon breasts, steroid-infused biceps and abs. Calling out: Life in plastic is fantastic as new Polish folklore manifests itself in its digital guise.
What is most striking about these figures is their charm. There's always a feature that appears oversized, the overblown boobs popping out, the eye disappearing from the frame, shapely thighs in the throes of some acrobatic contortions, the chin jutting forward. And yet with all these apparent imperfections, nothing stands in the way of them showing off their bodies with an air of charming playfulness, dripping with self-assurance and sex appeal. Even their bashful, more intimate gestures are full of flirtation. It's hard not to envy their easygoing attitudes and the alternative vision of beauty they represent.
In his practice, Dominik often works in the realm of 3D renders and nearly all the characters he creates in print can just as easily be translated into the sculptural form. Whether you prefer a sculpture to display in the sitting room or something to hang above the couch, we can procure it all at your whim. This commercial misalliance has become part of his approach in a most transparent way. Some of us have heard about Dominik's tours of shopping malls or seen his sneaker sculptures. Ultimately, the artist must make a living (not to mention the gallery staff), however this understanding of art as a commodity is a key element of Dominik's conceptual process.
Besides the rendered pieces on show, there are also drawings that make up a documentation of Dominik's journey through the world of 3D. While the Homo Ludens of his world have been transferred to the flat page, their forms are still replete with their natural environment - in the way the chiaroscuro is applied as gradients, in the way he thinks about texture and form. The proximity of the hand, the physical touch of the pencil has endowed them with a delicate layer of fragility and subtlety.
Dominik's world is inhabited by enchanted folk. Upon entering, we can easily run into a tactful grump, a wise idiot or an empathetic sociopath. The Ludens community becomes a Utopian social construct in which an easygoing nature and a fondness for simplicity and the banal is not immediately coupled with ignorance, fundamentalism or aggression. Unlike the reality around us, which tends to merge such aspects together and inflict them upon us. In Dominik's world, cheese may be the thing that will save us all.
text: Sebastian Gawłowski