Radek Szlaga / Core Lexicon / BWA Zielona Góra, 4-27.11.2016


After having dedicated a pictorial exploration on Polish identity, Belgian colonialism and African history and its ideological and visual reverberations on contemporary society in his series ‘All the Brutes’, Radek Szlaga (°1979, Warsaw) delves in his new body of work in the zone in between. He explores a form of “creolisation”, of cross-cultural references that is also translated in a pictorial way. Creolisation (C) refers to the process in which a colonised nation adapts the official language and culture and spices its up with its own accents and vocabulary, while adding new associations to the dominant discourse.

Being fascinated by the richness of this phenomenon, Szlaga decided to take it as a metaphorical backbone for his new series of work. He does so by combining previously disparate elements from paintings in an unprecedented mix. Quoting and sampling from a wide range of sources has always been a key element in Szlaga’s practice, whether he refers to (art) history, music, literature or cinema. But now he goes a step further by not only quoting other sources but also himself and his earlier production. There are several elements from previous works that pop up, like the apes from the Congo-series, as ghosts from the past, appearing like a palimpsest (P) behind previous layers of paint. Fragments and recurring motifs from earlier bodies of work not only meet but also blend, morph into new entities, create another meaning and take shape in new constellations. Szlaga does that by not only using the metaphorical “cut-and-paste” technique, in which this combining and juxtaposing of different elements is crucial, but also by physically knitting and stitching bits of previous works on new canvasses. That is also evoked literary by the depiction of scissors and the recurrence – in different shapes – of a sewing machine (S).

One of the most recurring elements Szlaga keeps on painting is the mountain (M) that refers to the Szlagówka mountain in the region where his father came from. It almost took Homeric dimensions in his memory, as he was one of the many Poles to leave his home country to chase the American Dream…or whatever is left of it. By sampling and resampling the mountain, in different colour schemes and styles, Szlaga joins a tradition of a pictorial exploration of mythical mountains, whether it is the Fuji Mountain in the prints of Hokusai, or the Mont Saint-Victoire that Cézanne tried to capture in over 80 paintings. Szlaga’s paintings are, unlike his predecessors, not based on the observation of the real mountain, but on the logo of Paramount Pictures. Or how reality is nowadays filtered by the Hollywood dream factory.

Hence, Szlaga’s work is a reflection on the centuries-old medium of painting in this mediated, digital (D) culture. His response to the challenges of the digital culture is embracing the possibilities it offers while emphasising the materiality of the medium painting (P), which explains the deliberate spots of paint, drippings and traces of his brushstrokes, as if to differentiate his paintings from the perfect clean surface of a slick picture on a computer screen.

The “cut-and-paste” technique, the combination of different styles and his diverse use of source material is part of Szlaga’s search for a new, hybrid identity (I). That is also translated in a pictorial way, in which one can see the switch from his previous figurative style that gradually moves more towards abstraction, exploring different styles on the spectrum between figuration and abstraction and sometimes even both within the same work.

The creation of a new identity goes together with the invention of an own language (L), like Spanglish or the Polish- American lingo spoken in the streets of Detroit. That is also evoked in a new version of his “Limited Dictionary” that is explored in a series of works on paper that could almost been seen as an appendix or lexicon to his oeuvre. It is a work in progress he keeps on expanding, changing and adapting.

curator: Sam Steverlynck