Piotr Uklański, Jupiter Glow (2010). All images via Gagosian Gallery
In his new series on display at the Gagosian Gallery, Discharge!, Piotr Uklański stretches the boundaries of what can be called painting. Rather than add color to a blank canvas, the artist removes color by applying bleach to cotton sheets treated with fiber reactive dyes. This discharge of the bright pigments brings the creative process of painting into question by using an act of removal, rather than addition, to generate images. His method in this series produced vivid images often reminiscent of astronomical photographs in their bursts of color, or cellular patterns in their organic repetition.
More text and images after the jump…
In a style similar to that of the pieces in the exhibition, the walls behind the paintings are intricately patterned with a two tone image. The background gives the room a crowded feel, which is heightened by the close spacing between the pieces. Uklański’s work demands attention and shows no reservations. In a smaller room separate from the rest of the exhibition is a piece composed of clustered ceramic pots and plates, glazed with colors as vivid and varied as the cotton sheets on display. The outward-pointing mouths of the vases seem to threaten the viewer with their brightly-colored, bare insides.
The use of something other than paint to create an image within the realm of a painting follows in a tradition started by earlier artists. The Gagosian Gallery’s press release points to Sigmar Polke’s use of resin on fabrics and Blinky Palermo’s minimal sewn cloth. These non-painting methods subvert the expected course of applying paint to a canvas until an image grows out of it, moving in a different direction—whether it be Polke’s complex layering, Palermo’s simple swatches, or Uklański’s vivid absences.
Uklański bought his cotton canvasses at familiar places—simple bed sheets from Ikea and Bloomingdale’s. Using such common sources of everyday items, combined with the unusual process of bleaching moves away from the idea of art as unapproachable or emerging only from particular tools. Discharge! takes on some qualities of modernism and abstract expressionism while subverting them enough to stand apart. In the press materials, Uklański explains his view of himself as an outsider to the abstract style: “Neither English nor abstraction is my mother tongue. These paintings ‘speak’ an aesthetic ESL.”