It happens rarely indeed that a young artist, since almost the very beginning of his creative path, has been able to define a distinct painterly idiom. However, this is just the case of Łukasz Huculak. Regardless the changes that his painting has undergone, and still undergoes, there is no trouble with recognising his canvas. Since the first glance we already know – it is Huculak. Nevertheless, when it comes to describing traits of this idiom, they occur to be not so easily captured. We can only indicate few clues Huculak's paintings provide. These clues may be misleading. The artist, who appreciates “strangeness and unambiguousness of the external world” so much, after all defends also unambiguousness of his own world. He prefers leaving onlookers in uncertainty, in swaying feeling of reality and unreality, materiality and immateriality, certainty and confusion.
Clue one – emptiness and silence
- “…if I have some dreamed-of pictures in my mind, they are surely empty or almost empty, nevertheless there is a kind of energy – the relations, though accidental, comprise absolute necessity; the energy that results, excuse my bombastic tone, in metaphysical illumination
…” – Łukasz Huculak says, being interviewed by Bogusław Deptuła.
The concept of a picture that has “nothing or almost nothing” in it is a very old one. The most peculiar anecdote about artists told by Pliny is about noble rivalry between two legendary Greek painters: Apelles and Protogenes. Apelles had a wish to get to know his rival Protogenes who used to live on the island of Rhodes. Apelles did not find him in a studio, instead, there was an old servant looking after a big board ready to be painted. When she asked whose visit she was supposed to announce, Apelles replied: “this one” – and grabbing a brush, he led with it an extremely thin, coloured line on the board. When Protogenes returned, after having seen the line, he was certain that it must have been Apelles only, as no one else was able to perform so perfectly. But he faced the challenge. With another colour he led an even thinner line in the middle of the first one. After his comeback Apelles declared he had been beaten up, still not surrendering, with the third colour he cut out the previous lines. At that moment Protogenes, admitting that Apelles had won, decided to hand the painting over to the following generations, “to be admired by everyone, especially painters. It got burnt
– as the story is continued by Pliny – in the first fire of Cesar's house on Palatine. But before it happened, we had a chance to look at it sufficiently enough. It was large indeed and did not comprise anything but the almost invisible lines, therefore, among fine works of many painters it made an impression of an empty picture; but that was why it attracted everyone's eyes and looked more precious than any other painting”
Pliny's tale is not only a praise of antique artists' hand skills. It is also an excellent remark on force of emptiness in a picture: “though it made an impression of an empty one (…) that was why it attracted everyone's eyes and looked more precious…”
. Łukasz Huculak's painting is distant from geometrical, pure abstraction, which has its prefiguration in perfectly drawn lines of competing painters. However, quite similarly, what attracts most in many of his paintings is this very emptiness. Emptiness which is the only visual equivalent of silence. And this silence that fills up emptiness seems to be a constitutive trait of Huculak's paintings. And it is not only for this reason that many of them, following old genre classifications, are “still lives”, called by us “dead nature”.
To talk about muteness of a picture may seem to be a paradox, as pictures are naturally silent. Painting is surely “silent poetry”. Therefore, a picture should be silent to become poetry. The artist is aware of this. Empty spaces in his pictures are dominated by silence.
Trace two – stains on a wall
Cable, Stick, Ceiling, Stains, Floor, Litters, Dirt
these are titles of Huculak recent paintings. Cable is a bowed twig set in contrast with a straight line, which horizon alike parts the wall from the floor. The twig casts a faint shadow. And it is all. Stick – white, leaning against the wall in the corner of a room, built of three grey planes. It casts a shadow that draws the second in this painting triangle. And again it is all, despite for a stain of dripping white paint on the wall. Stains, Ceiling, Dirt
these are only amorphic, achromatic, shapeless forms.
These minimalistic paintings indicate yet another, also old clue.
“…when you look intently at walls covered up with stains or at stones variously mixed and you want to picture a scene, you are able to find similarities with various landscapes decorated with mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, great plains, valleys and hills varied in shapes (…) Such walls covered with disordered stains happen to be like voices of bells – in their chimes you are able to find any name and word you evoke in your imagination.
Do not underestimate my thought; it reminds you that it is good to stop sometimes to observe stains on the walls or ash from a bonfire, or clouds, mud or other similar things. If you look at them, you will find charming ideas, arousing a painter's mind to new concepts…”
Łukasz Huculak does not paint various landscapes decorated with mountains, he does not depict rivers, rocks or trees. He paints only fungic stains, damp drippings, flaking-off walls, lichen on plaster. And only this. With this gesture of stopping, giving up, restraining from further painting, viewers are left with a wide open space for imagination. He leaves them with freedom of invention. He gives away an impulse to find “charming ideas”
. By suggesting ambiguous and complicated shapes, he arouses and animates mind. The one who is looking has a chance to create his own picture of “infinite number of things”
he is capable of evoking in his imagination. Floor can become a stormy sea, Dirt
– expanse of the sky, Ceiling
– a dimmed, distant landscape. Each of these paintings become our own “soul landscape”, the only and unrepeatable one.
Clue three – Gutai
The picture entitled Stick
looks like painterly documentation of a conceptual installation. It is also the case of Litter
– torn white sheets of paper scattered about in a narrow, sharp-angled tight space. Is it a memory of the Foksal Gallery from the beginning of the 1970s? It is surely a paradox. Conceptualism and a painter working in traditional techniques, giving his pictures a look of old, fainted frescoes? Is it possible to reconcile textural elements, sensual painterly matter to conceptual idea of rejecting the work's materialisation?
And yet Łukasz Huculak himself leads us to this conceptual clue. One of his pictures is entitled Gutai
. We find ourselves in a so admired by Huculak space of neither a sort of a gallery, nor a kind of an abandoned and neglected palace. There are a few strange objects exposed in this space. A cylinder, a rod thrust in the floor, a rectangular construction making up a sort of a croft. These hard straight shapes serve – alike traditional sculpture postaments – as bases for cloud-like, immaterial forms hovering above. The universe of matter stands up for immaterial world. Geometry gives birth to the formless. The measurable and the tangible transform into the undefined and the elusive.
The Japanese association Gutai, active since the 1950s to the beginning of the 1970s, nowadays, from the perspective of a half of a century, is perceived as a group with the most subversive potential. Iconoclastic, destructive, transgressive actions of Gutai members, plucking from all traditions and conventions, both related with creation and artistic life, in their radicalism they went further and more courageous than Euro-American artists, Conceptualists or Fluxus's activities of that time.
However, by evoking the Gutai group, Huculak places his peculiar installations in a degraded, still distinctly gallery-like space. Does he want to say that even the most rebellious opposition to institutionalisation and commercialisation of art ends up with an aesthetically suspicious defeat in a gallery? The Gutai association have stayed for numerous museum canonisation, great retrospectives at Jeu de Paume in Paris and at the Viennese Biennial three years ago. Is the initiated by Huculak dialogue with Conceptualism a perverted one? Or is it such an equivocal tribute as Hommage a Morandi
, where we can see a “Morandi-like” still-life in disintegration? Huculak's paintings do not answer these and other questions. His pictures actually pose them.