Magdalena Wicherkiewicz

…art entreats the existence to make it last.
Julia Hartwig1

It is light and form
Jean Clair 2

The most recent paintings by Łukasz Huculak are noticeably brighter than his previous ones. Perhaps one day I will return to a white square on a white background – he said in an interview with Bogusław Deptuła. Although he has not reached the white square, he has manifestly approached whiteness in his recent paintings. He has “put down” colour. His paintings seem to be locked in a white – pale-grey colour palette. However, another attribute can be seen in Łukasz Huculak's latest cycle – several black paintings. They are a “colourful” complement and a counterpoint, directing us towards a verity wherein the “purification” process can also take the opposite direction – towards black. White and black – the two extremities of painting.
The “Hygiene” exhibition is comprised of several paintings, coherent both in subject and style. The title of the exhibition,
although it may sound outlandish in the context of painting, directs our contemplation of the work towards the common roots of art and medicine. We still, although rarely, use the phrase, “the art of medicine”, and more often or not we think about its connection with science but the immediacy of medicine and art points to their common function – purification. Of body and soul; the introduction of harmony and the building of an inner equilibrium. Greek Hygea, one of the daughters of Asclepius, the Greek patron of physicians (or – according to other sources – his wife), is the goddess of health. Health as understood as the balance of the elements in the organism and also in the mystical sense as the balance between life and death. Hygea was the goddess of health who could be reached through a proper “hygienic” demeanor and the methodical recognition of the alternating states of health and sickness within the cyclical processes of transformation progressing from a state of darkness, sickness, misunderstanding and chaos to clarity and balance. And back. Never reaching extremes because these are not recommended for the organism.
What unites medicine and art is catharsis. This concept is traced back to Pythagoras (although the occurrence itself was known in pre-Classic times; from Chorea, and was performed during rituals and mysteria, combining dance, music, song and poetry), who saw in art the power to cleanse the soul and soothe malevolent feelings. According to Pythagoreans, music was the art most predetermined to purify the soul. It was briefly and rather ambiguously described by Aristotle in “Poetics”: Pythagoreans used medicine to purify the body and music to cleanse the soul. Catharsis has the similar language derivation as catharmos – rituals in which the cathatrai pacified the sick in the temples of Asclepius prior to commencing the appropriate treatment. Catharmos was comprised of fasting, bathing, the wearing of white garments and the making of a piacular sacrifice. The intention here was the purification of the body and the spirit.
As art can also have this catharsis quality, then the spaces where it is presented (analogically to the environmental character of the place where the above treatments occurred) such as museums, galleries should be special places, secluded and sacred. They are spaces where the order of art prevails. These “special places” are the theme of Łukasz Huculak's recent work: Hiperstesis, Isolation, Curator. The objects presented in those spaces are also particular: paintings, artistic objects: miracula, mirabilia, curiosa, regalia, preciosa … Everything as arranged in a museum, in an order of sorts. Museum-related themes have already appeared in Łukasz Huculak's previous paintings. This time, however, the whitened colouring of the paintings directs us to the awareness of a white cube, an exhibition space which is “hygienic” and “cleansed”, separated from the outer world to minimize the stimuli reaching it. Everything is done to view a painting, a sculpture, an installation in an isolated manner, in the way the brain analyses events. To be able to see.
Looking at Łukasz Huculak' recent paintings we become aware that he is referring not only to the functional, cathartic aspect of art, but to begin with he thinks of his work as a form of purification.
Painting is the proper choice of elements, subtracting what might be considered accidental, introducing compositional order. The peeling back and removal of what is accidentally visible – as he calls it. Bringing out what is important, clear and permanent. Hygienic. Giving form to matter and thought. Hygiene is also order and tidiness. And those – the artist adds – are abstracts which exist in nature only on a cosmic scale. This, perhaps, may be said more precisely – that they exist but are not directly accessible, understanding them requires an exertion of detection. It is the same with individual, self expression. Its direct revelation is not the aim of art. A painting is a record of a more general meaning, it combines personal expression with afterthought. Painting although it is realized through matter is primarily an intellectual process. It is the domain of sight, the most noble, pleasant sense with the broadest spectrum – quoting George Berkeley, who is esteemed by the artist. Łukasz Huculak's creative practice is accompanied by a philosophical reflection proving that artistic creation is also the domain of epistemology. In his recent work Huculak remains under the evident influence of the idealistic philosophy of Berkeley. Some paintings from the cycle are a specific discourse with the Irishman's point of view. This pertains to those depicting particular still life compositions – a cup placed on a rectangular surface hanging in emptiness (Berkeley), but it is even more apparent where a real object in its reality disappears and geometric and abstract shapes appear (Isolation, Interior-realism). These paintings seem to clearly reflect pure impressions of object-lessness, the way in which our mind – using only abstraction – sees impressions. However, the practice of painting, which is a material activity “is in opposition to” the idealism imposed by the intellect. Therefore, the painter, to remain a painter, can only engage in activity within the space between reality and abstraction and to strive towards, “notdepicting”, not reaching it. This thought has lead Łukasz Huculak to introduce the category of vanishing, which is crucial to his present point of view. Shape, colour, taste, sound – do not really exist in the object which we perceive, but in us, we who perceive those sensual impressions. Therefore they do not exist without us. What then remains of an object if we take away its: shape, colour and sound? It disappears. It disappears from our senses – he writes in his doctoral thesis. To be is to perceive or to be perceived, quoting Berkeley. Contact with an object, the attempt to seize it, paradoxically leads to it vanishing. As if the mind has “defended” itself from an excess of “hard facts”, purified itself and introduced clarity and hygiene. As if it demanded cleanliness and isolation, to be able to give itself to reflection. So the implicit process of disappearing “happens” in Łukasz Huculak's recent paintings.
But Łukasz Huculak is first of all a painter… And the issue of materiality is the underlying dilemma in the field he deals with. In our
present times, when any painting that exists has its sources in photography and other techniques of reproduction, Huculak's paintings strongly manifest their reality. Coarseness. Presence. They are small so they can focus the eyes of the viewer instead of overwhelming the viewer with their size. They seem to illustrate the proposal that “painting is of the body” (in his remarks on painting Łukasz Huculak often refers to the reflections of French philosopher Jean–Luc Nancy, to the analogy “painting-body”). That painting is a real thing. It is also, as a body, a subjective and an inevitable reality. And as a body – it is susceptible to damage; it is subject to the inescapable law of time. In its materiality it contains the idea of vanitas. Such understanding of painting is confirmed by every gesture of the painter: re-painting, subsequent layers of paint, then scraping, peeling back… In order to obtain the fullness of these effects, Łukasz Huculak habitually uses tempera and gouache. The paint dries quickly, it is mat in its finish and “susceptible” to many further interventions. All these traces underline the importance of the artist's know-how. With the progressive conceptualization of art, know-how is no longer anymore pertinent. The first “how” in early art which was connected with the domain of, techne, deepening and exercising the painting technique, has now almost completely given way to the answer to the question, “what”? Know-how also has a crucial meaning in the perception of a painting. The material and solid form compels us to develop an attitude of discovering. This is required both in the process of creating and perceiving the painting.
In emphasizing the process of the passage of time, the expunging of painting structures reveals yet another aspect of Łukasz Huculak's art. Depositing additional layers is also – painting over, and scraping off – is erasing.Conscious destruction. These are procedures carried out within the painting and in the direction of the painting. This is a reflection on painting performed through painting. The reduction to white of recent paintings, the process of purifying them, is also, in a sense, symbolically revealing what is invisible. Revealing what an idea is. The mystery of painting is how an idea can be enclosed by something material and impermanent. This statement (and his painting) contains Łukasz Huculak's artistic credo.
The artwork of Łukasz Huculak is an attempt to reach an agreement between the material properties of painting and the need to capture what is non-material. This bizarre embrace of spirit and matter, mental images and “sensual” images – as he says. When the surface of the painting is saturated with its compactness: it absorbs subsequent layers of paint, re-painting, then on, conversely, in retreat it appears to turn in the opposite direction, decreasing, whitening, blackening, scouring and purifying… This is also another attempt to achieve the ascetics of minimalism and material plenitude simultaneously.
and material plenitude simultaneously. It is similar to an excess in the visible elements which we experience: in moments of satiation, the need for a diminution of the visual appears; so that which is overwhelming loses its intensity and the outline of objects immerge and flow into the undefined…
1 J. Hartwig, Jest tym, in: Zawsze od nowa, Warsaw 1999, p. 121
2 J. Clair, De Immundo, Gdańsk 2007, p. 14