Marcin Maciejowski

BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead
1 February-2 June 2013

Marcin Maciejowski was born in Poland. He studied fine arts at the Krakow Art Academy where he developed his realist style. When Communism was abolished in Poland in 1989, Maciejowski was fifteen years old. This huge social and political upheaval affected the young artist and his earliest and current work. During his studies he began to present his work on billboards, disused apartment blocks and famous landmarks and developed a style similar to that seen in magazines and comic books.

The Maciejowski exhibition at Baltic in Gateshead, which consists solely of oil on canvas, has two distinct sides to it. The first takes images from pop culture and presents them in Maciejowski’s own unique style. He shows scenes from The Godfather (I and II) in a comic strip style, Sid Vicious’ (bass guitarist for the Sex Pistols) arrest in 1978, and eight canvases of faceless celebrities on the red carpet.

The second facet of work on display consists of a series of photographs which look as if they were taken from the corner of a party or the back of a bar. Maciejowski’s art has a running theme in which the facial features of the models in his pieces are hidden or simply not depicted. This, combined with a few paintings that appear as if they are scenes from ordinary life makes the art relatable. I found myself creating elaborate stories for these unnamed, faceless models.

This element of the unknown in every piece is intriguing. By leaving out the models’ faces, perhaps Maciejowski is commenting on the lack of personality in pop culture and society itself, or simply allowing the viewer the freedom to define the character themselves.

Maciejowski does however command control of the viewer through his manipulation of light. His work seems realistic even while being incredibly simple. In every piece you can see where the light is coming from and how it highlights significant parts. In Akalgari, the camera flash reflects off black leather shoes. In Self Portrait with a bandaged ear, you notice the shine of a Polaroid picture. Its simplicity and haunting realism stays with you.

I’ve always felt rather out of place in art galleries yet the Marcin Maciejowski exhibition attracted a wide and varied audience. I saw a small boy, no older than eight, laughing at the nude paintings, art students studying each painting in depth, and old couples happily wandering round. So, if you’re an art expert or an art novice don’t be scared, try something new and get yourself along to Baltic.

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