MEET THE ARTIST: Jarek Mankiewicz

MEET THE ARTIST: Jarek Mankiewicz

You mentioned that your geometric abstractions are inspired by typography and architecture. Could you tell us more about how these passions influence your artistic creations? How do you incorporate elements from typography and architecture into your paintings?

Typography and architecture have always been at the center of my interests. Even during my studies, I was frequently incorporating individual letters or entire words into my graphics, paintings, and illustrations. As for architecture, I have been considering studying architecture, pondering which direction to choose. In the end, I opted for visual arts, a decision I am very satisfied with.
Elements from these worlds still exist in my creative work, although they have evolved. They are not as literal and immediately noticeable. I find inspiration in various intriguing shapes, regardless of whether they originate from typography, architecture, or something entirely different. I always treat them as a starting point, a component that I manipulate, break down into smaller factors, and then use to construct new compositions and forms.

Cubism, Constructivism, Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, and Modernism are mentioned as wider influences on your work. How do these historical art movements inform your artistic practice? What aspects and assumptions from these movements do you combine with contemporary elements in your paintings?

We live and create in a time where it seems that everything has already been done in the field of traditional visual arts. I am interested in art history and have always enjoyed exploring different styles and movements in art. When looking at history, it is easier to make specific divisions and categorize artists' works. However, today, everything tends to blend, intersect, and merge together.
I create artworks in the style of geometric abstraction. However, I often utilize real objects as a starting point and subject them to analysis and deconstruction, in order to build something new from them. I frequently incorporate geometric figures that act as closing brackets, completing the composition. The shapes are precisely defined and outlined, but their filling and texture clearly reveal brushstrokes and gestures, resulting in textured surfaces rather than smooth ones. These are among the elements that can be found in the mentioned artistic movements.
Modernism is a broader concept that refers to the cultural period from the late 19th century to the first half of the 20th century. It was during this period that significant advancements were made in the visual arts. What we currently observe in the art market is still influenced by that era. Many revolutionary solutions were first introduced during that time, and they are now being replicated. I do not hide this; in fact, I emphasize that I gladly draw inspiration from those years while adding a contemporary touch.

Your paintings showcase complex structures and layers of flat geometric shapes that interpenetrate each other, creating a sense of depth and inviting viewers to explore. Can you discuss your process of building these layered compositions? How do you determine the interplay of individual layers?

I work with layers. Each layer is a uniform but semi-transparent shape. I paint with acrylics mixed with a glazing medium, which gives the paint a partially opaque quality. By layering one on top of another, the subsequent layers create more complex structures and a sense of depth. The areas where multiple layers intersect become brighter and more homogeneous. The structures and shapes appear more intricate and elaborate. This provides room for the viewer's imagination to engage. Everyone has different experiences and perceives various phenomena differently. While my starting point might have been a particular letter or architectural detail observed on a building, someone else might perceive a face, a garden plan, an X-ray image of a human body, or anything else that their imagination and experiences suggest them.

The use of acrylic paint with glazing medium adds depth and movement to your artwork. Could you elaborate on how you employ these materials to achieve the desired effects? How do you navigate the balance between opacity and translucency in your paintings?

I use acrylic paint because of its properties. Specifically, the drying time. By working in layers, if I were to use oils, I would have to wait a long time for each layer to dry before I could proceed with the next one. The process of creating a single artwork would extend to several months. By using acrylics, this time is shortened to a few days. It is a conscious and practical choice.
Acrylic paint is typically opaque. Therefore, I add a special medium to make it partially transparent. I prepare a mix of paints (using only primary colors - yellow, red, and blue, along with black and white) with a glazing medium. I check the coverage of the mixture and modify it until I achieve the desired effect. I use a particular mixture to paint all the layers of the same colour in one painting.

Your artistic style seems to blend precise geometric forms with a sense of natural imperfection. Can you discuss the interplay between these two elements in your work? How do you maintain a balance between geometric precision and the textures that create and fill the structure?

All of my paintings are done by hand with a brush, without the use of stencils or other matrices. Most often, the artworks are based on a previously developed sketch, which may undergo slight modifications during the execution. Nonetheless, the forms and shapes are very specific, with distinct edges, reflecting geometric precision. However, what fills these geometries is much more free and imperfect, although it still follows certain rules. The filling, despite being flat, is not uniform. It is imperfect enough that you can see the texture resulting from brushstrokes.
Therefore, it all comes down to striking a balance between the precision of the shape and the imperfection of its filling.

What role does observation play in your artistic process? How do you approach observing and reinterpreting the world around you through your art? Are there specific techniques or practices you employ to capture the essence of the world in your geometric abstractions?

Despite the outcome is an abstraction, the starting point is often derived from some objects observed in the real world. While I was studying, one of my professors once said that we should look down under our feet because that's where a whole vast and inspiring world lies. Now, I not only look down but also look around every day. Inspiration can hide anywhere; you just need to be able to see it. Walking the streets of Lisbon, I noticed that there are often small V-shaped holes under balconies. I suspect they serve as water drains. On one of the buildings near Parque metro station, the shape of these drains was particularly intriguing, so I took a photo of it and later used it as the main motif in a series of paintings. The initial shape was the same, but I incorporated it differently each time, resulting in each painting being unique while maintaining the same character.
To mention a few other real objects that have inspired me to paint specific artworks - unfolded cardboard boxes, letters from signs or other inscriptions on buildings, abandoned furniture in the middle of the sidewalk, patterns from calçadas, a building structures, shadows on the streets, and so on.

Can you share any specific challenges or rewards you’ve experienced in your artistic journey? Are there any projects or exhibitions that have been particularly significant for your growth as an artist?

The challenge is reaching the audience. As a foreigner trying to build a new life in a different country, I strive to immerse myself in the world of Portuguese art. This process is time-consuming and requires building a network of connections. Let's face it, it's difficult to succeed without support. However, I am gradually participating in various events and exhibitions, getting to know wonderful new people, and thus developing myself as an artist.

One of the significant recent events I took part in was held in May in Warsaw, Poland, at the Desa Unicum auction house, where I found myself alongside renowned names from the contemporary Polish and international art scene. It was a thematic exhibition focused on the color of the year 2023, which is magenta. The exhibition, titled "Viva Magenta," featured works by artists such as Wojciech Fangor, Victor Vasarely, Julian Stańczak, Piotr Uklański, Jan Dobkowski, and Paweł Kowalewski. While these names may not be well-known to art enthusiasts in the Iberian Peninsula, they are highly esteemed in Poland, my home country.

Participating in this exhibition was a great honor and an interesting experience for me. Seeing my painting among the works of such influential artists and realizing that my artistic expression fits well within that context was truly gratifying.

How do you want viewers to engage with your artwork? What emotions, ideas, or reactions do you hope to evoke in those who experience your geometric abstractions?

I am very pleased when viewers stop in front of my paintings and start examining them closely, approaching them, and looking at how they were painted. It means that something has intrigued and captivated them. I don't assume any specific reactions. I am happy when they notice what is important to me and what I try to convey through my paintings, but I am also curious about what they perceive that I haven't thought of. I believe that's what art is about, to provide freedom of interpretation. Everyone will notice something different, will have different associations, and experience different emotions based on their own experiences and sensitivities.
The most important thing is to intrigue and encourage the viewer to look and discover in their own way, to find arbitrary shapes, emotions, and ideas within these compositions.

What are your aspirations and goals as an artist? Are there any specific themes, techniques, or directions you would like to explore further in your future works?

Geometric abstraction has become the center of my interests relatively recently, about two years ago. Despite their concrete and quite distinct style, I see a clear development in my artistic work. I want this development to continue naturally and intuitively. I don't want to force anything or turn things upside down. If at some point the abstractions start taking on more realistic shapes and, for example, turn into still life, it will certainly be a result of a natural process. I'm not saying that I will start painting Dutch style still lifes, but over time, everything will evolve.
As an artist in a new place of residence, I encounter new challenges that I gradually overcome. Getting to know people is the first of them. The second challenge was finding a studio. A few months ago, I found a perfect space for myself at this stage. It is Atelier Artéria, a studio shared with other artists, where I have a place to work, develop, and get to know Portuguese culture.
Currently, my challenge and the main goal is to organize a solo exhibition in Portugal. There are many galleries and exhibition spaces here, but reaching them is not as easy.

Is there anything else you would like to share about your art, creative process, or philosophy that we haven’t covered in the interview so far?

My painting focuses on "layering" and constructing complex structures from simple elements. This goes beyond the literal technique of painting. There is something more to it. There is a painting, but on the other side, there is the viewer who has built their complex world from their individual experiences, history, and sensitivity. Each of us is composed of such individual experiences and encounters. And each of us is unique in our own way. So, despite navigating the same world, we are still different. And that is also what my art is about. I use basic elements, like modules, and I construct something different, new and complex from them each time.

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