Andrzej Nowicki 'Sleep Depot' at David Krut Projects
by Leigh-Anne Niehaus
Andrzej Nowicki is a young artist we will shortly be losing to New York: he is relocating there soon with his wife. This is a great pity, because I found his nostalgic take on memory construction in is latest show 'Sleep Depot', at David Krut Projects, both playful and stimulating. The first notion that came to mind when entering this show was 'refreshing': at the opening, the gallery space was filled with fresh young faces that overflowed onto the sidewalk. Krut seems to have struck while the iron was hot with this young artist. Despite his youth, Nowicki's currency is assured, evidenced not only by the power of the images, but in this case by the red-dots below almost each work on display.
This trendsetting gallery is a fitting space for Nowicki's work. The show is hung in a deliberately casual manner, which compliments the rather complex imagery of the work, the intricacy of which draws the eye ever closer. The works are variously watercolour and gouache on paper, oil on canvas and prints of varying sizes. The right wall of the gallery is hung with a mixture of his larger paintings and prints while the opposing wall is mishmash of paintings in different sized and coloured frames. The latter arrangement is more interesting; one can spend hours staring at the denseness of imagery in the watercolours. The longer you stare, the more they seem to confound sense.
Nowicki is a recent Masters graduate from the Michaelis School of Fine Arts in Cape Town, and a recipient of the Irma Stern Scholarship. He has shown extensively at Whatiftheworld Gallery in Cape Town and once before at David Krut. In his first 8 years of his life in Poland, he remembers his father bringing him British and American comics; not being conversant in English at the time, he constructed his own narratives based on his interpretations of the images. This snippet of information seems to hold clues about the intentions of this exhibition. The comic influences are clearly visible and include use of speech bubbles, separation of space into panels and his stylistic use of flat form all seen in his work Untitled (Man in yellow suit).
The show's title, 'Sleep Depot' is a reference to Nowicki's image repository made up of past artworks, recollections, photographs and other accumulated impressions. Remembered, forgotten and then remembered again, we are left with half memories, constructed as arbitrarily as a dream would be. This process of distortion eventually spits out a language made up of repeated symbols; a pictographic alphabet made up of crocodiles, radios, knives and coffins carved into logs. These distorted symbols are then engineered into theatrical scenes both eerie and uneasy in nature and reminiscent of the artist Fred Page, the South African surrealist painter active in the 1960's. Page too played on the irrational relationship between the real and absurd, and the reuse of certain objects that seemingly have no logical function.
Nowicki's work is often likened to Neo Rauch of the Leipzig school; Rauch's paintings combine the Social Realism of communism with the aesthetic of American comics. Similarly there are traditional illustration and comic references in Nowicki's images ; it's a sort of 'Tintin' crossed with 'Tales from the Crypt'. But we should not ignore a definite theatrical element of Nowicki's work, as seen in Untitled (Mountains held up with stilts). Not only are these scenes highly constructed but also seem two-dimensional to the point of ephemerality, as if a gust of wind would reveal each component to be made out of thin, flimsy cardboard cut-outs. This reinforces the idea of re-used and half-forgotten memories, motifs repeated until they are almost flat and colourless.
To further build his sets, Nowicki incorporates collage. Used charmingly in Untitled (woman looking at food on table), we see the creation of real shadow by allowing the collage to pull up from the paper. However, Nowicki predominantly uses collage to strengthen the flat effect characteristic of theatrical set production, and to bring in a sharpened line difficult to achieve through watercolour.�The transparent and immediate effects of watercolour are somewhat final. Similarly in Nowicki's prints, exemplified in Untitled (woman with projector), we see again the parenthetical use of 'collage through chine collé and embossing.
Nowicki's palette was consciously developed through his years at Michaelis to create separate his approach from that of his peers. More European than African in it's subdued hues and simplicity, it is probable that his early years in Poland really did have an affect on the way he sees. Nowicki's use of colour works well to extend the idea of memory many times removed, like clothing washed too many times, there is an inevitable fading. Nowicki's flat and disconnected figures further exemplify a sense of dislocation and nostalgia. This is consistent with the experience of someone who has gradually become removed, both culturally and geographically, from his place of origin.
The conscious avoidance of direct communication in Nowicki's work allows space for the viewer to actively interpret what they see in front of them; but this interpretation is not a serious and cerebral enterprise. In contrast to the preceding generation of South African artists, who felt it was their duty to educate and expose through their work, Nowicki seems to take himself less seriously than his predecessor and allows his viewers to do the same.
Leigh-Anne Niehaus is the assistant curator at the Premises Gallery in Johannesburg.
David Krut Projects
142 Jan Smuts Avenue, Parkwood, Johannesburg
Tel: (011) 447 3157
Hours: Tue - Fri 9am - 5pm, Sat 9am - 4pm