Meet Jarek Puczel, the minimalist romantic that spills entire narratives with a few brushstrokes and layers of paint. His use of negative space leaves you with the room for imagining, connecting and placing yourself into these paintings, simultaneously disclosing and hiding the tension and emotion depicted in each scene. He reduces these moments to details, painting characters with empty faces or simple silhouettes painted in a soothing washed out colour palette. Lovers gained him worldwide recognition a few years ago and today he is being represented by galleries such as the Robert Fontaine Gallery and Galerie Sandhofer.
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Tell us a little about how you started your career in the creative fields.
At the beginning it wasn't obvious for me at all that I wanted to become just a painter. It seemed like a limitation for me, so I have been looking to express myself somehow as a creative person. I played in a band of electronic music in my birth town, Ketrzyn (Poland), then started to make movies and write screenplays at the Creative Film Workshops in Warsaw. For many years I was also a computer graphic designer at Publishing House. Looking from today’s point of view, I think that this broad background, plus humanistic education (Art Pedagogy at the University of Warsaw), has been helpful for me as a painter.
In 2011 I was able to gain interest of a well-established gallery in Warsaw, called Milano, and it was the beginning of our long-term, warm cooperation until today. However, I was still looking for places to present my work to a wider audience, engaging in activities of a few online art portals, and taking part in competitions. My real turning point came in 2012 along with the online popularity of one painting: Lovers. Since then, I started getting proposals for collaboration – for instance from Robert Fontaine Gallery in Miami and Galerie Sandhofer in Innsbruck.
In your own words, how would you describe your style?
Emotional, but calming and reduced in shape and colour. Building stories, but pointing at illusion and unveiling the materiality of paints. Showing the individuals, but talking about common human experiences.
There is probably something deeply ‘Eastern European’ in my style. You can even feel the heritage of painting icons: human figures are reduced in details to their main psychological features, and depicted mainly on flat backgrounds – it sounds like an echo of the notion, that outside world doesn't matter. Paradoxically, such an old-time iconic heritage can be regarded as a progressive conceptual basis. By the way, the outside world really doesn't exist, as quantum physics teaches us.
When I look at your painting, especially your Lovers series, I feel like I'm looking at a private moment frozen in time, censored and protected by your layers of pink paint. What did you want to portray through these works?
As you have sensed, I focus my attention on deeply hidden, intimate connections between couples. These two people create the deepest field of emotional experiences, the strongest tensions, and fields of learning through love and pain. But of course, you can't see anything unless you're inside as an intimate participant. The outside viewer sees nothing, so we are ‘censored or protected’, as you have noticed. The paint shows and covers at the same time. The surface gets wavy and subjected to an alternating rhythm of disturbances, between tension and calm.mAnd we are forced to read between the lines, to dive into this situation with our interpretation, with our own emotions in the mirror of the painting.
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I see some resemblance between your work and that of Rene Magrite; your Lovers series seeming an ode to his painting, The Lovers. Does Magrite have a big influence on your work?
I haven't thought about it in that way, but I can see that we both pay attention to similar things: like playing with presented characters, interpenetrating realities, or unveiling the illusions. The use of the negative space as a carrier of meanings is also crucial. This surrealistic approach is, without a doubt, important and vivid for me.
Your paintings are usually very minimal yet full of narrative. How do you go about choosing which elements to include in each composition?
I try to use ‘the law of attraction’ as a method of work. First, I have to encounter something that moves me and resonates with my current thoughts and feelings. It could be a social situation, my individual experience, something I noticed in cinema, etc. Then that emerging idea attracts related images. Well, usually you need to help it a little, browsing the Internet or private resources to collect material to be used and transformed. Then combine certain elements and reduce others to highlight the main idea. As you noticed, I avoid sketching every detail, minimizing and intensifying my creation as much as I can.
Are the characters in your paintings works of your own imagination or do you base them on real people?
The starting point is always a specific individual, usually captured in the photo. While working on a computer project, and especially during the painting process, the personal features become blurred. That is my aim; I care about ‘intimate anonymity’. People usually find their own emotions and thoughts in my work. This is very elevating for me, because I care about psychological openness in my paintings.
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Where do you look for inspiration?
The social reality provides me with rich material – especially deeply hidden emotions focus my attention, like all these intense stories regarding closely related people. Apart from that, I have some thoughts and ideas simply floating in the air, and there are secret paths between creators of various kinds. I like to attend concerts and visit exhibitions because it gives me the proper environment to develop my own creativity.
Are you currently working on anything new?
I'm continuously working on the idea of the connections and the common fields between the people. In my newest canvas two girls are leaning against the wall, gazing at each other, and their skirts are melted into one black object. I try to express something about sensing not only through the conscious or rational part of us, seen as individuals, but also through the collective body.
An exhibition of your work is opening in your hometown in October. What is your favourite thing about Warsaw and about Poland?
I must correct this, because I currently live in another Polish city, Olsztyn. However, I have strong links with our capital. I think that the biggest value of Warsaw is its revolutionary and romantic spirit, that gives the energy to be reborn in tough situations, like wars or uprisings. The most subtle and uplifting expression of this is Chopin's music. It seems to me that this spirit is present now, and I can see it on the dynamics and creativity of the people. Of course Poles have their drawbacks and fears, but I prefer to focus on the advantages, so that we can give to ourselves and to other nations the love of freedom and independence.
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