Exhibition Review

Hanna Rechnio

Fritters of memories, shapes and colours: the unsolvable puzzle – childhood.


When I stepped into The aTAK Gallery, situated on the top floor of an adorable tenement in Warsaw city centre, I felt a bit uneasy. The tiny apartment, converted into an art gallery, seemed too private, too intimate, as if it was about to be tainted by my presence. After a warm welcome, which magnified the feeling of more of a friendly visit, I entered the living room. In retrospect, I think I was actually thrown into a time machine and later released, quite abruptly, in my own subconsciousness. And that somehow led me to my childhood.

Jarosław Modzelewski, A Calf on a Fence, 2021

To those familiar with Jarosław Modzelewski’s works, the theme of childhood in this exhibition came as a big surprise. The artist usually takes inspiration from what surrounds him presently. This time, he splices fragments of frames, memories, flashes from his childhood. Each painting, characterised by striking colours and childlike simplicity, brings back a dim memory from Modzelewski’s past. They remind me of a blink of an eye, an inexplicable moment which somehow made it to the hard drive of our memory. I am using the word “our” purposely. What struck me the most about the exhibition was how relatable the paintings felt, even though we don’t share the same memories. What we do have in common are all those personal arbitrary scraps of situations, feelings and impressions from the past, which come and go as we open and close our eyes. But more on that later.  I would like to focus on two paintings in particular, Hooves, Accident at Ukta and The Citroen. I took the liberty of attaching their short descriptions prepared by Modzelewski himself below. It seems to me like, once again, I would be invading the artist’s sacred space by inadvertently modifying them. To me, they are untouchable.

On the left: Jarosław Modzelewski, Hooves, Accident at Ukta, 2020 On the right: Jarosław Modzelewski, The Citroen, 2021

Hooves, Accident at Ukta: “A summer vacation at the village of Ukta near Ruciane, where my grandparents lived. I was riding on a horse cart with my father and grandfather. Descending from a hill, the horse tripped and fell. Grandpa fell off the wagon and I was catapulted towards the horses. My father managed to catch me with his good hand: he had the other arm in plaster following a motorbike accident. My memory of the event is exclusively of the horseshoes gleaming before my eyes, so I had to reinvent the rest of this image completely. 

The Citroen: “Uncle Polikarp, my mother’s brother, worked as a chauffeur and one day he pulled out at our place, probably to show us the new car he drove: it was a black Citroen. I remember the car’s open door and the uncle’s inviting gesture. The image in my mind also includes the red sky above the houses.”

Two different situations. Two different vehicles, the sign of the times. Development, evolution, rapid change. The first story shows terror, helplessness, the “I just saw my whole life in front of my eyes” moment. The other, on the contrary, suggests excitement. Well, actually, I would like to disagree. Let’s think about the way children think. More precisely, they feel a lot, explore the world by not explaining it, but rather by touching, smelling, looking and exaggerating. Here, I focused on the backgrounds of the paintings. The colour blue is usually associated with either sadness or calmness. In this case, I would go with the second option. Red, on the other hand, is anger, violence. The difference between the city and the countryside. Although the event Modzelewski experienced at Ukta isn’t necessarily a pleasant one, and the Citroen ride must have been thrilling, the artist urges us to look at the bigger picture – his feelings towards those two separate worlds.

Jarosław Modzelewski, The World’s Indifference in Brok by the Bug River, 2020

It’s been a week since I’ve been to the exhibition and it has stayed with me ever since. The innocence of a young boy, the act of sharing the most intimate moments there are, those which we usually keep to ourselves. Why? Because they define us. The selectivity of our brain, parts of a puzzle we desperately want to make sense of. The simplicity of the sketches which magnifies the feeling of entering a kid’s mind. I am truly moved by what I saw at The aTAK Gallery. Oh, to be twelve again.

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