Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be an art student by day and exhibiting artist by night, while contributing to the history of art? Pawel Król did. This Cracow native is among the newest generation of young artists to appear on the contemporary Polish art scene since the collapse of socialism almost twenty years ago. With his uncommonly mature painting style, it is hard to believe that Król was a full-time painting student (Institute of Art of the Pedagogical Academy, Crakow) at the same time he was having solo exhibitions at galleries and venues in Europe and the United States. Like those of many of his Polish contemporaries, Król’s work capture a certain Polish identity crisis at the onset of the 21st century.
“The plain sheet of paper or canvas before which I sit creates a blank space; and a blank space develops inside me, in my soul. I become as vulnerable as a child. Neither my knowledge of my trade nor my knowledge of painting techniques can eliminate this sense of vulnerability; it is still just me and the empty space, which must soon be filled with a subject and colors to start the process of coming to be.”
Król's “streams of consciousness” methodology produces results that are refreshingly honest; his works capture the young Pole’s struggle to be Polish in the wider world. His works seem to reflect a journey into the innermost parts of his soul, where he touches on emotions of reluctance, melancholy and elation. His paintings seem to reflect the collision between the new and old Poland, seen from every angle. The subject matters he chooses—women sharing a pot of afternoon tea, a thief stealing the moon, roly-poly men dancing around the Polish flag—reflect a keen sense of humor that counterbalances the angst of his introspective search. Król is perceptive of all that is going on around him, and illustrates it with maturity.
In the works on display at the gallery, Pawel Król’s work is mostly water media on paper—tempera, India ink and watercolor. In paintings such as Tea (2004) and Musical Chairs, the tempera paint helps fill in a background drawn in India ink, using brush strokes that create a scratchboard-like effect. His colors are raw and naturalistic. His process produces highly detailed, precise and sometimes textured artwork.
Król’s childlike vulnerability is shown in pieces such as the watercolor Vive L’Polonia, which uses the medium as a linear technique (note the sketchbook qualities of the figures) to insert a sense of playfulness into what might be considered a more “nationalistic” piece.
Król’s paintings are allegorical. They are capable of broad interpretation. They are “music” to one’s eyes. If one wants to know what it feels like these days to be young and Polish, one could do little better than to look at the paintings of Pawel Król.