There is a psychedelic sun above me

An interview with Jan Porczyński

I am meeting Jan for a Zoom interview in the evening, he is still at a shared studio at Warsaw’s Academy of Fine Arts where he’s a fourth-year student of graphic design. Seeing the raw studio walls and finished works drying on them feels refreshing, especially considering the fact that I have not seen my own university building in months now and most fine arts schools in the UK have significantly limited or stopped in-person shared studio practice for the duration of lockdowns and social distancing.

Before fully embarking on studying graphic design, Jan was briefly an architecture student, a journey which, as he says, did not last long, one school semester. Even though his current works perhaps could not be further from the visual associations of ‘architectural drawing’, he describes the challenging application process and preparation as ultimately useful and impactful on his later stylistic developments. An interest in architecture stimulated his early interest in art and, to my surprise, Jan names Edward Hooper as one of the earliest and most important sources of inspiration. On the one hand, this choice appears as complementary to the interest in architecture but exposes the mysterious dimension of it, ultimately also highlighting the human presence as a vital component of Hopper’s dim architectural spaces. Jan’s current works reflect on Hopper in surprising ways – the intense and contrasting colour palette appears to be a distant echo of Hopper’s darker colour palette, in which every lighter tone is immediately eye-catching.

We talk about the anxieties surrounding a distinct stylistic identity – the dangers of constantly needing to push it further, or perhaps, once one reaches a wall or an artistic ‘block’ a need to reconsider. Jan is very open about his somewhat accidental arrival at his, now easily recognizable, style. When in his second year of studies, he decided to have a go at using tempera paint, which he was looking forward to for quite some time then. On the occasion of linking his style to a specific artistic medium, he mentions another crucial, and again, surprising to me, source of inspiration – Zofia Stryjeńska, who was an early twentieth-century Polish painter and graphic designer. Stryjeńska’s style was an ode to Polish folk culture and customs, reflecting them not only in the literal content of resurrected characters from folk tales and songs but also importing the cheerful and electric colour palette of folk costumes into the inner fibre of her artistic identity. Thinking again about Stryjeńska’s tendency to depict her colourful characters against a simple black background, Jan’s visual source of inspiration immediately makes sense to me.

It is even more admirable as, even though Stryjeńska’s place in Polish art history is uncontested, very few contemporary artists would consider her as inspiration, mainly because the folk-based character of paintings and designs makes them difficult to re-work and reconsider without falling into a trap of kitsch or a repetitive, mimicking style. The first work that Jan made using tempera depicted a car disappearing on the horizon and employed Stryjeńska’s use of bright colours and a two-dimensional, somewhat flat, stain glass-like plan, which stays in his works. While he greatly enjoyed the process, the final look of the work was not very satisfying to him but he decided to show it to other colleagues and professors and was met with a positive reaction, which pushed him to continue perfecting this newly found style. The first few motives he worked on included sun and solar constellations and defined a portion of his works, but he ultimately grew bored of it and began experimenting with new elements and including more personal content, despite the surreal character of his works. After Stryjeńska, Jan names a varied constellation of inspirations, ranging from Tarot cards to Hindu art.

An important turning point in Jan’s career was having his work shown at Serce Człowieka (‘Man’s Heart’) gallery during 2020 Warsaw Gallery Weekend (WGW) – a series of coordinated gallery openings which take place across participating commercial art galleries annually in late September. On the occasion of the Warsaw Gallery Weekend, the gallery Serce Człowieka, which produced the show ‘Effects of a pandemic: Dreams’ was awarded a special prize by the ING Art Foundation.

Porczyński’s works certainly have a psychedelic, dream-like quality to them, one that is perhaps closer to a disturbing nightmare. While Jan was talking to Serce Człowieka, run by curator Kamil Pierwszy, before the first round of lockdowns the talks resumed in the summer, when Pierwszy put forward an idea to give a platform to artists he worked with in the past, which were all, understandably affected by the pandemic. During the lockdowns, Polish gallery Zachęta organized an outdoor campaign, allowing selected artists to use the billboards belonging to the museum to showcase their works. Prompted by a friend and collaborator, Łukasz Radziszewski, a founder of a mobile gallery ‘Komputer’ (‘Computer’), Jan sent his works to Zachęta’s open call and was quickly selected to have one of his paintings ‘Gniew’ (‘Anger’) reproduced in a poster form and shown in one of the busiest tube stations in Warsaw. Since then, Jan is thinking about his first solo show.

Despite studying graphic design, Jan’s interests lie rather outside of applied design understood as product design. But similarly to Zofia Stryjeńska, he is very keen on the idea of merging painting with commercial projects. Jan describes the idea of ‘decorative arts’ and beautifying existing products with designs as one of his underlying goals. Then, he mentions the dream of designing a handkerchief, which seems like a perfect fit for his small to medium scale works and the talent for creating electrifying, contrasting compositions. Equally, he is not against experimenting with large-scale works and branching towards murals one day.

Follow Nina on her Instagram @l.ninka