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EssayRafał Kostrzewa

By Małgorzata Czyńska

A Tale of Painting

Some years back, Rafał’s son Michał decided to make a movie about a painter, and the birth of paintings. They stood on a river bank together, talking about art. This is when Rafał said that his painting is not about long and tedious hours spent in the atelier, and that therefore such hours need not showing; truthfully, he keeps all his paintings at the bottom of his own river. All it takes is an immersion in ice-cold water, a dive into dirty mud, and you can begin spreading luminous canvas on the bank, one piece after another. He well remembered Matisse the master’s words about how art cannot be torment, and how you have to forget everything you know and reach within yourself, as if into a well. This is how Rafał has always imagined Matisse – dipping a bucket into a well in a sunny garden in Nice, drawing enchanted rainbows of colour. Maybe this is why Rafał likes Matisse so much – for his paintings, and for the story.

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This is how a beautiful metaphor describing an artist’s work became inspiration for a film, eventually titled A Tale of Painting. Rafał is standing upon a hillock, placing canvas across enormous stretchers; suddenly, a giant canvas bale starts rolling down the hill, faster and faster, fanning out like a comet’s tail, speeding across a wooden bridge, entwining cottages, passing field and forest, to finally join a river. The painter walks into the river with his stretchers, dips his hands into the water, and finds finished works of art on the riverbed. We had a problem with this last scene, Rafał recalls, to shoot it, we really had to immerse my paintings. The first time we tried, stones we used to weigh them down turned out to be too light; after a couple of seconds, paintings sprang to the surface, and travelled merrily with the current, like colourful wreaths.

Paintings drawn from the riverbed are really works drawn from the mind, the memory, the love of art. Rafał Kostrzewa is an art history expert, and claims this knowledge to be his forward propeller at work. He is a master of cubist and fauvist painting quotes, and a lover of 20th century avant-garde: art revolutions, the Bohemia, anecdotes, and the emerald green of absinthe. These times are his inspiration.

His childhood was full of Picasso, Leger, Bonnard, and Rousseau. He played truant, spending hours at the Hermitage halls inhabited by Matisse. What he saw became deeply rooted within him; now, he can close his eyes to reality when painting. My models are paintings, Rafał claims, when I work on a blue painting, my girl is blue, turning green if I work on a green piece. The light and colour change constantly. I paint.

Rafał’s world of art has always been populated with young and beautiful women and slim men, their bliss ornamented with birds and animals, plants and fruit. Paintings give birth to abstract, ethereal beings, swimming out beyond our daily reality. Musicians, wizards, dancers, odalisques, lovers – Kostrzewa’s heroes are sensual, their world hedonistic and yet not entirely free of a touch of melancholy.

Rafał often transfers his atelier to the great outdoors, to the garden, painting al fresco, in the full light of the day. Hence his paintings are a game at colour, and displayed an unquestioned purity of full-bodied, vivid shades.

His newest works from the Spring Feast series have also been raised in a garden, in a clime of newborn greenery and scent of turned soil. It matters not that they show no nature. Rafał’s nature is about the sense of space, animals, an escape from the noise of the city. We are offered the privilege of drawing sensual pleasure in viewing a work of art; and maybe this is the note on which the Tale of Painting should end.