Małgorzata Czyńska Wojciech Tuleya By Małgorzata Czyńska Wojciech Tuleya

It was the summer of 2021, a sweltering hot June. On top of that, it was the summer of the plague times. And although most of the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions were loosened for the summer holidays, anxiety still remained; the return to the old rules brought both relief and fear. We put on masks, we took off masks; we kept our distance, we reduced the distance. Under these conditions that even a year earlier would have been something out of a science-fiction film, we travelled to Międzyrzecz, for a get-to-know meeting with Julia Medyńska. The historic cellars of the Międzyrzecz Land Museum hosted the artist’s exhibition, titled Masquerade. Everything was like something out of a film.

Julia Medyńska
Julia Medyńska Julia Medyńska Julia Medyńska Julia Medyńska

The artist, little-known in Poland, suddenly landed in the picturesque but still provincial Międzyrzecz, like a meteor, or rather an alien, with a load of paintings, straight from New York and London. Everything because of the pandemic.

The story went like this: born in Gdańsk, she and her family moved to Berlin when she was a child. After high school, she chose to study acting at New York’s Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute and the Neighborhood Playhouse. Years later, when she lost patience for auditions and trying to make it on stage and film, she briefly took up professional photography, but ultimately chose painting and more studies, this time at the Columbia University School of the Arts in New York. Cosmopolitan. And to make the story even more so, in 2017, Julia’s husband, an actor, was hired at the National Theatre in London, and together with the whole family — because they had one child and a second on the way — they moved to London. And then the pandemic came, and everything ground to a halt. Staying in London made no sense, and Julia’s mother invited them to Międzyrzecz, to wait out the plague there. The large lakeside house, surrounded by a forest, seemed like the perfect refuge. And so, the paintings that the artist was preparing for an exhibition in London ended up in Międzyrzecz, at a museum that boasts the largest collection of coffin portraits, popular among Polish nobility of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

The exhibition was surprising and moving. Theatrical and cinematic, as Julia treats her models as actors on a set, using strong lighting and creating dramatic contrasts of light and shadow. For her, painting is a kind of performance. After experiencing the darkness of the museum’s underground, we came out onto the sunny courtyard, fascinated that someone painted like that these days.

Julia Medyńska says she’s the director of the paintings. Theatrical and cinematic references are very clear in her works; she likes to select frames from films and recreate them in her style. Sometimes she is fascinated by the atmosphere of a scene, at other times by an actor’s dramatic gesture. There are echoes of films by David Lynch and Lars von Trier, the prose of H.P. Lovecraft and Stephen King, or the superficial peace and quiet of an American suburb or the empty countryside.

There are also fascinations with the art of the old masters, mainly Baroque, playing with convention and maybe even taking on the convention — after all, many of the artist’s paintings could very well fool an art expert. Her love for the difficult and time-consuming oil painting technique, as well as her expression and gestures make an impression. Subverting the topics, mixing horror with humour, winking at the audience means that the paintings have multiple layers and can be interpreted in many ways. Where the terrified viewer covers their eyes, the artist says, no, wait, this is where you laugh. The seemingly most innocent scene, on the other hand, can hide the greatest horror.

We can find all of this in the selection of works presented in this catalogue of Julia Medyńska’s latest exhibition. The overall title, Saligia, directly recalls the paintings from the series Seven Capital Sins. Art critic Bogusław Deptuła explains the etymology of this mysterious word and the possibilities of interpreting the individual infractions. Wojciech Chmielarz, a mystery writer, examines the scenes in selected works, and sketches brief impressions about them, which could very well be the start of a thriller screenplay.

Finally, a sample of the subversive nature of Julia Medyńska’s paintings: The Lure and The Beginning — two strong paintings that may fool the viewer.

The Lure shows an adorable baby goat on thin, wobbly legs. Most people assume it to be a lamb. ‘No, it’s not the Lamb of God’, the artist explains, ‘it’s a goat that represents Satan, the demon called Baphomet. I titled the painting The Lure because it is the beginning of our sins, the cause of everything.

And that brings me to The Beginning, the painting I consider to be the last one — the conclusion of the exhibition. The boy or girl, an androgynous figure I wanted to remain undefined, represents Hope — rebirth. Perhaps a new beginning will come, if we truly go through a kind of metamorphosis. And so, the darkest painting has the brightest message, and the sweetest one is the most threatening!’

Let us consider them the beginning and end of the story told in the exhibition.


Selected works

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