Anna Orbaczewska has called her new cycle of oil paintings accompanied by her ink drawings, and shown in Kolonia Artystów in Gdansk, Poland, “Reflection”.

What exactly is the “Reflection” in the artist’s works? The first obvious association leads us to the mythical Narcissus, who fell in love with his image mirrored in water. The motif of water permeates Anna’s works, and it is water which constitutes the surface of the mirror being the source of reflection. But at a closer look, these works are not only about the very mirroring of the image. None of the presented figures are actually gazing at themselves in the water. A look at the water – always careful, unsure, hesitant, is a “perception of the Self as the Other”, as pointed out by Maria PoprzÄ™cka when quoting Lacan’s interpretation of the motif of Narcissus. It is also water which introduces the abstract factor to Orbaczewska’s otherwise consequently figurative works. And this indefinable abstraction carries the viewer away to the regions of (psycho)analysis, ideas, emotions. And so, here, water is not the surface of the mirror reflecting the model. Orbaczewska does not paint any purification rituals associated with water, either. The models, usually young boys illuminated with the strongly permeating sunrays, are carefully stepping, or rapidly running, into the water, tearing its calm surface apart, splashing it in all directions. Water is tantalisingly attracting the model, who despite his fear and uncertainty, cannot resist entering it. This is accompanied by a huge load of sensuality with which the young naked bodies of the boys are radiating, but also by the soft and inviting water surface. The model’s contact with the water is in a way as much as sexual initiation, a passage from the state of “innocence”, traditionally associated with childhood, to adolescence, and therefore to both physical and mental transformations leading to adulthood and everything it entails.

However, despite all the suggestiveness of the above scenes in the interpretative layer, the artist’s oil paintings are above all the essence of the art of painting. Anna delights in tonal nuances, takes deep pleasure in the virtuosity of her impastos. These paintings are radiating with the joy of creation, the mastery of execution and if in the era of postmodernity we can still openly discuss “beauty”, they stand for it – in the manner known from the antique period – as harmony, order and moderation. The viewer objectively likes these paintings, is attracted to them; they raise our admiration and catch our eye.

And what if we move to the other side of the water surface? Orbaczewska paints water in her carefully studied and elaborate oil paintings, which Nietzsche would categorise as a type of objective Apollonian beauty – kalon – corresponding to goodness and perfection. But what happens when the artist starts using water not as a motif, but as a painting medium? The ink drawings, which in a way are created from water, are in a sense an entry to the gist of idea, a turn towards the centre of things, a distortion of the ideal mirror. The works are a specific antithesis of the oil paintings, a jump from “beauty” and the ostensible innocence, and a turn from reason towards chaos, madness, possession, and sensuality, which explores sexuality literally and clearly. The spontaneity and the specific nature of drawing with ink, which does not allow analytical elaboration, makes the technique almost automatic – it reaches to the subconscious and reveals it, thus being extremely authentic and personal. A short moment for an irrevocable decision on the movement of the line, as well as an absence of space for corrections and improvements, magnify the sincerity of expression via this medium. Orbaczewska’s drawings are often accompanied by her short comments: be it in the form of single words or short verses, which in a telling, direct manner throw the message straight into the viewer’s face. These works are hardly nice to the eye in a manner in which the oil paintings discussed above are. Here, we enter the sphere of the sense of touch, smell, hearing. These drawings are shouting, they are strangely alluring, dazzling with the deformity, grotesque, destruction, revolt, carnality. The phantasmagorical figures grow one into another, creating erotic hybrids. Physical anomalies, obscene gestures, and violence embody fear, let the sleeping demons speak. Lust and lechery are pervasive, but instead of attracting, they deter. Georges Bataille associated this diabolic aspect of erotic representations with fear – mainly the fear of death, showing frequent connection between the disturbing sexuality and violence, madness, possession. According to Bataille, these conditions, related to extreme feelings accompanying the cycle of reproduction, birth, fear of dying, and finally the death itself, have an inherent element of eroticism, leading to one’s loss in desires and drives until the culminating moment, which the scholar referred to as the “little death”. These transgressional gestures, reaching for the primeval layers of human sensitivity (the id), stripping the figures from the cultural layer imposed by the civilisation (the superego), play a purifying role. This purification applies to the suppressed attitudes, reactions, and anger, which reflect the dark side of the human soul – full of fear and uncertainty brought by the reality of existence. And so, Orbaczewska’s inks, although in a sense contradicting the quiet and intriguing beauty of her oil paintings, without any doubt complement them as a lost Dionysian element balancing the image of the human being in the cosmos of her artistic work.

Marta Wróblewska