Ryszard Cieślak (2014)

(part of The Prince project)

series of paintings, acrylic and screen print on canvas

Large-scale portraits of Jerzy Grotowski's actor Ryszard Cieślak in the screen printing technique, which is a détournement of both the image created on the basis of a re-appropriated photograph of the actor and of Andy Warhol’s technique for his images of celebrities.

More about the project:

"In the Shadow of the Flame"

In the autumn of 1969 Jerzy Grotowski's Laboratory Theater arrives in America for the first time. The troupe puts on three shows: "Acropolis", "The Constant Prince" and "Apocalypsis cum figuris". Performances are a smash. Soon enough, Ryszard Cieślak, the actor playing the "Prince" is awarded the prize for best actor of the season in an Off Broadway show.

Laboratory performances take place in a church space on Washington Square. Just a few streets down, at Union Square, lies the Andy Warhol's famous Factory, where the cream of America's art establishment convenes on a regular basis. Many of their portraits are captured by the lens of Warhol himself - today these multi-coloured Polaroid series have achieved cult status.

It's not difficult to imagine Cieślak arriving at one of the Factory's innumerable parties and having Warhol take his photo. If such a meeting had actually taken place, the image would have been akin to Radziszewski's paintings.

In 1975 Margaret Croyden interviews Cieślak. Several years later, fascinated by the Laboratory's craft, the American journalist arrives in Poland. At the beginning of the 1990s she publishes the book "In the Shadow of the Flame". Cieślak is among the main characters in the book. In opposition to the purely academic approach of traditional theater scholars, Croyden reveals her meeting with the actor from a personal point of view. She shares her fascination with his physicality, his muscular body, his manliness. She presents Cieślak not only as an actor of experimental theater, but as a star, an idol, a man.

"In the Shadow of the Flame" is another in a line of projects by the Radziszewski in which he tackles the myth of the "Polish America". Previously, with "America Is Not Ready for This", artist posed a simple question: Did Natalia LL, an artist who arrived in New York City on a grant in 1977 have a real chance at an international career? Could her local experience be understood and appreciated on the American art scene? The narrative "In the Shadow of the Flame" follows a similar trope, while taking a more fantastic turn. On the one hand, we have the highly spiritual theater of Grotowski, and on the other, the loud, commercial pop produced by the Factory. Could Cieślak be adopted as one of Warhol's classic heroes? Did he possess the sex appeal required to be considered a real icon of pop culture? Was America ready to accept this view? Are we ready for it today?

Installation views from the "In the Shadow of the Flame" exhibition at BWA Warszawa, Warsaw, (2014). Photos: Bartosz Gorka; "The Prince adn Queens" exhibition at CoCA, Torun (2014) and "Cannibalism? On Appropriation in Art" at Zacheta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw (2015).

exhibition view / BWA Warszawa exhibition view / National Gallery