Artophilia  •  506   •  12 December 2017

Damian Leszczyński. Trip to the imaginary world


Pencil is one of the most popular drawing tools and is a must-have tool for every artist. It is most often used to make sketches, auxiliary drawings or compositional studies. It is very rare for a pencil to be a final technique.

© Damian Leszczyński

© Damian Leszczyński

The pencil drawing technique is almost as complex as painting. Sharpened pencils (or pencils of varying degrees of graphite hardness) give you limited retouching options. Excessive corrections destroy the paper, leaving a visible mark. This technique also requires immense precision with the tool, as excessive graphite pressure impacts the structure of the paper, breaking the grain, and causing the stroke to appear less subtle.

© Damian Leszczyński

© Damian Leszczyński

Not only did Leszczyński fully exploit the technical capabilities of the pencil, but he also developed his own method of shading and gradation, reminiscent of a technique known and used in oil painting – today almost forgotten or abandoned due to the huge effort required. In order to achieve the final effect, Leszczyński uses several layers of pencil, with each layer changing the tone of the picture beneath.

© Damian Leszczyński

© Damian Leszczyński

This creates a composition that gives the impression of penetration and refraction of light, and spatial depth. Thanks to this pedantic effort, careful workmanship, proper paper selection and painter-like use of pencils according to their hardness, the extracted form is realistic – the fog drawn against the dark sky appears to be half-transparent. All these works are characterized by a painter’s way of seeing; it’s difficult to find any strong dashes, contour dominance or a strong outline that is so characteristic of the traditionally understood drawing. Image formation is more similar to oil-based works than graphics. The light pattern, the sculptural and masterly use of the medium, the soft gradations of grays of gray – from deep black to pure white – show how Leszczynski avoids the compositional constraints characteristic of monochromatic images.

© Damian Leszczyński

© Damian Leszczyński

Leszczyński’s works are difficult to ascribe to a current in contemporary art, and they are cannot be precisely classified due to their technique, theme and composition. They are rather a return to the traditional forms of pictures, and the most suitable comparisons can be made with the nineteenth century artists like Francisco Goya, Caspar David Friedrich, Johann Füssli, Arnold Böcklin, Odilon Redon, or more modern ones such as Max Klinger, Alfred Kubin, as well as Rene Magritte and Max Ernst.

A comparison of Leszczyński’s work with these artists – with the caveat that it does not concern the whole of their artistic output, but still numerous works – seems appropriate if one considers some of their common features, namely that they have try to recall certain moods, emotions, displaying imagery and visions of transformed into the language of art. Similar, too are the means of artistic expression. We find in them consideration for aesthetics and composition, as well as realism – even in terms of imagined elements. It’s futile to search for such common shortcuts and abstract elements glorified by modern artists of pure form. These works do not go beyond the boundaries of traditional art. They are far removed from the visual experiments and the screams of new art stubbornly seeking new grounds.

The presented works are fully self-contained. The only thing that connects them with the work of the above-mentioned artists is the general approach to understanding art as the ability to present in a visual way the individual experience of the inner world of feelings and fantasies, which eludes the verbal description, like the fleeting impressions of dreams upon awakening, which quickly disappear upon contact with reality. The impact of these works lies in the sincerity of expression. The enchanting scenes, the fantastic landscapes on which the mysterious characters are located, give the impression of a slice of reality taken directly from the artist’s imagination.

© Damian Leszczyński

© Damian Leszczyński

We see here – albeit with a different format and technique – of the obvious associations with Beksinski’s paintings, though Leszczyński’s drawings create different moods. The world drawn by Leszczyński awakens the feelings that a person has when faced with a puzzle – the curiosity, the tension, the anxiety or apprehension that arises when confronted with something unknown. Compositionally, these images are static, almost motionless, and efficient in their selection of props. Looking at drawings like NORTH IX, NORTH XI or INSOMNIA, the viewer is not sure whether the characters at the next moment will be shaken by events, and it is only a scene of a long story, or the meaning of staying in motion. These drawings permeate the atmosphere of timelessness. The specific operation of the black and illuminated building of space makes the viewer not perceive drawings like III / 2016, INSOMNIA V, INSOMNIA II as night scenes, which will change in the light of the day. These are instead scenes that take place in the darkness that seem to have no end or beginning, as if the sole nature this world was darkness.

© Damian Leszczyński

© Damian Leszczyński

In the past year Leszczyński has realised five thematic series: North, Lighthouses, Insomnia, Trees, and Landscapes, which comprise of ten or twelve drawings each and is currently working on a sixth series, HORLA, a title that refers to nineteenth century horror stories. They share a common theme, although each one is a separate entity. In the North series, the main motif is a snowy landscape with a gigantic rocky structure. In Lighthouses we find lighthouses placed in different, sometimes peculiar surroundings: among the clouds, on flying rocks, on mountain peaks. Insomnia is mainly composed of drawings of characters in lurid robes submerged in darkness, from which appear dangerous faces and shapes. In Trees, as the name implies, the main motifs are boughs, branches, trunks, thickets, in which we see mysterious beings in long tunics.

© Damian Leszczyński

© Damian Leszczyński

Landscapes are a series of drawings in which an extensive landscape is filled with strange rock formations, buildings and figures, surrounded by puffs of dark clouds.

Despite the use of imaginary elements, it is difficult to classify these illustrations as surreal images. Mysterious props don’t play the role of symbols to refer to familiar meanings. These drawings can be treated as snapshots from some alternative world, a peculiar parallel reality that seems more real and internally consistent than the one we know from everyday experience.

© Damian Leszczyński

© Damian Leszczyński

All of Leszczyński’s works are of a personal nature. They are individual and unique in character, and these works are intimate in the sense that they appear to be the clichés of the artist’s dreams and imaginings, presented in a realistic manner, with attention to the principles of perspective, lightening, and building space. Translating these visions into a drawing requires not only a malleable imagination, but also great talent. Built into the drawings is an aura that reveals hidden anxieties and fears. The images show paradoxically something that we do not see directly in the drawings, we must refer to our own thoughts, that is, the individual sphere of imagination of the viewer.

© Damian Leszczyński

© Damian Leszczyński

The interpretation of Leszczyński’s drawings remains solely on the part of the viewer, because it is difficult for the author of the works to make a statement about his own works. When asked about this, it is customary for such requests to say that it is precisely because of the fact that it draws on certain emotions, thoughts, feelings, and words. The drawings remain a transit station between what we see and what we imagine, or dream. What’s important is the atmosphere, mood, and aura, which acts as a bridge between the artist’s vision and our imagination. The artist consistently resigns from assigning titles to individual drawings, which works to their advantage, because it does not suggest a manner for the viewer to perceive them. This would be an obstacle for direct, individual reading of the artwork. All we have to do is just look at the drawings.

Roman Konik

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