Already at the first glance, S_awomir Toman’s paintings manifest their close relationship with photo realism, Neo-Geo poetics, and what follows, with the iconography of consumers’ society and mass culture, being its immanent property. At the same time, in his statements the artist renounces the ideology, he gets associated with, suggesting that his art is a critical examination of the reality of media. It differentiates him from, for example Jeff Koons, one of the major representatives of Neo-Geo, who presents the fetishist objects of consumption and in his ‘blusterous declarations’ ascribes to himself a liberating mission of what, in his opinion, is hidden most deeply in man, that is his desire of comfort and pleasure. Toman states that he is interested in a purely visual aspect of an object. Being a graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Cracow (this fact is emphasized by the artist), he refers to the tradition of studio paintings dominating there (all his paintings are oil on canvas). At the same time, with blunt simplicity he shows this peculiar moment of breaking with the academic studies of still-life, having graduated from the academy he had to find something for himself to look at, the artist admits. In this way his artistic sensitivity got directed towards the objects of mass culture.
Never too much painting in the epoch of mass media
They are, however, quite different objects, which do not affect with their depth, they affect with their surface. In their representation on the canvas there is no depth described by Heidegger, the philosopher, with reference to van Gogh’s „Shoes”: „In shoes – an instrument, the resounding calling of the Earth rings, its silent endowment with corn and unclear refusal in the empty fallow of the winter fields”* While in Toman’s paintings the men’s shirts wrapped in foil bags do not express anything apart from themselves or something that can be called, after Walter Benjamin, ‘a pseudo – soul of a merchandise’, tempting the eyes of a potential client. Being the products of advanced technology in its immaculate form they are dehumanized in a certain way, too. The contemporary artist, however, has made a conscious choice at this stage of its functioning. As a matter of fact, in reality as well as in painting, it is an exhibitionistic product for sale and for exhibiting. As a painter of still-life, the artist could have followed its masters and painted the same shirt - worn out, creased and thrown into a laundry basket. In that case we would certainly be able to make comments on the dramatic character and depth expressed by such a garment, just like with van Gogh’s shoes. Being a well-educated artist, Toman is perfectly aware of what he does, referring in some of his paintings to a history of art and ‘spirituality’ connected with it, which is the opposite of superficial perception. What is his „The Wrapped Stripped Shirt on Blue” if not a hidden quotation from Malevich’s „White Square on White”? Although, on the other hand, as it was expressed by Merleau-Ponty, another philosopher, who probably got the deepest discursive insight into painting, perception of a painter is an act of endowing with visible existence what ‘normal perception’ considers ‘invisible’. It happens like that because a painter transforms the world into a picture,entering it with his p e r c e p t i o n and his v i s i b l e body. Therefore we can say that a work of visual art, as different from other arts, is tangible possession, capturing a being through an act of seeing.
In this context the artist’s remark on himself, stating that as a painter he ‘sponges on’ the products of mass culture, seems interesting. It reveals a peculiar artistic distance to all these beautifully wrapped goods and designers’ objects. That is why his paintings are not only an illustration of a superficial glare or tempting objects of desire within the framework of which an applied function of an object acquires a secondary importance when confronted with its aesthetic function. On the other hand, an aesthetic function becomes endowed with an erotic element that aims at awakening a strong desire to possess, which is clearly manifested by both, advertising and art. However, Toman participates in the world of consumption of the beautifully designed, packed and advertised goods in a contemplative way, at the same time being fascinated by it in a way. However, for this fascination he finds reasons which originate purely from painting, within the framework of which as we may say, he tries to find his answer to the question: how to paint still-life for the second time? And this second time does not only mean that he paints from photographs and reproductions found in art books or art magazines, but it seems to have some deeper sense. It is prompted by a quotation from Vermeer used in Toman’s paintings - The Contents and A Computer Woman. I believe that the use of the figures from Vermeer did not happen casually. It is a quite fortunate result of the incidental ricochets of his earlier postmodernist collage works. For there is outlined the artist’s philosophy that is a specific kind of ‘an ontological sense’ of his paintings.
I would be inclined to connect it, first of all, with the fact that Vermeer was painting at the time when the Flemish still-life painting was flourishing. Although he is most renowned for his figures in the brightly illuminated interiors, his way of seeing an object, shown in full light, with almost photographic precision, originates from the same spirit shared by the Flemish masters of optical realism. The master’s love for pearls is very meaningful, as they symbolize perfection and luminosity. These characteristics can be also found in still-life paintings, so remarkable in Vermeer’s epoch. Maria Rzepiñska describes this painting in the following way: ‘An arrangement of these apparently chaotic objects is well considered, constructed with unusual perfection. The painting tissue surprises with its mode of arranging chromatic differences and values, defining a form and consistency of each thing with absolute precision. These small pictures are examples of the top achievements of optical realism. They suggest sensations of touch and taste, warmth and cold, hardness and softness, roughness and slimy smoothness, dryness and juiciness.”**. In Toman’s paintings we can discover these Flemish metaphors of objects and longing for expressing perfection. It is realised by a specific reversion of this tradition. For Pearls are false… However, as it was said ”never too much painting in the epoch of mass media”.
Antoni Szoska, early spring 2001.
translated by Ma_gorzata Sady
*after Cezary WoŸniak, Martina Heideggera myœlenie sztuki, Universitas, Kraków 1997, p.55
** Maria Rzepiñska, Siedem wieków malarstwa europejskiego, Ossolineum 1986, p.256.