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Marcin Cienski summons the intangible. Using old photographs, pictures from
magazines, personal artifacts and memories as source material, the Polish-born, USA -
based artist creates lush, exquisitely rendered oil paintings that tap into our collective
unconscious. His moody, sometimes sinister work fuses the ordinary with the unsettling.
While the objects and scenes he portrays seem familiar, his paintings are nonetheless
puzzling. Akin to film stills, they offer the potential for narrative but ultimately remain
unresolved. This is because Cienski does not want the viewer to be pinned down by
literal interpretations. Rather, he encourages us to draw from our own experiences and
interior states – his is an art of possibility.

But we do not descend into these visions completely, for their technical execution is also
significant. The jewel-like colours and lush shadows convey the marks of the maker
– brush strokes are always evident. Their presence reminds us that we are involved in
painterly acts of representation and interpretation. Cienski says; ‘I do not want paintings
to imitate photography. I am keen on remaining true to the medium of oil paint that
enables a creation of an independent, parallel reality on canvas with painterly means’.

The painter maintains that his art must not be solely intellectual. As such, Cienski’s
desire to tap into a ‘sacred source’ (religious or otherwise) is important. Raised a
Catholic, his examination of the spiritual is all encompassing – previous series involve
ancient church interiors alongside kitschy weeping Madonnas. But Cienski never passes
judgment. Rather than suggest that one type of devotion is more significant than another,
his work’s overarching sense of ambiguity instead encourages quiet contemplation.

This extends to his examinations of the living. The figures he paints are often self
contained and lost in thought. On occasion their interiority manifests itself in physical
afflictions. Sometimes characters appear grasped by illness, and these ideas of
entrapment or an invisible threat are central to the artist’s practice.

Cienski’s motivations are not easily articulated. He describes his works as conduits
for messages larger than himself and maintains that ‘great art cannot be reasoned out.
It comes from a source that cannot be described with smart words and theories’. For
Cienski, ‘a painting shouldn’t mean but be’. Accordingly, as viewers, we must fight our
desire to understand and succumb to his seductive visions of the inscrutable.


Serena Bentley