Sebastian Frąckiewicz | An introduction to “Anubis” folder.
The well-known critic and specialist in pop culture Bart Beaty, in his book Comics versus Art, provides a very detailed account of a long and intense conflict between the art world and the comic sphere. Based on failing to understand the other party as well as on ignorance and complexes, the conflict was best visible when pop art was born and Roy Liechtenstein became the number one enemy for comic artists. The world of comics decided that his artistic strategy was a mockery of their beloved medium. Artists poring over their drawings for peanuts suddenly had one panel copied in a large format by a man who made a fortune out of it. How dare he? It was beyond a joke.
The mainstream, superhero type of comic is a medium in which great attention was paid to the craftsmanship, communicativeness, legibility and precise narration. On the other hand, modernism and avant-garde were rejected. Conceptualist and non-narrative ways of thinking were alien, inimical and treated as fraud compounded with utter gibberish. Then, for years narration in painting was considered quaint, old and childish and did not become a modern artist. Unfortunately, the conflict described by Beaty is raging on to a certain extent, particularly in Poland, where the presence of comics in art galleries is still something of a novelty – the trend only began for good under a decade ago. Hence artists in whose works the line between the comic and painting – or the art world – is blurred are still regarded with suspicion for mixing different types of orders and stylistics as well as artistic inspirations.
One of these “suspected artists” (however this sounds) is definitely Joanna Karpowicz, the author of a cycle entitled Anubis. It is difficult to discuss Karpowicz’s painting without reference to her parallel comic work; at the same time, while reading her comic books one cannot forget that she is a painter. Her comic pictures use light and colour to influence the reader to a far greater extent than those by most other comic artists in Poland. They have the mood of a painting and a tendency to use visual metaphors. They are not dynamic and movement plays second fiddle to mood in them. This is particularly visible in the Postcards from Białystok album, which is a unique example of an urban comic. The album does not advertise the city, which tends to be a rule in the genre. It is, however, a very private and intimate record of wandering around a city, one focused on details and emotions. This kind of sensitivity can also be found in Anubis.
Karpowicz’s painting cycle is “contaminated by comics” in several ways. Firstly, this is so precisely because it is a cycle. Although the paintings do not link together like comic book panels in a linear cause-and-result manner, the protagonist makes them a kind of story. Hence, try as the artist might to deny this (which probably she will not), Anubis is of a narrative nature. Secondly, the paintings that you will see at the exhibition are anchored in pop culture: its mythology, icons and particular titles. In one of the paintings Anubis is walking along the side of a road returning from Twin Peaks, a place which probably needs no introduction. Then, when we look at Anubis in Hakone, our minds automatically think of a frame from the animated film Spirited Away by Hayo Miyazaki. Karpowicz also really likes American spaces: a suburban villa with a pool, an old Los Angeles cinema, a shore beaten by waves fit for surfing and a dimly lit bar as in Edward Hopper’s work. I must admit that I immediately connected the works featuring Anubis to Hopper. There is a strange air of emptiness and silence which should theoretically calm us down, and yet it is ominous like the calm before a storm or a kind of peacefulness ensuing in the wake of a disaster, a tragedy that is irrevocable so that only resignation remains. Hopper’s and Karpowicz’s emotions seem similar.
Anubis is a god of Ancient Egypt who safely leads dead people to the other side. It accompanies rites of passage, the last breath. His presence in the works of the Krakow artist can be in a way treated as inverted commas, a suspended reality which may not necessarily show life on earth. Is Anubis holding a girl by the hand leading her somewhere in this or the other world? Who is the protagonist (here is this horrible literary jargon again) supposed to meet in Anubis and a Mysterious House? In Karpowicz’s paintings Anubis looks like he is constantly waiting for someone, usually either being alone or standing somewhere away. He peeks, observes and is unavoidable like a mirror reflection. His face, a canine face, is emotionless, though I presume – judging by the spaces he is in – that he is a melancholic romantic longing for the past: that is, if time matters to him at all.
You can browse through the pages of a virtual edition of the catalogue, published on ISUU.