Galerie Un[titled]1983 is delighted to present Both Directions at Once, an exhibition of works by the Polish painter Karolina Orzelek and French painter Thomas Lesigne. The show features a collection of oil paintings by Orzelek and works on paper by Lesigne created during a period of residency at Galerie Un[titled]1983 in Geneva in the early months of 2021.
The exhibition takes its title, Both Directions at Once, from the Lost Albums of jazz saxophonist John Coltrane, with a nod to the untold possibility of improvisation and collaborative emergence. 1 The album, discovered after Coltrane’s death, is described as occupying space somewhere between ‘moving backward’ and ‘surging forth’. It is in this non-linear motion that Orzelek and Lesigne set out to create an entirely new body of work that explores the tension between experience and memory.
Through a layered process that begins by gathering analogue photographs taken by the artists themselves on travels, Orzelek and Lesigne create an archive of places, moments and memories. In an age where images are so easily harvested through digital means, the decision to create a physical collection and to transfigure their source material by pencil and then paint, reflects a remarkable preference and appreciation for the tactile process.
Lesigne’s aquarelles are ethereal, calm and pensive. They convey a powerful sense of solitude. A figure moves unconsciously through a blurred physical world, swathed in the shadow of a branch’s bough. The viewer is led to wonder whether we are observing or being asked to observe ourselves. Contemplative moments become all the more searching in a mirage that extends slowly and silently. Lesigne’s painted environs visit deserted landscapes, stones and water, often under the influence of light and especially weather. In his mosaic works, soft edges and undefined lines depict large-scale landscapes that upon a closer gaze dissolve into total abstraction.
In contrast, Orzelek drops us in surreal hyper luminous landscapes of florescent foliage, apricot skies, flames at dusk and malachite green shadows. Her paintings are carefully staged and mysteriously silent, giving the viewer the perception that they have arrived upon a scene in which the subjects have just left. Playing with notions of presence and absence, she leads her audience to wonder, what might have happened or is about to come. Colors that pulse and burn compliment the uncertainty of the moment, highlighting the duality or perhaps, the affinity between dream and fantasy, fear and desire.
In Both Directions at Once, Lesigne and Orzelek conjure a contemplative space that compels us to rediscover remembrance, illusion and the purpose of our own gaze.
PART 2: INTERVIEW
Do you recall your first encounter with art or the moment you wanted to become an artist?
I wanted to become an artist during a live show at Disney World in Florida. I was 6 years old and a character artist performed with a camera above his hands. His technique, speed and elegance left a mark on me.
When I was about 8 years old, the Musée d’Orsay lent an important part of its collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings for an exhibition that travelled through the biggest Polish museums. Even though I didn’t realize it back then, it was a unique and extraordinary event. I participated in a radio art-quiz challenge for several weeks and won tickets to the great opening of the exhibition in Cracov. I had never seen paintings like that before and it was an incredible experience.
Being a couple, working together whilst living together, can you tell me how this cooperation/collaboration works? Is it a new way of working?
We do not think the same way. But people say that our work has something in common.
We studied together, worked together, and now share a studio in Paris. There is always a lot of exchange and influence. We also travel together, and since both of us use photographs that we have taken on those travels, we share this original experience of a place. But how we develop that idea first through photography and then through painting is a process that becomes individual. It was obvious that we would at some point do an exhibition together.
What has your work taught you about yourself?
Thomas : My work taught me that I am less collective than I thought. Characters I paint are mostly lonely but not alone. I like to capture them when they are dreaming. As we travelled a lot when I was a kid, and I changed schools very often, drawing was kind of a refuge or a shelter for a while. It took me five years in a Fine Art School to dig into this and find a way to translate it in images.
It’s hard to say, since I’ve always been drawing or painting for as long as I remember, so it’s really a part
of me that’s been evolving and growing with me. During my studies at Beaux-arts, like many others, I experimented and doubted a lot. I even quit painting for a while. I learned that it was extremely important to remember what made me love art in the first place, and do the things that I enjoy, and listen to my intuition.
Question to Thomas: You have a background as a chef. Is the process of planning and preparing a meal similar to the way you approach painting?
Working in a professional kitchen, there is a period almost every evening where you just lose yourself in the chaos of cooking. There is a big fire burning wildly for hours and time evaporates. Many other chefs work along side of you in pure focused symbiosis.
I search for this feeling every day when I paint. I prepare all my materials in a fastidious meticulous way. All my pencils and brushes on one side of me, my paper and water the other. And then I let myself go into it. I tend to finish my paintings in one go. It’s like working with an empty eye and being surprised when you finish the painting.
I would like to produce images as simple and efficient as an Haïku.
Karolina, do you work in a similar way?
No I don’t, but I also don’t have to. I work with oil paints so I can come back to my paintings after a few days, a week, months even. I also like to use several photographs to stage my paintings, so I am able to bring in layers of different images. When I start a painting, I never know where it will take me. It’s a process during which I construct and deconstruct my image until I find a balance and the feeling I’m satisfied with.
Question for Karolina: There is a feeling of mystery or suspension in your paintings, as the figures seem to have just left the scene. Is the absence/presence of figures symbolic in your work?
I am interested in creating suspended moments, with the feeling of something having happened or going to happen but that we do not witness directly. I avoid being precise about a certain narrative and let the viewer imagine. It has a meaning for me personally, but I find it particularly interesting how people can find their own meaning in a visual space that I have provided.
Question for Karolina: Can you tell me more about how you use color? Do certain colors have a certain meaning for you?
The use of vivid, often artificial colors is my most natural form of pictorial expression. I’m definitely influenced by the way post-impressionists, Fauvists, Nabis and others used the color to “enhance” the reality and symbolism of their works.
I am also really fascinated by the use of color in the cinema and how color choices can completely change the reading of a scene. However, even though I spend a lot of time “searching” for colors and testing new ideas, I tend to use them in a very intuitive way.
Question for Karolina: How does working on wood rather than canvas affect your painting?
Working on wood is definitely very different from working on canvas and feels much more natural to me. I do not use the white undercoat, so it has a very raw feeling. The touch is different, softer in a way. The wood is rigid, which allows me to apply a lot more strength in my brush stroke than I could if I was using canvas. I also like the natural grain of the wood as well, so I treat the surface lightly and sometimes allow the wood grain to show through.
Let’s dream a little. If we weren’t in lockdown and you could time travel, who would you guys love to sit down to dinner with? It can be anyone, from any century, from any place? And importantly, what would you cook?
It depends on some news but I feel good with my century, I feel in the right place, so no need to travel that much! I could definitely eat a Couscous with my grandfather who passed away two years ago.
I would love to spend a day in a different era - a medieval city, ancient Greece, a viking village or Maya’s city… I guess what we eat would depend on where I go !
Most of your source material comes from photographs taken on travels. What's your next trip going to be?
Next big trip is probably going to be Central America, especially El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Costa Rica. There is everything we need : Mountains, lakes, vegetation, colors, ruins and history!
If you could steal any painting in the world, to have in your home, which would it be?
Thomas: “Les Nymphéas” de l’Orangerie by Claude Monet
Karolina: The White Horse, 1898, Paul Gauguin
What are you reading at the moment?
I am reading “La panthère des neiges” by French author Sylvain Tesson. I mostly read escape, adventure and travelers literature. Especially Tesson the last few months because I like his honesty. He confesses that traveling can be a way to run away from something when most authors before him wrote looking for something and somebody.
Yuval Noah, Harari, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century.
Is there anything peculiar that you brought with you to the residency from home?
Our cat, Masza !