Works with Ryszard Grzyb

Osiowski was a contemporary of Gruppa artists, sharing their sense of humour and ideas on the role of art. Yet his unexpectedly extended stay in Antwerp only allowed him to get in touch with one of the group’s members, Ryszard Grzyb, years later. What made them paint together was their similar sense of humour and sensitivity to the absurdities of everyday life, connecting them as people and painters. Since 2002, with a higher or lower frequency, they have been making paintings jointly and signing them as OBA (BOTH). As they suggest in the subtitle of one of their joint exhibitions: “my oba to trzecia osoba” (the both of us are a third person), the two artists really do create a new artistic quality which results from their differing styles, inspirations, and strong personalities. The artists treat the effect of their collaboration as autonomous value which crystallizes during their conversations and joint painting sessions rather than as an extension of individual pursuits. Although each of them paints differently, they are not interested in highlighting that fact. Their main objective is to extract the highest artistic quality as they both perceive it. As Osiowski summarized it, “we do something in order to get that satisfying final result rather than to elbow our way in with our own ideas.” Osiowski believes that what distinguishes his work with Grzyb from other collaborating painters is the sense of a common goal and mutual trust which they have for each other. When characterizing OBA’s works, the association with Mikhail Bakhtin’s concept of carnivalization comes to mind. Bakhtin drew attention to the “culture of laughter,” often disregarded by researchers. In Bakhtin’s view, laughter with its expression in the form of the folk carnival is ambivalent as it can express both approval and criticism. It is inherently eccentric, with some aspects of clownery or even obscenity and blasphemy. Grzyb and Osiowski’s paintings remind the viewer about the carnivalistic dimension of everyday life, in which reason and the seemingly universal acceptance of principles and order are suspended, and behaviours and social situations often considered as obvious and unquestionable are pushed out to the margin.

Osiowski and Grzyb discuss the idea of a painting together, concentrating on its formal aspects by translating words into visual language. It is even before their meeting that one of the painters has picked out a photograph, a postcard from abroad, an illustration for a book, a forgotten sketch, a thought or aphorism read recently or jotted down long ago. The division of roles is unplanned. The one who is certain and who knows what gesture should be made at a given point takes his turn painting. Their meetings are jam sessions of painting, improvisations in which a theme is interpreted and processed through turn-taking. Since its inception, Osiowski and Grzyb’s collaboration relies on their meetings as friends, and so the pleasure from working together and the joy of the very act of painting is evident in OBA’s works.

The works vary in both subject matters and formal aspects, at times closer to Osiowski’s early abstract canvasses, at other times – to Grzyb’s trademark horror vacui. The harmony of collaboration is understood in the visual language as a synthesis of opposites: Grzyb’s ornamental style and the synthetic, deliberately “anti-decoractive” character of Osiowski’s works. In their paintings, a world drawn from books and art merges with their observed facts from everyday life. Their works are rooted deeply both in the spiritual message of Egyptian mythology, African beliefs or philosophical thought, and in mundane issues which seep out of the media and advertising. As though in a kaleidoscope, their works depict herds of animals, heroes from ancient lore, protagonists of popular culture led by Marilyn Monroe, artworld celebrities such as Andy Warhol, artists who inspire Osiowski and Grzyb such as William Blake, William Hogarth or the Polish Jacek Malczewski, as well as politicians. In search of inspiration, Osiowski and Grzyb enter the field of socially engaged art. A great example of this is their 2003 painting Biała rasa musi biało patrzeć (The White Race Must Look Whitely), painted at a time when manifestations by white supremacists in Poland were not as ostentatious and as endorsed by the Polish government as they are today. OBA’s socially engaged works express their reaction to the surrounding reality translated into the language of visual arts. However, they are never at the centre of the painters’ interest, never eclipsing other sources of inspiration important to both men.

The results of OBA’s collaborations were shown on a number of occasions, including exhibitions at the Xawery Dunikowski Museum of Sculpture, the National Museum in Warsaw, the Warsaw Galeria Promocyjna, the Poznań Arsenał, and Piętra Sztuki (Storeys of Art), organized by Galeria Program. The latter was a temporary exhibition at a makeshift art gallery, arranged in a new building at 76 Marszałkowska Street in Warsaw before it was fully adapted as an office space. For two weeks, the building was also an artwork in itself thanks to a light installation by Mirosław Filonik. An Internet chat window created by Marek Kozłowski was projected onto the façade. Each floor of the office building was designated for one artist. OBA’s works were perfectly suited to the innovative character of the exhibition, which proved once again that encounters with art can take place beyond the museum and the gallery: in working or living spaces.