Bartosz Pietrzak's Pictured Rocks

When we wake up every morning our senses reassure us that there is a world "out there".  Sometimes we find an element of beauty in that world.  Maybe that was what once pushed people into creating art, a futile quest to imitate that beauty in their paintings, sculptures, columns...  We can distinguish the natural beauty from the man-made one.  The power hidden in magnificent works of art surprises us how close can a human steal that useless and yet so coveted element from nature.  But the nature can still surprise us too...

The place where I took my pictures for this series hides quite unusual natural "artifacts".  So, what is so special about them? Don't we find natural beauty everywhere, in infinite sunsets, ocean horizons, mountain ranges?  Well, I think, this is a different, a quite contrary kind of natural beauty.  "Oh, that looks just like an abstract painting!", I hear almost every time I show these photographs.  Wait a minute, those rocky cliffs have been there for a billion of years, and our abstract painting is only a hundred years old.  So, how can that be?  Vassily Kandinsky or Clyfford Still probably didn't visit the shores of Upper Michigan.  So, how can the time flow backwards?


I've always believed that it's more important for an artist to pose questions than to look for answers.  Good question can plant doubt in the viewer's mind and push him toward verifying his comfortable views and safe preferences.


In my pictures of those cliffs colored by various mineral deposits I am drawing on experience of traditional painting by choosing their orthogonal composition, arranging the "frontal pose" of the rocks, and emphasizing their painterly features such as interaction of colors and shades, watercolor-like tonal transitions, and dynamics of "brushstrokes" and smudges.  However, contrary to the traditional pictorial landscape photography, my objective is not to contemplate the directly discernible "natural beauty" of the depicted scenery, but rather to extract its pure abstract form from the photographed subject.  In other words, the essence of these photographs is not to show how beautiful that place is; that has already been done in millions of pictures taken there every year.  What I'm trying to find out is what makes us perceive those unusual rocks as beautiful, get closer to the quintessence of this beauty embedded in that spellbound lakeshore.  By experimenting outside the safe academic routine of landscape photography I am trying to expand its expressive strength beyond its traditional esthetic and decorative function.


So, is the beauty really in the eye of the beholder?  Are we bringing it with us when we enter that national park, being equipped with the knowledge of art, tradition, and that specific human esthetic sensitivity?  Or perhaps it has been there for a billion of years?  Long before abstract painting, long even before homo sapiens...

Pietrzak's "Pictured Rocks" opens Friday, January 5 with an artist reception from 6 to 9pm and hangs through January 26th.