Studio Visit: Tm Gratkowski, The Word – Space, Time, Memory
By Gary Brewer
“Societies have always been shaped more by the nature of the media by which men communicate than by the content of the communication.”
“Art’s purpose is to sober and quiet the mind so that it is in accord with what happens.”
Images and words, ideas of space, time, and memory, are layered in intricately composed works. Collages of paper ‘planes’ recede deep into a visual space utilizing renaissance ideas of chiaroscuro and perspective to create layers of depth, whose characteristics capture and massage the viewer with the medium and the message. Tm Gratkowski seeks to slow the mind of his audience to create visually captivating collages whose complex interaction of fragmentary words, images and phrases refresh the brain and allow the mind to ‘see’ with a new perspective – words and their meaning. Tm spoke of his opinion that words have lost their weight and that people use words forgetting what they signify; and that they use language in a common way to quickly get to the next thing. He is interested in making work where one is drawn close, the details and layers of information holding one’s attention. It is almost like a puzzle where one is compelled to figure out the words and images in a novel way, and gain a fresh appraisal of their meaning. It is not a specific narrative thread that he is trying to express, it is a way to engage the viewer to think about and feel these rich works that he composes and come away with their own interpretation.
Tm’s collages are both an image and an object simultaneously. The history of its making is embedded in the material; layers of images and words on planes of paper, meticulously cut out from magazines, become metaphors of both space and time. Complexity is a form of energy; it draws one in to look carefully and to see. The information richness and visual activity become a method of engaging the mind and distilling one’s thoughts. These myriad perceptual cues are informing each other – hiding certain things and revealing others. Words are loosened from their specific meaning to turn in shifting planes of ideation and design. He thinks about composition first, using his design skills to create spaces that have an architectonic quality. Within these interior spaces the semiotic deconstruction and rebuilding of words and images unfurls; the word becomes the image and the image becomes the word. These are works that hold your attention; they draw you in to take time to look carefully, to see the layers buried beneath- a ridge made by the edge of a piece of paper hidden underneath, or the thin transparent paper allows the colors and shapes of what is hidden to be seen in subtle shades. We look carefully and try to create meaning; the words and images are altered by these juxtapositions and by the layers of images and materials. Tm said of this space that it is a metaphor for memory; the space starts somewhere behind us and moves forward to the present where we stand and continues into the future, into the deep space in the work.
Tm made several specifically political pieces in reaction to the current political chaos we live with. In the process, his growing dismay at the flood of misinformation, lies and distortions caused him to want to find a way to speak in a clear voice and explore personal truths. He set out to write in his journal, private thoughts about himself, to edit and refine them until they became irreducible; he selected ones that spoke both to his personal feelings but were also feelings he believed were not unique, but rather a more common shared set of truths. Though he did not start with the intention of making work from these, they have become the basis for his next solo exhibit at Walter Maciel Gallery.
He created a size for the first set of works, 11×14 inches, the average size of a magazine page. Each ‘truth’ is cut out by hand with an exacto knife and glued over an image, which reinforces or questions the statement with a contextual image from magazines. These will be exhibited together in a grid format. Each one has an image of wallpaper on it, to suggest the interiority of domestic/private space, the private space of one’s home for instance. From these small collages, where the words and images have a singular impact, he is building larger works, 4×4 feet, they are richly layered and complex. Passages of paper are left hanging unfixed to the surface; the vulnerability of exposing one’s private space into public space expressed in the fragility of the physical objects. The working title of this series is “Domesticity, Vanity and Vices”.
As we spoke he told me that these works are very personal; the truths that he is revealing about himself are almost embarrassing. He believes that most people, if they were honest with themselves, would say that they share these feelings. Tm is making these collages with a delicate openness and fragility to convey the subjective nature of their content, obscuring these phrases with little to no contrast, so that they are somewhat hidden. The complexity of redacting words and content in some areas, and framing them in others, pushing and pulling information around in rich layered spaces, allows one to find their own truths and to experience the words and images anew. It is a way to bring fresh meaning to the information, to engage one in thinking about words and what they mean in a personal way.
Art is a socio-political act. It is the untethered expression of an individual willing to go deep within themselves and to invest an object with content, and discover the complexity and slippery nature of meaning. From this unfixed space between the subject and object, one conveys their individual understanding or expression and releases it upon the world; it is a change agent that has the power to alter concepts and interpretations; to find the root and to dig deeper to unearth something that is true to the artist.
Meaning is a shape-shifting object of mind; words and images are affected by context, what comes before and after changes the interpretation. There is a filmic aspect to Tm’s work as it frames and re-contextualizes words and images within planes of information, receding and coming forward. They play out in time in an episodic manner. These are serious and playful works of art; they are like a conceptual hide-and-seek that fractures and reconstitute the meaning of the imagery. One could say that these collages are like a model of consciousness, memory, and time. In the universe that Tm Gratkowski creates we can lose our fixed notions of meaning and discover novel understanding of words and images, and witness their deconstruction and rebuilding while traversing these information rich collages.