Piotr Janas


ECHO Cologne
28 March - 4 May, 2024

Piotr Janas
Close to the Bone


When asked in an interview how long does it take him to finish a painting, Piotr Janas replied in his typical deadpan manner: ‘Few years at most, usually much less.’ Following his debut in the early 2000s, Janas (b. 1970) attained the status of an artists’ artist, his name inevitably mentioned by those who busy themselves with charting the genealogies of contemporary art as the trailblazer of surrealist-inspired artistic practices in Poland.

Fusing abstraction with representation, Janas has carved out a space where geometrical shapes merge with organic ones, hovering against light backdrops with virtually no relation to commonly understood space and time. Of the little that was written about this singular universe much has focused on tracing influences and drawing comparisons to art historical phenomena that seem to seep into Janas’ canvases. But his work isn’t that of revisiting antiquated artistic idioms. If there is anything that echoes the past, it is the meandering practice of the artist’s tutor Jerzy Tchórzewski (1928-1999), an idiosyncratic painter and poet who eschewed the then-dominant tendencies of socialist realism and color-centered painting to create oneiric, somber compositions that navigated the realms of abstraction and figuration.

Rather than acknowledging his antecedents when it comes to image-making, Janas is much more willing to point to figures in other fields, notably music and literature, among them the author Thomas Bernhard whose plays and novels delivered a fierce criticism of what one writer termed the ‘intolerable mediocrity of Austrian newspapers, universities and industry’. 1 Indeed, Janas’ ostensible reticence resonates with the standoffish tone of many of Bernhard’s characters. In Woodcutters – a novel infamously confiscated from bookstores following a libel suit – the narrator, frequently identified with the author himself, seated at an “artistic dinner” amongst a group of guests he doesn’t find particularly stimulating, unleashes a caustic rant: ‘One actually finds most people uninteresting, I thought, all the time—almost all the people we meet are uninteresting, having nothing to offer us but their collective mediocrity and their collective imbecility, with which they bore us on every occasion, and so naturally we have no time for them.’ 2

But Piotr Janas doesn’t so much shun people, as human characters. His paintings embrace the human and are replete with references to the human body: biomorphic shapes, forms resembling bodily organs or flesh. ‘My works are strictly connected to the human body’, says the artist, ‘At some point, I realized that almost all the colors I use throughout my work, with the exception of white and black, are shades of pink, which relate in an apparent manner to the human body.’ Janas evokes those emanations corporeality only to pit them against the inorganic and seemingly inanimate: architectural elements, mechanical parts, possibly precision instruments which are interacting with the biological: serving as support or scaffolding, or – to the contrary – exerting pressure or puncturing the soft tissues and membranes. There is a tension, an almost palpable sense of a discomforting physical contact.

The challenge and the allure of Janas’s work sits precisely there. They are too easy to dismiss as dry, calculated abstract compositions, or symbol-heavy surrealist visual puns. Neither are they expressionist celebrations of unfettered creativity. Painstakingly construed, they are an echo of the artist’s listening in to his own body: singular portraits of states that come into existence at the threshold of mind and matter. Far from romanticized ideas of emotional landscapes, Janas has been single-handedly probing and articulating the interface between thought and activity, impulse and reaction, which is, ultimately, a universal experience. Both captivating and disconcerting, his works offer a record of an ongoing performance that takes place everywhere but on canvas.


Krzysztof Kościuczuk


1 Michael Z. Wise, ‘The Final Curtain of the Austrian Playwright’, The Washington Post, May 21, 1990.
2 Thomas Bernhard, Woodcutters, trans. David McLintock, Faber and Faber, 1999, p. 127.



Piotr Janas (b. 1970) lives and works in Warsaw. He debuted internationally at the 50th International Venice Biennale in 2003 and has been the subject of numerous institutional and gallery exhibitions since, including Flesh in War with Enigma, Kunsthalle Basel (2004), Infinite Painting: Contemporary Painting and Global Realism, Villa Manin Centro d’Arte Contemporanea (2006), Polish Painting of the 21st Century, Zacheta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw (2006), Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (2012); Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw (2014); Foksal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw (2004, 2009, 2016, 2022), Bortolami, New York (2008 & 2013), Jack Hanley, New York (2005), Nicolas Krupp, Basel (2013), Wschód, Warsaw (2022).

Janas’ works are in the public collections of e.g. Tate Modern, London; Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin; National Museum in Wroclaw; Zacheta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw; and the Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw.


Special thanks to Foksal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw.