The new paintings of Jerzy Michalski, as aesthetically absorbing, hypnotically detailed and rich with breathtaking colour tones as they are, are an exercise in social commentary. Threaded through these artworks is an incredulous and urgent critique of digital culture and social media—as reflected in the exhibition title, Facades.
“It’s not only about buildings,” says Michalski, whose paintings feature architecture and structures of various kinds. “It’s also about the facades of our life: what we are showing, and how we project to the world in this age of showing off through social media. I’m trying to paint this problem, because people are forgetting about reality: poverty, inequality, democracy, all this stuff happening now.”
Michalski’s unique style has been greatly influenced by regular trips to Japan. Enthralled by the country’s art, design and society, Michalski, who grew up in Poland and came to Australia in 1992, says his new works are a “visit to Japan by painting” as he has been unable to travel due to Covid-19.
“In Japan, art is about mixing reality with abstract thinking,” he says. “They have a special perspective. Colour in Japan is incredible. I like cities, and Japanese cities are absolutely stunning, especially Tokyo. All the architecture is a big influence on my work.”
When you consider that Michalski works out of a rural studio in bushland an hour from Hobart, this affection for cities might seem surprising–as might his engagement with social media and the maelstrom of life online. “This way you can have a distance, and reflect on it more,” he says of his removal from the world when he works. In essence, escaping from civilisation has allowed him special insight into it, as the works in Facades show.
This article was originally published in the November/December 2021 print edition of Art Guide Australia.