"I, Beetle"

Ryszard Grzyb, works on paper

Drawings linger at the bottom of a drawer, they get lost on the margins of notes, they shyly anticipate paintings – which later enjoy higher esteem. At the same time, they are the primary source of expression and inspiration, and often the point of departure for further artistic inquiry.



The earliest of the exhibited works were drawn with an ink pen or a pencil in the 1970s. Their composition resembles that of prints, where the image is framed by the edges of the matrix. The sketches reflect Grzyb’s interest in children’s art and naïve art that he pursued at that time. The fertile imagination of those non-professional artists along with their untrained hand and lack of knowledge on perspective or anatomy gives birth to alternative realities inhabited by creatures large and small. Landscapes are formed around the line of the horizon and the sun is smiling in its crown of rays. Such images often prove to be as amusing and moving as they are unsettling. Grzyb intertwines these seemingly childlike visions with themes which are far from the consciousness and cognitive abilities of a child. On the one hand, the artist channels innocence or even naïveté which is normally reserved for kids who have not been taught to feel shame or embarrassment. On the other hand, he is able to juxtapose philosophical reflection, literary references, cosmology and politics with physiology in all of its voluptuousness or even unsavouriness – with eroticism, and a tongue-in-cheek attitude.

Among works from the 1980s, returning themes and images can be distinguished: primal rituals next to scenes of everyday life in the Polish People’s Republic, characters with animal heads, violent war scenes, copulating couples, and visuals borrowed from the history of art. Many of these raw works bring to mind cave paintings, which depicted beliefs, religious ceremonies and hunts or war scenes. The coarseness and severity of the shapes corresponds with the explicitness and violence of the chosen themes. They remind the viewer that there is a part of human nature customarily defined as animalistic; our primeval lust, our desire to kill and our survival instinct inscribe us, people, into the cycle of birth and death. Many works are also reactions to the realities and sentiments of their time of creation, with caustic commentary by this attentive and critical observer of life under Communism.

Animals have always enjoyed a special place in Grzyb’s works as simpler beings, natural, broader, and therefore, in some way, more noble. This may be why drawings where these creatures have lost their human companions are more serene and decorative.

In one of his texts, Grzyb mentioned “the category of impossibility,” which he deemed indispensable for art. It requires one to carefully observe reality and pick out what is remarkable – whether it is magical and extraordinarily beautiful, or nightmarish and monstrous. Despite the works’ small format, the viewer may be surprised by how they move him or her emotionally, evoking extreme reactions: from delight to laughter to disgust. Their often obscene and provocative nature reminds us how we may all be fascinating but also absurd and repulsive. Instead of lamenting that fact, we should rather face it with understanding, perspective, and humour.

Each of Ryszard Grzyb’s drawings is an autonomous, complete being, and it is appreciated by the artist himself. In his unconsciousness, numerous paintings have been preceded by drawings on paper, often by long years. Among the exhibited sketches, visitors will find prototypes for works which are considered hallmarks of the painter’s oeuvre.

The exhibition I, Beetle is titled after one of Grzyb’s poems and his volume of poetry, published by the Tymoteusz Karpowicz Foundation. The book accompanies the event and enriches it with messages that are easy to miss in the painter’s diverse body of work.

Curator and author

Katarzyna Piskorz


Aleksandra Paszkowska, Anna Pochmara

The project is co-financed by

the Capital City of Warsaw


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