Karol Palczak, Słodka Pani, 2023
Karol Palczak: San
Jun 30 – Aug 12, 2023
London, UK

Emalin is pleased to present San, a solo exhibition by Karol Palczak (b. 1987 in Przemyśl, Poland). This is the artist’s first exhibition with the gallery, and his first outside of Poland. San is the name of the river flowing through Krzywcza – Palczak’s home village in Subcarpathia, a rural region in the southeast of Poland. The river and its landscape are silent subjects of observation in Palczak’s camera lens as he films scenes staged or encountered in his local context. Surrounded by the void left by the Jewish-Orthodox-Catholic population that used to coinhabit the region, Palczak’s works feature a cast of characters from the economically strained, increasingly depopulated and militarised area. As both a witness and a part of its story, Palczak speaks to a connection between modernity and the landscape, and he speaks to it through tenderness.

Drawing technical and stylistic references from historic traditions of painting, Palczak mixes pigments with sun-exposed oils and primes metal sheets with garlic. His precise, focused studies treat their subjects with devoted attention. The artist’s videos relay the true dynamic of his engagement – improvised, chaotic, sometimes skirting danger. The camera shakes in his hands and the frame rotates as he gives instructions to his friends, passes canisters of gasoline, calls for water.

Large effigies made of hay and set alight reference the Slavic practice of burning marzannas, a pre-Christian folk custom still practiced in Poland today. Traditionally, the burning of these figures represented the passing of seasons. However, in Palczak’s practice it also stands in for the listlessness and loneliness of men in a rural region that many have left in pursuit of economic opportunities in urban centres. At the same time, the effigies act as an intermediary for a connection to the land, something spiritually familiar captured in the cold stillness of oil and metal.

The series of self-portraits of legs focuses on the burn scars left on Palczak’s skin from an explosive accident he survived as a boy. The same fires are still set by men in the same places: the muddy yard, the stables in wintertime. Following the fire’s trace, Palczak connects self-portraiture to the effigies and trees set alight in other works.

Palczak’s project is a technically focused observation of the environment as a vessel for spiritual survival. As in the tradition of 19th century realist painting, the social context imbues the landscape with a sense of transience and anxiety: the impact of economy and technical detritus on nature and its people rendered emotive.