Agata Stępień   »

The Discreet Charm of Geometry

From the very beginning of her search of the silkscreen technique Agata Stępień abandoned figuration, representational art. The effect she achieves goes beyond the anecdote. Graphics are ruled by objectified geometry and construction.

Her works seem to be in some way vivid and decorative, while being discreet and elegant, even though in fact this result is achieved with a limited range of visual means of expression. The artist uses basic shapes (lines, rectangles, squares, ovals), a suggestion of simple solids, she makes an impact with the size scale, harmonies and colour contrasts. In her works (except for the cycle in which she uses the images of people she knows), she eliminates the ‘author’s trace’, creating works characterized by anonymity, lack of a reference point. It should be remembered that even when in the compositions of the component elements we recognize culturally associated, burdened with semantics structures - we still deal only with the effects of formal actions, and not with the deliberately created form of the sign, the symbolic construction.

Agata Stępień’s subject of interest is the relation between space, light and colour. She is interested in revealing and emphasising visual relations between her original layouts of elements, articulation and structuring of graphic space. At the same time, the artist is characterized by perfect, masterly craftsmanship, precision and patience; it is hard to believe that the early works come from the same assumptions as the recent ones (designed with electronic means) - the author was able to design and make them ‘manually’. The works are executed in a perfect way. The created forms - stable, because they are geometrical, in many cases seem light and ephemeral.

Graphic structures are composed of repeatable modular elements, most often concentrated lines, clusters of basic planar and spatial objects. In many works we can see the inspirations coming from the concept of elementary forms typical of Minimalism. Geometrically ordered vision components create the concentration of more compact structures that are interrelated. The artist uses complex layouts of patterns and colours, creating illusions of multi-layered spatial compositions whose surfaces - in selected cycles - sometimes seem to move, and even vibrate and undulate.

The space, devoid of clues that could serve to identify it, has always been an important attribute of this artwork. It is built most often by layered arrangements of abstract, multiplied, rhythmicised elements, giving the impression of depth, and in the case of ‘distorted’, inspired by Op-art compositions - also motion. The artist also uses the phenomenon of interference of layers of varied density, colour and nature of the components overlapping one another. As a result of these actions, she achieves the impression of radiance, spatial radiation of colour.

Bands of colourful lines, in certain sections bent into a loop, dominate here and there in vertical layouts. Here, the colour effect is achieved through turns, twists, the change of the occupied area. Variability of ‘consistency’, density or dispersion of lines, even their overlapping in subsequent graphics, cause that compositions of the same colours, due to subtle interventions, suddenly affect the change in the colour dominant, its tone and temperature perceived by the viewer. The artist refers to the psychology of our vision and visual habits.

The series of works is interrelated by the idea of variantivity. Starting from the dominant assumption in the field of composition, the choice of forms or the colour scheme, the author heads for the succeeding solutions - independent, but subjected to the same idea. The artist works a lot; she is more interested in creating derivative solutions inspired by a general assumption than in producing large editions of identical graphics.

Agata Stępień’s works guarantee the comfort of distance and tranquillity. Then, are not the lines, well-balanced geometric forms and their compositions omnipresent in this artwork an expression of longing for order, do not they create the illusion of order, which in some way lets us take in an increasingly complex, complicated, rapidly changing reality? They can certainly be an expression of the need to overcome the chaos of space, the physical one that surrounds us, and the one prevailing our mental, inner space.

Interpretations of some of her works bring associations with calmness, meditation and silence. The viewer concentrates on the drawing of lines, contemplates forms and colours applied in various intensity. Interestingly, this value characterises those works in which we notice a deliberately triggered departure from the symmetrical, regular form. Works deprived of any material references and anecdotes are sterile, clean and ... beautiful. Their reception generates aesthetic pleasure. Object and color associations become a source of emotions.

Geometry saturated with imagination ceases to be only cool, analytical or intellectual, it can stir up our emotions, it can trigger or increase the metaphysical impulse (similar to the one that appears when we try to understand the graphic phenomenon of fractals). In some way Agata Stępień’s works refer to this sphere of functioning of geometric forms. The structures created by the artist, thanks to the mathematical relations that govern their existence, become the embodiment of something universal and perfect.

Benedykt Bornstein emphasized the possibility of the existence of a logical and, as a consequence, geometric form, in various domains of real life: in visual perception, in auditory sensations, in logical operations. When we look at the artwork of the artist from ŁódĽ, it seems to us that she acts as if she formed the cosmos according to her own rules, a non-existent (or only potentially existent) world of geometric representations from a chaotic matter of basic forms, from the unformed being. The free creations of the mind conceived by her may represent beings available only in an imagined visual form. Agata Stępień’s artwork undoubtedly has the value of opening to logical space, it is endowed with the quality of producing sophisticated beings.

In the case of some of the works, the planes designated by the line arrangements begin to advance, are accentuated, or are subjected to absorbtion, they are curved and bent, deformed, and as a result they allusively refer to the world of real phenomena and objects. Some create a different kind of effects typical of the Op-art search - they create the impression of vibration or pulsing. At the same time, they lack the sharpness and brightness characteristic of many earlier graphics. The works refer to the possibilities and limits of human cognition, perception and thinking - interpreting illusions and phantoms. One would like to say that all these ‘quirks’ manifest the desire to depart from the purity of geometric forms. They promise a new field of experience.

Relief-like oval forms, seemingly protruding out of the plane, clearly suggest the need for capturing figurative forms. Is this a turn towards materiality? The series of works features human heads. However, it should be remembered that Agata Stępień does not create portraits, even though she uses photos of people. She superimposes face images many times, but the context that determines the recognisability of the objects becomes vague. Deprived of significant details, distorted by overlapping motifs, the faces partially lose their human dimension. They look like computer constructs. They are similar to digitally generated avatars or phantoms - images inhabiting the world of virtual reality, especially that the author gives them a feature of images obtained using raster, bitmap graphics.

Agata Stępień’s works are subjected to visual and technical rigour. Some of them recall image forms and the logic of phenomena originating from the field of technique and technology, especially computer technology. Out of the fascination with industrial production, works representing Constructivism or Minimal Art were created, for example those using simple modular divisions or sets of stereometric forms that bring to mind industrial or architectural associations.

Today, there is a large range of acceptable aesthetic formulas. Among them there are also those that appeared as a result of a formerly unacceptable alliance of science and art. The new aesthetics is born, treading a fine line of art and technology. The revaluation of concepts within one sphere triggers discussions about the other1.

The language used by Agata Stępień is a universal language, nevertheless the artist has found a way to make it also individual, open to changes, new expressions and new accents. Thanks to this, every artistic conversation provides the viewer with new areas of cognition and reflection.

Dariusz Le¶nikowski

Transl. Elżbieta Rodzeń-Le¶nikowska