Sunday Independent  – 07 March 2015

Sophie Gorman

Connecticut circus disaster

The day the clowns died. On July 6 1944, in Hartford Connecticut, there was one of the worst fire disasters in the history of America. The fire started during an afternoon matinee at the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus, which had an audience of 7,000 people. The circus bandleader Merle Evans was the first to spot the fire and instantly directed the band to play The Stars and Stripes Forever, a tune that traditionally signaled alarm to all circus personnel. The ringmaster Fred Bradna desperately tried to urge the audience to leave in an orderly fashion, but the power failed and no one could hear him. More than 160 people died and 700 were injured.


This painting by Polish artist Bartosz Kolata is entitled 'Circus' and features in his new exhibition by the same name, which is currently showing at Draiocht Arts Centre, Blanchardstown. There is wonderful exuberance and elation in this picture, the dancing girls and boys, the laughter, the wine. But the colour has almost entirely been drained from it and the all-important exit sign looms in the background.

Kolata takes rather a bleak view of it all.

"Photographs of Fred Bradna's troop were a starting point for my canvases. My works are often on the borderline of being kitschy and comical and that is how I see the circus. By combining vintage acrobats, animals, clowns and freaks with modern day people I try to express the senselessness and absurdity of our nature. By constantly staying with traditional and conservative values, we are unable to deal with our consciousness, leading us to unhappiness and in the end, to destruction."



Draiocht Blog Reviews – 06 March 2015

Des Kenny Reviews Bartosz Kolata - Circus

Bartosz Kolata's paintings occupy the walls of the Ground Floor Gallery space in Draíocht’s until 25 April 2015.
The artist combines old photographs of the Barnum and Bailey Circus with present day news events as a theatrical backdrop to explore the human condition. Past and present histories blur and merge seamlessly and a scene which may appear innocent and humorous has sinister undertones.

In The Swank Assemble a monkey walks on stilts, a clown magically produces a bouquet of flowers and a dog owner tilts her dogs head joyfully for the photographer. This calm warm scene is upended by insidious interlopers seeking equal attention from the cameras phlegmatic eye. Two masked men stand menacingly above a kneeling hooded man, frozen in ragged fear, waylaid by a murderous fate. All the while the imperturbable ringmaster orchestrates the scenario for public consumption with emphatic attention to detail since all publicity is good for a cause.  

It is the combination of innocent and invidious imagery together in a painting which unsettles the spectator and makes viewing these works an edgy experience. Finale Parade incorporates all the usual imagery associated with a performance in a circus, an elephant sits obeying a female trainer while a dancing bear follows the compulsive rhythm of the band and a trapeze artist defies gravity. Yet in the foreground a youth jumps up and down on prostrate figures and the disconcerted audience wonder nervously if this is part of the entertaining act. Should they laugh and clap or cry stop. The boundaries between reality and theatricality are suspended and the audience search vainly for a ring master to take control and grant meaning to an absurd situation. Of course any ring master will suffice, as long as order is restored even if reason is circumvented and ignored.

Unsettled, the viewer begins to question all seemingly benign imagery. Are the children in Balloons Party being groomed for indecent acts or is it just a normal happy celebration? Have all the recent abusive cases concerning children destroyed our discerning judgement when looking at a seemingly happy painting like this. Our natural equilibrium is destabilised and cultural certainty about what is benign and malign has no coherent value anymore and this uncertainty is filled with paranoia.

Sometimes the artist use of present day imagery is less provocative and disturbing when there is an indisputable narrative in the painting. In Spectacle a bust of Putin the Russian leader holds centre stage, surrounded by a yellow haired dancer and a female puppeteer. The metaphor is obvious as Putin invokes the puppeteer to pull the stings to his instructions and he controls events without direct involvement.

In Generals' Feast a young officer is about to be clubbed to death as he sits at the generals table. No doubt he has conveyed mutinous thoughts that do not equate with the Generals. The scene is filled with a clown a ballerina and various circus types who are impervious to the violence occurring. The story line follows the actor’s actions in a defined fashion leading to a conclusion that is predictable.

The tension is increased when the artist leaves no guideline to the paintings meaning and permits multiple interpretations. A woman is surrounded by eleven clowns who are all painted with smiling faces yet her face is vacant and not filled in by the artist. Each clown has his own identity and performs to that character in the circus but without their clown persona would they disappear into the anonymous ether of the unsung like the faceless dancer they encompass? They must maintain their masks to remain real. 

This is one of many interpretations to this enigmatic work and another spectator may chronicle a separate explanation.



Sunday Independent

Niall MacMonagle – 06 October 2013

UCD: 1.13pm by Bartosz Kolata

Wherever you are, just one glimpse and this image of the O'Reilly Hall, the ornamental fountains in that man-made lake, even the harsh, grey, brutal concrete in the foreground, will trigger vivid memories for the hundreds of thousands who have passed through the 370-acre Belfield campus deep in Dublin 4. It's where the love of learning happens and where many a love story began.

Andrzei Wejchert, Polish architect, created the original UCD. Built in the 1960s, and of its time, the campus deliberately had no large gathering area lest the revolting students revolted. Since then the buildings have become more and more beautiful – all bright and glittering – and, right now, the campus is all abuzz again. The students are back from their J1 rite of passage in Vancouver, Chicago, San Francisco and are, ho, ho, eager to learn.

Pole, Dublin-based Bartosz Kolata, created this striking image of UCD. Born in Torun in 1979 and hitch-hiking across Europe, in 2005, Kolata stopped off in Ireland and is still here.

He has painted Irish landscapes with a difference: a petrol station by a canal at evening where a drowned woman floats; harsh, frenetic motorways; St Teresa's Gardens in the snow.

Kolata brings to his art a social conscience. A major work of his, The Raft of the Medusa [2011], echoes a 19th-century French painting by Theodore Gericault which depicted how the privileged and wealthy were treated differently and rescued during a shipwreck but 149 had to fend for themselves on a make-shift raft. In Kolata's version the setting is a city dump where the poor struggle for survival "in a commercial and racist society".

His paintings tell stories but not in an in-your-face or obvious way. Place your hand over the figure in the lower right-hand corner and everything's different. Blue skies, blue water, green grass and trees. In the background, across the lake, figures stroll and relax. But, disturbingly, who is this foregrounded chap? A randomer? An overworked A-grade student, stocious in the middle of the day? A foreign-national down on his luck and ignored by the privileged? Has he died? Kolata's questions become ours.



Irish Times – August 18 2012

Colm Toibin

Bartosz Kolata is the winner of this year’s Manifest Prize at the Kinsale Arts Festival, and the Polish-born artist will have solo exhibition in Cork and Limerick next year. Manifest’s curator Mike Fitzpatrick of Limerick School of Art and Design, describes his large-scale paintings as “flirting with Americana and film noir… It could be the west of Ireland or the American Midwest.”

At art college in Poland, Kolata says, painting “was more my duty than a choice at that time, as I had to pass my practical exams. But really, nobody can teach you how to be an artist. You just need to start, work hard and be open to everything that is around you. You need to paint a lot and stay positive.

Everything can be stimulating and inspiring, but I believe that if you want to be good in something you have to concentrate on it, and painting is the most fulfilling artistic medium for me.”

Influenced equally by artists of the past, and by his peers, Kolata also points out that the internet means that “without leaving your home you can discover what is going on in New York or Paris. And you can exchange ideas and opinions with others artists around the world.”



Irish Independent – 14 June 2008

Sophie Gorman

“A wanton bush in the middle” is the unexpected title of this striking image by Bartosz Kolata. This sentence fragment certainly throws up more questions than it answers – who would have guessed it was the plant life that was displaying sexually lawless behaviour in this picture? But, aside from its most common usage, “wanton” dose of course also translate as luxuriant or thriving, as vegetation may be. And clearly this is a shrub with more than its fair share of leaves.

It features in the suitable quirky “Places between”, an exhibition of recent work by this young Polish-born artist currently on display at Dublin’s Lemonstreet Gallery. Kolata has been living in Dublin for the past three years and many of his paintings bear the distinctive hallmarks of his adopted home.

A woman pauses to light a cigarette beside a shop window reflecting a lunchtime traffic jam on Harcourt Street; a couple out on a hearty hike are overwhelmed by their clifftop view of the Irish Sea; the omnipresent feature of today’s urban landscape is celebrated in a congregation of cranes in some docklands that may be in Dublin or even Gdansk; a Luas station somehow becomes beautiful in a impression of the one in Ranelagh; and Kolata’s own parents are reluctant stars, along with a simple outline of his dog, Miska.

“I find my inspiration in people around me, their relationships, their feelings” explains Kolata.

“My paintings are like snapshots of private, unpremeditated moments which make the viewer almost voyeuristic. People take photographs of holidays, of special moments in their lives, of friends and family. I paint them”.