Slash is a large painting in oil on canvas depicting indistinct shapes that recall mutilated body parts. A straight black line dissects the image just right of centre, indicating some sort of instrument which appears to have sliced through the disembodied fleshy limb which occupies the canvas. The title of the work underlines the violence of the gesture. To the left of the image, putrid fluid flows out of one of the shapes, while what appears to be blood drips down the centre of the canvas, evoking a sense of violence and decay. The image is deliberately ambiguous; Janas has commented: ‘I’d say my intention is to intrigue, unsettle, confuse, mislead and throw red herrings. I try to avoid explaining my paintings.’ (Janas and Szymczyk 2005, p.2.)
Slash is characteristic of the large-scale paintings Janas has made since the late 1990s. Positioned between figuration and abstraction, his works often depict ambiguous shapes that suggest body parts, fluids and organs. Despite this apparently representational subject, the composition of Slash is essentially abstract, with a strong formal design. The picture plane is roughly divided into a series of five triangles. Curator Sarah Cosulich Canarutto has written, ‘in his challenge to painting, Janas enacts a metaphorical battle between the formalism of geometry and the instinctive passion of expressionism. The counter collision of figure and form generates on the canvas an interweaving of picture planes and a consequent sense of depth, without establishing a spatial hierarchy’ (Sarah Cosulich Canarutto, ‘Piotr Janas: Istituto del Cervello’, Cardi Black Box, Milan 2010, http://www.ardiblackbox.com/ENGtesto_janas.php, accessed 1 November 2010).
Janas’s work can be viewed within the context of recent painting and contemporary debate around the medium, much of which concerns the dynamic between painting and figuration. Janas has described his approach to painting as one of simplification and a return to basics: ‘I think that painting hasn’t done justice to basic functions performed with the aid of simple tools. To put it more generally, culture, and art specifically, has reached such rarefied heights that it’s almost suspended in a vacuum, and in my opinion the only way to go is down, we need some kind of reduction, simplification.’ (Janas and Szymczyk 2005, p.2.) This simplification can be seen in his choice of colours. Commenting on his preference for a limited palette he has stated:
There’s always white, and white is nothing. You see everything well against white background, clear and in focus. Black stands for everything hard; tools are often black, black is the colour I usually strike with. Pink stands for all things soft; I usually strike pink with black. Bluish and greenish are the colours of decayed pink. Blue is a colour I sometimes paint bellies with. Brown is excrement, sometimes clotted blood. Yellow is usually poison gas. Red is obviously blood. I need to mention that black was tar once.
(Janas and Szymczyk 2005, p.2.)
Piotr Janas and Adam Szymczyk, Wrong Times, exhibition catalogue, Wrong Gallery, New York 2005, pp.2-5.
Anne Kempkes, Flesh at War with Enigma, exhibition catalogue, Kunsthalle Basel 2005.