Abstract artist Michał Ratajczak is originally from Leszno, Poland, and currently based in Rotterdam (NL). The processes that undergo within his work can be compared to mindfulness. The consciousness as well as his stories and philosophical ideas play an important role in Ratajczak’s work. Mostly he uses mixed media techniques and it does not matter for him whether he works on paper or canvas — he looks for a final form with every gesture he makes.
Michał Ratajczak was surrounded by arts all his life, or for at least as long as he remembers. His parents, architects, often painted with watercolors but mostly on work-related subjects. Therefore Ratajczak could always find an extended palette of different art tools to investigate and play with a lot of fine-liners, brushes, paints, markers. For example, from early memories, he remembers often ‘borrowing’ those tools from his mother’s office and of course having discussions about their disappearance afterward.
‘It was just easier persuading my parents in getting me some new art supplies rather than new toys. So, I guess, I was growing up with the idea that ‘creating’ is something important, and you can even spend some money on it!’
Michał Ratajczak continues: ‘I remember winning an art contest for kids. For the first price, I got a huge fluffy bunny — it was way much bigger than me. I think It was at the age of three. I remember the awards took place in the ‘Panorama’. That was the only cinema in my hometown at that time, but it no longer exists for years. Small, forgotten achievement, but it looks as back then I already had a convincing vision.
Also, when I was a kid, my mum worked in an art gallery and I remember attending some art workshops. My works back then looked abstract already, but all my ‘doodles’ had a meaning. I also remember making drawings on furniture — under the table and on the side of poofs. I think that I mostly drew cars and just doodles. Scratching the wallpaper in my bedroom and imaging what the scratched shapes could represent. And today I consider it as a creative process as well!
It is also just hard to disagree with the phrase ‘every kid is an artist.’ And there is even this famous quote from Picasso: ‘It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.’
Michał Ratajczak, Untitled (1993)
Michał Ratajczak, Grandma (2013)
In childhood, Ratajczak always had an urge to stay busy with something. Naturally, drawing and painting became the way of spending his free time on his own. For instance, as a kid, he drew portraits of famous people from the encyclopedia on a CD (no internet at the time). With ease, he would redraw from those photos and produce realistic works.
And through all of his past experiences — extra drawing lessons before studies, the classes at the academy, graphic design assignments — he would always come back to painting. For Ratajczak, all workshops from his childhood turned out to be as important as studies at the University of Arts (Poznan, PL) from which he graduated as an architect back in 2016. During his studies, Michał Ratajczak was involved in many things. He started music producing or as he says ‘just beat making’. In the past, he did some music already but that was the time when he decided to get his solo music released. He would play drums in a few musical projects, make some graphic design projects, party every weekend (or even during a week) — all with zero regrets.
‘I enjoyed the first three years of my studies, but then I had so many distractions, I couldn’t focus on architecture anymore. And believe me, it’s just super time-consuming — you actually need to decide that your work is your life — and I really didn’t want to make this decision.
Although I had some important experiences during studies related to school. I remember a story about the guy who started drawing with his weaker hand (left) and it really changed the game for him. Once a tutor from my drawing classes told me ‘I know you can draw, but maybe you have something more to say.’ And also that ‘you can cover what you already painted with the next layer, and don’t worry, what you painted before still will be there.’ These are only a couple of ideas/thoughts that I still remind myself these days and find very helpful.
Classes dedicated to designing probably were useful for me as well. But besides the composition and ‘the process’ I don’t use much of this knowledge in general — I’m still a rebel!’
Already during his masters, Ratajczak knew that after graduation he would not pursue a career in architecture. Only a couple of times he worked in an office of an architectural studio between the first and second grades of his studies. This little time was long enough as he realized that he wanted to switch, even if it meant a career, to graphic design. And till today, the design takes a big part in Ratajczak’s life. For example, he works together with his friend, architect by education, Mateusz Ściechowski on the GAAA. The ‘post-creative club’, launched at the end of 2020, stands for Graduated As An Architect. Mostly they produce t-shirts with a screen-print on contemporary but painful at times topics. Also, Michał Ratajczak often works for musical releases and for the Creative Studio, here, in the Netherlands.
So back then, leaving his home country and deciding to move abroad (which he never did before) was sort of a fresh start for him: ‘Having ‘nothing’ feels like everything is possible again — I really felt that way then too.’ In the Netherlands, where Ratajczak currently lives and works, he saw the great opportunity for continuing what he loves the most — arts.
Ratajczak continues: `While learning in architectural studies about how to ‘change the world’ (in a good way) you often end up doing simple drawings of apartments that are too small and too expensive. Although I feel way better about graphic design jobs, the ‘commercial’ needs very often kill the freedom of expression. So eventually I decided to explore arts as a tool of visual free speech. And yes, there are a lot of downsides, but they often vanish if I just keep going on with the practice. At some point, I always end up with satisfying results or a new, just born in my brain idea.’
Ultimately if you look for things that made the biggest impact on his art practice overall, the last three years could be considered as that significant difference.
‘That’s the time when I started practicing visual art again and just looked it up more. I developed some styles that I feel connected to, eventually, I started to think about the stories to tell through or next to the images I create and I believe that’s the proper path to follow.’
While living in the city, where urban art surrounds involuntarily, Ratajczak became fond of street tags, accidental details of overlapped or almost removed graffiti layers. Despite that, he never totally gave up on the basic rules of drawing that he assimilated earlier. Through his work, he tries to connect past different experiences and put forward his honest identity as an artist.
The choice of medium, with which Michał Ratajczak works, depends on his initial plan. But in general, he mostly loves working with paper because of its properties. As he describes: ‘The paper always has the other side of the page if anything goes wrong — both sides can be used. It also just dries very quickly. I like the structure of the paper and how, for example, spray paint looks on it. You can fold the paper, cut it, crop it, etc. — a lot of possibilities.’
And in effect, his ‘relationship’ with canvas was never the best — it builds a sort of distance between him and what he wants to achieve from his practice.
‘Just in general, I get my work done faster on paper than on a canvas. On paper, I can’t adjust as many layers as on canvas. Perhaps that’s why it feels that the work is finished faster.
Also, I like the fact that paper is just very common. So for me, it is like a lower class, universal media. Whereas canvas reminds me about the whole pompous world of art that often separates instead of uniting us — which I believe art should stand for, especially these days of total social polarization. I’m not saying that it is wrong to work on canvas or something — it’s just not my favorite media.
It’s also easier to store works on paper when you do a lot of ‘quick works’ as I do. When some of my work can be done in 30 minutes, for the other ones it might take a whole day. I also had a couple of paintings that I considered done after a few months of just walking around the painting and thinking about the next steps.’
Ratajczak’s main rule, formed over years, is that there are no rules. He loves the freedom of this, even at times when it comes to struggling. And most importantly, it never gets boring for him. He does not make sketches before starting the final piece, therefore each of his works exists as a unique and one-of-a-kind piece. And from time to time he gets surprised by the unexpected outputs that would never happen if they were planned. Hence concepts that he creates are born through the process itself. Without any initial guidelines, through trials and errors filled with occasional accidents.
With a keen eye for detail, the things Michał Ratajczak sees around him influence him. Usually, the simple things catch his attention; a couple of tags on the trash container, the accidental composition of furniture in front of some people’s house, or some colorful drawings on the pavement. When he sees specific moments (it can also be just the light) or objects, sometimes even other artists’ works, he gets excited by the creative energy that comes from that particular instant.
Furthermore, music also plays a big role in his practice, especially punk rock and hip-hop cultures or the avant-garde jazz scene.
‘The connection of both practices has a couple of levels. I often use observations found in one practice to another. I actually started to use fewer layers for my music, because it works for art practice. Furthermore, I can imagine that every color (layer) is a different instrument and the other way around. Building up from pieces — that’s the common denominator. I remember when I was also just painting abstracts to contemporary jazz — then I think it was more about visualizing the expression you hear on the record.
Finally, it’s about self-esteem too. If I’m lifted by a successful musical session, I will use this positive energy for my art practice — and the other way around. But if I ‘fail’ with the session I still can escape into the second activity. It’s win-win if you think about it in this way.’
Inspired and driven by everyday life, Michał Ratajczak aims to further develop the conceptual side of his practice. Ideally, he searches for a balance in having the concept and visual aspects that will complement each other within a project. Finding a perfect way to ‘keep going’, nowadays Ratajczak focuses closely on the practice itself. After all, he only discovers new ideas and techniques when he experiments with different mediums directly. Therefore his artistic state always pulses around the concept of ‘no practice = no concepts’.
Photography: courtesy of Michał Ratajczak → & Creative Studio (thank you!).
Text: VVOVVA →