When Anna Kostenko arrived in Kraków in 1991, she joined the Krakow artistic circles unprejudiced. She could make her own choices consciously, not being burdened with the baggage of experience with growing up here.
Her encounter with Kraków and of the Academy of Fine Arts steered the young artist in the direction of Polish Colorism, still alive in the oeuvre of the professors of the Academy such as Juliusz Joniak and Jan Szancenbach, her academic teacher. Standing aloof, Anna Kostenko was an intent observer of the history of Kraków art and its current process of development. She saw its particular character and power in colourist struggles. Consequently, she linked the beginning of her artistic career with the Colourist movement.
This was not, however, an uncritical submissiveness to her professors' influences. Instead, the artist looked for her own paths in art. Her temperament is too strong and original, and the talent too powerful for her to yield to anybody uncritically. If one traces in her works spiritual similarities with Jan Szancenbach's paintings, they have nothing to do with imitations but are the results of creative discussion between the two artists. Every dialogue with the master is a little like a test of her abilities to communicate through the use of the already established means and ways of expression.
In her works we can notice both a number of contradictory or sharply conflicting tendencies and trends which coexist peacefully. This heterogeneity is a sign of the artist's search for her own artistic methods and solutions. It is also the proof that she does not compromise easily, although as armed with her talent as she is, she could. She is not to be satisfied with a simple transformation. On the contrary, she is provoked to manoeuvering in different directions. Sometimes she verges upon the creativity of older masters such as Toulouse-Lautrec, E.Schiele and G.KIimt, She remembers them when she paints seated figures and nudes but always reprocesses the reminiscences of their works in her own, expressive way.
The artist groups these various tendencies in looking for her own style in cycles, thus stressing their separateness and simultaneously trying to maintain her identity. She uses colourist cycles of still lifes, of paintings from numerous voyages and of nudes, in which case the artist is inspired by the model's looks and her vast knowledge of different possibilities of presenting the model on canvas. When painting a nude named "The grey-haired" (oil, canvas, 70 x 100 cm, 1995), in colouring resembling Vuillard, the artist shed her interest in the form, which seemed of no real importance to her. The observer can perceive it as a discord and wonder whether a contrast between a refined play on colours compared to the evident inexactness in the anatomic study is intentional or not. Can we assume that those inaccuracies can be justified by the artist's interest only in the play on colours? "The grey-haired" has a disturbing effect on the viewer. It provokes questions about the limits of possibilities of correct presentation of the form in the situation when there are excellent colours to perceive first of all. The picture leaves the spectator a little perplexed. The beautifully painted complexion of the nude sitting on the sofa, which is covered with a cloth in red stripes, contrasts with the rich and decorative, Matisse-like or even Klimt-like surrounding.
Another interesting nude "Indifferent II" (oil, canvas, 70 x 80 cm, 1997) shows an ugly woman in black stockings with huge breasts, provocative in their shapelessness, with a face which resembles an African mask from Picasso's early works, who lies on a bright red sofa. The sparing composition of large colour planes creates a surprising effect when the ugliness becomes decorative.
The artist frequently paints ugly women and seems to be fascinated with their ugliness and shapelessness. This found expression in such paintings as "Naked I" (oil, canvas, 80 x 70 cm, 1997), graphic-like picture with the figure bordered with a dark contour, and "Women chatting" (oil, canvas, 90 x 80 cm, 1997). Flat forms bordered with dark contours which correspond to the Nabists, are disrupted by sharply red and Fauve-like, grinding spots, which on the whole enliven the picture and, thanks to the introduction of bright red, cause anxiety.
Frequently, human shapes in Anna Kostenko's paintings seem to burst free from the frames. Some of them are "beheaded" others have their legs cut off. Spectators wonder whether this is due to the inaccuracy of composition or the artist's conscious and planned act. It must be the latter possibility since in almost all cases when the compositions burst out of the frames they are well-founded by the employed artistic means. The painting entitled "Emptiness" (Karolina cycle, oil, canvas, 100 x 90 cm) is a conscious and harmonious composition of a naked figure against the background of a bookcase, the structure of which introduces order and divides the work into three clear parts: the first one shows a blue chair, the second a naked woman and in the third one a shadow of the model is visible. In "Mimi in black tights" (Karolina cycle, oil, canvas, 70 x 80 cm, 1997) the artist presents a figure of a seated model that does not fit into the frames. Still, the model's partly cut off head is squeezed into inner frames of a stretcher of an upturned painting in the background, which constitutes a kind of aureole around the model's head. The composition "Painting her" (oil, canvas 75 x 75 cm, 1997) is a very beautiful nude. The grey body of a model seated in a chair is partly outlined with a black contour. By painting nudes the artist manifests her interest in German Expressionism, which is particularly visible in such works as: "Dream I" (oil, canvas, 1995) and "Dream II" (oil, canvas, 100 x 90 cm, 1997), that were the outcome of the artist's trips to Germany (in 1992 and 1993).
The cycle of paintings which clearly stands apart is the "African" cycle containing the reminiscences from the Cana¬ries where the artist traveled in February and March 1997. On La Gomera island she found the landscape which made her think of Africa with which she had been fascinated for a long time. On the island she was impressed by the climate fairly matching the expectations and ideas she had about exotic countries, alien cultures, dark-skinned people and specific co¬lour compositions of clothes, rhythm of gait and movement.
One of the most interesting in the cycle is the painting entitled "Masai III" (oil, canvas, 60 x 70 cm, 1997) which shows Negro figures in white robes. The blackness of the heads matches the whiteness of the clothes, the ochre setting and the red of the clothes of figures painted in the background. A "group picture" entitled: "Masai II" (oil, canvas, 72 x 91 cm,1997) is equally interesting. An archetype figure of a mother with a child presented in "Masai V. I won't reach it" (oil, canvas, 75 x 75 cm, 1997) and "Masai IV. Family", canvas, 80 x 65 cm, 1997) are truly worth paying attention to. Another painting "My lamb" (oil, canvas, 80 x 70 cm, 1997), showing a little boy from Peru, fits well into the cycle because it was created by the use of similar means. Similarities lie in the way of treating the little boy's figure as a model and of setting it in a neutral background which generalizes the concrete shape.
Also the trip to Ireland in September 1997 produced interesting paintings. In the landscapes with grazing sheep, vast mountain pastures bordered with mountain ranges on the horizon the interesting effects were obtained through the use of colour spots which differed from the local colour. None the less, they convey the true atmosphere of the quiet Irish landscape, for instance, "Ireland II" (oil, canvas, 75 x 75 cm, 1997).
Like in the case of every artist, Anna Kostenko dreamed of traveling to France, particularly to Paris. She went there a number of times (1993,1996,1997). She always returned loaded with notes, drawings and sketches for her future paintings. Her fascination with Paris where every comer is so picturesque and inspiring that the artist's imagination can transform it into a pictorial motif, resulted in a big cycle of paintings presenting figures seated at cafe tables, e.g. "The Parisians" (oil, cardboard, 50 x 35 cm, 1997), "In the cafe"(oil, cardboard, 50 x 70 cm, 1997), "Waiter" (oil, cardboard, 50 x 35 cm, 1997), views of the city, e.g. entrances to the art deco "Stations of the Paris underground" (oil, cardboard, 50 x 70 cm, 1997) and barges on the Seine.
The drawings and oil sketches on cardboard and paper of small sizes, which the artist prepared during her stay in Paris, later in Poland became the bases for large oil canvases presenting mostly the views of Paris. They are sometimes painted in the manner of the Impressionists, with respect to different lighting depending on different times of the day, e.g. "Notre Dame" (oil, canvas, 70 x 80 cm, 1997) or a cycle of city views from the banks of the Seine which show Paris in daring violet and pink: "Pink Paris" (oil, canvas, 70 x 80 cm, 1997), and in orange: "Paris in Orange" (oil, canvas, 90 x 100 cm, 1997). These works clearly correspond to the Paris townscapes by the Impressionists like Pisarro and Sisley and the Fauves like Andre Derain and Vlaminck. However, they are very individual and manifest the artist's original approach to the theme, her great sensitivity of the perception of light and constantly changing colour hues in the section of the reality she observed.
Another large group of canvases is formed by the cycle of still lifes such as: "Vegetables on a table" (oil, canvas, 90 x 100 cm, 1997), "White and red cabbage" (oil, canvas, 90 x 100 cm, 1996), "Still life with white basket" (oil, canvas, 90 x 100 cm, 1998) and a composition in several colour versions, namely "Still life in red" (oil, canvas, 90 x 100 cm, 1997) and its counterpart in orange.
The strong point of Anna Kostenko's paintings is their colouring. On the other hand, the composition of some themes may arouse discussion. Some risky effects are often saved when the sensitive artist introduces into her paintings tiny and hardly noticeable details. Such a seemingly trifling but still important element, effecting the harmony of her works, is the artist's signature affixed in bright colour, clearly used as a conscious artistic means of expression.
The painting of Anna Kostenko, in spite of the fact that her search goes in various directions, is unquestionably far from avant-garde experiments or abstract trends. The artist represents the Realist movement although, this is rather a transformed realism which is not afraid of deformations or experiments with colours. Hers is not an intellectually experimenting art. It is the art of feeling and experiencing. It manifests the sifting of colour through its different hues depending on the artist's emotional state. The colours of the real world are subjected to the artist's different states of perception dictated by her mood, tiredness or time of the day, and thus are seen differently.
In the case of Anna Kostenko's works, we deal with painting which is saturated with energy and temperament steered by feelings. Changing emotions affect the results on the canvases. The artist perceives the world through her temperament. The effects of her artistic perception make us hope for more. We shall look forward to and anxiously wait for her new paintings.
Dr. Jozef Grabski IRSA