Bakowski’s earliest works, dating back to 1967-1968, already demonstrate the approach that later became characteristic of his whole oeuvre: the photographic print becomes a starting point for completely new compositions. The artist constructed highly expressive works employing techniques of photomontage and photo-installation. “Works from the period revolve around symbolic relationships. They were most often made in the technique of photomontage, by juxtaposing objects which, by their co-existence in an image, heightened their significance. The montages were thus expressive rather than stemming from the circle of surrealist stylization” wrote Zbigniew Dlubak on the works of Bakowski.
Made between 1968-1970, the series of portraits consists of nine plates which are the result of montaging a repeatedly reproduced and altered photograph of the artist’s friend, the sculptor Marek Lypaczewski. The subsequent works from the series were accordingly the effect of: juxtaposing 420 prints made from the initial photograph, developed for various lengths of time (Marek 1); cutting two photographs up into vertical and horizontal stripes and combining these (Marek 2); overlaying four prints which were either exposed to fire (Marek 3) or developed in various formats (Marek 4); fixing together random fragments of the cut photograph (Marek 5); sewing the torn photograph together using a thread (Marek 6); or combining prints cut into vertical stripes (Marek 7, Marek 8).
In a biographical note included in the 1986 painting “Self-portrait” the artist thus described his work on the “Marek” series: “To the previously used principle of intensified expression I added a new one, the disciplined principle of the divided image, which prevented the uncontrolled manipulation of its elements. Expression, channeled by such a systematic framework, became a subject of reflection. Introducing discipline allowed for an analytical approach and shifted the sphere of activity from expression to the realm of intuition which supports analyses that reach far beyond the intimate world.”
In 1973 Bakowski created three series of works which further expanded upon the formal experiments first used in the earlier set titled “Marek”. The initial photographs were reproduced, then cut and montaged again according to a mathematical scheme of his own invention, different for each series.
This is how, as the artist claimed himself, “through multiplication and reorganization of the photographic material according to a mathematical discipline” he strove to “change the perception of an object (theme), not changing the object itself, neither destroying nor deforming it.” From that point the principle of creating compositions according to a mathematical-logical scheme became the founding principle of works which Bakowski described using his own term as “photographic surfaces”.
In the three series discussed here the artist pursued a study on changes in the perception of a structure of an object (“Ball”), a spinning motion (“Rose”), and the phenomenon of the disappearance of the right angle (“The Old Town”), creating more and more abstract constructions with each plate.
The question of multiplicity, already present in the earlier works, became the main focus of the “Numbers” series. Bakowski employed a method analogous to that seen in “The Old Town”, “Rose”, “Ball” or “Marek” series, which consisted in cutting the photographic prints and montaging them into new compositions. In this case the artist began with nine photographs of nine numbers, each of them reproduced for a number of times equal to the value of the photographed number, that is: 1-one time, 2-two times, 3-three times, etc. up till 9 which was reproduced nine times. Then, using cut fragments of prints of each number, Bakowski arranged them into plates in which the numbers appeared to be pulsating and trembling.
In 1976 Bakowski realized his most monumental work entitled “Ten Steps”, (also known as “Figure in the Open Air”). The project comprised of ten plates covered with cut photographic prints arranged according to a predetermined scheme. Due to manual cutting, ordering and mounting, the meticulous and painstaking method developed by the artist required exceptional patience and commitment.
The point of departure for the work was a set of ten photographs depicting a female model in a landscape, in each photograph the woman takes a step towards the camera, until occupying the whole frame in the last one. Each photograph was then reproduced to obtain a number of copies defined by a mathematical scheme, up to hundred prints of the tenth photograph. The prints were then cut and mounted on a plate. Much like in the previous series of “The Old Town”, “Rose” and “Ball”, each subsequent “photographic surface” (plate) depicted a gradually more unreal composition.
The plates numbered one to five were destroyed in Wrocław in 1997 due to a flood.
The compositions “Square”, “Line”, and “Zero to Infinity” are – as the artist put it himself – “a further development of the analysis of a photographic image by its systemic extension and shifting of focus towards issues bordering on mathematics.” Unlike his earlier works, where Bakowski was preoccupied with explorations into the perception of reality depicted in a photograph, here the artist addresses the relationship between the text conveyed in an image/tile and its meanings, and representation itself. In this sense, the works can be seen as the artist’s first purely conceptual compositions.
“The works ‘Square’ and ‘Line’ convey an analysis of the perception of an object which came to life in the course of programming and development of the work. These series simultaneously define the limits of photography and the ability of perception.” wrote Bakowski. Both compositions were based on a similar principle where a text on a photograph, which described the actions it was subject to, served as the point of departure.
The work “Square” consists of fourteen square photographs which make up two parts. The first sequence, consisting of seven prints, starts with a photograph on which the following text was multiplied seven times: “this square is divided into nine squares, one of these squares has been enlarged to the size of the initial square.” Subsequent photographs follow the principle defined by the first print, the final effect being the seventh composition in the form of a black square. A reverse procedure was implemented in the second sequence of photographs, which follows the instruction on the first print: “this square has been downsized nine times, nine downsized squares make up a square equal in size to the initial square”, however the end result, that is the black square on the final print, is similar to that of the previous sequence. An analogous principle is at work in Bakowski’s composition “Line”. A rectangular, vertical plate displays a text explaining the procedure: “the line of this text has been divided in half, one half has been enlarged to the initial size”. The effect is a black vertical line which takes up half of the plate.
The work “Square” was exhibited in 1978 at Bakowski’s solo show which launched the program of the Mala Gallery of the Association of Polish Artists Photographers, as well as in the Gallery Znak, in Bialystok, along with the work “Line” completed in 1979.
The composition “Zero to Infinity” took its name from the title of a group exhibition held in 1979 at Foto-Medium Art Gallery in Bialystok, for which the work was prepared. The work offers a literal illustration of the theme consisting of a series of photographs mounted on a plate, the prints show the number zero in various stages of development.
The work “Ania” of 1979 was the first of the unfinished series which set out to examine the relationship between volume and surface. The aim of the composition was to create a spatial photograph which would make it possible to examine the portrayed model simultaneously in all dimensions. To achieve this, Bakowski had the female model stand on a rotating plinth placing an immobile board with numbers above her head. He then photographed the subsequent stages of a full revolution, frame after frame. Each picture was developed in two copies. One of them was used to create a board depicting the full revolution of the model, while the other photographs were cut into vertical stripes according to a scale on the board and then arranged by number. The final result was the situation in which the viewer could see the model simultaneously from all directions.
Bakowski created his first composition in color in 1979. The work consisted of seven plates prepared using the method first employed in the 1970s in such series as “The Old Town”, “Rose” and “Ball”. The original photograph was reproduced, cut into pieces, and then assembled according to a predetermined scheme, creating more and more blurred and abstract forms with each plate.
The “Vase with Flowers” series, dated 1980-1982, comprises of four paintings in which realist depictions of still lifes are subject to subsequent transformations according to a predetermined scheme yielding more and more blurred, abstract compositions. This resembles a method employed by the artist in his photographic series of 1973 titled “The Old Town”, “Rose” and “Ball”.
In order to accurately copy images and perform the desired modifications at the same time Bakowski used an optical device of his own creation which included a grid that divided the canvas into squares of equal size. The artist worked on all four canvases simultaneously, copying one section onto each of them. At the same time, the photographic station he arranged allowed him to record the making of the series using a photographic camera.
In the early 1980s Bakowski decided to take his experience in photography into the realm of painting. In the work “Triangle, Square, Circle” from 1983, the artist combined his earlier principle of composition based on mathematical schemes with reflections on color and the issue of its perception. Much like the photographic prints, the canvas surface was divided into a grid of squares which was then filled with the following colors: blue, yellow, red and green, according to a previously defined order. The colors were ascribed to three basic geometrical figures: square, circle, and triangle, which made up the composition of the painting.
Experience related to text, gained by the artist on occasion of the photographic works “Square” and “Line”, was later used in such paintings as “Spheres” of 1985, “Perpetuum Mobile” of 1986, and “Self-Portrait” made between 1986 and 1987. In the former two works a written caption explained the origin and method of arriving at the final image, while in the case of “Self-Portrait” the text was a complementary autobiographical note. Bakowski also extended his research on color by coming up with his own typeface where each letter was ascribed to a different hue. The painting “Spheres” employed the “rainbow sequence of color”, meaning various wavelengths, which made it possible to “arrive at a colorful alphabet starting from the shortest violet wave for the first letter of the sequence AĄBCĆDEĘFGHIJLKLMNOPRSŚTUVWXYZZ and ending with the longest red wave for the letter Ż”. A similar method was at work in the painting “Perpetuum Mobile”, the difference being the slightly less vivid colors that contrasted with the deep black background, while in the case of the “Self-Portrait” the letters of the alphabet were ascribed to various hues of gray, “A” being most pale.
The starting point for the portrait of the Dluzniewski family, completed in 1993, was three black-and-white photographs depicting the faces of Emilia and Andrzej Dluzniewski and their son. Bakowski combined these on two photographic plates. The first featured nine prints of portraits of the family members, three copies of each, divided into small squares by a grid. Three out of nine photographs were left unaltered, while the artist interfered with the remaining six, carrying out a procedure as a result of which each family member had a pair of eyes belonging to another relative. A number of years after the completion of the work, in 1997, Andrzej Dluzniewski suffered an accident as a result of which he lost his sight. This event added new interpretation to Bakowski’s work.
The second plate was prepared using a method known from the artist’s earlier works which consisted in cutting the original prints and mounting them on a plate according to a given scheme which resulted in a completely new composition – a synthesis of images of all three family members.
In 1994 Bakowski decided to take his explorations in multiplicity, thus far developed in the field of painting and photography, onto a new level. Preceded by extensive technological trials and calculations, the process of making of the sculpture “Stas” was painstaking and time-consuming. Its subsequent stages were captured in photographs and video recordings which constitute a valuable supplement to the piece itself. The point of departure was a clay portrait of Bakowski’s friend, the philosopher Stanislaw Cichowicz. Taking it as a basis, the photographer executed eight plaster casts which he then divided. The final effect was a portrait of the philosopher that consisted of a number of his effigies fixed together.