About the Book
The ladder is the most consistent image reoccurring in Peter Barelkowski's paintings. It emerges around 2000 in the artist’s abstract compositions as a visual assembly of vertical and horizontal lines created by an actual thread mending deliberately ripped canvas surfaces. Since then this line of stitching has gradually evolved through the Safe Places series into a ladder: a solid visual and symbolic connector between ambiguous zones of danger and safety. However, the ladder solidity slowly wanes in the Jewish series. Positioned now on the parameters of the scene, this symbol of escape is ignored by people faced with increasingly uncomfortable events and becomes an ironic reminder of the irrational psychology of a group. At this point, Barelkowski questions the ladder’s basic function as a connector. Referring to the biblical Jacob ’s ladder story, in which God points to a ladder connecting Heaven and Earth to reassure the Patriarch about his divine protection, Barelkowski responds with his own take on the story.
His divine ladder is unable to sustain a figure rapidly falling into an abyss. Losing its original function of hope and safety, the ladder ends up in Barelkowski’s later paintings, notably in the Father series as a symbol of a failure to connect, to communicate and to bring the world to its wholeness again. Here it floats diminished and insignificant between the figures fully engaged in a psychological conflict.
In essence, the ladder is a visual metaphor of the daunting task that Peter Barelkowski set for himself as an artist: to draw people into facing the political and social horrors that endlessly resurface in the same terrible, yet recurring, scenarios. However, no matter how eloquently presented, history teaches nothing. This tension between hope and deception is the fundamental element in the pictorial and symbolic construction of Barelkowski’s work.
Peter A. Barelkowski started experimenting in painting in the 70’s and in 1975 he established his first studio. His art education began with an MA from the University of Poznan and continued at Goldsmith College (Poznan, Poland), Ontario College of Art in Toronto (1985 – 1988) and less formally - in London, England ( Camden Arts Centre ) and Norway, where he was street performing for tourists during the late 70's. His work has been about human conditions like isolation and alienation. Creating a paradox between his joyful colours and darker subject matter, his paintings attempt to play with our ideas around sadness. As a form of subtle escapism, the figures in his paintings are depicted in a one dimensional, cartoonish style - with almost grotesque undertones. His paintings are in private collections in Europe, USA and Canada. His studio is currently located in Toronto, Ontario (Canada).