Adventures On A Desert Island
When an admiring woman dares to touch a man with extremely active glands, she finds that he sweats pure fat. Female corpses rise from their graves because they have been buried without their bras. Once a century, the ‘Bread Man’ walks the earth to shame those who fail to kiss a dropped crust. Tall tales from a well-thumbed found journal recording Adventures on a Desert Island are among some two dozen stories which fill Polish writer-artist Maciej Sieńczyk’s graphic novel of the same name. His main protagonist sets off on a gigantic liner bound for Johannesburg but ends up shipwrecked on a mysterious island. Sieńczyk explains, “I like the idea of the ‘inner journey’, when a character’s journey is a pretext for the presentation of his spiritual world.”
Born in 1972, Sieńczyk studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, his base to this day. However absurd the ambience of his comics, his drawings retain a certain formality and skewed stiffness, echoing the deadpan, diagrammatic designs in old East European illustrated instructions, educational books and posters.
While Sieńczyk stands apart from Poland’s more conventional strip production, he has found a more receptive audience in the literary and art worlds. A collector of artificial legs and other items, he exhibited what he called his “somewhat troublesome objects” and his original pages at the Warsaw art space Raster and the ON Gallery in Poznań, while Poland’s Museum of Modern Art this year displayed ‘Agron’ (detail below), his quietly bizarre farming yarn in a horizontal sequence of ten oil-painted panels.
Sieńczyk is also a long-term contributor to the literary magazine Lampa (cover, below), creating short strips which he has re-mixed and expanded into three collections since 2005. His work is finally available in English this year in a translation by Ewa Lipińska from Centrala Books of his 2012 book Adventures on a Desert Island. This was the first graphic novel to be nominated and shortlisted for the NIKE Literary Award, Poland’s most important literature prize. Enlargements of his pages were displayed last year at the Galeria Biała, the Centre for Culture in Lublin (below).
Inspired by pre-romantic and romantic German authors among others, Sieńczyk writes in a distinct voice, mainly in copious, capitalised captions. These accompany his borderless panels coloured in an unusual restricted palette. He writes in speech balloons too but may also place images inside them, as they emerge sometimes as tales told from inside a book or as memories or reveries floating out from the mind. His brand-new commission for ArtReview magazine is a two-page strip entitled ‘The Fibonacci’s Spin’ (below).
Reading Sieńczyk’s work is like waking from one dream only to find yourself drifting into another and yet another, never waking up. Like a matryoshka doll hiding smaller and smaller selves within, Sieńczyk nests multiple narrators and their narratives inside his books, one sparking off the next from the slightest prompt. With each fresh association, often an unusually heightened sensory trigger, one story after another fascinates the reader into losing any need for linearity, logic or resolution, and finally into losing themselves to being transported by his hypnotic, hypnagogic unravelling.
This Article originally appeared in ArtReview magazine.