Maciej Kość Talks About The Rabbit Hole, Art, Life & More

by Rubén Palma
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Maciej Kość, aka BAMOY, is an emerging artist who was born in 2001 in Lodz and raised in Warsaw, Poland. Based in Edinburgh, Scotland, he currently studies painting at the Edinburgh College of Art. His main medium, airbrushing, allows him to combine elements belonging to both hyperrealism and post-digital aesthetics. Most fundamentally, in all of his work, Kość explores the labyrinthine web of thoughts, visual stimuli, and memories which we all experience daily. He samples this complex network through figurative painting on physical canvases. This is reflected particularly in swift transitions between various seemingly disparate influences in his work. In a manner reminiscent of John Bock’s 2004 exhibition Klutterkammer at the ICA in London, Kość attempts to create a two-dimensional playground where the viewer can explore the artist’s bold, abstruse, and often playful connections.

Hi Maciej! It’s a pleasure to sit down with you. First question that I always ask i this: What does a regular day look like for you in Warsaw or Edinburgh?

Hey Ruben, thanks for having me! I tend to wake up early-ish, at around 9 am, and I instantly head to the studio, grabbing some breakfast and coffee along the way. Sometimes I get to sleep in a little longer because my studio is conveniently located around the corner from my flat. When I get into the studio I usually sip my coffee while spending some “quality time” with the painting I worked on the day before. This gives me the opportunity to plan out exactly what I need to do, or sometimes fix, in the piece. I get easily distracted, so I always work on a single painting at a time. From then on out I paint up until 10 pm, taking a few breaks here and there for a cigarette, a quick chat with my studio mates, or some other miscellaneous, time-wasting adventure. Recently, at the beginning of each workday I have been setting a ridiculously hard “trick-shot” for myself to complete throughout the day like throwing a ball of crumpled up masking tape into a tiny cup placed on the other side of the studio—typical procrastination. After getting home I quickly eat some dinner, I go to bed, wake up and repeat.

How does that work? Living in both Warsaw and Edinburgh. What’s the reason for living in both countries? And how do you juggle going back and forth between the two?

The reason for living in both countries is that I study Painting at the Edinburgh College of Art, while Poland is where I go home for the winter holidays and summers to spend some time with my family. Living in between studios is quite tricky. At the beginning I desperately attempted to move most of my art materials from one studio to the other. This proved exceptionally challenging and quite pricey. Lately, I decided to rip off the band-aid, so to speak, and simply purchase a second set of all of my art materials. Basically I duplicated my studio needs, to have them ready in my Polish studio when I go back. That said, there is a benefit to working in two countries alternately—being able to observe differences between countries in art trends and in the overall approach to painting.

Alright so, growing up in Lodz, Poland, what kind of kid were you? What did you enjoy doing and how did you spend your time?

I was an energetic kid, to say the least, and drawing was probably the only thing I could focus on for extended periods of time. My dad exploited this and tried to make math entertaining for me by encouraging me to draw out every element in each math task. He also enjoyed art. This resulted in us sketching and expanding on each other’s drawings rather than completing assigned tasks. In all my school notebooks I would doodle hundreds of comic strips, miniature figures, caricatures. My mom noticed my “potential” and signed me up for numerous art classes furthering my technical skills. But art wasn’t my only hobby; my interests were numerous and, frankly, all over the place. They ranged from obsessive club juggling, through skateboarding, to playing the accordion. I remember the regular drive home with my mother from my accordion lessons. I would draw humorous cartoons on the fly and show them through the car window to random people at stop lights to see their reactions. I always kept a sketchbook in the car for this purpose. My parents often say that they remember me never getting tired of making surprising toys out of cardboard boxes and suchlike.

Ok, let’s talk about your work now. I know that you actually started out painting landscapes with regular brushes. Then over time your style changed and developed into what we see now. My question is this: How did you get introduced to the airbrush? And what is it about the airbrush that makes you prefer it over a regular paint brush?

At the beginning of 2022 I was making large-scale, spray-painted, cyber sigilism abstractions. The basic principle of all those pieces was reproducing a set of the same shapes using stencils. At first those pieces were quite simple in form. After a while I felt the need to make them more complex. But to do that I had to make progressively larger work. This is because the precision of spray-paint caps is quite limited, which made it impossible to scale down the stencils themselves. Moreover, although my previous works were overwhelmingly large, they were made surprisingly quickly, which led me to burn out of ideas rather abruptly. I was forced to find a novel medium that fit not only my way of working, but also my aesthetic inclinations. One night, not knowing about the existence of the airbrush, I naively told my friends that I was in dire need of a “very precise tool that acts like a spray-can” and one of them happened to mention the airbrush. That night I purchased an airbrush and the rest is history, I guess.

I prefer the airbrush because it allows me to create subtle tonal changes almost instantaneously. Moreover, the instant gratification and joy you get from peeling the masking tape and revealing that crisp outline of an ideally blended element is addicting.

Quick question I think would be fun to add. I know that you actually introduced Michael Gao to the airbrush back in 2019. Can you tell me a little bit about that? And how did you meet?

Sure! Michael and I met at the university; we were both placed in the same studio. We immediately hit it off. At that time Michael was just starting to get interested in the post-digital aesthetic, currently popular. Some effects often used in that trend are incredibly challenging to do if you use only a paintbrush. Once I saw Michael struggle with very tedious tasks that could be solved simply by switching media, I suggested that he invest in an airbrush. He got the hang of it right away. Michael creates some enthralling work right now; he is definitely one to watch out for.

Here’s another one I think could be interesting hearing about. I know that one of your hobbies is fishing. Tell me a little bit about that. Why do you like it? And when did you pick up that hobby?

I like fishing because it’s a source of never-ending hope. I can do it for hours on end, I can never bring myself to reel in the fishing line and call it a day. The sun may be disappearing behind the horizon; it’s getting darker and darker and I can’t help the feeling that I am only one cast away from catching a giant fish. The pleasure and suspense of it are unforgettable. My father taught me how to fish. The anticipation I mentioned always tripled when my dad and I would daydream about river monsters possibly lurking in that lake.

Alright, so when did you start taking becoming an artist seriously?

I don’t think there was an exact moment when this switch flipped in me. It was rather a slow, gradual process.

The various cartoony characters and surreal scenes, laced with iconic movie figures. How do you come up with them?

I always start my paintings by making a series of digital collages. I practise automatic drawing, a surrealist technique in which the unconscious mind creates a quick abstract sketch and then the conscious mind recognises figuration within the abstract image previously created. It’s basically doodling and then seeing whether the drawing has any potential. I have a folder with a few sets of eyes, mouths, noses, faces, shapes, forms that I reuse by transforming them in Photoshop. I place several randomly chosen elements on the digital canvas and try to spot possible associations or relations between them. A string of those elements might bring to mind a completely new figurative element, an idea that I will lean into. It’s a bit like attempting to build a lego set, out of long forgotten bricks, without the proper instructions.

I know you just touched on this subject a little bit before, but can you walk me through your creative process, from start to end result?

All of my series, projects, and paintings are thoroughly planned out. I begin my art-making process by creating photoshop sketches. That allows me to freely arrange compositional elements on a digital canvas. The airbrush medium has its demands; as in watercolours, it’s quite hard to erase your mistakes. I feel I first must be fully satisfied with my final designs before I start painting. Therefore, I take my time experimenting with subject matter, various compositions and perspectives. Once I have a novel concept for a series of works, I paint the first piece. It becomes something of the series’ mother lode. It serves as a formal armature for all the paintings that follow. All of them derive from that principal form or concept visually as well as compositionally. The recycling of the initial idea allows me to develop an aesthetically cohesive body of work.

Through your work, you depict wacky and goofy emotions, mixed with a kind of unsettling, eerie, and grotesque feeling. What are you hoping to convey?

These works have to perplex the viewer, confuse them about their emotions. My art is a ridiculous playground where you are to get startled by my bold, abstruse, and often playful connections between imagery. I’m strangely drawn to images that are a bit silly; that make people self-conscious.

Alright Maciej. I know that you’re a movie buff as well. Can you tell me a little bit about how movies have influenced your work, other than the obvious characters you mentioned earlier? And also, just filmmaking in general.

You may be surprised but I like movies that are quite uneventful, or even plotless. The melancholy of those movies makes me relax. In a plotless movie I focus almost entirely on the camerawork, scenery, and colours. In my upcoming solo show I have a painting titled Anchored in the Mud which whimsically depicts a crocodile submerged in murky waters with a couple of water lilies floating. It reveals my affinity for quiet landscape painting. For a while now I have been thinking about a series of works that approaches landscape painting in a novel, abstract, and even poppy way. The aesthetic I have in mind can be found, for instance, in Daniel Richter’s 2012 exhibition at Thaddaeseus Ropac Gallery titled Voyage, Voyage. But it’s not something that I am going to be doing very soon, because as yet I don’t feel like I have a good grasp on what it will take.

I know that you’re currently working on a new body of work that attempts to juggle around elements of hyperrealism, cartoon imagery, and abstraction. Tell me more about that.

Juggling those three styles can be problematic because there aren’t many overlapping qualities between them. The risk is that the painting will become kitschy. Still, I like when my paintings tiptoe the line between kitsch and what some people would call “art.” My most recent body of work blurs the imaginary lines that differentiate one aesthetic style from another. It attempts to explore where something as abstract as a style, like hyperrealism, starts and where it ends. How does the addition of painterly qualities, like visible brushstrokes, splatters, and other blemishes, influence the classification of an image that otherwise would be considered hyperrealism? Does a “hyperrealist” portrait belong to the umbrella term “hyperrealism” if it includes exaggerated, caricatured features within the face that’s portrayed? These are some of the open-ended questions this series poses.

Alright so, you recently had a group show at Moosey Gallery. And tomorrow, Monday, you will be having your first solo show with Moosey Gallery, as well, titled “The Rabbit Hole“. What’s the story behind that title?

The Rabbit Hole refers to my way of working. I jump from one reference to another until these associations run very, very deep—a bit like the remotest corridors in a rabbit warren.

What motivates you?

Painting is what I do, it fills my day and absorbs me totally. I feel like I’m in conversation with painters I admire. It’s a mixture of affection for art and ambition. Painting makes my life open-ended; I have something to look backward to with pride and so much more to look forward to.

How do you deal with creative blocks?

Creative blocks always happen whenever I take even the slightest break from painting. For instance, I always get somewhat stuck during the winter holiday period. But whenever I have trouble coming up with ideas I take a step back, turning my attention to art podcasts, exhibition catalogues, and fiction. I never tire of viewing and analysing the work of artists I admire the most, like Bel Fullana, Louise Bonnet, Fabio Viscogliosi, Lucien Murat, and Oli Epp. I take my imagery and aesthetic choices mostly from figurative art. Still, I can’t say I’m not drawn to abstract artists as well—people like Daniel Richter, Piotr Janas, and Albert Oehlen. They often have a very unique compositional sense that some figurative painters lack, even the good ones.

How would you describe a perfect day?

It depends whether we are talking about my fantasy perfect day or a feasible perfect day. My fantasy perfect day would involve me sunbathing and spearfishing on a beach in Hawaii during the day and a lot of illegal tomfoolery during the night. But if we are talking about a feasible perfect day, then I would want to successfully finish a painting, not even necessarily paint a lot, but put some finishing touches on a piece that I’m proud of. And after dancing alone around my studio while blasting music that most people would be embarrassed to listen to, I would eat a big dinner with all the people I love. Then I would watch a movie with my loving partner. Sounds like a perfect day to me.

Alright Maciej. I always ask these two questions at the end of an interview. The first isWhat’s your favourite movie(s) and why?

I am a sucker for animated movies. I adore Hayao Mizayaki’s The Wind Rises (2013), a great comfort movie of mine—the perfect amount of plot-wise boring, beautiful animation, and a sob story.

The second isWhat song(s) are you currently listening to the most right now? 

Eden by Futuro Pelo

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