If you spy a crazy red and white cartoon figure adorning a wall on Charlotte Road in Shoreditch, east London, writes Charley Helfet then you’ve found the Kemistry Gallery, currently home to an exhibition of the art of Roman Klonek – a young Polish-born graphic artist whose work ostensibly references early European comics and cartoons and Russian propaganda posters…
The way in which the one-room Kemistry exhibition space is used, entering the current display of Klonek’s work, entitled Flux Gate Kasachok, feels like walking into a technicolour playroom.
Prints of all different sizes are scattered across the walls of the space (in accordance with Klonek’s wishes, apparently) and a gaggle of strange half-animal, half-human characters dance around the canvasses, enacting bizarre situations in amongst the Russian Cyrillic script.
Klonek makes prints from individually-made woodcuts and, looking at them closely, it’s pleasing to note the gaps where the ink hasn’t met with the rough textured surface. This naïve, painterly look – far from betraying the vivid nature of the prints – gives them a character that distinguishes them from the slicker kinds of contemporary graphic art and digital techniques that are used to create cartoon characters today.
While influenced by artists such as Jim Avignon, Yoshitomo Nara and Jim Woodring, perhaps the most interesting references in Klonek’s work are the 8mm silent cartoons that his father collects, and that Klonek Jr would watch as a child.
Apparently, a recent Latvian visitor to the gallery recognised one of the characters Klonek portrayed in his Consider This print, from a cartoon about an ugly swamp dweller.
Though the influence of these early European cartoons remains purely visual rather than conceptual, as Kemistry Gallery’s Alastair Coe explains: “The key point is that he hasn’t grown up in that era… it’s not as if it’s his life experience, so it’s not first hand – it’s diluted. He might just have a very vivid imagination.”
In Klonek’s hands, what may look like political indictment is more likely just a cat in a hat making his escape from communist Russia – but before he runs he’s just got time to give us one Last Song For Today at the piano; as depicted in one of Klonek’s most charming prints.
Roman Klonek: Flux Gate Kasachok is at the Kemistry Gallery in east London until 30 May.
43 Charlotte Road
London EC2A 3PD