At a very young age, Tomasz Machciński built an identity around an autograph, addressed to him by an actress he believed to be his mother. From this confusion, which lasted more than twenty years, a protean and personal mythology was born that reconstructs the artist. As the image of the Ovidian myth, or Gregor Samsa, Tomasz Machciński cannot be described. Indeed, his work consists of multiple self-portraits of as many different physiognomies. Exhibited in 2019 at the Rencontres de la Photographie, his works are already part of the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw and the Museum of Photography in Krakow (Poland). In 2023, he is exhibited at the Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève in Chrysalides: le rêve du papillon.
Tomasz Machciński, born 1942 in Poland, is a self-taught photographer and performer. As a war orphan, he received an autograph card from the Hollywood star actress Joan Tompkins with the words “With Love to ‘Tommy’ From ‘Mother’ Joan” as a part of a so-called remote adoption programme. For the first twenty years of his life, he was therefore convinced that Tompkins was his mother. The end of his “American Dream” and the loss of this supposed identity influenced Machciński’s artistic work.
To date, his oeuvre consists of more than 22,000 fictitious or appropriated identities, captured in both photographic and film selfportraits. In his staging, the artist nonchalantly embodies stars of the silver screen, icons of pop culture, figures from history, literature and politics, and other eccentric characters. His work depicts a variety of characters of different ethnic, sexual or social affiliations.
At the same time, these characters are also reinventions of his own identity. “Instead of wigs or tricks, I show everything that happens to my body, such as: hair regrowth, tooth loss, diseases, aging processes, etc.” By alternately revealing and hiding the weaknesses of his body, he lends it new meaning. In his work, Machciński serves as director and actor, make-up and costume designer, archivist, photographer and performance artist all at the same time. On the one hand his artistic practice is related to the European Art History through the play with the traditional methods of portraying and its conventions. Though on the other hand it goes along with the strategy of conceptual photography which uses the self-image as a vehicle to negotiate different meanings, present also in works of Cindy Sherman or Luigi Ontani. His photos as well as videos are performances made directly to the camera.
Tomasz Machciński is already established as a leading figure in brut photography, like Miroslav Tichy, Lee Godie, Eugene Von Bruenchenhein, who have only recently been recognized by the institutional art world.
In the year following the establishment, in 2018, of the Tomasz Machciński Foundation, his films were screened at the Whitechapel Gallery (London); that same year he participated in the Rencontres de la Photographie (Arles) in the exhibition PHOTO l BRUT, collection Bruno Decharme & compagnie. In 2020, he is exhibited at the American folk art museum of New York, and finally a great retrospective exhibition will be dedicated to him by the Manggha (Krakow) from May to September 2021.
The artist passed away in January 2022 at the age of 79.