Agata Bogacka in Contemporary Lynx

'Top 10 Polish Contemporary Artists' by Julia Gorlewska

27 April 2022 In 2015, Wilhelm Sasnal’s painting “Ukrainians” was presented to the public. The artwork depicts a group of Ukrainian soldiers looking at the reality around them with seriousness and concern. The young generation of artists from Poland after 1989 is often referred to as “realism painters,” or more accurately, artists whose work focuses on current social and political events. Unlike their predecessors, they use simple means of expression and symbols to comment on contemporary reality, address humanitarian crises, and refer to the canons developed in the era of capitalism in the 20th and 19th centuries. Sasnal often refers to himself as an engaged artist, and the aforementioned painting “Ukrainians” refers to Russia’s armed attack on Ukraine in 2014. The work can be seen not only as a documentation of current events but also as an emphasis on the seriousness of the global crisis, the disregard of which may bring dire consequences in the future. In these times of war in Ukraine, the overtones of Sasnal’s work seem almost prophetic. The art of the artists of the Young Generation is characterized primarily by a non-conformist attitude towards social norms, political skirmishes, and the ruthless means of mass culture, such as television or the Internet. Although the artistic situation in Poland has been cyclically deteriorating for some time, and the once propaganda-free and politically influenced cultural institutions are headed by people who favour the current rulers, most artists retain their independence and creative individuality. Comicality or perfunctory choice of means of expression can be treated as a challenge to elite high art, a conscious and deliberate departure from academic paradigms in favour of a clearly emphasized message, as well as an expression of the artist’s reflection on the condition of humanity, culture and art. 

Today, I would like to present to you ten young Polish artists. I selected them based on my own subjective opinion, but I think they are worth following.

 

Agata Bogacka, Annexation, 2022, acrylic on linen, 170 x 220 cm, 66 7/8 x 86 5/8 in.

Agata Bogacka

 

Wilhelm Sasnal

Certainly, one of the leading representatives of Polish art of the young generation after 1989. In 1999, he won the Grand Prix at the national review of Polish art “Bielska Jesień”. During his studies, together with Rafał Bujnowski, Marcin Maciejowski, Marek Firek, and Józef Tomczyk, he created the “Ładnie” (Nicely) group, whose aesthetics and imagery was described as “pop-banalism”. The artists cultivated painting that exposed the everyday, mundane reality of the Polish iconosphere of the 1990s. Over time, Sasnal’s painting became more subdued. Drawing on mass culture media such as comics, newspapers, and television, he depicted the gray, everyday life of Warsaw, social change, and the difficulties of growing up during the transition from the realities of socialist rule to the world of capitalism and mass culture. Between 2014 and 2016, after an extended stay in the United States, he created a series of paintings dealing with difficult socio-political topics such as xenophobia, refugee crises, racial or religious conflicts. A year later, an exhibition of his portraits of leading political players: Angela Merkel, Marine Le Pen and Hillary Clinton was held in New York. In 2021, a monographic retrospective of the artist’s works “Such a Landscape” was organized in Warsaw. The idea of the retrospective was in line with the activities of the POLIN Museum, in which artists deal with the history, culture and heritage of Polish Jews. 

 

Marcin Maciejowski

Similarly to Sasnal, Maciejowski’s painting is perceived as the highest manifestation of contemporary painting, both in Poland and abroad. In 2001, he graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków in Professor Piotr Kuncy’s poster studio. Since 2000, Maciejowski has collaborated with Przekrój (a Polish socio-cultural magazine), where he published a comic strip entitled “I live here and I feel good in here”. His paintings were reproduced several times on the covers of that magazine. The key to the interpretation of Maciejowski’s work is the subject of Poland’s transformation – the capitalist reality of Poland after 1989. In an ironic manner, Maciejowski reflects on paradigms that consolidated the domestic culture of the early 19th century. In his works, he has often referred to the phenomenon of disco polo music, popular in those times, the history and development of which he researched on the pages of the magazine Famous Magazine on Tuesday (where he published several materials on the disco polo group “Boys”). His work is narrative and figurative, formally referring to the concise language of advertisements, posters, comic strips and press illustrations. Despite formal simplifications and seeming banalization, Maciejowski’s art is characterized by an extremely insightful and suggestive diagnosis of the post-totalitarian society. His hyper-realistic compositions are clear and legible, while often being a commentary on real events from the world of politics or show business. Maciejowski created a chronicle record of contemporary reality, presented in his characteristic bittersweet way. In many interviews, the artist, referring to Jan Matejko, stressed that he paints “to raise people’s spirits”. 

 

Rafał Bujnowski

Bujnowski’s minimalist works are the result of his fascination with painting as a medium. Although his art is primarily paintings, he is also known as the author of prints, videos, installations and artistic happenings. Like Sasnal and Maciejowski, the themes characteristic of Bujnowski’s art are inspired mainly by contemporary times, iconic figures, objects and events that shape 21st century culture. Based on his work, Bujnowski explores the issue of the commercialization of art and the questioning of its individuality. His paintings sometimes resemble bricks or boards, yet they can be perceived as examples of abstract or conceptual painting. The artist initially sold his works at the actual price of the “goods” they imitated. In this way, by creating painterly replicas of objects, Bujnowski brings the principle of mimesis to an absurdity. A similar attitude can be seen in his figural representations. These are often schematic portraits of anonymous figures, devoid of any special features. Sometimes, the way the portrayed figure is presented suggests that it might be a self-portrait of the artist, but Bujnowski leaves the viewers the freedom of interpretation, not confirming any of the possible theses. Another important issue for Bujnowski’s art is his place of birth – Wadowice, the city where Pope John Paul II came from. The figure of Karol Wojtyła not only went down in the history of Poland but also became an icon of pop culture in the early 21st century. Between 2001 and 2005 Bujnowski created several  works related to the pope, including a popular DIY scheme showing how to paint a portrait of John Paul II in a simple manner. The use of the pope’s image in Poland has caused quite a scandal. Through his art, Bujnowski reflects on the image of Karol Wojtyła, whose figure can now also be seen as an icon of mass culture. 

 

Jakub Julian Ziółkowski
In 2005, he graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Cracow in Professor Leszek Misiak’s studio. Like the aforementioned artists, Ziółkowski debuted at a time of a clear generational change. However, unlike Maciejowski or Sasnal, he was not interested in the reality filtered through the media. Undoubtedly, he is an experimenting painter, who decidedly enters into polemics both with the attitude of conservative academic professors, as well as with the works of artists active around 2000. Ziółkowski’s phantasmagoric, eclectic world was based on numerous journeys to various corners of the world. As a result, echoes of surrealism, abstraction, cubism and constructivism can be seen in his work. On the one hand, his painting visions are a reflection of human madness, an excess of suppressed emotions, dreams, desires, subconscious fears and anxieties. On the other hand, his paintings refer to the art of Giorgio de Chirico, Alfred Kubin, James Ensor, Otto Dix, and Pablo Picasso. Sculpture is Ziółkowski’s second favourite artistic field after painting. In 2007, the F.A.I.T. Gallery in Cracow displayed the artist’s sculptures for the first time. The theme of the exhibition was the body understood as an object of desire and pleasure, which at the same time is the seat of unrestrained instincts and obsessions. Since 2004, he has cooperated with the Warsaw Foksal Gallery Foundation. The first monographic exhibition of Jakub Julian Ziółkowski titled “Hokaina” took place at the Zachęta Gallery in Warsaw in 2010. Moreover, the artist’s works have repeatedly appeared at exhibitions in New York, London and Zurich.

 

Paweł Susid

Graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. He obtained his diploma in the studio of Prof. Tadeusz Dominik and an annex in lithography in the studio of Prof. Marian Rojewski. From 1984 to 1992, he ran the Youth Gallery at the Municipal Culture Centre “Bielany” in Warsaw. The artist debuted in the 1980s when young artists, disheartened with academic paradigms, sought to change the status quo of the Polish art scene. As in the case of Marcin Maciejowski’s painting, the word is an inseparable element of Paweł Susid’s art. Since the beginning of his artistic career, he has developed an individual manner of depicting, which has become characteristic for him over time. An important element of his painting is the text, applied to the canvas through a stencil, which constitutes a commentary on the presented scenes and imagery. From the beginning, the artist created with his characteristic formal freedom: he combined painting with drawing, carelessly reflected letters, and left streaks in the paint. He painted expressively and quickly, using simplifications and abbreviations to convey the idea and sense of the work in the simplest possible way. Using comic forms, he simultaneously documented and commented on contemporary mass culture, political and social events, taboo subjects and artificially created canons of beauty. With the messages he puts in his works, which are usually underlined with sarcasm, Paweł Susid accurately puts the point across about social phenomena and behaviours. The artist has repeatedly exhibited in Poland at esteemed institutions of contemporary art (e.g. the Centre for Contemporary Art in Warsaw), but also in galleries in Berlin and Vienna.

 

Paulina Ołowska
She studied at The Art Institute of Chicago and then at the Academy of Fine Arts in Gdańsk, where she received her diploma in the painting studio of Prof. Mieczyslaw Olszewski (annex in the multimedia studio of Prof. Witoslaw Czerwonka). She is a scholarship holder of the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague, Centro de Arte e Comunicação Visual (Ar.co) in Lisbon, CCA in Kitakyushu and Rijksakademie voor Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam. Ołowska’s artistic interests are as varied as her intricate educational path. What distinguishes her as an artist is a synthesis of arts – frequent use of various media such as painting, collage, installation, performance, fashion, and music. The compilation of multiple techniques allows her to bring out an exceptionally rich range of artistic impressions. Ołowska’s work involves an in-depth analysis of the art of 20th-century artists, which she then combines with her artistic projects, bringing to life ideas that we wrongly consider lost or out of fashion. A characteristic thread of her work is an interest in the art of women and the search for “protoplasts”, hence her fascination with Alina Szapocznikow and Zofia Stryjeńska. Moreover, she is a protagonist of the art of the youngest generation of artists such as Ewa Juszkiewicz and Agata Kus. Paulina Ołowska’s works can be found in the collections of Centre Pompidou, MoMA The Museum of Modern Art. or Tate. In the last days of December 2016, The New York Times magazine announced a list of people who had the greatest impact on culture. In this prestigious group – next to Michelle Obama, Lady Gaga and Donatella Versace – was Paulina Ołowska. The New York Times called Ołowska the most optimistic and sentimental Polish artist, who paints the forgotten past, believes in it and lives by it.

 

Jadwiga Sawicka
The artist of “written” paintings. Between 1979 and 1984 she studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków at the Faculty of Painting, she graduated in the studio of Professor Jerzy Nowosielski. In 2013 she received the Jan Cybis Award, in 2016 the Katarzyna Kobro Award. She works with painting and photography, in addition to creating haptic poetry – objects and textual installations. Initially, Jadwiga Sawicka’s paintings were maintained in the style of expression of the 1980s – when the art of the so-called trans-avant-garde grew out of opposition to modernism, formalism and stylistic consistency. Since the late 1990s, Sawicka’s art has been catalyzed by the language of advertising, which she has stressed is the key to understanding images composed of texts or depictions of single objects. The first items of clothing and cosmetics appeared in compositions in late 1994 and early 1995, bearing absurd advertising slogans, such as “Light Taste”. With time, texts and objects began to appear separately. The words in Sawicka’s works are taken out of context, lack diacritical marks, and sometimes break off unexpectedly. Although the form of these representations promises a message, it is difficult for the viewer through the flood of media information to extract a clear meaning. In this way, the artist unmasks the absurdity of headlines and advertising slogans that nowadays create the world of mass culture. Jadwiga Sawicka is widely recognized, both in Poland and around the world. One of her most famous exhibitions took place at the Sculpture Center in New York, entitled “Architectures of Gender: Contemporary Women’s Art in Poland”.

 

Leon Tarasewicz
Leon Tarasewicz lives and works in his native village Waliły in the Białystok region. He graduated in 1984 from the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts in the studio of Professor Tadeusz Dominik. He debuted at the Warsaw Foksal Gallery, which resulted in fame and recognition not only in Poland but also in the world art market. Beginning with a solo exhibition at the Galleria del Cavallino in Venice, his works began to appear regularly in galleries in Berlin, London, Tel-Aviv and New York. Already in 1988 Tarasewicz’s works were presented as part of the Venice Biennale at the Aperto`88 exhibition, and the artist himself was awarded many prizes, including the “Jan Cybis” and “Nowosielski Prize”. In the beginning, his work focused mainly on landscape paintings. With time, gradually moving away from figuration, he managed to develop an individual version of nature. In the works of recent years, Tarasewicz breaks the formal limitations of painting to the space stretched on the canvas frame. Finally, he created total works, encompassing also the space of columns, walls, ceilings or floors. His colourful compositions, though seemingly cheerful and pleasing to the eye, sometimes have an extremely emotional overtone. The strength of Leon Trasewicz’s painting is its direct impact on the viewer through the colour visible on the canvas, sweeping brushstrokes and specific colour combinations.

 

Ewa Juszkiewicz
Ewa Juszkiewicz is a graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Gdańsk, and she received her doctorate at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków. We could write a lot about her artistic awards, as she is one of the most talented and interesting artists in the contemporary art market. The culmination of Juszkiewicz’s recognition in the art market was the presentation of her paintings at the London Frieze Art Fair, where she was appreciated not only by curators, and art historians but also by the artists themselves. The phenomenon of Juszkiewicz’s art was appreciated by the Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan. From the beginning, her painting was based mainly on the portrait form. Her bizarre, and far from ideal images of women undermine the bourgeois understanding of portraiture. On the one hand, she shows the duality of human nature, the antagonisms that govern every human being, and on the other, she undermines and criticizes the prevailing canons of beauty, developed in the era of capitalism. Last year was a breakthrough for Ewa Juszkiewicz’s position on the auction market. Her works appeared at auctions in Sotheby’s and Christie’s. On October 14, the painting “Maria (After Johannes Cornelisz Verspronck)” reached the amount of 352,800 pounds, and on October 16 at Christie’s auction, the work “Grove” from 2014 was sold for almost 2.5 million złotys. No small influence on the development of the artist’s career has the prominent galleries that represent her – Gagosian and Almine Rech. What characterizes Ewa Juszkiewicz as an artist is, above all, her social sensitivity, the need to react to cultural manipulations and discrimination of women and the weak.

27 April 2022
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