Famous Polish Artists You Should Know

December 24, 2016

The growing interest towards innovative Polish artists should not surprise anyone. As a home to a rich legacy of the avant-garde art, Polish artists (during the 1980s) fundamentally changed and re-evaluated artistic traditions. These examinations challenged not only the classical avant-garde but also the works of neo-avant-garde artists as well. Focused on the ideas and theories put forward by the German artist, Joseph Beuys, Polish artists transformed the understanding of painting and of sculpture as well.

Cultural politics, political changes and the role of the Catholic church, along with traumatic historical events of the state play a crucial role for a variety of contemporary Polish artists. As a result of all these forces, the country has a rich and often controversial stock of artworks exhibited across an international and local galleries and art museums.

The ten Polish artists which are listed below showcase just how eclectic Polish art is and how expressive and critical it can be!

Featured image in slider: Konrad Smolenski - Untitled.Image via artfacts.net; Alina Szapocznikow - Artwork, detail. Image via wallpaper.com

Alina Szapocznikow - The Documentation of the Suffering

Considered as one of the most important and revolutionary sculptors, Alina Szapocznikow’s choice of fragile materials and the free use of plaster, stone, and bronze documents her own fragility. As a Holocaust survivor, her sculptures need to be considered as documents of her own personal traumas and her fight with tuberculosis and cancer. These experiences influenced her later abstract sculptures famous for their defragmented nature. The entire sculpture was in fact, replaced by the casts of body parts. Evoking memories of her own sick body, her sculptures exhibit history and suffering.

Featured image: Alina Szapocznikow - Small Dessert. Image via moma.org

Zdzislaw Beksinski - The Fantastic and Nightmarish Landscapes

Polish artist Zdzislaw Beksinski was known as a painter of some of the most surreal, abstract, and disturbing paintings. Naming his early phase of creativity as a fantastic period, Beksinksi concentrated on the production of the post-apocalyptic pieces which were considered masterpieces of nightmarish landscapes, deformed figures, and death. While creating them the artists always listened to classical music and incorporated vivid and more subdued colors. In 2005, the artist passed away but his fantastic paintings still haunt us.

Featured image: Zdzislaw Beksinski - Artwork. Image via pinterest.com

Miroslaw Balka - How the Body Disappeared

Deeply influenced by Poland’s history of war and memory, Miroslaw Balka crossed from the literal depiction of the human body to the extreme abstraction of the same. Considered one of the finest contemporary sculptors, Balka is also known for his video, and installation artworks as well. While his ascetic sculptures reflect the idea of the vanishing body, his video works confront the viewers with the issues from the past as well. Both beautiful and deeply haunting Balka’s contemporary art production confronts the public with the difficult questions of the past in order to act critically towards the present.

Featured image: Miroslaw Balka - Artwork. Image via pinterest.com

Katarzyna Kozyra - Provoking Cultural Taboos

Katarzyna Kozyra is a Polish sculptor, installation, and video artist who rose to prominence during the 1990s. As a leading member of the Critical art movement, Kozyra’s artworks aimed to incite controversy in order to question and to provoke cultural taboos, and universal truths about life and death. Her contemporary art production often confronts issues concerning the sick, old, or marginalized. Working across an array of disciplines, incorporating music, dance or even performance art, the artist’s work challenges not only the notion of the human body but also incorporates gruesome images and materials, igniting extreme reactions.

Featured image: Katarzyna Kozyra - Animal Pyramid Image via culture.pl

Artur Zmijewski - Where is the Place of the Weak?

Celebrated as one of the Polish artists who are not afraid to dig into history and the traumatic past of their country, Artur Zmijewski is a radical member of the Kowalski Studio and the Critical art movement. Working across an array of art disciplines, including the visual arts, film, and photography, Zmijewski confronts the complexities of life and the understanding and the function of the human body. In need to express the contrast between the healthy and the sick, the depicted bodies are usually crippled or handicapped. Such a perspective poses a question about the relationship between the material body, subject to illness and decay, and a person's intellectual and spiritual dimension. The sad and often tragic history of Poland, the Holocaust, and religious pilgrimages are also major themes and influences in his work.

Featured image: Artur Zmijewski - Exhibition Projects 91. Installation view at MoMa. Image via moma.org

Pawel Althamer - Art of Social Transformation

The contemporary Polish sculptor Pawel Althamer is also an installation and video artist whose projects involve community engagement, collaboration, and social transformation. These projects often incorporate sculpture and ultimately attempt to question the very nature of art production. A founding member of the so-called Kowalski Studio at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts, Althamer is also a teacher of ceramics for the Nowolipie Group, a Warsaw organization for adults with mental or physical disabilities. Since his artistic practice is based on a participative approach to art, community, and community-forming power of art, some of his works leave hardly any material trace. Believing that art can impart change, Althamer reimagines reality in an attempt to subtly provoke the social,political, and psychological perceptions.

Featured image: Pawel Althamer - Artwork. Image via robperree.com

Wilhelm Sasnal - The Collage Of Life

As a versatile artist, Wilhelm Sasnal’s employs a variety of media in his art. Primarily a painter and an illustrator, Sarnal has recently turned to photography and video. Taking inspiration from the everyday life and the mass media culture, Sarnal interprets reality in a personal and often private way. Fusing a variety of styles, mixing at times romanticism and realism, comic strips and pop art elements, Sarnal’s paintings and films do in fact stay true to the history and tradition of the medium.

Featured image: Wilhelm Sarnal - Soldiers. Image via pinterest.com

Aneta Grzeszykowska - The World of Symbolic Narratives

Aneta Grzeszykowska is a Polish artist of the Raster generation and associated with one of Poland’s most creative institutions. Most of the time the artists prefers to use digital art mediums, but is also famous for her photography and video works as well. Focused on the question of a href="https://www.widewalls.ch/magazine/identity-art/">identity, her work explores issues of intimacy, self-awareness and self-erasure. Her solo career focuses mostly on the symbolic narratives of childhood and womanhood. The joined projects, shared with her husband Jan Smaga, focus on the alteration of the images. Often setting themselves as subjects the artists explore and deepen the intimate aspect of personal photography. Aided by technology, artists also manipulate with their own images in order to create new contexts and explore the ways in which reality can be transformed.

Featured image: Aneta Grzeszykowska - Project Negative Book. Image via commons.wikimedia.org

Marcin Maciejowski - To Paint as a Cartoonist Draws

Dropping the architectural studies in Krakow in order to reach a higher education of graphic design, Marcin Maciejowski is presently considered as one of the most renewed cartoonist in his country and as a painter of his own particular style. His painting style expresses cartoons, posters, and illustrations, and incorporating humor. Using images of the mass media, the artist paints from newspaper or magazine cuts which form his personal archive. Cutting, pasting, placing text, or adding other details and photographs, his paintings are similar to collages. Understanding that the role of an artist is not to criticize, Maciejowski prefers to tell stories of his family and friends. Since 2000 he has worked for the weekly magazine Przekrój, where he publishes cartoon entitled "I live here and I feel good in here".

Featured image: Marcin Maciejowski - An Artist Doesn't Care. Image via meyerkainer.com

Konrad Smolenski - Between Sound and the Image

Konrad Smolenski is an installation and performance artist whose work is characterized by a strong impact typically created through audiovisual experimentation. As a musician in various bands, sound along with the visual image are crucial for Smolenski’s celebrated production. In many of the artist’s realizations, the separation between the two is impossible. Creating objects which are both musical instruments and artifacts at the same time, such as a guitar made of a dog’s skull, Smolenski explores various ways of engaging and using them. As a graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Poznań and a member of the Penerstwo group, the artist prefers to find inspiration in the hidden places, far from so-called high art.

Featured image: Konrad Smolenski - The End of Radio. Image via artfacts.net

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