Saturday, 30 August 2014

Let’s Talk: Grzegorz Gwiazda – Part II

 by  Poppy Field  I

If you are a returning reader, I hope that you have found a moment to explore the sculptor Grzegorz Gwiazda’s  website. You may have read his biography. Perhaps even Marco Izzolino’s fascinating exhibition essay ‘Gwiazda the heretic’. Yet, if you read my last blog, you may recall I referred to Grzegorz as an ‘enigma’.

So, onto Part II ...

Despite having read much about Grzegorz’s training, his sculptures and his successes, he retained an air of mystery about him. It left me wanting to know more about what makes him tick.  So, in our interview, I began to probe further, to flesh out the facts.

Detail of Anointed, 2013. Photo courtesy of the artist.

‘Grzegorz Gwiazda was born in 1984 in Lidzbark Warmiński.’

It was whilst Grzegorz was at secondary school that he first began to entertain ideas of pursuing an artistic career. Initially, he hoped to be a painter and took part in various competitions, gaining honourable mentions in both of the two-week events organised the Academy of Fine Arts, Poznań and the Academy of Fine Arts, Gdańsk.

However, it was these events that convinced Grzegorz to ‘dedicate’ his life to sculpture. He witnessed how painting was entirely natural to the other artists and realised that this was how he felt about sculpting. Grzegorz’s passion for sculpture grew each year and as his school days drew to an end, during a visit to the south of Poland he came across a monument by Jan Kucz. The power of this monument ‘crushed’ him, he felt he ‘didn’t want to leave the sculpture’.

Just three years later Grzegorz was sculpting in Kucz’s studio! But what route did he follow to get there? 

Anointed, 2013. Photo courtesy of the artist.

‘He studied at Poznań and Warsaw Schools of Fine Arts, and then at Accademia di Belle Arte di Brera in Milan, Italy, having been granted a scholarship.’

In Academy of Fine Arts in Poznań, Grzegorz studied in the studio of Professor Wiesław KoronowskiHe attended a whole range of classes; painting, drawing, anatomy drawing, technical drawing, psychophysiology, anthropology, history of art and contemporary art. Sculpture itself was taught only twice a week. But, that didn’t deter Grzegorz. He sculpted almost every day. His first assignment was a life-size clay figure caught in contrapposto.

Having gained a technical foundation, Grzegorz then moved to Warsaw.

Ewelina, 2012. Photo courtesy of the artist.

‘In 2009 he graduated with honours from the Academy of Art in Warsaw (ASP), where he had studied sculpture under Professor Adam Myjak. In January 2014 he was awarded his doctorate.’

Sculpture classes were taught four mornings each week, always in reference to a live model. Drawing and theory filled the afternoons. The fifth day was given over to technical classes, from bronze-casting to stonecutting to ceramics and so on.

Studying under Professor Adam Myjak and Professor Jan Kucz, ‘legends of Polish sculpture’, Grzegorz judges that this academy has had the greatest influence upon his work. He was told that a sculptor needs talent – but character is truly crucial: ‘It formed me as a mature sculptor.’

Soon after, Grzegorz truly began to ‘discover and name elements’ of his own style. Nowhere more so than when on Erasmus at the Accademia di Belle Arte di Brera in Milan.

Detail of Heretic, 2014. Photo courtesy of the artist.

‘Since 2009 he has been working as Assistant to Professor Maciej Zychowicz in the Graphics and Sculpture Department at the Institute of Art Education at the School of Special Education (IEA ASP) in Warsaw. In the academic year 2008-9, he was awarded a grant by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, and in 2010 he received a grant from Inicjatywa ENTRY (Initiative ENTRY).’

Although this financial support was fundamental in enabling Grzegorz to sculpt, he soon discovered that the greatest benefit was discovering he was ‘believed’ in. This encouragement came following his recent graduation, when he needed it most.

Heretic II, 2013. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Seeing a sculpture through to completion is a long process for Grzegorz, though he hates to leave work ‘half way’.

It starts with a concept or a narrative. Grzegorz first pinpoints exactly what it is he wants to say. Sometimes maquettes and drawings follow but ‘there are no rules’. Often the composition is uncomfortable for the model to hold, so Grzegorz also works from photographs. He thinks with his hands, selecting elements from the model rather than simply re-creating.

Grzegorz ‘allows the story to appear’.

Sketch for Cyclist, 2014. Photo courtesy of the artist. 

‘In 2010 his work Behold the man (Oto Człowiek) was honourably mentioned in the international competition of figurative art organized by Fundació de les Arts i els Artistes.

His works have been shown in individual exhibitions in several Polish cities and towns: Lidzbark Warmiński (Warmia Bishops’ Castle, 2008), Warsaw (the Promocyjna art gallery, 2011; the Fibak art gallery, 2013; the 101 projekt art gallery, 2014), Poznań and Mosina (2013), Bydgoszcz (the Wspólna art gallery, 2013).’

Yet Grzegorz doesn’t dwell on his successes.

Instead, he describes how the perception of the viewer has changed drastically in his lifetime due to influences such as television, the internet and even the use of colour in magazines. In comparison to these mediums, Grzegorz’s materials, technique and processes might even be judged as traditional. Like many figurative artists, he is faced with the challenge of accessibility.

Cyclist, 2014. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Recalling an anecdote from his student days, Grzegorz describes how he and a friend were exhausted after a night’s partying. Just before falling asleep, his friend said: ‘In art the most important thing is contrast and mystery’. I wonder if his friend is even aware of how this comment has stayed with Grzegorz.  He abstracts elements of his sculpture, thus creating mystery.  Accessibility follows… the viewer wants to know more.

As for technology itself, he believes ‘photography didn’t kill painting… it released painters’. Grzegorz is not threatened by 3-D printing. He believes that works made in a traditional manner have a unique, instinctive, natural ‘energy’. Grzegorz delights in forming clay - the situation is simple, ‘people just need it’.

Dead Minotaur, 2013. Photo courtesy of the artist.

‘His sculptures have also been displayed in collective exhibitions both in Poland and abroad: Coming Out: the Best Graduates of ASP (Warsaw, 2009), Exhibition of Professors and Graduates of the Department of Sculpture at ASP (Warsaw, 2012), in Madrid (2010, 2011) and Barcelona (2011).’

Grzegorz is glad such exhibitions allow his works to be seen by other artists... he gets so much more by viewing art in person than in photographs. Only when in proximity to the work of his favourite sculptures does Grzegorz learn.

Polish sculptors, working in the second half of the 20th Century, are Grzegorz’s greatest inspiration. His favourites include: Adolf Ryszka, Gustaw Zemła, Jan Kucz, Jerzy Jarnuszkiewicz and Adam Myjak.

However, he also turns to the work of the Northern Renaissance, Rogier van der Weyden and Pieter Bruegel in particular. More recently Grzegorz has discovered a deep appreciation of the Chinese sculptor Li Xiangqun.

Exposure, 2011. Photo courtesy of the artist.

‘His works are also part of the collection of Museu Europeu d’Art Modern in Barcelona.’

One of the things I discovered about Grzegorz that is perhaps less well known, is the ferocity with which he champions Polish sculpture. Currently he is working with the Museu Europeu d'Art Modern in Barcelona and the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw on the preparations for an exhibition of Polish sculpture of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Grzegorz is much more than an artist. He is a committed, passionate participant of the arts.  Watch out for Grzegorz … we’ll be hearing more about him in the years to come.  Of that I am sure.

Various works on diaplay at a recent exhibition at Square Galley, Positano, Italy.  Photo courtesy of the artist. 

Friday, 15 August 2014

Let’s Talk: Grzegorz Gwiazda – Part I

 by  Poppy Field  I

Grzegorz Gwiazda forefronts the avant-garde of figurative sculpture. Rather than simply sculpt in reference to nature, he strives to transcend it. To create new, independent entities. 

Little wonder therefore, that I have chosen to present my recent interview with Grzegorz in two parts. In this, the first part, Grzegorz discusses four sculptures; behold the manCyclist, Dead Minotaur and Sitting Man. The next takes a closer look at Grzegorz as a person. At what makes him tick.

Grzegorz Gwiazda with one of his sculptures at a recent exhibition at Square Galley, Positano, Italy.  Photo courtesy of the artist. 

behold the man is Grzegorz’s first professional piece. Modelled whilst working on a diploma at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, it marks the beginning of Grzegorz’s sculpture as we know it today. He represents the human body in the reality that we too often ignore: ‘frail and transitory’. Through the unification of the base and figure, through medium, Grzegorz strove to communicate ‘man’s integrity with the world’. Neither is immune to destruction.

By emphasising imperfection, Grzegorz forces his viewer to also consider ‘the material sphere’ of humanity. Yet, he does not deny the body as the reference for aesthetic beauty. The lone figure is placed at the centre of the composition. In this isolation we find the paradox. Grzegorz not only accentuates mankind’s frailty, but ‘pays homage to it’.

behold the man, 2009. Photo courtesy of the artist. 

Grzegorz does not struggle to find inspiration. He considers the work of other artists, social and personal issues… indeed, he ‘investigates’ himself. This ‘auto-therapy’, as Grzegorz has fondly dubbed it, is particularly poignant in Cyclist.
Studying Pieter Bruegel’s The Fight between Carnival and Lent, Grzegorz realised that being human is the ‘coexistence of tragic and comic elements’. And so, the concept of Cyclist was born: balance. And in particular, our inability to find peace amongst daily contradictions. 
Detail of Cyclist, 2014. Photo courtesy of the artist. 

Then came the form. Grzegorz’s figure is caught in suspended animation upon a unicycle. A vehicle traditionally used for show rather than practicality... bold and brash strokes paint the figure like a clown. Forever cycling, but going nowhere at all.
Despite such introspection, Grzegorz does not provide his viewer with answers. Rather, Cyclist is the cipher through which he asks ‘are we able to get somewhere… to a kind of Promised Land? Or is the best thing… to stay balanced as long as we can? Are we travellers or are we playing a role in the circus of life?’
Cyclist, 2014. Photo courtesy of the artist. 

Another work provoked by art of the past is Dead Minotaur.
Picasso’s engraving of Theseus killing the Minotaur unsettled him. Picasso depicts the Minotaur in an almost peaceful manner. To Grzegorz, it ‘didn’t look like a monster’. Instead, Grzegorz found himself sympathizing with the Minotaur believing that ‘It wasn’t the Minotaur’s fault’.
Turning to the original myth, Grzegorz began to consider the mechanism by which Theseus overpowers and outlives the Minotaur. A ball of string. The sword of Aegeus. Grzegorz found himself asking was Theseus so strong? Or was the Minotaur weak?
Did it even matter? Grzegorz had identified that the root of hatred for the Minotaur was in his physical difference.
Dead Minotaur, 2013. Photo courtesy of the artist. 

The adjectives ‘kalos kagathos’ recur in classical Greek texts. Literally translating as ‘beautiful good’, this phrase was summarised by the classicist Werner Jaeger as ‘the chivalrous ideal of the complete human personality, harmonious in mind and body, foursquare in battle and speech, song and action’.
Grzegorz points out that the opposite is ‘ugly and bad’. Like the Minotaur. Grzegorz identified this stereotype in various books, cartoons and films. The physical difference of characters deemed bad allows the audience to recognise them as a threat to social order. Too easily, these irregularities in appearance transform into ‘monstrous elements… signs of sin’.
Finally, Grzegorz found redemption for the Minotaur in the anthropological philosophy of Rene Girard. Girard details the scapegoat mechanism as the origin of sacrifice and the foundation for human culture. Grzegorz thus renders the Minotaur headless.
Dead Minotaur, 2013. Photo courtesy of the artist.

He asks, with a body like any other man, can the viewer still judge the Minotaur as a monstrosity? As a monster?
He says, ‘My Minotaur is more like Christ than a mythological creature’.
This was not the first time Grzegorz broke the boundaries of formal realism. A style so bold he has been styled ‘Gwiazda the heretic’ by the curator Marco Izzolino.

It began with Sitting man.

Sitting man speaks of unused potential. A single male nude figure slouches into a drooping, twisted armchair. Without distinction between skin and cushion the forms melt together. Yet, the man’s oversized hands are defined. Their strength and power recalls the hands of Pope Julius II as painted by Raphael… but in Grzegorz's sculpture such ‘potential is wasted’.

Sitting Man, 2011. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Grzegorz began modelling with ferocity, quickly finding the form. It was ‘fresh’ and ‘powerful’. But, as the work came closer to competition, this once visible energy disappeared. When his sculptures threaten to be ‘lost’ Grzegorz knows it is time for the ‘real sculpting’ to begin. He searches reality and strives for depth. He imbues it with questions, wanting each piece to ‘be an enigma that you want to solve.’

I soon discovered that the greatest enigma is Grzegorz himself. But more of this in my next blog…

Detail of Sitting Man, 2011. Photo courtesy of the artist.