10 Polish Artists To Have On Your Radar
I welcomed the new year in Poland, a country full of culture and lots of turbulent history. Poland's birth stemmed from the marriage between Duke Mieszko I, ruler of several Western Slavic tribes, to the princess of Bohemia, Doubravka, in 966. Since then, the country has had its borders redrawn many times. The people have witnessed the carnage of wars, specifically the events in WWII, which destroyed many cities throughout the country and its important cultural centers. Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, the polish people were welcomed to the broader western culture and its neoliberal economic markets. The Millenial generation is the first generation in Poland to live their entire lives war-free and with many freedoms that previous generations didn't have. However, the liberties that this new generation has become accustomed to are being challenged with the current far-right government, whose politics are backed by the Catholic church. For this reason, I find it extremely important to bring attention to contemporary Polish artists because, after all, it is freedom of artistic expression that indicates how free we truly are as individuals.
In this article, I highlight 10 Polish-born artists, from pioneers in the feminist art movement to artists from the new generation that continues to challenge the country's conservative status quo. I hope that this article intrigues you to learn more about this country and its art scene, which is very dynamic.
1. Natalia LL (b. 1937, Żywiec, Poland)
Natalia LL, born Natalia Lach-Lachowicz, is a multidisciplinary artist who was an early pioneer in feminist art in Poland. She was one of the first artists to step forward and criticize conceptual art for excessive rationalization and avoidance of physical sensuality. LL’s photographs, drawings, moving image works, and installations have from the outset addressed the female subject in a patriarchal, increasingly consumerist society.
One of LL’s most famous works, Consumer Art (1972), refers to the imagery of popular culture, where consumption and erotic motifs are often paired. The work is a short film in which attractive female models provocatively eat a variety of suggestively shaped foods, emulating the style of pornographic films, which refers to society’s objectification of women.
LL studied at the PWSSP (today the Academy of Fine Arts) in Wrocław, graduating in 1963. In 1970, she co-founded PERMAFO (short for permanent formalization) Gallery in Wrocław, with fellow artists Zbigniew Dłubak, Andrzej Lachowicz and Antoni Dzieduszycki, which was set up as a home for artists’ experiments in photography. In May 2007, she was awarded the Silver Medal for Merit to Culture – Gloria Artis, and in 2013 she received the Katarzyna Kobro Award, given by artists to artists. From 2004 to 2013 she worked as a senior lecturer at the Academy of Fine Arts in Poznań (currently University of the Arts Poznań). Her art has been exhibited worldwide at key galleries and museums, like Tate Modern in London, UK. She lives and works in Wrocław.
2. Marcin Maciejowski (b. 1974, Poland)
“I am rooted in the here and now. I comment on our times, customs, values and the culture of the 20th and 21st century.” - Marcin Maciejowski
Marcin Maciejowski is a chronicler of everyday life and keenly attuned to art history, he sources his imagery from a variety of media – including newspapers, television, advertising and his own photographs – depicting scenes that range from the seductive to the mundane. These found images are translated into a unique painterly idiom that reflects his background in graphic art. He combines a comic-book aesthetic with the meticulous realism of Old Master paintings to present an enigmatic form of social commentary. Personal scenes appear alongside those with broader public significance, although his works evade any explicit narrative. The artist often equates political rhetoric with the platitudes of an art critic to question the role of contemporary art in society.
Maciejowski's work is represented in distinguished public collections, including the Belvedere, Vienna; Volpinum Kunstsammlung, Vienna; Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary Foundation, Vienna; Museum der Moderne, Salzburg; MOCAK Museum of Contemporary Art, Kraków; Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art, Warsaw; SCHAUWERK Sindelfingen; and Burger Collection, Berlin. The National Museum in Kraków held a comprehensive solo exhibition of Maciejowski's work in 2010, followed by solo shows at Ostdeutsche Galerie, Regensburg the same year and the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead in 2013.
3. Zbiok Czajkowski (b. 1982, Poland)
Slawek (Zbiok) Czajkowski is an artist famously known for his graffiti work in Poland, particularly in the Wrocław street art community. However, his work is not exclusive to street art, he also creates figurative paintings on canvas and his work has been exhibited in galleries all over the world.
Czajkowski is a graduate of the Institute of Plastic Arts and Culture at the Zielonogorski University. He received his Master’s degree from the studio of professor Richard Wozniak. In 2009, he won the Grand Prix in the 9th Competition Gepperta and in the same year he also received the Scholarship of the Minister of Culture and National Heritage. His work has been exhibited in Poland and abroad. He lives and works in Wroclaw, Poland.
4. Ewa Juszkiewicz ( b. 1984, Gdańsk, Poland)
“I wish to tell a new tale and create my own language: ambiguous, dense, natural, and organic.”
- Ewa Juszkiewicz
Ewa Juszkiewicz's oil paintings are classical with a rebellious twist. The Warsaw-based artist, unsettling female portraits subvert canonical expectations of feminine beauty. She paints her female sitters in elaborate Renaissance costumes but replaces their faces with surreal imagery, such as folds of fabric, lush floral arrangements, plaited hairstyles, and tribal masks. With this approach, she infuses her traditional European styles with the grotesque. The intentional face shielding not only refers to beauty standards but also to the deletion of women’s history through the Western canon.
Born in Gdańsk, Poland, Juszkiewicz lives and works in Warsaw. She earned an MA in painting from the Akademia Sztuk Pięknych, Gdańsk, in 2009, and a PhD from the Akademia Sztuk Pięknych im. Jana Matejki, Krakow, in 2016. She is represented by the international blue-chip gallery, Gagosian.
5. Jan Możdżyński (b. 1986, Warsaw, Poland)
Jan Możdżyński is a promising painter of a new generation, whose works question the conservative views of Poland with images that bring queer and LGBT sexuality at center stage. His paintings are characterized by strong colors with subjects depicted in bold poses which deliberately toy with the taboo of certain sexual behaviors. Sexual taboos themes are dominant in his paintings, ones that often have hidden queer sexual innuendos filled with phallic images.
Możdżyński graduated from the Faculty of Painting, where he studied under the supervision of Jarosław Modzelewski. Immediately after receiving his diploma in 2018, he took part in several important group exhibitions, including the Pomada festival and the APH 2018 show. Since then, his work has also been exhibited in solo shows throughout Poland. Możdżyński lives and works in Warsaw, Poland.
6. Oh de Laval (b. Warsaw, Poland)
“My paintings are simply adventures of my mind” - Oh de Laval
Oh de Laval is an artist of half Polish, half Thai descent whose erotic paintings are getting a lot of attention from collectors. Laval’s figurative compositions are influenced by film noir and French new wave cinema and aim to capture licentious psychological undercurrents. Oh's work is primarily concerned with hedonism, it calls for pleasure in all things, art included. Her expressionistic paintings capture raw human emotions, some of which are often only seen behind closed doors.
Oh studied industrial design for two years, something that manifests in the interiors she paints. She then moved on to study sociology at the University of Warsaw where she became fascinated by Durkheim’s notions of deviance and her Bachelor’s degree. Her work has been exhibited in group shows throughout Europe and Asia and in 2021, she had her first solo exhibition in the UK at Unit London’s gallery. The artist lives and works in London.
7. Karolina Jabłońska (b. 1991, Niedomice, Poland)
Karolina Jabłońska's paintings represent the complexity of tortured minds through dark colors and painful expressions. The human figure is dominant in her work with a pop-art-like expression, folksy simplification, and fish-eye perspective. Influenced by the Old Masters such as Caravaggio and Tiziano, Jabłońska focuses on dark human emotions. To emphasize such emotions, her paintings are mostly limited to a narrow range of color and contrast. While the figures she depicts are engaged in otherwise pleasant activities, the feeling throughout is one of anxiety and dread.
Jabłońska graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts, Kraków and did a year of study at the Academy of Art, Architecture and Design in Prague. She has had solo exhibitions at Raster Gallery in Warsaw and Zeller Van Almsick in Vienna. She has also been part of group exhibitions at SCAD Museum of Art in Savannah, Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw and Capitain Petzel in Berlin. Jabłońska co- founded Potencja, an artist-run space in Krakow together with Tomasz Kręcicki and Cyryl Polacze. She lives and works in Krakow, Poland.
8. Marcin Janusz (b. 1991, Przeworsk, Poland)
Marcin Janusz’s work transports the viewer into a strange world of nature, fantasies and dreams. He draws inspiration from nature and biology, its leading theme being the human, human physiology and our symbiotic connection with the surrounding world. He experiments with the form and matter of the image, he is interested in issues related to masculinity and corporeality.
Janusz received his Bachelor of Health Sciences in Medical Rescue from the Jagiellonian University Medical College, followed by a Master of Arts from the Jan Matejko Academy of Fine Arts Faculty of Painting. Janusz was also an Erasmus exchange student at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. Currently, he is enrolled at his home academy Doctoral School. His works have been exhibited at Widna Gallery in Krakow, Labirynt Gallery in Lublin, Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, 2017), Bookstore at the Thrialida cultural center in Athens, among others.
9. Agata Słowak (b. 1994, Busko, Poland)
"In my paintings, wild animal instincts, dark desires and carnal urges meet. I have been encouraged to take up this subject in painting by oppressive patriarchal attitudes and observation of the status of women in the world of art over the centuries. The paintings are supposed to express dissent from the fact that nudity, sex, LGBT symbols, criticism of Catholic Church and gender are still scandalising in our country." - Agata Słowak
Agata Słowak is a graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, a visual artist, painter and author of spatial objects and fabrics, winner of Coming Out Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw 2019. Her work engages with autobiographical themes and issues of anthropology of culture and feminism.
The artist's work has been displayed at numerous key galleries and museums such as the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw among others. Recently, her work was part of What Do You See, You People, Gazing At Me, a group exhibition at Sadie Coles HQ Gallery in London, UK.
10. Iness Rychlik (b. Poland)
Iness Rychlik is a visual artist that works with photography and film. She is recognized for her dark conceptual erotica, which has been awarded and exhibited all around the world. She is fascinated by the idea of conveying sexuality and cruelty in a subtle evocative way. Since she suffers from a chronic skin condition, Iness often uses her own body as a canvas to explore the difficult themes of pain, solitude and violence. Her photographs are provocative and they invite the viewer into a world where one must feel uncomfortable in order to awaken one's emotions.
Iness graduated with First Class Honors in Film from Screen Academy Scotland. Set in Victorian London, her final-year film ‘The Dark Box’ follows an unhappily married woman, who pursues photography to escape from her oppressive relationship. ‘The Dark Box’ premiered at Camerimage 2016, where Iness received a Golden Tadpole nomination for her cinematography. Most recently, she shot and directed two mini-documentaries about art for BBC Scotland.
Thank you for reading!
Make sure to subscribe and follow us on instagram to see our journey around the world in search of the best contemporary artists.