The Magically Mighty Murals
CNN’s feature article boasting Polish street art as "Bigger than Banksy" has made our murals known to the world. Let us introduce you to the house-size paintings that adorn grey concrete blocks across Poland …and their authors, whose creativity has been spreading abroad
A mural uses the three-letter mur – wall in Polish – as its canvas, and is usually huge. Its creation is meticulously planned and executed by both artists and groups of volunteers and assistants.
Back in the day, when Poland was the communist People's Republic of Poland and its landscape was spared the ubiquitous billboards of today, huge state-commissioned murals would light up the grey. These first house-size paintings could hardly be considered street-art. Their propagandist imagery usually glorified working-class heroes, or advertised state-run enterprises. In spite of their communist roots, some of these murals seem to have planted their roots in the urban space for good. Local communities are, at times, so attached to them, that any attempt to take down these old frescos is met with walls blocked by fierce protests.
There are old communist murals that have been exchanged for a new capitalist model. This was the case with a mural in Warsaw. In the district of Wola, a developer who invested in an old shopping mall area painted a new mural piece over an old one.
The Mural After 1989…
With the political transformation of Poland into a democracy, the mural format began to be employed as a means of strictly artistic expression.
A Cabinet of Curiosities
Nowadays murals can be seen just about anywhere and their form and depicted content has evolved into an infinity of shapes. There are purely aesthetic pieces which please the eye both from close-up and from afar. They warm up the image of gloomy apartment blocks and fit perfectly into the cityscape.
There are the socially engaged and critical mural pieces, which shout at passers-by, teach them lessons or even contemptuously scorn the mistakes they have made.
There are also very peculiar and somewhat surreal pieces, difficult to comprehend for even the most sophisticated minds.
Political Murals, and Murals in Memoriam
The art form also turned out to be a graceful means of paying homage to important figures. After the tragic murder of Zdzisław Beksiński, the entrance to his apartment block was decorated with a three-element painting commemorating his death. The writing that accompanies the mural reads "Zdzisław is dead. He painted death for years. And when it came for him, it was painted by someone else".
A different example of remembrance is the huge paintings created in Łódź as part of the 2013 celebrations of the Tuwim Year.
In 2008, a group of activists in Warsaw proposed naming a roundabout on the crossing of Prymasa Tysiąclecia avenue with Marcin Kasprzak street "Free Tibet Roundabout". The proposition was refused as contradicting the Polish state’s official political stance. Those who disagreed with this position manifested their own with a mural. The painting - A Portrait of the Dalai Lama – is adorned with the proud title Rondo Wolnego Tybetu (Free Tibet Roundabout). A Free Tibet Gallery was also created on the pillars of an overpass, with more spontaneously created pieces.
Another political piece is the recently created mural against racism.
Art on the wall
Although murals seem very close to the art of graffiti, they are always created legally. Their painting is a meticulously planned out endeavour and some are true works of art and masterpieces of painting skill and talent.
"Graffiti Goes East 1990-2012" album, photo: press release
Most of the murals in Poland are created from the initiative of artists, or commissioned by local authorities.
KRIK | SEIKON | JACYNDOL, working on a mural. www.urbanforms.org
Such is the case with work by Polish graffiti duo Etam Cru, composed of artists Sainer and Bezt. Spanning entire high-rise buildings, their works are heavily dosed with fantasy, even fairytale elements. Hints of Eastern European folklore (mushrooms and forest creatures make frequent appearances) make their way into the action-packed scenes reminiscent of graphic novels. Every aspect of the colour-saturated murals seems to be in motion: animals and houses alike come to life, and human characters gain abilities that defy the laws of physics.
Mariusz Waras is another accomplished mural artist, who signs his urban works with "my-city project". Born 1978 in Gdynia, Waras is a graphic artist, outdoor painter, traveller, and amateur architect. His several hundred murals are scattered across the streets of Warsaw, Gdańsk, Berlin, Paris, Budapest, Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Bolzano, London and Prague.
A National Treasure
Gdańsk, the northernmost harbour city of Poland seems to hold the record with 45 murals. Warsaw has more than 30, Poznań - 24, and Łódź boasts 21 mural pieces.
A map of murals in Łódź, www.urbanforms.org
Dozens more are scattered across even the littlest towns in Poland. The Eastern city of Lubartów, for example, has recently announced an official competition for the design of a city mural.
The apartment block in Lubartów which is going to be painted over with a winning mural project www.lubartow24.pl
The main page of the CNN website on the 18th of November, 2013 roku, www.edition.cnn.com. This article received 28 thousand likes over a period of six weeks
Polish mural pieces have also spread to other countries and continents. Both Etam Cru and My City have adorned the cityscapes of Bucharest, Sofia, Kishynev, Stuttgart, Saint Nicolas, Cork, Barcelona, Berlin, Paris, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo.
Etam Crew, "Moonshine", mural in Richmond, USA, photo: www.etamcru.com
An Internet Lascaux
Murals have become an important element of the city’s new iconography and they have a growing circle of enthusiasts. Numerous internet galleries and catalogues have been created over the past few years. Perhapst the most noteworthy is the one created by the Urban Forms Foundation, which updates their growing archive regularly. Created in 2009, the organisation focuses on urban culture and aims to organise and support independent artistic initiatives in public spaces. Based in Łódź, the foundation strives to animate life on the city streets and use artistic activities as a means of social revitalization.
Author: Dagmara Staga, translated with edits by Paulina Schlosser, 4.01.2014