Muralopolis: How Łódź Became the Promised Land for Spectacular Street Art
How Łódź Became
Poland's Promised Land
for Spectacular Street Art, Etam Crew, 3 Uniwersytecka Street, photo: courtesy of Urban Forms Foundation, etam-uniwersytecka.jpg
In the spring of 2014, boredpanda.com, a portal devoted to visual arts and design, published a list of 20 global centres of urban art. Łódź ranked second, just behind New York.
Łódź – The ‘Promised Land’
The city of Łódź, once the centre of the European textile industry, was captured on film by Andrzej Wajda (a Łódź National Film School alumnus) in The Promised Land. Łódź can boldly claim to be one of the artistic hubs of Poland. Although no longer host to Camerimage, in the public's memory, it is still a cradle for the best Polish directors and cinematographers.
At the beginning of the 19th century, Łódź was one of the Europe's biggest and fastest-growing centres for the textile industry, which created a new identity for the city. It used to be called ‘a promised land’ and ‘a city of many cultures’ (Łódź is also host to the Dialogue of Four Cultures Festival). Today, thanks to a process of revitalisation and an atmosphere conducive to creativity, Łódź has come to be a city of modern technologies, creative enterprises and grand events. The main asset of the city is its dynamic cultural development in the fields of design, fashion, film and other audiovisual arts.
Industrial Łódź: Past & Present
Łódź’s reputation stems from the many successes in the arena of international film by Polish directors and cinematographers, who graduated from the most notable academy for future actors, directors, photographers, camera operators and TV staff in Poland – The Leon Schiller National Film, Television and Theatre School in Łódź . Early students of the National Film School included the directors Andrzej Munk, Andrzej Wajda, Kazimierz Karabasz, Roman Polanski and Janusz Morgenstern, who, at the end of the 1950s, became famous as the founders of the Polish Film School.
Bigger than Banksy
The already multifaceted city of Łódź has been revealing yet another interesting feature – it has come to be the Polish capital of street art. One of the greatest contributors to the aesthetic changes of the cityscape is the Urban Forms Foundation, created in 2009 by art historian Michał Bieżyński and actress Teresa Latuszewska-Syrda.
The Foundation’s main project is the Urban Forms Gallery, which is a permanent street art exhibition in the public spaces of Łódź. The gallery’s mission is to ‘saturate the cityscape with creative, multilayered and modern art that improves the current image of Łódź and gives it artistic value. The main tool to reach that aim is large-format paintings done directly on the sides of buildings’.
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In the future, the project is to be enriched with other pieces of urban art – sculptures, installations, and ‘street jewellery’. Meanwhile, the gallery's collection of murals is continuously growing. Once a year, the Urban Forms Gallery organises a festival attracting artists from all around the world.
In 2012, the prestigious French magazine Graffiti Art included the festival among its five most important street-art events worldwide. At the end of 2013, CNN produced a series called On the Road: Poland. The episode devoted to murals in Łódź was strikingly titled Bigger than Banksy. Many well-known portals wrote about Urban Forms, such as graffuturism.com, streetartnews.net, unurth.com or brooklynstreetart.com, and the photos from Łódź spread to Vietnamese web portals.
In the spring of 2014, boredpanda.com, a portal devoted to visual arts and design, published a list of 20 global centres of urban art. Łódź ranked second, just behind New York – beating metropolises such as London, Mexico City, Prague, Berlin, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Paris, Melbourne, Cape Town, Rio de Janeiro and the Chilean Mecca of street art, Valparaiso.
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The artists participating in the project are considered to be the best in the field of street art, and they hail from three continents and eight countries: Poland, Brazil, Chile, France, Germany, Australia and Belgium. Among the most renowned are Os Gemeos, Inti, Aryz, M-City, Etam Crew, Otecki, Sepe and Chazme.
M-City is the nickname of the Gdańsk-based graphic designer Mariusz Waras, who says of himself that he is ‘the creator of the city’. He uses large-format templates, and the main theme of his work is the urban jungle, industrial architecture and futuristic means of transportation. M-City has created hundreds of murals on the streets of Warsaw, Gdańsk, Berlin, Paris, Budapest, Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Bolzano, London, Prague, Bogota, Tokyo, Istanbul, Melbourne, Taiwan and Milan.
In his free time, he works for a billboard gallery – 238x504 in Gdynia. Strolling through the streets of Lodz, one can see two M-City works – one on 19 Legions Street and another at 16 Tuwim Street, both of which confirm Waras’s fascination with the urban landscape.
Etam Crew was formed in 2008 by two young graduates of Łódź Academy of Fine Arts – Przemyslaw Blejzyk, known as ‘Sainer’, and Matthew Gapski, or ‘Bezt’. Bezt reaches toward the comic, whilst Gapski leans toward realism. Together, they create unique large-format paintings. They have worked on the streets of Barcelona, Vienna, Sofia, Richmond, Ingolstadtt, Halle, Kazan, Kosice, Ponta Delgada, Warsaw, Katowice, Bydgoszcz and Olsztyn.
In an interview with Albena Popowa of the Polish Institute in Sofia, the artists shared:
In the Urban Forms Gallery collection, one can see four of their murals: Balloon at 3 University Street, Traphouse at 81 Nawrot Street, Madame Chicken at 16 University of Technology Street, and Bang! at 27 Kosciuszko Street, which was created in collaboration with SatOne – a Venezuelan artist based in Germany. In the works painted directly on the grey walls of Lódź buildings, the artists allude to allegorical iconography.
Industrial Łódź: Past & Present
We are interested in creating illustrations in the public space which encourage the viewers to break out of their daily routine. In our paintings, we combine figures of humans, animals and landscapes in such a way as to bring some bafflement into their common meanings, and create some allegorical references. We sometimes intentionally leave our paintings in the form of a sketch, which is a form of understatement that allows everyone to see a different value in them, or a different story.
Wojciech Kołacz, known as OTECKI, is a graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Wrocław. He has created the urban stories in his murals since the late 1990s. In his work, he employs painting, graffiti, illustration, sculpture and graphic art. As a child, he fantasized about forest creatures, which became a major theme of his creative output. The world he creates is based on ambiguities and contrasts, and he often juxtaposes human and animal figures.
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OTECKI left his mark on Lódź on the building at 2/4 Rybna Street. The artist, while being inspired by nature, Cubism and tribal art, has implemented some motifs from Slavic folklore, folk stories, myths and fairy tales.
Sepe & Chazme
Michael ‘Sepe’ Wręga graduated from the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts. Daniel ‘Chazme’ Kalinowski graduated from the Faculty of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Warsaw. Their unique combination of painting, architecture and graffiti distinguishes them from other street artists. Both of them, however, reject the label of ‘street artists’, emphasizing that their art originates in ‘pure graffiti’.
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Sepe’s unrealistic mural characters fit harmoniously with the architectural façade of Chazme at 9 Próchnik Street. The juxtaposition of deformed figures, pasted into the perfectly disciplined world of geometric forms, represents the difference in the styles of the two artists – and proved to be key to the success of the mural. The other Polish artists involved in the Urban Forms project include Lump, Pener, Krik, Ciahciah, Gregor, Massimix, Tone, Bezt and Proembrion.
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Not Poles alone
Amid the foreign authors cooperating with Urban Forms are the legendary Brazilian twins Os Gemeos – counted among the most important street artists in history. They usually create portraits of Brazilians. While applying some motifs in the style of local folklore, they also intentionally refer to the social problems of their region of origin. Their works decorate New York, Boston, Sao Paolo, London, Los Angeles, Miami, Lisbon, Berlin, Buenos Aires and Paris, but you can also see one in Łódź at 5 Roosevelt Street.
Another artist whose style is influenced by the folk art, beliefs and myths of the indigenous people of South America is the Inca guru of Chilean street art: Inti. He created the largest mural in Poland, which can be found at 80 Wyszynski Alley. The second of his works is painted on a building at 28 Pułk Strzelców Kaniowskich.
There were two artists from Barcelona involved in the project: Aryz and Kenor. The works of the Spaniards can be found at 16 University of Technology Street, 67 Pomorska Street and 28 Pomorska Street.
The walls of 82 Polish Army Street attracted the Australian artist Shid. He creates dreamlike images of characters and animals executed with fairy-tale aesthetics. The walls of 11 Próchnik Street bear the works of French artist REMED, who refers to the tradition of such classics of twentieth-century avant-garde as Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso and Fernand Léger.
The Magically Mighty Murals
The artist representing Belgium at the festival in 2013 was Roa. His favourite theme is wild animals trapped in city spaces and executed in black and white. Three large weasels by Roa made their home on the wall of the building at 5 Nowomiejska Street.
The first edition of the Urban Forms Festival took place in 2011 and resulted in the creation of six murals. Every month, the Urban Forms Foundation organizes workshops for artists and trips to the locations of murals.
The Collection of Monumental Painting can be seen also at the Gdańsk Zaspa estate. Since 2009, it has hosted the Festival of Monumental Art, during which urban artists from all over the world paint their work on the blocks of flats. Today, Zaspa features 38 murals.
Originally written in Polish by Natalia Zuch, Jun 2014; edited & translated by GS, 6 Jun 2014