The young painter's "nasty children" and "fantastic animals" invade the canvas with their morbid figures and jarring symbolism as she creates a new Gothic style that meshes surrealist imagery, medieval mystery, fairy tale themes and references to the likes of Hieronim Bosch and Francisco de Goya
Visual artist, born in 1976. lives and works in Warsaw.
Over the past year Aleksandra Waliszewska (born 1976 in Warsaw) has etched out a place for herself among the brightest young talents of Poland's art scene and a promising export in the near future. A graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw and recipient of scholarships awarded by the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, she is among the few new artists brave enough to avoid the slick temptations of new media and performance, opting instead for one of the most traditional art forms: painting. Over the past decade, she has had more than 20 solo exhibitions in Poland and abroad, collaborating with the international art group Frederic on exhibitions in Paris and presenting her work in collections published by My Dance The Skull, United Dead Artists, Les Editions Du 57, Drippy Bone Books, Editions Kaugummi.
Currently, she is part of the Focus Poland 2013 - Take 5 group show at the Centre for Contemporary Art in Toruń, joining the ranks of Oskar Dawicki, Agnieszka Polska and Honza Zamojski. Put together by international art curator curator Friederike Fast (Museum Marta Herford), the show aims to reflect the dynamic quality of the Polish art scene and single out five of the most intriguing artists of the generation born in the 1970s. In mid-February, she was selected to join a group of four artists represented by the Leto Gallery at Arco Madrid, one of the biggest art fairs in Spain with more than 200 galleries from 27 countries in attendance. The theme of the Leto showcase is an exploration of how language and literature have impacted contemporary art, particularly with respect to conceptual art. On the final day of the fair, Waliszewska was awarded the Grand Prix for the best work presented by a contemporary foreign artist. Arco Madrid organisers remarked on how critics have recognised Waliszewska for her "strange, highly imaginative, informal figures that refer to the late Gothic aesthetic".
Her early works were inspired by the Quattrocenta style characteristic of the work of Piero Della Francesa, Masaccio and Giotto. Of greatest interest was the role of colour and mood, and the way these 14th-century masters applied paint to the canvas. These inspirations were combined with themes that wove throughout modern art and contemporary art history, as well as the immediate world around her. In her 2000 work Three Graces, an iconic painting of the Madonna is paired with a television set. For Waliszewska, the composition of the image is of principal importance. She also cites the works of Polish graphic artists from the 16th century: Tomasz Treter (1547-1610) and Jan Ziarnko (1575-1628) as greatly inspiring for a number of her works. One of her ambitions is to create a publication that would juxtapose their works with her own, illustrating the threads that connect them.
Alongside her figurative paintings, Waliszewska has sketched and painted portraits as well - self-portraits or portraits of young girls alone in a threatening wood, submitting to a stern uniformed crowd or ravenous monster, or turning the tables on an abuser, as in Death of a Pedophile. She has admitted that working with a live model often proves onerous, so she often uses herself as her subject, as in Narcissus (2005).
Her technique varies from a childlike nonchalance to detailed precision in her depictions of uncanny scenes of battling beasts, children lost in the woods, skulls and skeletons, portraits of faces with missing features or exposed musculature. A lone baby elephant would be sweet if not for the unnervingly evil expression on its face. Her works are unpleasant, often obscene, yet there is something magical about them that draws the viewer in and holds tight. She draws on a shared magazine of popular symbols from horror films, comic books, heavy metal and current events.
Waliszewska doesn't paint or draw for a particular project or exhibition. She takes a methodical approach to her task and doesn't wait for inspiration to strike, working for 5 hours a day and making up to two works a day. On days of lukewarm inspiration, she tends to stick to portraits. With her more intricate scenes, she says the narrative tends to unfold on its own, rooted in a strong wave of emotion - most often a dark, brooding emotion. Her subjects have an primitive, androgynous air - a young woman's waif-like body could easily be that of a nubile adolescent male. The worlds of fairy tales and S&M collide, creating a sort of magical perversion that is both intriguing and disconcerting. In recent years, she has strayed from the canvas back to the technique she had begun with as a girl - gouache on paper.
In 2012 Waliszewska was awarded the EXIT award given by the art magazine of the same name to the most intriguing artist on their radar. That year she presented Nasty Child at the Centre of Contemporary Art in Warsaw (CSW) as part of the Project Room series promoting young artists. CSW Curator Ewa Gorządek likened her work to illustrations of Gothic fiction, yet she adds that these paintings are highly sensitive and emotional, explaining, "The artist’s fascinations revolve around the dark side where it is easy to succumb to a momentary madness, where the macabre meets the grotesque, whereby beauty is accompanied by horror. The viewer enters the world created by Waliszewska and encounters the intricate and complex mixture of meanings, the key to which has been carefully hidden".
Her style has captured the attention of Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan, who in an interview with the artist remarked on her penchant for painting skinheads, apocalyptic themes and her "dark and twisted" Wonderland. As she admitted, "First and foremost, I paint for myself. I would not like to shock anyone with my pieces. If anything, possibly to make them a bit depressed". She also spoke of her interest in the Renaissance and Cattelan's assertion that she may be "rejecting contemporaneity", explaining,
I worship art of the Renaissance, but some elements of what is going on right now are also an important influence. For example, not long ago I've painted a series of pieces on the massacre on Norwegian island of Utoya. It's a bit of a romantic need to locate "grand subject" of the present time, I guess. All kinds of influences, both by Memling's doomsday painting and weird Japanese horror movies, are being mixed at this point.
Waliszewska's works also inspire other artists across genres - most recently Greek film director Athina Rachel Tsangari, known for the award-winning independent film Attenberg (2010) made a film inspired by a series of drawings by Waliszewska. The Capsule was produced in 2012, along with an art installation, as a commission for the DesteFashionCollection 2012, sponsored by art collector Dakis Joannou. Immaculately filmed, with an enigmatic storyline, the production treads the fine line between art and arthouse cinema.
Waliszewska herself co-wrote the screenplay and makes an appearance in the film, which is described on the film's official website simply as
Seven young women. A mansion perched on a Cycladic rock.
A series of lessons on discipline, desire, discovery, and disappearance.
A melancholy, inescapable cycle on the brink of womanhood — infinitely.
21st century painting
polish artists of the 21st century
See more of the artist's work on her blog: waliszewska.blogspot.com and www.leto.pl
- Nasty Child, Center for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw
- Chapter Three: Pain, ReMap3, Athens (solo)
- Sweatboxing II, LETO Gallery, Warsaw
- Frédéric Magazine, Galerie Jean Marc Thèvenet, Paris FR
- Don’t even think about it, LETO Gallery, Warsaw
- Biennale LE HAVRE with Frederic group, La Havre FR
- Heroes of Might and Magic, CCA Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw
- Flowers on the attic, Geppert Appartment , Wrocław
- I was a dog, Design Gallery BWA Wrocław, Wrocław
- Frederic Magazine arts factory, Paris FR
- Themselves about themselves, Municipal Gallery of Art, Łódź
- 21st Century Painting, Zacheta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw
- DAP Gallery, Warszawa PL (solo)
- Test Gallery, Warszawa PL (solo)
Author: Agnieszka Le Nart, February 2013