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.
She was 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 February 2013, 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.
Moreover, in her paintings one can recognise compositions similar to those from Paolo Uccello's frescoes in the cloisters of the Santa Maria Novella church in Florence, or the atmosphere of Vermeer's interiors and even the mystical unrest of Giorgio de Chirico's works. Waliszewska's tasteful and aesthetic canvases brought recognition and first exhibition proposals even during her studies.
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. Since then, she's been painting at least one picture a day, which adds up to a total of 2000 works. The subject matter of her paintings has also changed: All the references to Mannerism have disappeared, and in their place are disturbing, sometimes even macabre visions, as if taken out of a small girl's nightmare.
The new works are in a way a return to what I did as a child. (…) Women bound and attacked by monsters have been an interest of mine from a young age. The oil paintings were an attempt to prove to myself that I can paint large, serious paintings. Now I'm back to what attracts me the most.
As she said herself,painting small girls in oppressive situations makes her happy. The gouache paintings are perverse fairy-tales, where the idyllic games of tiny heroines blend with sophisticated horrors and everything is interwoven with a strong eroticism. Wild animals and scary monsters enter into relationships with girls – objects of dark, sexual fantasies. These little women can sometimes be victims, but other times they're the initiators of violence; girlish innocence intertwines with something demonic and repulsive. The gouache painting entitled The Death of a Paedophile depicts a girl standing, her legs straddling a man's head that emerges from the ground; in another picture, a girl with pigtails eagerly drinks from a bottle filled with a red liquid that resembles blood and it drips down her chin and stains her blouse.
In Waliszewska's latest works, one can find references to actual traumaas well asscenes from horror and vampire movies.The paintings include numerous archetypical images that resemble something from a mediaeval bestiary. These references are amplified with contemporary sources of inspiration, such as computer games, images taken from the Internet and comic books. This fantastic diversity is bound with Waliszewska's artistic individuality, her emotions, experiences and extraordinary sensitivity
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.
Aleksandra Waliszewska dominated the 6th edition of the Narracje Festival in Gdańsk. Some even said out right that the 2014 Narracje should rather be called the festival of Aleskandra Waliszewska, since five of her works were presented – far more than that of any other artist. Projected on the walls of tenement buildings, they emphasised the unique atmosphere of Wrzeszcz – a Gdańsk district.
That same year, Aleksandra Waliszewska published a book Złote Rączki Drżą / Gold Hands Tremble, which featured 150 of her works, accompanied by texts from authors including: Maurizio Cattelan, Joan Cornellà, Warren Ellis, Allison Schulnik, Wiktor Skok, David Tibet and Athina Rachel Tsangari. Szczepan Twardoch wrote a story inspired with the artist's works. The premiere of Waliszewska's book supplemented Waliszewska's first individual exhibition at the Leto gallery.
Two years later, Twardoch and Waliszewskacollaborated once again on a project titled Piwnica / Cellar – a 10-minute animation. The basis of the video was Waliszewska's paintings with the writer's story narrated in the background; it was put together by the mysterious Wacław Cheng Pieseł, whom Wasilewska once described in an interview for Gazeta Wyborcza:
Despite his 78 years and the lack of one nose, he is still up to date with new technologies. I met him a few months ago at Warszawa Wschodnia railway station; he had holes in his pants and traded used animations.
That description oddly matches the unusual atmosphere of the video.
In 2017, Waliszewska was invited by Jerke Museum in Germany to create an exhibition. The curator of the exhibition, Dr Noemi Smolik, described the works:
Sexual desire, which oscillates between innocence and seduction, yearning and violence, life and death, is almost always present in the pictures of Waliszewska. This makes these images tragic and funny, expressive and illustrative, sneaky and naive, profound and banal at the same time – that makes them real as life itself.
In the Der Teufelistein Eichhörnchen / The Devil Is a Squirrel exhibition, there exists a recurring motif of the spider. In Waliszewska's work it takes on various forms: It can be a spider-woman, reminiscent of the mythological Arachne, or a fairy-tale spider who is spying on a boy playing the piano in a lunar landscape. There was also a spider that lurked over its woven net, awaiting its victim – a defenceless, naked girl. Another type of spider is one connected with sexuality and fatal attraction– female spiders after having performed a sexual act sometimes devour the male. In addition to spiders, dragons and the eponymous devil, Waliszewska's works depicted motifs such as temptation, submission and death as well as monsters and saviours. Her paintings are places where ancient fables meet the present. Mythical creatures such as the spider-woman, the dragon, or Old Testament Eve, who tempts Adam, appear in visions, revealing the amazing range of human imagination.
Waliszewska spent the year 2018 working on kimono designs for Joanna Hawrot’s clothing brand. The culmination of this period of intense cooperation was the opening of an exhibition of Zuza Krajewska's photographs, shot to promote this project. The pattern placed on a traditional Japanese furisode kimono and a fukuro waistband was based on the painting Idol by Aleksandra Waliszewska. The exhibition entitled Hawrot, Krajewska, Waliszewska opened in mid-December, and the guests could see more of the painter's works – including Mitusia z Kryształami / Mitusia with Crystals and Choinka / Christmas Tree – as pigment prints.
21st century painting
polish artists of the 21st century
- 2019 – FarbaZnaczyKrew / Paint, Also Known As Blood, Museum of Art on the Vistula River, Warsaw
- 2018 – Hawrot, Krajewska, Waliszewska (with Z. Krajweska for the Hawrot brand), Leto Gallery, Warsaw
- 2017 – Der Teufelistein Eichhörnchen / The Devil is a Squirrel (solo), Jerke Museum, Recklinghausen (Germany)
- 2016 – Piwnica / Cellar animation (with Sz. Twardoch and Str!bog), Leto Gallery, Warsaw
- 2015 – Gdyby Dwa Morza Miały Się Spotkać/ Lest the Two Seas Meet, Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw
- 2014 – 6th edition of the Narracje Festival, Gdańsk; Złote Rączki Drżą / Gold Hands Tremble (solo), Leto Gallery, Warsaw
- 2012 – Nasty Child, Center for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw
- 2011 – Chapter Three: Pain, ReMap3, Athens (solo); Sweatboxing II, LETO Gallery, Warsaw; Frédéric Magazine, Galerie Jean Marc Thèvenet, Paris FR
- 2010 – 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
- 2009 – Flowers On The Attic, Geppert Appartment , Wrocław; I Was A Dog, Design Gallery BWA Wrocław, Wrocław; Frederic Magazine arts factory, Paris FR
- 2007 – Themselves About Themselves, Municipal Gallery of Art, Łódź
- 2006 – 21st Century Painting, Zacheta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw
- 2002 – DAP Gallery, Warszawa PL (solo); Test Gallery, Warszawa PL (solo)
Author: Agnieszka Le Nart, February 2013. Updated: HSz, July 2019
See more of the artist's work on her blog: waliszewska.blogspot.com and www.leto.pl