Painter, sculptor, author of installations and video films.
In the years 1999-2004, Okrasko studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw in the studio of Professor Leon Tarasiewicz. In 2005, she did post-graduate training at the Interdepartmental Intermedia Laboratory of the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków. In 2009 she went to study in Rotterdam for two years. In 2011 the artist was nominated for the Views art prize by the Deutsche Bank Foundation.
Okrasko’s works bring to mind painting notebooks. She frequently uses text or logos applied to the canvas with a template. She also creates monochromatic images.
There are two main themes in her work: the problem of feminism and the functioning within the artistic community, stereotypes about artists and ‘artistic production’. The two topics meet in the artist’s personality of a female painter.
In 2003, while still a student, Okrasko installed an exhibition on the walls of a corridor of the Faculty of Painting titled Female Painter – a Wife for a Painter. She put quotes painted in red with a template against a pink background. These were statements about female students and women dealing with art said by staff and students of the Academy and remembered by the artist. One of the chauvinistic opinions that had been voiced became the title of the exhibition. Others revealed stereotypes about art created by women (‘Female art is more delicate, more decorative’), feminists (‘Feminists are disgusting fat lesbians that burn bras’) and female artists (‘Even if a woman graduates from the Academy of Fine Arts, she will still get married and give birth straight afterwards’). The reviewers of Okrasko’s installation emphasised in particular the importance of the place in which it was made – within the institution, which was the subject of criticism.
The same and similar words and fragments of dialogues appeared on a series of paintings called My Drawings are Like My Diary (2003), which further highlights the authenticity of the situation exposed and analysed by the artist. Here the inscriptions look somewhat chaotic against the background, creating the impression of dirty canvases.
Other paintings from this period, such as Scarves (2004), also featured the topic of xenophobia. In this painting the statement overheard by the artist tightly fills the white background with bloody red letters (the use of the Polish national colours is not coincidental).
The works which formed the artist’s graduation project (2004) had similar overtones. Its title My Professor Paints in Stripes and I Paint in Dots Because it is More Girly referred to the work of her tutor, Leon Tarasiewicz. This time, Okrasko’s creations had a more ironic edge. Furthermore, she used ornamentation instead of text – the dots mentioned in the title, which were also applied with a template, covered the large canvas. Okrasko’s diploma project mocked the clichéd misconceptions about the differences between female and male art. It also referred to the question of typical academic hierarchy (the master-disciple relationship) and was an expression of rebellion against the imitation of formal solutions developed by teachers which often occurs in art colleges.
I have always felt like a feminist – but this is nevertheless an attitude that was born out of an emotional reaction to the realities of life and the existence in a particular world.
– says the artist, revealing the deeply personal intentions behind her work.
But she immediately adds that:
I’ve never viewed this issue in scientific terms, resulting in a kind of complex.
Thus was born the idea of creating an audiobook from Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. The recordings of Okrasko reading this classic of feminist literature written by the French philosopher in 1949, are available on the artist's website. This act can be treated as a summary of her experience so far. As she says:
I decided that it is better to read the text of a wise, recognised writer and in this way fulfil an educational mission (counting on the fact that the Polish audience will in the end move forward and opt for equality), than to create another, secondary project on female identity.
A separate theme in Okrasko’s work is the production of works of art and the art market. At the exhibition Change in Traffic Organisation in the Laboratorium Gallery at Warsaw’s Centre of Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle in 2004, even before she graduated, the artist covered the ceiling of the room with the following phrase repeated several times: ‘There is no need to think about taking part in this exhibition Stach Szabłowski cannot be rejected we will not sit on the couch and eat cake just to become more likeable’. Her presence at the exhibition therefore commented on the subordinate position of artists towards curators and galleries. In early 2005, Okrasko presented draft agreements and the final wording of contracts between her and her customers in Warsaw. The subject of the contract was the exhibition itself (An Order Contract).
In 2005, the artist founded the company OKRASKO for the production of paintings (a real company, with a tax identification number and inscribed on the Register of the National Economy), thereby launching the project 92.31.G, which took its name from the registery number in the Polish Classification of Activities standing for ‘Artistic and literary creative activity, not elsewhere classified’.
In 2004 Okresko presented a series of nearly identical, small canvases covered with dots at the exhibition How to Make Paintings in the Zakręt Gallery, operating as part of the Institute of Art History of the University of Warsaw. Wrapped in foil, the paintings looked ready to be handed over to customers. The artist decided to sell the works on Ebay. Part of the exhibition was a film documenting the process of preparing paintings for sale and information on the results of the auction.
In other projects Okrasko pointed to the danger of undertaking commercial activities by artists (Marta, Come Back, 2004) and spoke ironically from the position of Polish celebrity painters (I’ve Always Wanted to Paint Like the Others, 2005).
In 2006, a series of paintings was created as a product of OKRASKO with the title Not a Day Without a Line, a cycle of large, monochromatic canvases, which she covered with blue pen ink. From a distance, they look uniform, but seen from up close their complicated structure is revealed. The title of the series and the way in which it was made refer to famous myths known since ancient times about artists’ creative and life passion.
In the project Candles for the Holy Father (2005) executed in Otwarta Pracownia in Kraków, Okrasko addressed the issue of the simplified, effortless way of expressing emotions following the death of Pope John Paul II. The walls of the gallery were covered with the internet symbol for grave candle, consisting of square brackets and an apostrophe - ['], painted with a template and fluorescent paint, whereas canvases covered the texts entered in online condolences books. While Okrasko’s project has been described as ‘an ironic observation of the mass hysteria among Poles after the death of John Paul II’, it is multifaceted in nature. Images from this series have been used to illustrate the novel The Father Has Passed Away (Kraków 2005) by Piotr Czerski.
The visit of the artist to the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Min, Vietnam, in turn served as an inspiration for the exhibition Choppers at the Okno Gallery in the Centre for Contemporary Art in Warsaw in the summer of 2007. Okrasko confronted the interiors of the museum with a vision of the war in Vietnam, shaped by American films. The exhibition was based on the analogy observed by the artist between the windmills and military helicopter propellers omnipresent in the museum.
An extension to the project Not a Day Without a Line was a corridor created from 3080 identical stretchers measuring 10 x 10 cm, wide enough to accommodate an adult man, but so narrow that the visitor would be afraid that his clothes would get dirty. In fact, the stretchers were covered in graphite. Of course, the artist prepared everything herself. The anxiety caused by the installation was associated not only with the concern about the cleanliness of clothes. Okrasko’s work could remind of Bruce Nauman’s minimalist corridors, but its effect also had a transcendental and even personal dimension. The stretchers were a reference to the artist’s hospital experiences and the whole was dedicated to Pepe Espaliú, who died of AIDS.
In the aforementioned corridor as well as in the project Not a Day Without a Line Okrasko treated the medium of painting with increasing irony and detachment and the ethos of the artist-craftsman creating his own images, even if the operation is purely mechanical. The project These Works Will Never Have a Title (2008) should be considered her (possibly) final parting with painting. The installation resembles rotating elements set side by side in automatic car washes. Canvases cut in pieces give rise to swirling fabric. While turning around they create a new visual quality, but they also emit noise, they move the air, etc. And only this? – the artist seems to ask.
At the same time, in her recent projects Okrasko has completely departed from the issues which used to occupy her attention, delving deeper into social problems. She is interested in the difficulties faced by her family or neighbours. In 2008, together with Kaja Pawełek and Nicolás Sánchez, she took up the topic of the huge advertisement banners which cover many buildings in Warsaw, and obstruct the windows of people living there depriving them of access to natural sunlight. Sánchez created an illustrated book, Pawełek wrote an article published in Gazeta Wyborcza, while Okrasko made an installation in the Witryna Gallery on the Constitution Square in Warsaw. She covered the window with a banner showing a picture taken from one of the apartments located on the square, obstructed by a large advertisement.
Another project by Okrasko was concerned with the problem experienced by her friend, the cultural animator Zuzanna Fogtt, of repaying a housing loan taken in Swiss francs, as the exchange rate to Polish zloty fluctuated dangerously due to the economic crisis. For a number of months, the two artists referred to the changes in the economy affecting daily life and the stress associated with them in games played in an area of undeveloped land. On the exhibition of films recording them Okrasko also created a symbolic house covered with dandelions.
Author: Karol Sienkiewicz, October 2007; updated: October 2011, transl. Bozhana Nikolova
- 2003 – Female Painter – a Wife for a Painter – Academy of Fine Arts, Warsaw;
- 2004 – My Professor Paints in Stripes and I Paint in Dots Because it is More Girly – Wizytująca Gallery, Warsaw;
- 2005 – Candles for the Holy Father – Otwarta Pracownia, Kraków; How to Make Paintings – Zakręt Galery, Warsaw; An Order Contract, Warsaw;
- 2006 – Valentine’s Day Eve – TR, Warsaw (z); Paintings – Pies Gallery, Poznań;
- 2007 – Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw; Bureaucracy - BWA Studio Gallery, Wrocław (together with Rahim Blak).
- 2008 – View – Dobra Witryna, Warsaw (with Kaja Pawełek and Nicolás Sánchez); Untitled (to Pepe Espaliú) – Czarna Gallery, Warsaw; These Works Will Never Have a Title – Zielona Góra;
- 2009 – 255 000 francs – Passengers Festival, Warsaw.
Selected collective exhibitions:
- 2004 – Change in Traffic Organisation – Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw; Exhibition from the Palace – former Casino, Podkowa Leśna;
- 2005 – Promotions 2004 – Art Gallery in Legnica, Legnica; Autumn in Bielsko 2005 - Bielsko-Biała; Villes anciennes – Art Nouveau. Cracovie a Quebek – Quebec, Canada;
- 2006 – Frauenleben / The Life of Women – Polish Institute, Leipzig, Germany; On One’s Own. Graduates from the Studio of Leon Tarasewicz – Warsaw; Art in the Service of the Lefties – Bytom; Premio de pintura 2006 – Fundación Focus-Abengoa, Seville, Spain; Art Magazine – Wizytująca Gallery, Warsaw; - Desa Modern, Warsaw; Relocation – Klima Bocheńska Gallery, Warsaw;
- 2007 – The Battle Goes On. Women’s Day – Kraków; Sex Shop – BWA Studio Gallery, Wrocław;
- 2008 – Under Closed Eyelids – Czarna Gallery, Warsaw;
- 2009 – The Book in Polish Art and Culture – Delikatesy, Kraków; EAST International – Norwich; Factory – Museum of Bat Yam, Bat Yam, Israel.