Illustrator. His work spans independent art projects, magazine illustration and commercial commissions. Born on the 17th of June 1984 in Szczecin. Lives and works in Warsaw.
Bartek "Arobal" Kociemba never thought he'd grow up to be an artist. As he tells it, he had no real talent for drawing and his interests lay rather in politics and social sciences. As a boy he grew up in the town of Barlinek, a quaint town set in the middle of a wood that he describes as "magical" and "spooky". The woods were filled with the sorts of animals and plants - moose, rabbits, deer, poison hemlock and sumac - that years later began to creep back into his world through his illustrations.
He began dabbling in drawing at the age of 21, when he began recording his day to day life in a blog diary. Believing his talent for writing even flimsier than his talent for drawing, he tried his hand at a simple pencil drawing. Soon enough his style began to grow and evolve, progressing from elementary stick figures to complex portraits and still lifes of remarkable texture and character. In describing his approach to art and illustration, Arobal says "We live in a time when things are more functional and edgy than beautiful. Beauty is lost and there is a lot of ugliness around. I try to bring elements of a romantic understanding of beauty back to everyday life". As for his artistic pseudonym, Arobal says he spontaneously came up with a word that sounded playful, mysterious and musical.
Arobal has no formal art education. He studied Political Science at the University of Wrocław for a few years, before moving to Warsaw after falling in love. In Warsaw he studied Philosophy for a short time before growing weary of the curriculum's heavily Catholic undertones. He took up a series of odd jobs - bartender, magazine editorial assistant, public relations assistant, film festival jury assistant - while he continued to pursue a hobby that was proving to be a potentially viable way to make a living. He began sharing his work with friends and acquaintances, hosting intimate exhibitions at bars and cafés throughout the city. In the meantime he also began studying Shambhala philosophy at a local Buddhism Institute and eventually became qualified as an instructor.
He says the breakthrough moment in his artistic career came in 2008 when the musicians behind the Polish hip-hop-rock band Fisz Emade saw his work on show at Karma, a café on Warsaw's popular Zbawiciela Square roundabout. They liked his work so much they asked if they could use one of the illustrations for their upcoming album. Arobal refused. He suggested that instead he would create a whole new design for the Heavi Metal CD booklet. He ended up doing all the graphic design on the album, which was nominated that year for the Polish Phonographic Academy's Fryderyki Awards.
His next successful project came with the publication of Omega, a book of stories and illustrations for young adults in 2009 written by Marcin Szczygielski. In 2010 he was invited by the Dramatic Theatre in Warsaw to create original posters for their 2010 performance season. His graphic interpretation of such productions as Madame Bovary, Don Quixote, Apocalypse Square and Glissando is stirring, unsettling, moving - beautiful images that hold an air of melancholy and sadness within.
Yet the story of how he ended up working with the Dramatic Theatre is also unexpected. He'd taken part in a poster competition for Krystian Lupa's Persona. Weil, but his work was not chosen. However, the staff at DT liked his work so much they asked him to design the next 9 posters of the season's premieres. His illustration also ended up gracing the cover of the book version of Lupa's Persona. In the meantime Polish indie-pop superstar Monika Brodka asked him to make a few illustrations for her new album. Once again his work was expected to grace the inside of the booklet - not the cover, but Brodka liked the drawing of a moose with rainbow streamers flowing from his antlers so much she put it on the cover of Granda - an album which scored the young singer three wins out of a total of nine nominations at the Fryderyki gala in 2011. The visual he created became a narrative for the entire album and tour, with the singer replicating the image in various media and also on stage with dancers dressed up as the iconic Arobal moose.
Soon enough Arobal was receiving requests from Poland's most popular weeklies and monthlies and he began a steady cooperation with such titles as Wprost, Pani, Twój Styl, Przekrój. These projects gave him the opportunity to reach into his background in political science and sociology. He says "I never wanted to work in politics or administration, but I was still interested in politics and society. People and the relationships between them is a prevalent subject in art". His illustrations in Wprost tackle a lot of tricky subjects, providing imagery for articles on topics like gay parenthood, support groups for LGBT parents, the lifestyles of children of the new Warsaw bourgeoisie, sex education in schools. He takes social issues and phenomena and finds a way to transfer it into a meaningful image that is both strong and sensitive.
Arobal's technique is rather straightforward. He humbly asserts that "anyone can draw like me", yet there is a great deal more behind the series of slight, warbled lines. Poland's Sukces magazine singled out Arobal as one of the most talented illustrators in Poland of the moment, remarking on how his works "have no frames, breaking the norms of perspective, taking advantage of shifting dimensions". There is a tension in his hand and an unsettling sensibility in the eyes and expressions of his subjects, and there is also a great deal of joy. As Arobal says, "Life is full of ups and downs. The more you show that in your work the more authentic it is. I like that people can sense that feeling of unease". He creates his work spontaneously. He has no plan when he sits down and sets his coloured crayons to paper. His method is careful and time consuming. His poster for the performance of Glissando, an opera directed by Christian Garcia for the Dramatic Theatre, took several days. The opera is based on the music of Chopin and other composers, with movement being a focus of the show. The dancers glide through the piece, referencing the passage of music through time from romanticism through contemporary music and pop. As the dancers move, their long hair drapes and flows around them. Arobal met with the director and the cast, sat in on the rehearsals and researched the work in order to get a feeling about the show that he could transfer into an illustration. Arobal says the project for Glissando is among his favourites, explaining
I was captivated by the beauty of it. I wanted to make a work that was most beautiful and terrifying because that is how I felt watching the performance. There are no words, just dance and movement. I tried four times to make the poster and then suddenly I had an idea and made the illustration in four hours based on the idea of a single strand of hair as the principal line for a whole portrait. This process was completely different from how I typically work as I usually doodle and experiment until an idea spontaneously appears on the paper as I'm working.
Arobal's craft is constantly evolving. Most recently he was invited to design a tea set for the Kristoff porcelain brand. The factory was on the brink of bankruptcy last year when a savvy investor saved it and decided to refresh its 180-year-old tradition with new porcelain designs created by young artists. Arobal is among the first young designers to take part in the project, which premiered in the spring of 2012 and goes on sale in June in various shops and boutiques in Warsaw. His design takes its cue from the mad hatter tea party, but rather than splash ostentatious shapes and colours on porcelain he created a strange of spindly vines of poisonous psychedelic plants that overlap in blue and red, mimicking the trace of veins, roots and outstretched hands in a blurred, almost 3-dimensional design. He explains the process of creating the imagery:
At first I didn't know how to approach it. I didn't want to just transfer one of my drawings onto the teapot like it's an H&M t-shirt. I created the design especially for the medium. There is a long tradition of porcelain design at this factory and in Poland. I wanted to reference that, but in an entirely new and contemporary way. I wanted there to be a playfulness about it and to make having tea with family or friends whimsical and magical. The 3-D effect was spontaneous. I didn't plan it that way, it just happened. Which is why I like to work without a plan. When you let yourself make mistakes and be spontaneous, that's when the magic happens. It's a lot of fun and you feel just like a child discovering something for the very first time.
Arobal is already at work on his next porcelain project, commissioned by the Empik chain of cafes. His cups, set to premiere in the summer of 2012, are a tribute to the 4 earthly elements. Once again his childhood provides another source of inspiration - Arobal danced in the ballet as a child and movement continues to be a significant element in his works. Each element - water, fire, earth and air - is represented by a different figure moving in a way characteristic for that particular element - water is flowing, fire is powerful, air is light, earth is heavy. The bodies of the dancers are splayed with images of the particular element, such as the sky, the sea or the earth itself, which in turn references contemporary practices of image projection and filtering in photography and performance.
Arobal says these commercial projects allow him greater freedom to pursue his independent art projects, providing a basic income that every artist needs to survive. Over the next few months he plans to work on several independent themes, such as his recent show Podaj wymiary (What's your size?), presented as part of the Pomada LGBT art festival in Warsaw. The illustrations in the series are self-portraits that are imagined projections of what the artist would look like with a different body shape - skinnier, fatter, more muscular, taller... The idea behind the series is the social preoccupation with appearance and body size. Arobal is very much engaged in the LGBT scene in Warsaw, participating in such initiatives as Pomada, organised by fellow artist Karol Radziszewski for the aim of presenting various exhibitions, performances, concerts, workshops, lectures and parties all centred around the gay experience in contemporary Poland (25 May - 3 June 2012).
Arobal is also involved in a number of independent initiatives set up by the young artistic community geared at promoting his generation's work among a greater public. He cites the recent Art Yard Sale (19-20 May 2012) event as "a great way of raising awareness for the support of young artists, not just within the art circle, but among business men and other people who might be interested in the work of young artists". At the end of the day he received several private commissions for portraits - another area of activity he aims to explore. He receives a great deal of support from fellow illustrator Agata (Endo) Nowicka, currently ranked as the number 1 illustrator in Poland by Media magazine and other publications. Endo also heads the Illo agency, which represents the top names in Polish illustration today, with Arobal topping that roster.
Author: Agnieszka Le Nart