Ziółkowski is a painter, sculptor, and draughtsman, cooperating with the Warsaw-based Foksal Gallery Foundation and Hauser & Wirth. Born in 1980 in Zamość, he lives and works in Kraków.
Painting from the head
Ziółkowski’s artistic output can be seen as a dialogue with both traditional painting and with the generation of painters who appeared on the Polish art scene around 2000, including Wilhelm Sasnal, Agata Bogacka, and Rafał Bujnowski. In his paintings one will find traces of surrealism, expressionism, abstraction, constructivism, cubism, op-art, oriental arts, as well as comics – all of which are bound together by the artist’s imagination.
At the same time, the artist appears to conduct a permanent dialogue with his own oeuvre, and construct a specific microcosm within it which is distant from the surrounding reality. His visions direct the viewers to the realm of dreams, desires, subconscious fears, and anxiety.
He comments on his approach to painting:
It is a mixture of associations and improvisation – in general, it resembles invoking spirits from the canvas, and thoughts can probably take very different paths. I don’t use photos, I don’t paint from nature. My method may be described banally as ‘painting from the head’ – to that, I would add that painting is a way of airing it.
Ziółkowski also sees visual arts as an autonomous zone, saturated with its own codes and motifs, and rich in styles that are ready to use. His works indeed tastefully refer to styles that have embedded themselves in art history. The vibrating, colourful compositions emerging in some of his paintings (e.g. Two Heads) resemble the style of Kandinsky. Some of the other ones appear to make a reference to Andrzej Wróblewski or Piet Mondrian (The Gunshot). The artist, on the other hand, brings up Witkacy and Bruno Schulz as his long-term inspirations – and indeed, his visual language is possibly most reminiscent of the atmosphere of the latter’s famous Cinnamon Stores.
Small yellow papers
Ziółkowski started drawing before entering the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków, when he received a gift of several thousand yellowed sheets of A4 paper. When he moved on to painting, he tried (out of habit) to imitate the yellow of the papers by rubbing the canvases.
I have a soft spot for small format, miniature modules, and vivid details – it’s a result of several factors which cannot be described in just a few sentences. While still at the Academy, I went through a ‘radical re-scaling’ – after having worked extensively with miniature pictures, sized 13x16cm. I rescaled everything then, my entire world. When later switching to larger canvases, I kept the small scale of the represented objects, and hence, all of a sudden, a small human being or a tree would pop out next to a large cactus pot, and after everything would be covered with grass and live tissue, a ‘worm’ appeared.
Ziółkowski’s canvases are dripping with little details - they are ruled by a certain horror vacui. At first glance, his works appear to be reigned by chaos, but soon enough a certain order is revealed, and constellations and logical streams of narration within narration begin to form.
His characteristic strategy of ‘overgrowth’ first appeared when the artist introduced an extremely fertile plant to his canvases, which he named ‘gardener’s legs’. When juxtaposing his paintings from various periods, one is able to trace the development of this mysterious plant. At first, pots with greenery would appear, later the nature became alive and evolved by itself, while its shoots started being inhabited by bugs and people.
Anthropomorphized worms and insects are of mostly metaphorical significance in Ziółkowski’s art.
An insect (like a human being) is a protagonist of numerous images; a symbol of ugliness and announcement of misery, it attacks the beautiful and expansive flower of virginity and naiveté. It knocks on a pumping heart, or rolls into a ball and squeezes in between the pulsating folds of the cerebral cortex, to extricate itself through an ear. In the latest painting, insects drag coffins to a battlefield, they serve as a table, a horse, deliver a baby, walk around a cemetery impatiently waiting for the new stuff to come in, I also sent one (without a particular reason, but just as an example) to the gallows. As the main judge, director, and Master of their existence, I treat insects and all of the other elements as a troupe of actors who have to stage a particular scene in front of a painted scenography.
Nudes and anatomy
Nudes are another persistent theme in Ziółkowski’s oeuvre. The human body is seen from the perspective of an anatomical study, with the arteries highlighted, and at times presented through the shape of a vagina. The head is also a repeating motif in his works.
The motif of the head has been recurrent for a long time. I often open my head and explore this great pulsating generator, the great unknown. Another constant theme is a peculiar still life and a human being; or a study of a body whose skin does not pose a barrier – I try to pierce through it and stage what can be found on the inside, I watch the internal colours closely, I define the ‘spirit’. Portraits and impressions of all body parts also keep returning.
Younger than Jesus
In 2009, Ziółkowski was one of the fifty artists featured in the first edition of the New Museum’s triennial The Generational, subtitled Younger Than Jesus, which mapped out works produced by artists born after 1976. Two other artists from Poland included in the show - Wojciech Bąkowski and Anna Molska.
Ziółkowski’s solo show Demi Volte (Kraków, 2007) was the first to feature his sculptures. He transformed some elements of his paintings into 3D objects. The sculptures included surrealistic objects made out of acrylic glass and wooden machines, as well as mysterious portraits.
In his 2013 solo show at Hauser & Wirth in Zurich, titled Raw Thoughts, Ziółkowski showed, next to his paintings, asymmetrically modelled wooden pedestals (designed by the artist) with miniature displays of paintings and sculptures placed at eye level. Reminiscent of mock-ups of stage designs, they were arranged according to different themes, such as allergy and diet or self-portraiture.
2010 saw Ziółkowski’s next endeavour emerging from his experiments in 3D and design. The Polish art publishing house 40 000 Malarzy released a book with a collection of Ziółkowski’s sketches for furniture designs in a book titled D.I.Y. (Zrób to sam). The pieces conceived by the artist were deeply rooted in fantasy, but at the same time, they were born out of the artist’s genuine belief in their necessity and function (indeed, the project itself was born when Ziółkowski started decorating his apartment). These “things unreal” were potentially suitable for manufacture, but their function was also critical.
Jakub Banasiak, the publisher of the book, wrote in the foreword:
Ziółkowski’s projects not only fit into current widespread tendencies to treat both design and art as a joint field of creative experimentation, but more importantly they remind us of the liberating power of imagination.
There is […], above all, a cement that binds together the creative output of Jakub Julian Ziółkowski as a whole: his grim, sardonic sense of humour. One of his drawings depicts the artist, a skeleton, a cigarette, a bottle, a woman, a brain, an eye, a cockroach; all lying together in bed. Well then, even when we lay down to sleep, what we take along with us are probably not only phobias and dreams, but also objects…
Hokaina (2011), which took place at the Zachęta – National Gallery of Art in Warsaw, was the artist’s first solo show at a public institution.
The exhibition was accompanied by a richly illustrated book containing over a hundred reproductions of the artist’s works (paintings and gouaches) from the last five years, with accompanying texts.
- BWA, Jakub Julian Ziółkowski, Zielona Góra, Poland
- Hauser & Wirth Zurich, Raw Thoughts, Zurich, Switzerland
- Hydra Workshop, Hydra 2012, Hydra, Greece
- Foksal Gallery Foundation, Jakub Julian Ziółkowski. Skin and Bread‚ Warsaw, Poland
- Parasol Unit, Jakub Julian Ziółkowski: In Utero, London, England
- Zachęta National Gallery of Art, Jakub Julian Ziółkowski. Hokaina, Warsaw, Poland
- Hauser & Wirth New York, Jakub Julian Ziółkowski. Timothy Galoty & The Dead Brains, New York, NY
- BWA Wrocław – Gallery of Contemporary Art, Wrocław, Poland
- Centre d'Art Contemporain, Jakub Julian Ziółkowski, Geneva, Switzerland
- Hauser & Wirth Zürich, Zurich, Switzerland
- F.A.I.T. Gallery, Demi Volte, Kraków, Poland
- Hauser & Wirth London, London, England
- Foksal Gallery Foundation, Stuffed knee, limp color, Warsaw, Poland
- Galerie Martin Janda, Vienna, Austria
- Pod Schodami Gallery, Academy of Fine Arts, Kraków, Poland
- Gallery '1', Lublin, Poland
- BWA Gallery, Zamość, Poland
- The Box, Painters of Modern Life, Los Angeles CA
- Kunsthalle Mulhouse, Tired of Reality, Mulhouse, France
- Museum of Modern Art, As You Can See. Polish Art Today, Warsaw, Poland
- Deutsche Bank KunstHalle, Berlin, The Circle Walked Casually, Berlin, Germany
- Istituto Svizzero di Roma, Cattedrale, Rome, Italy
- CCA | Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle Warsaw, British British Polish Polish: Art from Europe's Edges in the Long '90s and Today, Warsaw, Poland
- Deutsche Bank KunstHalle, The Circle Walked Casually, Berlin, Germany
- 55th Venice Biennial, Il Palazzo Enciclopedico, Venice, Italy
- Deste Foundation, Pawel Althamer with Urs Fischer, Jacob Kassay & Jacub Julian Ziółkowski, Athens, Greece
- CCA Wattis Institute, Painting Between the Lines, San Francisco CA
- Blum & Poe, Glee, Los Angeles CA
- BOZAR, The Power of Fantasy. Modern and Contemporary Polish Art, Brussels, Belgium
- Marc Jancou Contemporary, Private Future, New York NY
- Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, Hareng Saur: Ensor and Contemporary Art, Ghent, Belgium
- Gwangju Biennale Hall, Gwangju Biennale 2010, Gwangju, Korea
- Contemporary Art Center, 14th Vilnius Painting Triennial, Vilnius, Lithuania
- Contemporary Art Gallery Bunkier Sztuki, Przekleństwa Wyobraźni (Damnations of Imagination), Kraków, Poland
- White Cube, Kupferstichkabinett: Between Thought and Action, London, England
- 176 / Zabludowicz Collection, The Library of Babel / In and Out of Place, London, England
- Gallery Leto/ING Polish Arts Foundation, Blue Almost White, Warsaw, Poland
- The New Museum of Contemporary Art, The Generational: Younger Than Jesus, New York NY
- 2nd Athens Biennale 2009, Heaven, Athens, Greece
- Camden Arts Centre, Head-Wig, London, England
- Cheim & Read, I Won't Grow Up, New York NY
- Galerie Dennis Kimmerich, psych. Ned Vena, Jonas Wood, Jakub Julian Ziółkowski, Dusseldorf, Germany
- Office Baroque Gallery, Schüttelreime, Antwerp, Belgium
- 303 Gallery, Three for Society, New York NY
- Hauser & Wirth Colnaghi, Old School, London, England (Travelling Exhibition)
- Zwirner & Wirth New York, Old School, New York NY (Travelling Exhibition)
- Thomas Dane Gallery, Very Abstract and Hyper Figurative (cur. Jens Hoffmann), London, England
- Galerie Martin Janda, Who remembers where they are from?, Vienna, Austria
- Galerie Patrick Seguin, Galerie Patrick Seguin invites Hauser & Wirth, Paris, France
- Bielefelder Kunstverein, Skulptur, Installation und Malerei aus Polen, Bielefeld, Germany (Travelling Exhibition)
- Kunstverein Nürnberg, Skulptur, Installation und Malerei aus Polen, Nuremberg, Germany (Travelling Exhibition)
- Zacheta National Gallery of Art, Polish Painting of the 21st Century, Warsaw, Poland
- F.A.I.T. Foundation, East's Desires, Kraków, Poland (Travelling Exhibition)
- Outpost Gallery, East's Desires, Norwich, England (Travelling Exhibition)
- Galerie Rüdiger Schöttle, Robert Barta, Ross Chisholm, Mindaugas Lukosaitis, Djordje Ozbolt, Jakub Julian Ziółkowski, Munich, Germany
- Galerie Martin Janda, Silent Stories, Vienna, Austria
- BWA Awangarda, 6th Exhibition of Young Painters, 7th Eugeniusz Geppert Competition, Wrocław, Poland
Author: Ewa Gorządek, CCA Ujazdowski Castle in Warsaw, November 2008, edited, translated, and updated by Ania Micińska, April 2014