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.
Painter, sculptor, and draughtsman.
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.
The Skóra i Chleb (Skin and Bread) exhibition at the Foksal Gallery in Warsaw was divided into two sections. The first, located on the lower floor of the building, contained eight of the artist’s paintings, which were smaller and painted with dark colours. These were mainly portraits of characters, such as Wielka Matka (The Great Mother), though her portrayal had little in common with a mother. The figure spills out of not only the pants she's wearing, but also generally exists outside of the norms expected of women in paintings. Ziółkowski covered the bodies of his characters with a number of complicated tattoos: from prison, through marine, to exotic designs straight from Mexico or Polynesia.
Two larger paintings with a more vivid colour palette were exhibited in the other room, located on the upper floor. One of them, titled Conquista, recreated something resembling a mythical event. The landscape depicted a figure who arrives to the sandy shores of a distant land full of lush vegetation and beautiful butterflies. The figure, who might as well be the Great Mother herself, is eagerly greeted by a native. A bit further hung was the eponymous Skóra i Chleb – an abstract composition made with warm shades of yellow and orange. The animal presented in the painting resembles a unicorn with its large horn, but more than anything it's a combination of tangled bits and pieces.
Imagorea (2014) is an exhibition of never-before-seen paintings created by Ziółkowski in the 12 months preceding the exhibition. The artist has continued to explore the dark depths of consciousness as well as the history of avant-garde art. Imagorea was intended to oppose the modernist model of exhibition. The centre of the Galeria BWA in Zielona Góra was separated by a temporary wooden structure, resembling a small room, inside of which Ziółkowski's paintings were hung. The walls of the room were rather reminiscent of wallpapering the living room with art rather than a gallery exposition, which significantly influenced their reception – Andreas Angelidakis was the originator of this concept. Bartłomiej Dobroczyński – a psychologist, whose focus is analysing the relationship between spirituality and the psyche – also played a crucial role in the project.
A few years later, in an interview conducted by Jakub Banasiak for Szum Magazine, Ziółkowski referred to Imagorea as the beginning of his transformation.
I worked on it for a year and made about 200 works, at the same time I intensely consulted the paintings with Dr. Bartłomiej Dobroczyński, a psychologist from Jagiellonian University, my friend. Additionally, I was in the middle of psychotherapy. I have to admit that it was quite an intense time in my life. ‘Imagorea’ was an introspection, a total self-portrait, a multidimensional challenge. You see, sometimes it is so that the artist goes into the unknown with his voice of intuition. It's hard to tell what will come out of it, but he has to make a move. So it happens that you almost never know what you really want – there's only a call from within. This call can't actually be defined; it's like a call from a source that has always been within you.
‘Imagorea’ was a bit of madness that led to a monstrous creative crisis. I was finished, I couldn't even listen to the sound of the brush that scrubs the canvas.
In 2016, in Hanoi's first independent exhibition space, Ziółkowski decided to touch upon the topic of love and its various forms in an exhibition entitled Sick of Love. Love was portrayed in all its glory and downsides, which the artist treated quite literally, creating vases to vomit in for those who are quite literally sick of love. But Sick of Love is not only about the negative states; in the end the feeling of falling in love overpowers our body and mind, combining extreme emotions, both the good and the bad.
Nha San Studio, in which the exhibition took place, is located in a traditional Vietnamese wooden house, and is run by an artistic collective. Currently, due to socio-political circumstances, it's not thriving in the artistic world and the pretext for its activity is the cafe inside. The works created by Ziółkowski are site-specific and entered the space of Nha San Studio smoothly.
Ceramic wasn't the only departure from previously used artistic practices. The exhibition Sick of Love featured a series of sculptures made out of paper used to create votive sculptures. In Vietnam, this material is not used in the art world, perhaps due to its poor quality; however, it is still considered ‘holy’. Ziółkowski created the sculptures in a village that specialises in working with the paper. He had to commute every day for 40 minutes by scooter.
Ziółkowski wanted to convey emotions with his sculptures, which, as we know, in love can often be volatile: obsessive thinking, constant fantasising, discovering our desires and heartache. These changes often occur in the rhythm of a kaleidoscope and it was to this understanding of love that the artist referred. The sculptures showed the impermanence and transience of feelings and the eternal emotional defeat of the narcissus, who is in love with himself. At the exhibition, you could find an aged playboy on solitary holidays, a couple in love, and even love-making shrimps. In contrast, there was also a realistic sculpture – Ziółkowski's self-portrait in an outfit meant for practicing the spiritual and mystical rites the Len Dong religion. The work, however, was located in a separate room.
The main part of the exposition also included a video entitled Przejażdżka (Drive). It told a story of closeness, and pointed to the fact that the experience of closeness is different with different people, but there are some unchanging factors, such as its specific intensity, temperature and colour, which are transferred from the world of sensations onto the physical world. Falling in love always involves a specific person or persons, which further complicates relationships and dependencies. Ultimately, however, despite doubts, most often we decide to follow that feeling, which is often all the more seductive, precisely because of its unknown qualities. All artistic forms presented during the exhibition are significantly different from those Ziółkowski consistently used in the previous years, which made the exhibition quite a surprise. In an interview with Szum Magazine, he described his process:
I wanted to reset myself at a very deep level. I decided to go to Vietnam on an internal, spiritual and creative mission. It was a very radical step, but based on specific assumptions. The main one was that I would be open to everything that would come, but I wouldn't paint. No more painting. The moment when I would start painting was supposed to be the moment that I'd buy a return ticket. And I left, as it turned out – for eight months. I rented a house in one of the districts of Hanoi, very local, far from other foreigners, and even further from the art world. A motorbike was my closest friend, a scooter even. I wandered around the big city during days and nights, in unimaginable loneliness I was constantly looking for something. What? This state of mind in which random puzzles are arranged in long ornamental patterns that say everything and nothing about life and death.
Another exhibition related to Hanoi was Przebłyski (Glimpses) at Foksal Gallery. Lengthy visits to Vietnam over the past two years became the inspiration for Ziółkowski's latest works – a series of paintings made on glass and plexiglass. Their narrative combined cultural clichés with the artist's subjective experience. Terrible deities intertwined with various types of ritual scenes, exotic landscapes, oriental symbols, tigers, and movie-like lovers. The paintings referenced the very experience of travelling, which expands our consciousness but at the same time can be a psychedelic experience through being absorbed by another, exotic identity. This is manifested through the medium itself, which is a reference to spiritual icons. However, Ziółkowski does not recreate any particular religion, instead illustrating his own spiritual journey, drawing on the mythology available to him and connecting cultures.
Similarly to the exhibition at Nha San Studio, Ziółkowski wanted to capture and depict different emotions, sensations and states. In Southeast Asia, painting on glass aims to preserve the work against humidity and high temperatures.
That same year, Ziółkowski's individual exhibition entitled Nasellini opened in the project room of MAN Museum, located in Nuoro, Italy. This is the third exhibition in this series and each one revolved around the eponymous nassellini, which is a peculiar kind of pasta; an imaginary dish inspired by the shape of the nasal cavity that evokes the legend of 'tortellini', which are said to originate from observation of the navel.
This was the artist's first exhibition in Italy, during which he presented a surreal advertising campaign promoting the Nasellini. It included paintings, sculptures and videos which were made during the artist's residence in Sardinia. The artist arranged the exhibition space so that it resembled a traditional Italian trattoria, and his paintings, which were randomly hung on the walls, resembled colourful posters. The videos featured were shot partly on the coast of Sardinia and partly in Nuoro.
The project explored the line between the real and unreal. Ziółkowski used irony to mock the reverence with which pasta is treated in Italy.
At the exhibition Ian Moon (2017) at the Hauser & Wirth Gallery in London, Jakub Julian Ziółkowski once again transferred his conjured, imaginary world onto a canvas. In addition to paintings, the exhibition also presented sculptures and ceramics. All the works were created during the artist's eight-month stay in Hanoi, when Ziółkowski intensively experimented with various forms of expression.
The artist claims that he has recently undergone a personal and a creative transformation that was reflected in the exhibition. The eponymous ‘Ian Moon’ is Ziółkowski's alter-ego, a man from the stars, a citizen of the galaxy. Ian also refers to English ‘I am’ and to the Polish name ‘Jan’ – who was the artist's great-grandfather.
Hallucinated images presented during the exhibition took the viewers on an emotional journey and opened up Ziółkowski’s inner sphere. Flames, skulls, body parts and entrails chaotically tangled together, creating a gateway to his world of feelings, both positive and negative. Various anatomical motifs create complicated configurations; sometimes, as in the case of Mindscape, they are repetitive. In this picture, the amount and concentration of details has reached an obsessive level.
Święte Nic (Holy Nothing, 2018) was another show that featured Ziółkowski’sworks from Vietnam. However the exhibition at the CCA Ujazdowski Castle has been enriched by pieces made in cooperation with the artist Hyon Gyon. Visitors were immediately drawn into a metaphorical space, full of symbolic references to the magical and spiritual ‘transformation’ that Ziółkowski talked about during his exhibition at Hauser & Wirth in London.
The exhibition presented a wide range of three-dimensional installations, sculptures, ceramics, paintings and films. Many of the works presented were created in an artistic studio shared by Hyon Ggyon and Ziółkowski. Gyon's work directly relates to the spiritual sphere, and her works are close to the assumptions of Korean shamanism. Ziółkowski claims that ’she is the greatest artist he has ever met’. The two are married and create a lot of art together; their works balance on the border of insanity and normativity, fiction and reality. Ziółkowski claims that it was Hyon who artistically unlocked him.
We operate very intuitively, not conceptually. We have very similar tastes, we trust each other completely. Collaborative work arises very naturally, we share one state of mind, we do not wonder what's whose. This is a very cleansing process, opening, developing, complementary. The pieces created are an amazing surprise for us, they couldn't be created in any other way.
As I said, for me creativity is a state of mind. This state of mind must be cherished to create a picture. I can't enter the studio just like that and paint from 8am to 4pm as if nothing special is happening. The image must activate itself somewhere within you. This is a very strange condition that can be ruined by the smallest thing. When I go to the studio, I have a plan. It's not a plan for a specific picture, but a state of mind – I just feel that today is the day. However, sometimes the tiniest thing, one small event destroys everything and I lose the energy, I won't do anything that day, the mirror breaks, the door closes, and the key is lost in the maze of intrusive thoughts, completely shapeless and obtrusive.
hauser and wirth
zachęta national gallery of art
younger than jesus
40 000 malarzy
Selected Solo Exhibitions
- 2018 – Holy Nothing (with Hyon Gyon), CCA Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw
- 2017 – Jakub Julian Ziolkowski. Ian Moon, Hauser & Wirth London, London; Das Leben selbst, Neues Museum, Nuremberg; Nasellini, MAN – Museo dArte Provincia di Nuoro, Nuoro, Italy; Przebłyski (Glimpses), Foksal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw; Kosmo, BWA Zamosc Gallery, Zamosc
- 2016 – Sick Of Love, Café Nhà Sàn, Hanoi, Vietnam
- 2014 – BWA, Jakub Julian Ziółkowski, Zielona Góra, Poland
- 2013 – Hauser & Wirth Zurich, Raw Thoughts, Zurich, Switzerland
- 2012 – Hydra Workshop, Hydra 2012, Hydra, Greece; Foksal Gallery Foundation, Jakub Julian Ziółkowski. Skin and Bread‚ Warsaw, Poland
- 2011 – Parasol Unit, Jakub Julian Ziółkowski: In Utero, London, England
- 2010 – 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
- 2009 – Centre d'Art Contemporain, Jakub Julian Ziółkowski, Geneva, Switzerland
- 2008 – Hauser & Wirth Zürich, Zurich, Switzerland
- 2007 – F.A.I.T. Gallery, Demi Volte, Kraków, Poland
- 2006 – Hauser & Wirth London, London, England
- 2005 – Foksal Gallery Foundation, Stuffed knee, limp color, Warsaw, Poland; Galerie Martin Janda, Vienna, Austria
- 2004 – Pod Schodami Gallery, Academy of Fine Arts, Kraków, Poland; Gallery '1', Lublin, Poland; BWA Gallery, Zamość, Poland
Selected Group Exhibitions
- 2019 – Zderzacz Kultur: Sztuka Post Egzotyczna / The Culture Collider: Post-Exotic Art, Manggha Museum of Japanese Art and Technology, Kraków
- 2018 – The Krakow Art Salon, Pałac Sztuki, Kraków
- 2017 – An Uncanny Likeness, Simon Lee, New York
- 2016 – Animality, Marian Goodman Gallery, London; Dlaczego Boimy Się Zachodów Słońca? / Why Are We Afraid of Sunsets?, Gdańsk City Gallery 2, Gdańsk; Krew-Werk, Foksal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw; A Modest Proposal, Hauser & Wirth, New York
- 2015 – Artyści z Krakowa: Generacja 1980–1990 / Artists from Krakow 1980–1990, MOCAK – Museum of Contemporary Art, Kraków; Palindrom, Panstwowa Galeria Sztuki, Sopot, Poland; Ametria, Museum Benaki, Athens; These Are Not My Horses, James Fuentes, New York NY; State of Life, National Art Museum of China, Beijing; Fobofilia, Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin; Operations for the Head: Polish Art Today, Kunsthalle Bratislava, Bratislava
- 2014 – 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
- 2013 – 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
- 2012 – Deste Foundation, Pawel Althamer with Urs Fischer, Jacob Kassay & Jacub Julian Ziółkowski, Athens, Greece
- 2011 – 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
- 2010 – 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
- 2009 – 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
- 2008 – 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
- 2007 – 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
- 2006 – 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
- 2005 – 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, translated, and updated by Ania Micińska, April 2014. Updated by HSz, June 2020.