I am now living in Poland and when, last year, I was writing an article about Wilhelm Sasnal while I was sipping a white coffee in a warm coffee shop in London’s East End, surrounded by the so-called hipsters and graffiti by Banksy, I could not have guessed I would have now been re-posting this article while sitting in my apartment on a soft black couch and looking outside the window and seeing the old city of Gdansk filled up with flakes of snow falling like white chocolate pralines. Well, life is unpredictable and I’m happy it is this way.
As a way to pay tribute to destiny bringing me to Poland, I would like to re-propose an article I wrote in Autumn 2011 about Wilhelm Sasnal, a great Polish modern artist. The article was originally published for The Beaver, the London School of Economics Student Newspaper when I was Visual Arts Editor for the paper.
Wilhelm Sasnal, a Polish artist whose artworks challenge our notion of mass media and globalized information. With the sprout of new technologies speeding up the transfer of information from one news agency to another, people, listeners and viewers of his artworks are often left to float in a state of near confusion.
Agathe Kanziga Habyarimana’s portrait is one of Sasnal’s paintings which pre-eminently allows the viewer to ponder on what truth can be assuaged from an image without context. While at first this painting simply portrays a beautiful woman, her expressions relaxed, after reading the caption we suddenly step back and realize we are looking into the eyes of one of someone involved in the genocide in Rwanda. All of a sudden our perception of this once beautiful woman changes and the viewer can come to realize how misguiding an image or a story can be if it is not put into context.
There is often an element of struggle in Sasnal’s works, a struggle to capture the true nature of an image printed too many times on the same mass media. As the artist himself said, “painting is not just a game, not something you do just for fun; it comes with a responsibility that I take very seriously”, the political awareness of his paintings demonstrate his responsibility towards the art.
The most fascinating feature of his work is the presence of a ‘hidden story’, an element or even just a sensation within the artwork which invokes memories, feelings and warmth. As the viewer is not always told where in the painting this ‘hidden story’ lies and the reasoning behind it, his artworks leave ample space for the imagination – for us to find our own ‘hidden stories’ within each of Sasnal’s paintings.
One of his most beautiful paintings is Kacper. Beautiful not because of a very well-defined painting technique, but because of the ‘hidden story’ within it. Gazing into the sun and the warmth of midday, the smell of sea breeze and the light touch of the wind, the softness of the grass under our feet and the beauty of life. All of these feelings are evoked into us when gazing at this painting.
What Kacper seems to be telling us is that art is really not the painting technique itself, rather it is what an artist can make the viewer feel through his painting. Its most intriguing feature is in fact Sasnal’s ability to capture ‘the moment’ as if he just shot a photograph of that fraction of a second, capturing the sunlight at that precise angle.
Even though Sasnal, born in 1972, is still very young, his artistic mastery has already defined him as one of the most interesting artists living today. His different painting styles often blend together, trying to express different feelings. Within his work there is a hint of Romanticism fusing with Realism and Pop with Abstraction; his skillful painting techniques not only demonstrate knowledge of the arts, but also assist him in using different mediums to explore different themes.
While his most recent works concentrate on painting photographic images or images presented by the mass media, pop-inspired works are characterizing much of his early career, often reflecting the troubled past and sufferings of Poland.