Wilhelm Sasnal


Wilhelm Sasnal was born in Tarnów in 1972. He studied painting and architecture in nearby Krakow, and now lives and works in his birthplace again. He has made a name for himself in recent years, particularly with numerous group exhibitions on the theme of contemporary paining, and in the context of a revived interest in realism in painting.
His work has been seen in exhibitions including Urgent Painting, ARC Paris, 2002, Painting on the Move, Kunsthalle Basel, 2002, and as an insert in the collection holdings at MUHKA, Antwerp, 2003. The exhibition in the Kunsthalle Zürich is the Polish artist's first one-man show in any institution. It includes over 60 paintings, works on paper and films from the period 1999 to 2003.

Taking the opportunity to look at a CD archive of Wilhelm Sasnal's work in recent years, you are overwhelmed by the sheer mass and stylistic breadth of his pictures. He has made over 700 paintings since 1999, and at the same time as this, an enormous number of pen and ink drawings, photographs and film. The sheer quantity of his artistic output suggests that the Polish artist cannot be interested in reviving painting as a medium of auratically charged authenticity and the rare original. And stylistically as well, his work has a breadth that transcends periods and media: Pop, photorealism, abstraction, minimalism, gestural painting, works with ruled lines, documentary material, surrealism etc.
Despite all this, he seems to be most interested in the two-dimensional image at present, executed in paint on canvas, and perhaps finds it the most practicable for his artistic production.

Wilhelm Sasnal «paints» from reality, that is from a reality shaped by the omnipresent reality of images as conveyed by the media and by the continuum of reality - fiction - image that this causes to be present.

He uses the compositional patterns of these pictures that shape our perception of reality, and thus first generate our reality: pictures of press reports on disasters, like photographs of the Boeing exploding over Lockerbie, car crashes, aeroplanes bursting into flames on take-off, atomic bombs exploding, but also sports reports; he moves along the layouts of specific magazine types or books on particular subjects: hunting magazines, books about the moon landing or UFOs, books on the flora and fauna of Poland or the animal world in general - monkeys, colour, fungi, parasites… His own photographs, like portraits of friends or pictures of everyday objects, the consumer world or pornography find their way into his work as much as works by the photographer Rodchenko or art catalogues, like for example the cover of an Alex Katz catalogue, landscape from catalogues of the Land Artist Robert Smithson, Smithson himself or Beuys in Poland. But also politicians, writers and their work, directors and their films, musicians from well-known groups and their album covers become his pictures: Sonic Youth, Stereolab, The Clash, Einstürzende Neubauten, the films Shoah, Duel and much else. Current political themes, like the reappraisal of the treatment of Poland Jewish population during the Second World War, which has a markedly anti-Semitic feel to it, Sasnal addresses in an analysis of Art Spiegelman's comic books, and his own biographical sphere might perhaps be approached through pictures of churches and book covers from Polish publications in the 60s and 70s. Wilhelm Sasnal paints these «things» as he comes across them. His paintings look like the enlarged black-and-white graphics of a comic drawing or like photo-realistic translation of a photograph into the medium of painting, painted meticulously, and in a masterly fashion. But he can also operate with pop-like form and colour compositions, evoke sentimentally atmospheric colour mood, use gesturally emotionalised paint application for abstract purposes or cite details from pictures, or cropping as characteristics of a view of images that is already abstracted in compositional terms.

Sasnal's images register reality across the board, from the fridge at home to the atomic threat. They are complex appropriations, both physically and psychologically. The source, and thus the primary media and culture images, are present, without guaranteeing unambiguous and uniform access to the pictorial content of his paintings, which is broken, exposed, held back and released as something to the defined anew. The familiar language of media and art-historical building material that we meet in Wilhelm Sasnal's images refuses familiar interpretations and creates a space for disturbance that that can sometimes make the paintings seem threatening.

His pictures are objects that have got rid of formally varied, multiply overlapping planes of interpretation of media-conveyed reality, which is addressed and criticized with equal diversity. They refuse both the known aspect of the images themselves and the known aspect of an apparently objectified and critical set of systems for approaching them.
They set an apparently «more apolitical» but therefore all the more direct subjective interrogation against the media criticism we use to confront all images, which has become a commonplace and thus somewhat thin as an instrument for critical analysis. Sasnal's picture production sets itself apart from painting's relationship with photography, which art history has made into a problem, to as great an extent as it has distanced itself from critical discourse about the world being open to media manipulation: Wilhelm Sasnal has «based» his perceptions on the media surface of our world, in no hierarchy to the terms of the apparently more real elements of our own reality. Criticism and meaning are generated in his pictures precisely through the equally weighted approach of a subject to all planes of our reality.

In his pictures, what we find above all is seeing as active reality production - both the artist's seeing and seeing in the experience of the images themselves. They offer a presence of reality, and thus perhaps make this available as reality again.

The Kunsthalle thanks: Präsidialdepartement der Stadt Zürich, Pro Helvetia Krakow