Artist brings Modlin fortress back to life with stunning murals depicting the past
An artist whose work went viral last year after he transferred the urban concept of street art to the Polish countryside is back in the news after revealing the fruits of his latest endeavour at the historic Modlin Fortress.
Drawing his inspiration from the patriotic film Pan Tadeusz, Arkadiusz Andrejkow used stills from Ryszard Ordyński’s 1928 movie as the basis of his latest project.
Commissioned by the property’s owner, it took the artist three days to complete the undertaking – considerably longer than the time usually spent on his previous murals.
“The main difference this time around was that I was painting on brick and crumbling plaster rather than old wooden surfaces,” he tells TFN. “Nonetheless, the material really suited my work as I love using imperfect surfaces that have been weathered by time.”
Eventually, the area decorated by Andrejkow will form part of Taras Bonaparte, a street food-style outlet and another step intended to mark Modlin’s gradual revival.
Situated fifty kilometres north of Warsaw on the banks of the River Narew, work on the fortification was initiated in 1807 on the behest of Napoleon who envisioned it becoming one of the principal bulwarks supporting his campaign against Russia – when his forces were vanquished in the East, Modlin was the last such fortress on this line to surrender.
It’s strategic importance was not lost on the Russians, and with this rump of Poland back in Tsarist hands it was rapidly expanded and rechristened Novogeorgievsk. Seen as an overt symbol of Russian dominance over Poland, when German troops later flooded east in WWI, orders were issued to hold out so that it could become an island of resistance.
It was a misguided hope completely at odds with reality, and when it fell in 1915 its capitulation enabled German forces to capture 1,600 pieces of artillery and over a million shells.
Modernized by the Polish military in the inter-war years, the 1939 Battle of Modlin was closely inter-linked with the Siege of Warsaw and as such it was fiercely defended by up to 40,000 men. When the capital surrendered towards the end of September, Modlin followed suit the very next day.
Thereafter its fate has been mixed: for decades used as a military site, in recent years major investments have been touted to transform it into a mixed-use hub incorporating world class conference facilities, apartments and leisure and retail opportunities.
However, these have repeatedly stalled and its buildings allowed to fall into decline. Instead, it has become best-known as a film set ‘for hire’ used in such Polish blockbusters as Miasto ’44 and 1920 Bitwa Warszawska.
For Andrejkow, though, Modlin has marked a welcome return to work. “I lost a lot of clients because of the pandemic situation,” he says. “With most of my work taking place outdoors, winter is usually quiet for me and I always look forward to spring to resume work in earnest – but this year, of course, everything came crashing to a halt.”
The artist though is not downhearted and currently finds himself in the running to win a poll conducted by Polskie Radio to find an everyday hero for 2020.
Principally, the nomination is entirely related to Cichy Memorial, a personally funded project that has seen his paint a string of rustic barns and cabins in Poland’s south east with detailed images of the families and people that formerly lived and work inside them.
Providing a sensitive glimpse into the region’s past, Andrejkow’s magnum opus is an emotive tribute to rural Poland that recasts village residents as the heroes of his story. “They’re all just ordinary people,” he says, “but they worked tremendously hard and were the lifeblood and identity of their micro community.”
Utterly captivating, what began as a side project gained traction after being enthusiastically shared on social media.
“It just keeps growing and the attention it’s received gets louder and lounder,” he says.
Already, ten more barns have been painted this year by Andrejkow and the interest has been such that both a calendar, postcard series and a map detailing the locations of his work have also been published. A photo album is now under consideration.
“I never dreamed this would get such a positive reaction from either the public or the media,” he says, “and it’s not just people from Poland that are visiting my paintings, but even people from abroad.”