Olaf Brzeski - master of sculpting

Wojciech Pacewicz

One of the most original sculptors of Poland’s young generation, Brzeski creates disturbing worlds through sculptural pieces.

Many of Brzeski’s ideas are rooted in childhood fears, frightening fairy tales and mythologies, he brings those ideas into the grown-up world by inventing his own narratives and producing artworks which relate to the stories he creates. The resulting works encompass psychologically sinister,  surreal and fantastical worlds presented as sculptural pieces, installations or in film form.

Brzeski’s breakthrough came after winning a competition for a public sculpture in his home town of Wrocław (western Poland). Celebrating the Orange Alternative, a political, anti-communist art collective functioning during the period of martial law in Poland (1981-83), his sculpture, Papa Gnome (2001), was of a gnome standing  on a human thumb. Gnomes were a recurring symbol in Orange Alternative artistic activities, often appearing as stencil art pieces around the city - the ‘small men’ who will topple communist rule.

The exhibition, Only for Animals (2004), featured sculptures of characters recalled from childhood. Cartoon heroes, turned into creepy ceramic figures.  Snoopy (2004), changes from a lovable and funny looking comic-strip dog into a deformed, grinning porcelain monster. The figurine may well be a ‘bad dream’ take on a childhood favourite, yet he is still easily identifiable as Snoopy.

His next show  Only for People (2006), featured the  film, In Memory of Major Józef Moneta and All True Teachers. The ‘action’ of the film takes place in a surreal partisan camp during the winter of 1939, in an environment of strange latex objects and sculptures. The leader of the partisan group is a character named Krokodylak, dressed in the garb of a Polish officer, he has a monstrous green face with a crocodile snout, crooked teeth and leering eyes -  “a character to frighten children with”.

‘Self-portrait as Pinocchio’, Olaf Brzeski, 2012. From the exhibition ‘Czułe spojrzenie’ (Affectionate Look). Labirynt Gallery, Lublin, 2015.

Brzeski has spoken about the influence of American superheroes during his childhood, in the character of Krokodylak he wanted to create a form of Polish superhero, while also playing with the concept of Polish national heroes and the deep-rooted identity with the past– the hero as WWII partisan. He gives him a terrifying look which implies the ability to undertake evil acts and a being not to be trusted, yet whose ability to do good  makes him a somewhat contradictory and shamanic figure. His strength in defeating Poland’s  foes  lie in his mixed nature.

Later exhibitions regularly featured ceramic works on plinths, they make reference to classical art but in his hands the objects on plinths become ugly and distorted forms, which  look like they have been melted by immense heat or deformed by some horrific disease. Hunter’s Fiancé (2006) retains a human face, yet the growth engulfing the polished ceramic face, red spray paint and slivers of broken ceramic around the plinth imply that not only has the work been ravaged by a nature, but also interfered with by a human hand.

Brzeski has often highlighted his interest in acts of vandalism and destruction, incorporating a most anti-art practice into the gallery space. In 2009 he exhibited an installation piece entitled A Crash on the Museum Stairs (2009) at Warsaw’s Zachęta Gallery. The work comprised of a huge, smashed museum vitrine jammed into a space at the bottom of the elegant, marble staircase. The cabinet looked as if it had been hurled down the flight of stairs by intruders to the gallery.

Brzeski studied at the Wroclaw Academy of Fine Art from 1995-2000. He continues to live and work in the city. In 2009 he was nominated for the Deutsche Bank Foundation Award. His work is regularly exhibited in Poland and abroad.