The big picture, quite literally! Warsaw artist transforms city look with gorgeous huge murals
It is a city set on wheels.
A city where long lost tenements rub shoulders against established skyscrapers, and where people float from the sky with umbrellas in their hands. As they do so, they pass giant, outsized dice and cheering citizens perched up on rooftops. Vibrant and dreamlike, this is the Warsaw of Tytus Brzozowski.
Already widely celebrated for his surreal watercolours of Polish cities, the acclaimed artist has seen his work given the XXL treatment with the unveiling of a stunning 18-metre tall mural running along the side of a building housing the capital’s Municipal Roads Authority.
“I wanted to reflect the fast, dynamic nature of Warsaw,” says Brzozowski, “as well as showing a city that’s fun and full of people. The wheels, meanwhile, are symbolic of the capital’s mobility, whilst the choice of buildings show the different layers of Warsaw’s architecture.”
Stacked on top of each other to form a rich architectural timeline, Brzozowski’s Warsaw begins with the kind of buildings that typify the Old Town before topping out with the Palace of Culture and the Elektrim and Marriott towers. Sandwiched in between, several landmarks specific to the mural’s location on Chmielna, among them buildings that were permanently lost as a result of the war.
Thwarted by the weather, the mural was the result of several weeks of labour and could yet see more dazzling additions. “Ultimately,” adds Brzozowski, “we hope to add a neon outline around the wheels so that it works differently at night.”
Though primarily known for his smaller-format paintings, this is not, however, the first time Brzozowski has thrilled the public with supersized art. Preceding the latest mural on Chmielna 120 have been four others: one commissioned by the Novotel Poznań for their lobby area; another inside Warsaw’s CEDET; and two outdoor murals – the first, a striking 35-metre work covering The Spark office development in the capital, and the other across town, commissioned by local government to celebrate last year’s centenary of Polish independence.
“Working on murals is incredibly satisfying and it’s great to have such an impact on a city, but there’s also a great responsibility that comes attached to them,” says Brzozowski. “They effect the whole neighbourhood so you have to think about the people that live directly in the area. That’s why I try and make mine relevant to local residents by including historical elements that are special to that area – I want to bring something to the people that has an interesting value.”
For his Independence Day mural that meant intertwining scenes related to Polish freedom with elements connected to the Praga Południe district: for instance, a No. 24 tram as a nod to the first tram to run all the way up to the eastern suburb of Gocławek. Similarly, with The Spark, Brzozowski introduced the vintage advertising signs that once clung to the buildings that stood in the area before.
“I want to show the changes that Warsaw has undergone and how the city has developed because of its difficult 20th century history,” he continues. “That process of change continues to this day, and by involving the lost elements with the modern day you have a mixture that’s both strange and unique.”
Having first scoped out an area to understand how a mural might appear when viewed from different angles (“The technical aspects differ from a watercolour,” he says, “you need to be aware of how buildings or trees can effect sightlines and think of all of these other extra aspects”), Brzozwski’s murals begin with a conceptual sketch before being finalized on a canvas of 100 by 40 centimetres. “It needs to be big enough to feature all the little details I want to include,” he explains. From there, a team of artists enter the fray with the remit of transferring whatever is on the canvas to the walls of the city.
“The first time there were a few teething problems,” admits Brzozowski, “but as a team you learn together. The artists I cooperate with are highly skilled professionals, and as a former architect I’m very much used to seeing other people implementing an idea of mine. And, of course, I’m always on-hand to make small adjustments if and when they’re needed.”
Painting watercolours remains this artist’s bread and butter, and an ongoing collaboration with the country’s tourist board has opened several new doors – as a case in point, an exhibition in China is forthcoming as part of events to honour 70-years of Polish-Chinese diplomatic ties. Even so, Brzozowski’s extension into the field of murals has seen the blossoming of a symbiotic relationship between concrete and canvas.
“The murals aren’t the main subject of my profession,” he says, “but they do work together with my other art. The more recognized I become as a painter, the more people want a mural by me. And on the other side, the more murals I produce, then the stronger my artistic trademark becomes.”
It’s a development that has delighted the artist, not least due to his own self-professed love of this form of expression. “Street art and murals can have a huge value,” he says. “They can celebrate events, people or a district’s heritage, become a tourist attraction or a symbol of the neighbourhood. They can bring together communities or reflect the soul of a city.” Through his work, Brzozowski has done all of the above.