The Kings of Heavy Metal: Pruszków Scrapyard Leads The Way In Recycled Sculpture
When challenged to think of Pruszków there are those that would recall its role in the brief but brutal mafia wars of the 90s, and yet others who would recognize the local football club as the starting platform in Robert Lewandowski’s glittering career.
More recently, however, this satellite town of Warsaw has courted outside attention for reasons more bizarre: as the birthplace of the Gallery of Steel Figures, an innovative artistic concept that has seen bits of scrap metal repurposed to form intricate sculptures that are stunning in complexity.
Initiated by Mariusz ‘Jose’ Olejnik in 2011, the project came into being as a result of a crisis in the scrap market. Looking for alternative ways to utilize the mountains of metal that had accumulated in his scrapyard, Olejnik set about commissioning a team of craftsmen to transform chunks of cast-off metal into elaborate works of art – kicking it all off, first came a glass-top coffee table made from a V8 engine block.
The beginnings were modest, but the venture gained traction. Over the next five years, Olejnik expanded his stable of artists from five to 120, and in 2016 the fruits of their labour were revealed to the public via the Gallery of Steel Figures at Olejnik’s Pruszków HQ.
Regarded as the first such project in the world, its success was resounding; in fact, such was the appetite for the strangely beautiful creations on show that similar galleries were rolled out in Warsaw, Kraków, Gliwice and Prague.
As things stand, negotiations are ongoing to add Wrocław and Amsterdam to their list of locations.
“Mariusz is not an artist himself,” Agata Malek of the GSF tells TFN, “but he is a big dreamer – and his dreams tend to come true.”
Even so, Agata, who has been involved with the GSF since the early years, admits that the entire team have been awed by the unexpected success of what originally seemed a crazy idea. “Never did we imagine,” she concedes, “that this would ever become quite so big.”
Despite that, the appeal of the exhibition is not difficult to fathom. Presenting supercars, pop stars and film figures – all made from shiny chunks of junk – the collection is extraordinary in its captivating allure and attention to detail.
Totalling approximately 450 items dispersed over the GSF’s five addresses, visitors are greeted by a fantastical range of objects that range from Transformers and Ninja Turtles to pimped-up vehicles and the De Lorean time machine from Back To The Future.
Taking as much as 1,200 man hours to produce, and weighing anything up to 1.2 tons, these sculptures are nothing if not a ravishing tribute to the skills of the craftsmen.
“These aren’t people who have qualified from academies of fine art,” says Agata, “instead, our international teams are usually composed of people who have been working with metal since practically childhood.
“They don’t care about having their names attached to their work, but you’re talking about extremely smart people – not only are they intuitive when it comes to working out what bits and pieces will work together, they’re also incredibly creative – we have no problem giving them 100% freedom when it comes to their work.”
Made from salvaged gearboxes, brake pads, chains, nuts, bolts and assorted mechanical bits and bobs, the exhibits are highly elaborate affairs that eschew molds and machines, relying instead on the basics of the trade: a welder, burner, hammer and cutter.
“Once we give them a design,” says Agata, “it’s normal for our teams to spend a month planning its creation. They’ll have to source the parts, work out how to fit them together, and decide in which order to approach the assembly process.” In all, the more complicated displays have the potential to take eight months to build. “Only once,” says Agata, “did an item fail to meet our expectations.”
As an avid sports car enthusiast, it was Mariusz that first suggested that the GSF include automobiles in its repertoire.
“None of us were entirely sure they would be executed to the standard we wanted,” says Agata, “but when the first one was delivered we were totally overwhelmed.”
From that point on, cars became a mainstay of the gallery with around 50 added to the inventory. Popular not just with the team, they’ve become a star attraction with visitors encouraged to climb inside the vehicles and live out childhood fantasies of sitting in a flashy Ferrari or a souped-up Merc.
A wonderland in which Madame Tussauds meets sci-fi aesthetics, it is perhaps this ability to build a bridge leading to fantastical worlds that has been the GSF’s greatest triumph.
“What we wanted,” says Agata, “was to allow people to dream a little – for them to remember this place as something rather special.”
The GSF is exactly that. A pioneering force in recycled art, it’s the face of the future made from bits of the past. Forgetting it, that’s impossible.
Gallery of Steel Figures
Przejazdowa 17 (Pruszków), Pl. Defilad 1, Palace of Culture (Warsaw), Pl. Nowaka-Jeziorańskiego 3 (Kraków), ul. Pszczyńska 315 (Gliwice)