Wilhem Sasnal is a Polish painter, photographer, and filmmaker who is regarded as one of the most important contemporary artists from Poland. He is renowned for his moody paintings and short films that reflect on everyday life, mass media, and cultural history.Read More
Sasnal was born in Tarnów, Poland. Between 1992 and 1994, he studied architecture at the Kraków Polytechnic. He went on to study painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków from 1994 until 1999.
During his studies, Sasnal formed the Ładnie Group, a collective of artists who created work depicting contemporary, ordinary surroundings.
The Ładnie Group was established as a form of opposition to the traditional painting methods the Academy of Fine Arts was teaching at the time. The group was also formed as a reaction to the capitalist reality Poland began to experience after 1989. The Ładnie artists began creating work that reflected on themes taken from everyday life, specifically from newspapers, television, and magazines.
After graduating from university, Sasnal worked in an advertising agency in Kraków and continued to make paintings, films, and graphic novels in his spare time.
Wilhelm Sasnal's paintings often take inspiration from found images sourced from newspapers, magazines, the Internet, or his personal environment. His painterly style is photorealist and captures moments in contemporary society that will act as an archive of imagery binding the past to the present. While distinct, Wilhelm Sasnal's and Luc Tuyman's paintings are often compared.
Sasnal's use of colour to depict light and his choice of unusual compositions are techniques that are often used in photography and contribute a cinematic quality to his work.
Shoah (A Forest) (2003) is a square painting made from oil on canvas. In this work, Sasnal depicts three figures below vast slathers of green paint and pronounced brush strokes. The painting is both abstract and representational, portraying tiny figures shrouded by an expressionistic landscape.
Sasnal identifies the three figures in Shoah (A Forest) as Claude Lanzmann—director of the Holocaust documentary film Shoah (1985)—Holocaust witness Jan Piwonski, and their interpreter, Barbara Janicka. The painting reflects on the tense atmosphere surrounding interpersonal communication between Lanzmann, Piwonski, and Janicka during the filming of Shoah.
Sasnal's painting attempts to express a past moment of difficult translation that is, perhaps, impossible to put into words. Shoah (A Forest) demonstrates Sasnal's ability to create paintings that simultaneously suppress and reveal fraught emotions and perceptions surrounding history, and specifically the history of the Holocaust.
Swineherd (2008) is a film Sasnal made that is loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen's fable The Swineherd (1842). The film is 85 minutes long, shot in black-and-white, and set in post-war rural Poland. The narrative follows a prince masquerading as a swineherd to win the affections of a princess and is set to a soundtrack that includes music by Elvis.
Sasnal's film is a montage of beautifully shot scenes depicting postmodern histories and a consciousness of the political currents in Poland. The varied imagery and disjointed narrative consider the different influences Sasnal has experienced as a contemporary Polish artist.
Sasnal has been the recipient of several awards and prizes. In 1999, the Bielska Jesień Painting Biannual awarded him the Grand Prix prize. In 2006, Sasnal was awarded first place in Flash Art International's ranking of The World's 100 Best Young Artists. In the same year, he was the recipient of the Vincent Van Gogh Biennial Award for Contemporary Art in Europe.
Sasnal has exhibited in solo and group exhibitions.
Solo exhibitions include Wilhelm Sasnal, The Museum of the History of Polish Jews, Warsaw (2021); ENGINE, Kistefos-Museet, Jevnaker (2018); Take Me To The Other Side, Lismore Castle Arts, Lismore (2014); Wilhelm Sasnal, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London (2011); 16mm Films, Rat Hole Gallery, Tokyo (2010).
Group exhibitions include The New Frontiers of Painting, Fondazione Stellini, Milan (2017); Random Sampling: Painting from the Goetz Collection, Haus der Kunst, Munich (2015); A Boy Grows to Become a Knight. A Discourse on Masculinity in Polish Culture from the End of the 18th Century until Today, National Museum, Krakow (2013); A House of Leaves, The David Roberts Art Foundation, London (2012).
Sasnal's artwork is featured in the permanent collections of major galleries and museums. Selected collections include the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, the Saatchi Gallery in London, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh.
Wilhelm Sasnal's Instagram can be found here.
Phoebe Bradford | Ocula | 2022