Salon91 is a Cape Town-based gallery and art consultation service, showcasing works by emerging and established contemporary artists of all disciplines. Rather than showcasing a variety of artists at this year’s FNB JoburgArtFair, Salon91 have instead opted to showcase the work of Andrzej Urbanski, who believes all creative work begins in the abstract.
Andrzej Urbanski, A08 120/81/16, 2016. Spray paint on canvas. 190 x 180 cm. Framed. Photo: Bryan Viljoen. Image courtesy of the artist and Salon91, Cape Town.
You were born in Poznan in 1983, and have lived and worked in both Berlin and Cape Town. How did you begin your career as an artist?
My art career formally began with an undergraduate programme in Communication Design in my home city of Berlin, followed by a Masters degree in Fine Art from the University of Design and Art ECAL in Lausanne, Switzerland. The period after graduation was a very difficult time for me as the German culture puts great emphasis on a ‘real’ nine-to-five job, but I held onto my one persistent dream — to become a full time artist and to live as such. This only really began for me when I relocated to Cape Town and I shall be forever grateful to South Africa for allowing me to realise my dream.
How do advertising, architecture and the built environment influence your work?
I was an active graffiti artist during my teen years and of course [advertising, architecture and the built environment] are critical to that art form – you may say they form one of the fundamental pillars of my art. Growing up in Berlin in the 90s I was moving through a rapidly changing urban landscape. The experimental architecture and the impact of Western-style advertising dramatically altered the city space, and it was through this ever changing environment that I began to observe the world from a “hard-edged” perspective.
These three elements continue to inspire me and are a major source influencing the style of and movement within my paintings.
Andrzej Urbanski in studio. Photo: Stan Kaplan photography. Image courtesy of the artist and Salon91, Cape Town.
To what extent do you agree with Wilhelm Worringer’s assertion that abstract art is not a withdrawal from the world but a direct engagement with it?
Worringer’s assertion is, in my opinion, an observation that the first expression of an artist’s creative volition is formed in the abstract. My involvement with abstract art is an urgent, primordial need through which I engage with my world. Therefore I agree with his assertion and view my work as a reflection of the reality, albeit in an abstract form, of our multi-dimensional world.
Your work begins on a digital level, and is then translated by hand, questioning the aesthetics of the machine. What do you think is lost or gained in the process?
As I mentioned, I believe all creative work begins in the abstract. Nonetheless, the digital revolution continues to have an enormous impact on everything we do, and more importantly on how we think and engage with one another. This, it seems to me, poses a challenge to the contemporary artist – how do we embrace this revolution in a positive way, to both use and reflect its power? My utilisation of the digital format in the initial stage is a conscious response to this challenge and one which I attempt to express in the final artwork. As every element of the painting is chosen and executed by me, I believe nothing of any aesthetic significance is lost in the process. On the contrary, the gain in mind expansion is substantial.
Andrzej Urbanski, B07 5-1-15, 2016. Aluminium, 145 x 55 x 110 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and Salon91.
Please tell us about the work that you produced for the FNB JoburgArtFair?
This series is a new body of work, consisting of aluminium sculptures and large scale paintings. With respect to the latter, I work in different types of frequencies, from low to high, and the paintings for the fair are from the high frequency mode. The sculptures are in monotone as their emphasis is on a multi-dimensional structure; nevertheless they conform to a similar aesthetic as the paintings. I have now lived in Cape Town for three years. It has a very different urban environment to Berlin. As a result, there is a more sensual mood in the new works.