Polish-born, Belgian-based artist Marcin Owczarek tells us why the stridently radical socio-political statements espoused by 20th-century Surrealism is such a major influence on his work. Drawing on his training in both photography and anthropology, Owczarek creates macabre, darkly humorous collages that reference both human virtues and imperfections.
What is it about Surrealism that attracts you most? Are there any particular artists working within the tradition that inspire your work?
I admire Surrealism because I'm struck by its treatment of war, consumption, colonialist interests and intellectual conformity. George Grosz defined Dadaism as a manifestation "against this world of mutual destruction." Through my photography, I describe the destruction of the human race and this planet in the 21 century. Moreover, I think that the nihilistic spirit of Surrealism encapsulates the state of my mind and the way I perceive this world.
With reference to the specific artists who have inspired me, I would say that my number one person is Hieronymus Bosch, whom I consider the father of all Surrealists. Apart from Bosch, I admire the works of Antonin Artaud, Alfred Kubin, Giorgio de Chirico, Leonora Carrington, Max Ernst and Odilon Redon.
2. Skulls, statues and animal heads are amongst some of the most commonly featured imagery in your work. Could you explain why this is so?
I use all the mentioned elements for many reasons, and I take into account their historical, metaphorical and symbolic connotations. Symbols might be interpreted on many different levels, and get stronger with the passage of time. For instance, the central image in my work 'The Keeper of the City Key' is that of a library. In symbolic language, we can interpret the library as a source of knowledge, mystery and might. The library is also closely related to the idea of the labyrinth, which might explain why my work features so many complex visual patterns.
Animals heads also represent human values and qualities. For example, we might regard the visual representation of a bird as a metaphor for a soul trapped in a mortal, human body. Likewise, pigs are closely associated with greed. In my opinion, if you want to reveal and describe the present world you live in, you need to combine the past with the present era, and use symbols to anticipate the future. That is why I employ all these elements in my collages. I want to keep my art always ‘up to date’ even in the centuries to come.
3. Tell us about your background.
I come from Poland and was born in the city of Wrocław in 1985. I came to realise my love for art at the age of seventeen when I created my first paper-collage. At the age of twenty, I began to study photography at The College of Photography in Wroclaw, from which I graduated in 2008 with the final series in my coursework entitled 'Brave New World'. Afterwards, I studied anthropology, which gave me knowledge of other cultures and their mythologies, beliefs, rituals, and artistic traditions. Since 2011, I have focused mainly on digital photography and mixed techniques. So my style has actually evolved a lot. I left Poland few years ago and now I live and work in Belgium.
4. What kinds of materials do you use in your work and what is your technical process like?
Firstly, I make a sketch of the potential artwork I want to create. Then I use my computer to flesh out the sketch. The final step is to create the collage. This takes a lot of time and hard work because I pay a lot of attention to the details. I usually work 12-14 hours per day to create one artwork. In summary: in order for me to be constantly inspired, I need to travel and be on the road all the time.
Marcin Owczarek’s solo exhibition is on at Art 14 Gallery in Brugge until 3 November.
Images courtesy of the artist.