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The inspirational work of Wilhelm Sasnal

Stuart Bush Studio notes, Wilhelm Sasnal

The inspirational work of Wilhelm Sasnal

In 2005 at the Saatchi gallery, in the County Hall on London’s Southbank l saw Wilhelm Sasnal’s paintings for the first time in ‘The Triumph of Painting’ exhibition. I remember thinking how they hung in the air, waiting, in the moment, as all good paintings do. Their simplicity and subject matter at first gave little away. The swift beautiful and understated paintings appear to made quickly; prompting me to reflect how a poet laureate finds the right words without a hint of deliberation. Up to this point, I had clearly and naively mistaken time applying paint as a significant factor in a successful artwork. I couldn’t put my finger on why I liked them so much. However, they certainly left an impression on me, etched in my memory for the last 15 years.


As I write this piece, I want to hear Wilhelm Sasnal thinking aloud. By putting these thoughts into words, I want to understand the ramifications about what it is that is vital about his work. I want to complete the circle, to acknowledge the valuable lessons I have learnt as I progress with my work.

Stuart Bush Studio Notes, Wilhelm Sasnal

©Wilhelm Sasnal, Anka 2001, oil on canvas, all rights remain with the artist

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Wilhelm Sasnal is interdisciplinary humanist artist, not only his he a painter, he spent several years a filmmaker and is illustrator and photographer. Born in 1972, the polish artist studied painting in 1999 at the Academy of Fine Art in Kraków. When an image resonates with Sasnal, like a photograph of family life, film or television, even when it is mundane, it draws him to paint it. He figures out the meaning of the painting along the way. Wilhelm Sasnal, talking about his work, “I think a lot of things I do are driven by love or hate. I mean with politics there’s a lot of hate I think. Love when I paint my family.” However, whatever the subject they all try to force a reconnection with the world.


On that first look, in 2005, I remember thinking Wilhelm Sasnal had unmistakenly looked out for an image that gives room for the viewer’s eyes space to wander and roam. I have always seen the power of the image as an invaluable artistic skill. It is a key ingredient which I have looked for in many artist work. It is something which I have always wanted to make my own.

Stuart Bush Studio Notes, Wilwelm Sasnal

@Wilhelm Sasnal, Shoah-forest 2003, oil on canvas, all rights remain with the artist

Wilhelm Sasnal’s art

Wilhelm Sasnal represented by Hauser & Wirth

I noticed the strong formal qualities, making his painting uncomplicated and unambiguous and helping the pictures stay forcibly in mind’s eye for years later. But with my lack of knowledge and understanding in 2005, the unfussy fluid temperament of the paintings felt almost too easy to assimilate, like I was missing something significant. The painting’s and the artist’s character disappear into the mists in front of my eyes, as if it was a million miles away. However, there something about the charms of the image keeps drawing me back again and again.


I was entranced with the stripped-down sentimentality of greys, whites and blacks. As a young painter, I didn’t know by taking things out of painting it can increase the intrigue. Nowadays, I know that by leaving space, in a free lyrical way, leaves more space for the viewer’s mind to roam, adding to the appeal. As I looked at his work, I was left thinking about their uncomplicated beauty and their eloquence in the surface.

Stuart Bush Studio Notes, Wilhelm Sasnal

©Wilhelm Sasnal, Gaddafi 3 2011, all rights remain with the artist

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The seemingly banal subject matter reminds me of diary entries. They often relate to the history of Poland or family life. What I didn’t know at that time was that Wilhelm Sasnal’s work was the consequence of many things that happened after Communism and The Second World War. Polish and European history has a massive effect on his reasons to paint. Poland, where Sasnal was born and grew up, was transformed during the years of oppression after the Holocaust. His paintings have a conviction, like a workmanlike approach to painting. He was depicting Poland’s history, of greyness and conformity. All are coming together to inform Sasnal’s perception of the world.


I came to realise that Sasnal gets a feeling of significance and connection in his thin, delicate surfaces from confronting and challenging the current direction of politics in Poland. He genuinely cares about his home country. His paintings are like a form of self-sacrifice. With a specific velocity of gestures and marks, his art discusses and challenges what is hurtful and ruinous to his country. This powerful motive leads the prolific artist to have a hunger, to draw attention to the beauty in the tragedy of life. The rhythm, weight and balance draw tearful attention to the diminished psyche of our present age. While also trying to serve the greater good in the world.

Stuart Bush Studio Notes, Wilhelm Sasnal

©Wilhelm Sasnal Anka 2011 oil on canvas, all rights remain with the artist

The inspirational work of Wilhelm Sasnal

Marlene Dumas: the painter’s life

Another fundamental element I now notice in Sasnal’s work is the subject of memory. It is like an Archimedean point in his work. Sasnal paints deep into his cache, beyond what he could have seen in his lifetime into collective memory. He realised that without a deep connection to echos, you can’t connect to the horizon.


There is always something about the images Wilhelm Sasnal paints that resonates with all us. The light brushwork has a pleasing physical energy. He captures the ‘special something’ that often had previously been recorded by film or photo but unheeded. By painting these images, again and again, he gives the ‘untouched’ a different physicality. Through painting, Sasnal shows the elusive significance of the moment.

Stuart Bush Studio Notes, Wilhelm Sasnal

©Wilhelm Sasnal Factory 2000 Oil on Canvas 101 x 101cm, all rights remain with the artist

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Wilhelm Sasnal’s paintings taught me about the importance of a deep engagement with life. He portrays an unquenchable curiosity with the modern world. Always keeps something back, that is ungraspable. Sasnal singular position makes him stand out as an artist. He has indeed come to terms with who he is and ultimately believes in what he is doing. By showing his strong personal vision and trajectory, it creates a hidden text in his work and a healthy and recognisable individual style. Sasnal highlights his certainty and commitment as an artist, turning his personal truth into a universal truth.

Stuart Bush Studio Notes, Wilhelm Sasnal

©Wilhelm Sasnal, Samoloty 1999, all rights remain with the artist

As an artist, I want to share with you what I have learnt.  I wanted to go deeper.  I wanted to write about why I enjoy painting and why I enjoy looking at paintings.  Please subscribe to join the readers who get a weekly email in their inbox.  As you follow me on my journey as an artist, you will get to experience the world from an artist’s perspective.


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