The following article was published in N-SPHERE May 2012 issue.


:: Hello, Mateusz, and welcome to the Spheres. To get us started, we are curious about your work and background. When did you begin painting and drawing?

Well, one of my early memories (of which I don’t have many) is sitting at a table at my grandmother’s place in Vienna, where we were staying while my parents were sorting out emigration from Poland to Canada. My grandmother asked if I would draw my favourite thing. I proceeded to render a large, rather bubbly, but nonetheless, formidable Panzer tank, complete with an armed and helmeted General protruding from the fox hole at the top. This was around my 5th year of existence, so I guess I have always had a pencil in my hand.

:: What are you working at the moment?

Right now is a busy time, which I do prefer. For 6 months I have been painting a new body of work, that I’m quite excited about. It’s oil on canvas and the pieces are the largest that I have been able to work on since moving to London. The detail levels I’m working to are pushing a new standard for me (on canvas), which makes me quite excited to see where these pieces will end up. Over the past half year, beyond painting, I have had several illustrations published by a London based Magazine called Stalking Elk (, and I have collaborated (created various animations and video projections) on a performance piece called The Body, which ran for two weeks at the ICA. I’ve also taken up a new direction on the commercial side of things, namely traditional sign writing, which has been gaining momentum for about a year and a half.

:: What tools of trade do you employ?

I’ve been quite a dabbler over the years, I tend to explore any mediums that are available to me, but I certainly do have my staples. First and foremost would have to be pencil and sketchbook; I’m never without these trusted tools. Oil paint has become my medium of choice for canvas work, although I have been using a lot of watercolour to work out ideas lately. I do most of my illustration with Staedtler pigment liners, or Pigma Microns. When sign writing I use One Shot enamels, and I have to mention the Mack »Virus« line of brushes, truly superb professional tools that respond beautifully to my every move. I will say also that I do employ a computer in many aspects of working (mostly on commercial projects), but in recent times I try to keep the infernal machine to minimal usage.

:: You seem to cover a lot of areas and not restrain yourself solely to illustration. Is it important to blend territories?

I think it’s one of the most important aspects of developing new work. It’s a similar process to evolution, as mediums, techniques and territories merge and in a sense battle for domination, the most useful elements of each rise to the top and combine in new and unexpected ways.

:: How and why did you start working with video?

I started working with video in the late 1980′s. At the time I had two vcrs, a 386 mghz pc with an incredibly primitive video capture card, and a korg poly six synthesiser. Around that time I came across a tape of video edits created by Dwayne Goettel, the keyboardist of Skinny Puppy. The tape was of edits created to play on tv screens during live shows, and was a pandemonium of video and sound from a myriad of sources. I loved what I saw, and the sense of disjointedness and intensity I was left with after watching, so I started trying my hand at the medium. From that point moving image work has always been a branch of my practice.

:: Which would you consider to be your most important project so far?

This is a hard question to answer, perhaps I will treat the word project more in terms of »category of work«. I think the best thing to say is that my ultimate destination is painting. When I paint freely, I’m at my most honest, and direct. The only filters are mine, the connection to the work is organic and visceral. When working with clients on design, illustrating with guidelines, or even working on my own animation, the work is never truly mine, as it is processed through client needs, hardware limitations, or timelines.

Painting, is for me, the sublime moment.

:: You also dedicate yourself to graphic design. Does painting help you in your typographical work?

For many years my mentality towards the two disciplines was very separate. I did not see too many ways to connect the two fields beyond the general principles of image making. However, in recent times the connection between these two sides of my practice are finding an ideal arena in which to merge and truly combine to a new functionality. The arena is sign writing, which I started exploring around 2010 while working with Shunt. Since starting the sign work, I have come to understand a whole new depth of typography through the practice of hand lettering with a brush, and as such, painting is now a major influence to how I approach design, and typography.

:: Your works plumb the depths of the City, revealing a dystopic atmosphere. Do you use the urban space as a main source of inspiration?

Well, the urban space is what I know, it sets the context of my experience, but I’m not sure if it is, distinctly, the inspiration. I’ve always seen the inspiration to paint as a more visceral protagonist, it’s the sensation of disconnecting from my surroundings that keeps me coming back to the canvas. As I paint I tend to let go of expectations and thoughts of anything specific and the work starts to reveal itself only when I stop looking for what may be there.

The underlying themes of my work certainly carry a sense of dystopia. I view the systems and institutions we inherit generation after generation with a great foreboding and melancholia, as sources of great strife to the pursuit of wholesome, unencumbered, self- regulated existence. Around the age of 14-15, I was greatly taken by A.Huxley’s Brave New World, O.Wells 1984, and several of Carlos Castenada’s Yaqui Way of Knowledge series. I had always felt a sense of uneasiness towards institutional systems, but it was these words that really helped me to formulate a foundation of reasoning on the subjects of personal freedom, state intrusion, and power hierarchies.

In formal terms I would say that geometry is the foundation of most of my painted works. Each piece starts with a dissemination of shape and/or pattern, often leaning towards ideas of sacred geometries, occult chart systems, or simple symmetry. From there the process is one of ambiguity, working with flow, rhythm, form, until I’m looking at something that I can no longer deny has emerged. This process repeats itself many times per canvas, until (hopefully) I’ve pulled the whole of the narrative through, at which point I detail, finalise, frame, and move on.

:: Some of your illustrations step out of the frame and extend on walls, buildings, glass. Do you regard your work as symbolic mediation between you and the urban space?

Well, if by mediation, you mean therapy, then YES, ABSOLUTELY! (loud laughter). My relation to the urban space is quite romantic (and stressed) when it comes to showing work. When I see one of my pieces invading an unsuspecting public in a common setting, or in a gallery, a multitude of emotions is conjured, »I am the propagandist«, »I am naked on stage in front of the whole school«, etc. It’s exciting, but also very uncomfortable.

I also commune with the city during the process of creating work, which is a very different experience for me. I’ve spent countless hours on coffee shop, and pub patios sketching and people watching, where the flow of traffic becomes as soothing as the flow of a river. I’ve worked on transforming locations for film sets, painted signs on buildings for days on end, and whenever I find myself out there in the world just doing what I do, the process, I feel at ease.

:: How is it living in London for a visual artist?

Absolutely Insane! Absolutely Impossible! Absolutely Worth It. (plus you can have a half pint of Guinness for about £1.60 under Francis Bacon‘s portrait at the place he used to hang out!)

:: Do you feel more connected to your hometown in Poland?

When I came back to Europe in 2005 (my family left for Canada in 1981, and I had not been back since), I spent a month living in Poland. As I first walked out on to the streets of Bytom in November, I was left in a strange awe. Before me in every direction were shapes and colours that I had been painting for as long as I can remember: washed out beiges and blues, gritty grey, splintered panels, certain pitches in the roof angles… It was a moment of unexpected discovery that gently shook me to my very core. The next 3 years I basically stopped painting. I worked in sketchbooks, and did design jobs, but painting simply ceased. Once my impetus to paint returned, I found myself floundering as my relation to the process had profoundly changed. It was an experience I would liken to being in an accident, and having to go through physical therapy to regain the ability to walk. My connection to Poland is somewhat ambiguous now, but having been, certainly had its impact.

:: Is it easy to meet people in the visual arts area in the cultural turmoil from London?

Meeting people in London is a strange endeavour. I am very fortunate to have worked with Shunt under London Bridge. Each week the massive railway arch network was curated anew with artists, performers, musicians, and film makers from all over Europe and beyond. I was there for about three years and got a very interesting view of London and European culture. As with becoming involved with Shunt, almost every meeting of like- mindedness has been a most random experience. I will say there seems to be a larger statistical likelihood of coming across interesting people in a place filled with 8 million possibles!

:: In one of your illustrations from dA BEAtEN series you write: »We all find our little bit of loneliness, if we search long enough«. How would would you describe isolation in relation to your work?

Isolation is a state so very deep and filled with treasures and pitfalls. It’s the landscape of the self where you confront your personal demons, angels, shamans, and dictators in that blinding reality of your deepest and ultimately vulnerable primordial essence. It is the sublime state, the nirvana, the Hades, in which pure truth and pure being simply exist. It is the comfort zone from whence my painting work flows most freely.

:: Do you think that, paradoxically, while we are gradually connected through technology and motion, we become more isolated somehow?

I do think there is a dichotomy between the original aims and the observable outcomes of technology and travel. The original intent of technological connection has turned to an observable impact of disassociation in social situations, just as easier travel has opened a door for many to seek new lives in a wide spectrum of locations, leaving the travellers displaced from their homes and families. At the same time, I don’t see it as a snowballing effect that will one day render all people as drones plugged into machines, never to interact with one another. I think it’s like anything »new«, when first introduced, the impact is visible and intense; as time passes and the new element is fully diluted into the system, it’s overall impact equalises and integrates. I feel with technology we are slowly transitioning towards a period where the »wow« factor or that initial explosion is losing ground to an approach of practicality. Perhaps there is hope for us yet!


questions by Diana Daia

artwork | Mateusz Odrobny. 2011. Cymmerian Lamb Of Silence. Courtesy of the artist

Full article here.