The pleasure of being in the company of craftsmen is what Kraków offers to newcomers searching for both the harmony of the Renaissance and Secession atmosphere in the alluring live art on any corner, and in a multitude of markets, galleries, cafés and bars.
Although typical artistic culture is presented in a number of public and private galleries, a visitor can spot works of art in almost every other café and bar. Artists, artisans, café owners and any tiny exhibition room are in constant rivalry for the best works and souvenirs. We arranged meetings with a few craftsmen in their studios and workshops to learn about the latest artistic trends in Kraków.
Leszek Dutka welcomes us in his old attic, an incubator and a shelter for various artistic works. He is over 80, yet still searches for unique forms such as the ones in his latest exhibition dedicated to September 11. “I am spontaneous and my art is figurative,” explains Mr. Dutka while showing a couple of metaphoric canvases. They are colourful and depict soft, vibrating and shapeless subjects. The same abstractionism of birds, masks and devils is also engraved in ceramic sculptures. Both paintings and figures of applied art are exhibited at the Dominik Rostowski Gallery and Bunker of Arts.
Very close to the amusing and grotesque experiments on canvases are the cartoons by Andrzej Mleczko, who has a gallery-shop in his studio at 14 Jasna. “It was a brief experiment, but curiously, it is now visited by thousands of people,” says Mleczko. His time is often taken by customers queuing at the counter for his autograph. He promoted the art of caricature and turned it into a business when all cartoonists in Kraków refused to work with the media in the 1980s. For those who have more fantasy, Mleczko’s pillows, mats, aprons, T-shirts and bed sheets with cartoon illustrations are not just tips for a gift but also a friendly, although shocking experience, of art in everyday life. When looking at the myriad of caricatures, I am impressed by his dominant art, which is an attempt at addressing all facets of daily life, from a morning cup of coffee to a couple’s bedroom.
No less fascinating are the amber and silver collections made by Eugeniusz Salwierz, who finds different aspects of his creative nature while listening to jazz in a spacious and awe-inspiring studio. He searches initially for unique forms and variants of the fossil resins at the markets in Gdañsk, the home of Polish amber, focusing on the degree of translucency and colour, which range from pale hues and yellow through white, blues, greens, beige and brown shades.
“Amber engenders abstract ideas and provokes my fantasy while I cut it, polish and at last embed it in silver necklaces and bracelets,” explains Eugeniusz while showing photos depicting unique amber pieces on the naked body and tender skin of a woman. His items are on sale in Skarbiec Gallery on Grodzka st. and in the Cloth Hall on Market Square, which is full of artists.
Visitors can find a myriad of artists and artisans in the streets of the Old Town. Each has their own interesting product, technique and style to talk about. Many tourists head for the fortress wall near Floriañska Gate, where a series of colourful portraits hang to form the background for wedding pictures; and it is also a popular place for couples to meet.
While taking a break and sipping a cup of coffee in the basements or upper rooms of huge, gabled houses in the Old Town and Kazimierz, the Jewish quarter, tourists learn that the influence of art on cafés and bars is so strong that these venues greatly rival the galleries. For more than 20 years Kazimierz in particular has been a breeding ground for artists’ projects. One vibrant venue, where both jazz concerts and exhibitions by painters and photographers take place, is the Pod Jaszczurami club on Market Square.
Now we are going to visit the small workshop of Krystina. It is a tiny office, but it seems to be a Pandora’s box of gadgets and gifts. I like the idea of blue glasses for wine and champagne bearing motifs of fairytale Kraków architecture. Krystina combines warm colours with antique gold to give a historical touch to her gifts, which are exhibited in the Cloth Hall. Following fashion trends, Krystina also cuts and decorates hats for women and shows me how pictures of Kraków can be impregnated and glued on to glass souvenirs.
Krystina’s technique using scissors and brushes combined with her fantasy seems to be very simple in comparison with the handmade glass-blown Christmas decorations from the M.Geyer factory. From glass tubes to sparkling ornaments hung on a tree – the glass-blowers’ work has a long and creative tradition.
The Master turns glass into silver with the help of ammonia and sugar, then painters draw winter scenes, frolicking clowns and a family of bears from American animations, these are then finished with a touch of spray, a coat of glitter and our Christmas ball is ready.
Once again about Christmas! This time Frantishek shows us how he turns the soft core of a lime-tree into a “human being”. His carved souvenirs depict elements of rural life, such as a hunchbacked woman carrying buckets of water, but he also does angels. They are all on sale in the Cloth Hall.
Once you finish your tour of Kraków’s artistic highlights, make sure you take home a piece of art. It will prompt you to return to make even more new discoveries in this thrilling Mecca of creativity.