Wilhelm Sasnal’s space and speedway series
Don't miss this brilliant new Hauser & Wirth show which plays on the notion of the fallen man
In our monograph, the painter Wilhelm Sasnal says that, for him, “art is largely a mystery [that] touches upon the invisible, the unnamed.” Yet in the past, certain themes could be singled out. In among Sasnal’s flat, colourful pictures - which pair a pop sensibility with both photorealist and abstract elements – the Polish legacy of Nazism and the cruel primitivism of country life often stirred.
However, in his latest exhibition, on show at Hauser & Wirth Zürich 9 June – 27 July, the painter seems to have broken away from those older themes, to offer viewers more universal images. Many of these recent paintings depict helpless men, obscured by their helmets and protective clothing, in a largely featureless landscape. Some are motorcyclists, apparently thrown free from their ride following a crash, while the others are spacemen accompanied by a series of suitably celestial surroundings - some blur the line between both topographies.
According to the gallery, Sasnal’s childhood visits to the Tarnow speedway in southern Poland inspired the motorcycle paintings, while an abiding appreciation of Polish author Stanislaw Lem's science-fiction novel, Solaris – wherein astronauts try to communicate with an intelligent planet – fed into the space images.
This might seem like an odd pairing, but the bright speedway suits and the glossy space helmets suit Sasnal’s pop sensibilities, while the bewildering vulnerability of the individual, either skidding prone on the race track asphalt or clambering around an alien landscape, is something we can all relate to.
Using a muted palette of gray, blue and black, he presents the moment when space becomes apparent, both in the physical sense of falling to the ground, as in the paintings of the motorcyclists, and in the more abstract sense of the great emptiness of the universe, as in his paintings of solar systems and space.
We're HUGE fans of Sasnal here at phaidon.com and will be making every effort to see them when they go on show in Switzerland (from this Sunday). To find out more go here. For more on this great, great artist, take a look at our Sasnal book and accompanying prints.