Publication: The Times
In 1972 Zbigniew Makarewicz, along with his late wife Barbara Kozłowska, were two of around fifty Polish artists in Richard Demarco’s Atelier 72 exhibition at the Edinburgh Festival – the first in a long line of fruitful Scottish-Polish collaborations in the visual arts. Three years later Makarewicz was one of a hundred artists to participate in the remarkable Edinburgh Arts ‘expedition’ From Callanish to Hagar Qim – which connected the avant-garde with European Neolithic sites.
Since then Makarewicz has been making regular visits to Scotland; Edinburgh, in particular, is a city he describes as his ‘second home’. Makarewicz is Professor of Sculpture at Wrocław Academy of Fine Arts and over the years this institution has developed formal links with Edinburgh College of Art, resulting in numerous academic exchanges and exhibitions. A centre-pin at the Edinburgh end is the artist Iain Patterson, recently retired from the department of drawing and painting.
Currently Makarewicz is hosting a show of his personal collection – and so it’s not surprising to find here a strong representation of Scottish and English contemporary art, including some of Patterson’s work. This is characterised by its intensity of detail (most are finely worked in pencil and bright areas of paint) where isolated elements appear to float freely in the compositional space. Poland, famed for its drawing and graphic arts has clearly exerted an enormous influence on Patterson’s own work.
Also here are some of Demarco’s characteristic coloured line drawings of Edinburgh as well as new work by recent graduate, Becky Campbell. Campbell sent a complex, highly delicate work fashioned from thousands of flower seeds which most closely resemble a miniature tapestry or woven rug. Such was the eclecticism of Makarewicz’s collection that it had no problem being assimilated into the broader context of the show.
Many of Makarewicz’s own works adorn the walls, corridors and floors of this vast former headquarters of a Silesian mining company. Many paid tribute to his time in prison. As a Solidarity activist, the authorities took a dim view of his underground activities in the early ‘eighties so he spent 9 months in Wroclaw prison, where along with many other artist and intellectuals he whiled away his time making art – in this case a series of chalk and pencil drawings which conflate the familiar motifs of prison (bars and bricks) with those of his beloved Scotland: under one is written ‘Scottish Tartan’, Wroclaw, 1983.
It would be nice to say that Makarewicz has used these five storeys of ornate German industrial architecture to full advantage; but he hasn’t. In the make-do, makeshift spirit of the ‘60s and ‘70s artworks are suspended from nails crudely driven into plaster-work and most of the works go unlabelled and undocumented. But it’s all part of the idiosyncratic charm of this collection.
Most of this work will never reach the history books nor will it probably find its way into the Wroclaw’s planned gleaming Museum of Contemporary Art. But somehow being in a museum would kill the spirit of such artworks; being here they are somehow more free to be themselves.