Polish visual artist Mateusz Kolek isn't your typical illustrator. He's a surrealist stuck in outer space where the rules don't apply. Where new planets are explored, where octopi take over cities, where Reptar is just as common as rat infestations. Handling murals, movie posters, magazine commissions, and passion projects alike, the Kraków artist is showing no signs of slowing down. I spoke with the talented artist via e-mail and we spoke about his year, his history with the pen, and possible upcoming plans in China.
How has 2017 been treating you?
It has been pretty good for me so far, thanks. I was working on some interesting projects including the biggest illustration in my career. The original is more than two meters long and 80 cm high. I put this big sheet of paper on my wall and was drawing a jungle full of animals and African warriors for weeks. It's based on Joseph Conrad's books and was commissioned by literature festival after his name. Yupp, work is fine.
Political situation in 2017 in my country is the other story. It's shitty but I guess we're not alone in that matter. My literature teacher used to say that the worst curse is to tell somebody "May you live in curious times." I guess we live in curious times now.
For those unfamiliar, how would you describe yourself / your art?
I grew up on comics and it still has a great influence on my work. I'm too lazy and get bored too quickly to draw a real time album so my way is telling a story with one frame. I think you can clearly see my fascination about anime, manga, old sci-fi movies, Slavik legends.
How long have you been taking your art seriously?
Since I realized that I actually may be able to live by doing that. So about 15 years. At that time there was not much to do for illustrators in Poland but a friend of mine let me draw some storyboards for commercials. The job wasn't thrilling at all but I could earn some money and train my lines so I felt like I've won a lottery. It took me some time before I got frustrated by drawing happy families and cherries landing in a yogurt in hundreds of different ways. I looked at my personal work, picked up the best ten, and put them on two or three portals. The game changed for me.
What do you have planned for the rest of the year?
The biggest challenge would be to find some time for a series of illustrations based on four months I spent in Hong Kong last year. It was such a huge inspiration and I needed some time to digest all those moments, scans, and find out what I want to do with that. But now I'm ready and just have to find some time for it.
The other plan would be to go to Asia later this year again. My girlfriend just got a job offer in China and I think I'll take advantage of this situation and go with her. Last time was like a lifetime adventure for us.
What were your art habits like as a child?
Like every kid I was drawing on everything I could, walls, furnitures, younger brother. One of my mother's favorite stories about my childhood is that once she found me on the floor with ripped up carpet and a sea full of fishes drawn on it. I loved to draw animals, especially horses, knights, and vampires watching diamonds on the Crystal Mountain's peak.
Later I was sucked by drawing huge battle scenes. When I was ten I spent my whole summer by copying "Bitwa pod Grunwaldem" by Jan Matejko. Google it. It's awesome!
Do you create every day or do you take breaks?
I can appreciate a day or two or a week of break from time to time. Depends on how absorbing the project is.
Sometimes I need only a good sleep to change a theme and start to draw something new but sometimes I feel like my creativity spring has gone dry and I need to go out, find some troubles to make it run again.
What is the art scene like where you live in Krakow Poland?
Kraków has a great art tradition. The best Polish painters, writers, musicians, photographers, actors, and actress used to lived here. So it's perceived as an art capital of Poland. There are many art festivals, hundreds of young people come here every year to study art. They gather in art groups, run independent galleries. It's a pretty good place to live if you want to make art in Poland.
Do you have any hobbies/interests outside of art/illustrations?
I love to travel. In recent years, Asia has been my main destination. I mean since I was little I wanted to go there and I think I won't get enough of it soon.
What have you been listening/reading lately?
I like party music so I listen to deep house, techno and some hip-hop lately. Kalippo, Jon Talabot, Tale of Us, Denzel Curry, Run the Jewels, Madvillain for example. When I get melancholic I listen to Glen Gould plays Bach or some sad guitar music like Kurt Ville. As for books I love everything from Adrian Tomine to Chris Ware. And I'm still trying to finish "Escape from Freedom" by Erich Fromm which I find very educating these days.
Do you have any advice for artists working on their craft?
Let's see. Draw a lot, I mean a lot. Don't push yourself into your own special style too quickly. It takes time to get there. First it's better to learn how to draw by hand or by perspective correctly. Also I would suggest not to search inspiration on Pinterest or Instagram too often. There's plenty of good stuff there but you might get overwhelmed sometimes and be blocked. Been there, done that.
Any closing thoughts / words of wisdom?
Be good people and try to enjoy yourself!