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five minutes with urbanski

Bryan Viljoen; Elsa Young

Andrzej Urbanski's bold triptych sets the tone in the reception of the OR Tambo International Airport Slow Lounge

For such a notoriously chaotic destination - one of Africa's busiest airports - the calm you find at OR Tambo International Airport's recently updated Slow Lounge is nothing short of a miracle, especially considering an estimated 2 500 travellers pass through the lounge each day.

Numbers are sure to rise even more now that Tonic Design has given the space a much-needed, contemporary facelift, using the work of various artists to bring the lounge to life. One such prominently featured artist is Cape Town-based, Polish-German artist and sculptor Andrzej Urbanski, who chatted to us about his work.

Art plays a big role in Tonic's successful update of the OR Tambo International Airport Slow Lounge. In what ways do you feel your artwork fits in with the new look and feel?

The artwork is a 3m-wide x 1.5m-high triptych, consisting of three canvases, each of which is 1m wide. Together, the whole painting represents an intersectional movement of colours and shapes in an abstract way. I am very familiar with Tonic’s Slow Lounge concept, as I worked with Philippe van der Merwe on the first Slow Lounge at Cape Town International Airport, where I painted a mural art piece in 2014. I hope that this triptych brings Tonic’s vision of international sophistication through contemporary art to those using the lounge.
CT INTERNATIONAL SLOW LOUNGE Andrzej Urbanski's artwork at the Cape Town International Airport Slow Lounge.

How would you describe yourself as an artist and how would you describe the work that you do? What do you want to communicate through your art?

To me, being an artist means having the freedom to express myself and interpret life and my environment the way I see it on a daily basis. Colour and form are two big tools for me. You find them everywhere, either in nature in a raw state or in artificial environments created by men, like architecture or technology. I like to unite those tools and the different influences these environments have on me, and express what happens inside me in sculptural or painted work.

What brought you to South Africa?

I came to South Africa in 2012 during my Fine Art Masters at the Lausanne University of Art and Design (ECAL) in Switzerland. I applied for an art residency in Cape Town, and during this time I got to know the city very well and fell in love with South Africa. I now regularly exhibit more work here.

What do you think of the state of contemporary art in South Africa right now?

The art scene in South Africa and Africa is very strong. You find more and more artists from South Africa and Africa exhibiting all over the world, which is a strong indication that contemporary African art has good qualities. Africa as a continent is completely different to Europe, as everyone knows, both historically and culturally, so the topics that artists from Africa are working on are different and often new to people in Europe. The interest in art from this continent is enormous.

What type of work are you happiest creating?

I'm the happiest creating large-scale works in both mediums - sculpture and painting.
andrzej Andrzej Urbanski's '2m x 2.3m' on canvas.

Who are some of your favourite artists?

One of my favourite artists from South Africa is Trevor Coleman, an abstract painter who works in the fields of hard edge and geometric abstraction. He is a big inspiration to me and a great pioneer in the field of abstraction in South Africa. I also love Brett Murray’s artworks. Conceptually, his work is absolutely incredible. His exhibition Again Again last year caught my eye and stayed in my memory. Internationally, I'm very struck by the works of Liam Gillick, Franz Ackermann, Carmen Herrera and Sol LeWitt. They're all from different generations, fields and backgrounds, and all of them are worth looking into.

And the new generation of artists worth keeping an eye on? 

Zander Blom, Mia Chaplin, Paul Edmunds, Galia Gluckman, Paul Senyol and Pierre le Riche.

Favourite art movements?

Cubism, Abstract Expressionism, minimal art, conceptual art, digital art and Colour Field. All of them fascinated me during my early studies when I first got in touch with art, and they continue to be a source of inspiration in my experimentation in this field.

What are you working on at the moment?

I'm currently preparing 10 to 15 works, including sculpture and paintings, for a solo show with Salon 91 at the FNB Joburg Art Fair, which takes place in September 2016, as well as for this year's Paris Art Fair. I'm also working on a solo exhibition that'll be showcased at the new Circa Gallery in Cape Town in October 2017.

If you were not an artist, what would you be?

I would have gone into professional sports or education.

Art is...

Nothing - the title of my Master's thesis in 2012.

See our September 2016 issue to read more about OR Tambo International Airport's redesigned Slow Lounge

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