This post originally appeared on VICE Poland.
Jakub Różalski is a Polish artist whose latest project, 1920+, has attracted positive attention around the world because of his combination of the Polish countryside in the early 20th century and colossal robots.
According to Różalski, 1920+ is a fictitious take on the Polish-Soviet War (1919-1921) that saw a clash between Polish forces and Soviet Russia and Soviet Ukraine. He sees the series not only as a creative outlet but also as a means to interest others in Polish history and Polish pride. If Juliusz Kossak painted massive robots, Różalski would be his protégé.
I called Jakub up for a chat.
VICE: How would you describe 1920+?
Jakub Różalski: Generally, the whole project is based on the Polish-Soviet War, the Battle of Warsaw, and the harsh realities of the period. The Battle of Warsaw is considered by many historians to be one of the most important in the history of the world because it changed the fate of Europe and stopped the Russian Revolution [from moving west].
Remind me, what was the mood that prevailed in Europe at that time?
After the First World War, sentiments in Europe were very revolutionary—the people were frustrated. The Bolsheviks decided to take advantage of that and began their march to the west. Poland was the first country that actually was able to resist and it was only two years later that we regained our independence.
Very few people, outside of our country know about these events, and this is a very interesting period in the history of the world and Europe. Additionally, this was the last war that employed the cavalry to a large extent, which in my eyes adds to it a kind of romanticism.
Where did the idea for the project come from?
In my own way I would like to, as interestingly and originally as possible, share a bit of knowledge about Polish history and culture, and I thought I'd do that by combining my favorite themes with a passion of mine. In this project I wanted to combine the classic themes of cavalry, the Polish army, daily life in the countryside, and Polish painting of the late 19th and early 20th century with modernist design, giant combat robots, and sci-fi themes.
Why giant robots?
I've loved giant robots from an early age—I think ever since I first saw the Battle of Hoth in Empire Strikes Back. Mechs and giant robots are a very graceful theme, they create drama in the most interesting way—that is why I am so eager to use them in my works.
Fantasy and science fiction interested me from an early age. Rental movies on VHS, books, RPG games, life without computers and the internet... these were beautiful times. I have a feeling that the work of Sienkiewicz, Tolkien, and Sapkowski, as well as my interest in infantry, World War II, and the Bushido code of the samurai accompanied me throughout life and certainly shaped me as a person and artist.
I've noticed that you seem to avoid illustrating cities in your work—going for rural landscapes instead.
I grew up in a small village near Szczecin, surrounded by nature and forests. For professional reasons, I've lived in cities my entire adult life, however I miss quiet existence, away from the hustle and bustle of a metropolis. That might be why these themes appear in my work so often.
As an artist I perfected my craft by studying the paintings of Kossak, Chełmoński, or Shishkin and if it shows in my work, that is the greatest compliment for me.
I also see a hint of patriotism in your work.
Of course, I love my country and I am glad that I was born in Poland. I paint what interests me and what makes me happy. Certainly in my work there is a nostalgia, a longing, for our history and landscapes.
You are based in Germany now—do you miss home?
I miss the scenery, the mountains, the sea. Mostly, I miss the little things—food, favorite cafes, movies, etc. But I'm moving to Krakow in January with my wife and my cat. I am kind of a lone wolf generally, I work at home a lot and rarely go out, so this emigration is not so noticeable and bothersome.
You painted your alternate version of the past. If you chose to illustrate the future of Poland, what would it look like? Would it be a utopia or dystopia?
Interesting question. Neither, I think—I do not like extremes. I am interested in shades of gray... so surely it would be something more in the middle but with an interesting bonus bit.