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STEFAN OSNOWSKI: Carving the Light

STEFAN OSNOWSKI: Carving the Light



I was born in April 1970, in a town in the north of East Germany. I grew up between rivers, lakes and forests, between narrow streets and the minds of a small town, in a country surrounded by a wall. In nature, I learned what freedom meant. In the northern landscape of Germany, formed in the ice age, with rivers and wet meadows, we played in the old flooded turf hollows. Here, we built our island kingdom, as that of Robinson Crusoe, or we stole the boat from the fishermen and went up the rivers. I would take a little sketchbook to draw and paint with watercolors. I dreamed of the sea, ships and the distance, and I wanted to become a sailor. My parents also took me to the museums in Berlin and Dresden; seeing the beauty of Nefertiti and the Rubens hall at Gemäldegalerie in Dresden left such a strong impression on me that I decided I wanted to become an artist.

After finishing high school, I had to commit 3 years of “honor service” in the East German army. In August 1988, I became a tank commander on a Russian tank. I was discharged from the army in late 1990 and went through the now open border to West Germany to Kiel, to study classical archeology. Later, I moved to Greifswald, a town in the north close to the Baltic Sea, in which Caspar David Friedrich, the great romantic whom I adore, was born. At the university, I studied art under the principles of Bauhaus and the ideas of Walter Gropius, Johannes Itten and Oskar Schlemmer. After finishing the many different classical work classes, like painting, drawing, metal and wood workshops or printmaking, I focused and specialized on installation and painting as my favorite media. I was fascinated by ideas of interventions into places and space. Gordon Matta-Clark was a big inspiration at that time. Apart from those media, I developed the themes and subjects I am still very much interested in, such as space, movement and time. In addition, I studied theater pedagogic and German literature and worked at various schools, at the theater and at the university.

I work as a visual artist, specializing in printmaking. The basic idea of all my artistic work is to combine digital and analog media. I work with the earliest form of printmaking: woodcutting. I’m interested in slowing at a time, characterized by rapid frame rate. My work is about a balance between abstraction and realism. Carving along the lines, changing in width and depth, lifts out gradually only the light zones. White or black lines, thicker or thinner, forming the basic graphic pattern. The combination of wood printing (the oldest form) and digital photo (the newest form) to make a copy has a very special tension. My printing technique deviates from the norm, due to the use of a palm-size glass lens to manually rub the ink onto the paper rather than a printing press, thus preserving the apparent uniqueness of each individual item in a series. Physical contact and hand-crafting is just as much a part of the concept as gathering a theme or selecting a medium.

Apart from group shows in Portugal, Brazil and Hungary, I had two bigger solo exhibitions here at my Gallery in Budapest during the last two years, showing the works of the last important projects I was working on: “Non-Places” and “In Between.” Both of these projects were inspired by texts I was reading: The essay from Marc Augé (Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity, 1995) and the beautiful article written by Heinrich von Kleist about the “most empty” painting “The Monk by the Sea” by Caspar David Friedrich, in which he quoted: “Since in its monotony and boundlessness it has no foreground except the frame, when viewing it, it is as if one’s eyelids had been cut away.” The two central works of these 2 projects are “Passagem 1-4” (Passage) from 2015/16, 4 enormous monochrome prints, 4 single images, snapshots of 4 seconds of a drive-by car in a city tunnel and the newest print from 2018, “Cordoama,” a large close-up image of a powerful wave crashing on the seashore towards the observer. 

The prints might seem nonfigurative compositions from up close. Intuitively , you start to squint, but as you take one step aside, the structure glints immediately. What you see is abstract and concrete at the same time, or somewhere in between the two. Observing the works from different distances and angles, they show various faces. This perceptive sensation is fundamental for the experience of the prints, and it’s very difficult to receive this on a computer screen or on a mobile phone. Nevertheless, I present my works also on the internet, of course, and I’ve also started to sell online at Saatchi Art Gallery.

I think in our day, artists are influenced by a lot of new factors. The digital world is very powerful but also ephemeral. I view the flood of images and our desire for fast attention with very skeptical eyes, because they can boost up your ego but also blind you. I try to be not so attached in order to find clarity and to make meaningful work. I also think that in order to be creative, you simply have to move, to risk and also to make mistakes. When you stop moving, you’ll lose your freedom, and then you’re no longer an artist. After you’ve made one step, the next step reveals itself. And that’s a very beautiful process. At the moment, I’m working on a new project related to very old tiny analog photographs my grandfather took almost 100 years ago, showing landscapes, portraits or simple everyday situations of the family. Most of them are not even 5 x 5 cm in size, but they are very impressive in terms of composition and richness of details, popping up only after scanning and enlarging. Somehow, this is a journey to my roots; I know very little about my grandfather.  

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