Polish street artist Soap blends surrealism, photorealism and influences from hip hop's golden era.

Polish street artist Soap blends surrealism, photorealism and influences from hip hop's golden era.

Graffiti as we know it today was virtually non-existent in Poland until the early ’90s, but after the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, ideas and influences from outside the Eastern Bloc started to flood in. Adam Klodzinski aka Soap saw New York street art for the first time in a magazine as a teenager in the mid-’90s and joined the first graffiti crew in his home city of Bydgoszcz soon after.

When graffiti began to appear on the streets, ordinary people didn’t understand what they were seeing and fought against it, criminalising writers. Over the last two decades, Soap and other Polish artists have worked hard to win graffiti the respect it deserves. Today, Polish society embraces graffiti as a legitimate art form and the government regularly commissions street artists to brighten up public buildings and drab Communist-era housing blocks with enormous murals.

As a member of Poland’s first generation of street artists, Soap is one of the most experienced in the game. He blends his stunning photorealist style with influences from graffiti’s old skool NYC era and surrealist touches pulled straight out of Dalí paintings. Huck caught up with Soap for a chat at his solo show at London’s West Bank Gallery.

How did graffiti find its way into Poland?
The first places to see graffiti in Poland were the capital Warsaw and Szczecin, which is right on the German border, so I guess it came from there. Then it came to other cities like mine, Bydgoszcz, later on. I first saw graffiti in a magazine when I was about 14 or 15, so that would have been ’95/’96. At that time loads of graffiti crews started to grow up and people started organising the first graffiti jams so people could meet and do pieces together. It was difficult back then, there were no legal walls so everything had to be done illegally.

Were you the in the first generation of Polish writers, or were there people you could look up to?
I was in the first graffiti crew in Bydgoszcz, it was called B2 crew. We started with five people and then it grew and grew. When I look back now I’m really proud of being there from the beginning, it was wicked. Every time I did a piece it was really exciting, even if it was just quick throw ups, running around and doing trains, nightbombing, stuff like that.

What were ordinary people’s reactions to seeing graffiti for the first time?
They treated us like vandals, obviously. People always try to fight against things they don’t understand. There were a lot of police situations and things like that. Now it’s a completely different kettle of fish. When we do 10 floor blocks in my city people really appreciate it. People who have lived there for 30 or 40 years say, ‘Wow, we never imagined our block could look like that.’ People have come to understand graffiti in a different way. As we’ve matured and our skills have grown people have begun to see what we produce as art. Even the local councils have realised that graffiti can really brighten up a city and they’ve started to commission artists to work on projects with local communities.

How has your style developed over time?
I used to work in a garage where I learned how to use clear coat, base coat, primer and things like that which really makes my work pop. People often don’t realise my work is handpainted and ask how I do it. Over time I’ve tried to push myself higher and higher. I started doing portraits because I wanted to challenge myself. They’re quite rare in graffiti, partly because they’re so difficult, so a lot of people avoid them. I’ve always looked to the old skool traditions from New York, where lettering is core but when I paint 3D lettering people are like ‘I love the colours but fuck knows what it is.’ Portraits are easier to understand because we see faces every day. Every time I do something new it’s just like a little test to see how people react.

I really like the surrealist touches in your paintings.
Yeah, I love Dalí and he’s been a huge influence on the way I paint. In his paintings he blends photorealism with more surreal elements and plays with perspective. Working with 3D lettering forces you to play with perspective as well, so in a lot of my pieces I’ve tried to combine all three: photorealism, surrealism and warped perspective.

When I include myself in the portraits as Little Adam that’s partly to fuck with your sense of scale and perspective, it makes the faces appear enormous. When I first did it (in a portrait of Dalí actually), I didn’t really think about it at the time but it’s become my trademark in a way, something original about my style.

In the hip hop elements paintings (above) I’ve reinterpreted each element with a surrealist twist, so you can see there are references to Dalí in there. I chose to use the zero-gravity effect because that’s how I feel when I start drawing; everything just starts lifting and becomes weightless. If Dalí lived today and had grown up in the same culture as I have, I like to think he might have painted something like this.

How does Nightbombing (pictured above) link back to the stuff you were doing in the early days?
Haha, that was a long time ago so sometimes I struggle to remember. But yeah, back in the day we would go out as a crew in the middle of the night, just as the sun began to rise because there were fewer people on the streets. The city in the painting isn’t Bydgoszcz, it’s Dubai, so this is fantasy because you could never go nightbombing there. But it is partly inspired by the emotions I felt when I used to go out painting. I turned away from the illegal stuff quite early on because I wanted to make a living out of graffiti. When you paint illegally on the street, it doesn’t give you enough time to show your skills or develop your talent. I wanted to do legal stuff so I could really show people what I could do.

Check out more of Soap’s work.

Soap will be doing a Q&A and live painting charity evening to support Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund UK at The Union in Soho, London April 29 2015.