Eastern European countries such as Hungary, Slovakia, Ukraine, Poland and Russia have given the world some of the finest artists ever to be seen, though these countries are not often given their dues in the same way as France, Italy or other places in Central Europe are. However, one of the most famous names in contemporary art, Andy Warhol, started life with the decidedly less American-sounding name Andrew Warhola. His parents were Ondrej Warhola and Julia Zavacká, who had emigrated to the US from what was then Austria-Hungary (modern day Slovakia). Other well-known names originating from this part of the planet include that of Romanian Romantic painter, Constantin Daniel Rosenthal, and painter of royalty, Philip de László.
Fast forward to the modern day, and there have been a whole host of Eastern European contemporary artists causing waves in the art world. Listed here are some of those that produce the most intriguing and captivating work.
Emerging artist Żychlińska hails from Poland where she has studied at both Gdansk and Wroclaw Academies of Fine Arts. Her style is bold, colourful and concerned with her own everyday, personal experiences. She uses simplified and stylised shapes to explore shared themes like love, hate and loneliness through common objects like clothing, mobile phones, buildings and furniture. She describes her work as “the journal of [her] inner world” and explains how she tries to “enchant the mundane” through her art. As a young Polish woman who has grown up during the 21st century, she brings a unique viewpoint to the global stage.
Confrontational painter Huszti is a Hungarian artist based in Budapest. He creates arresting and vivid portraits, mostly using oil on canvas. He has previously studied at both the University of Pécs and the University of Hertfordshire but has now been settled in a professional studio for six years. His experience of a normal working life before becoming an artist informs his approach, spurring him on to work harder and ask more from himself. His subjects often include references to periods from Hungarian history, evoking emotion and character but also linking to experiences from his own past.
Perhaps most famous across the world for his mural ‘My God, Help Me To Survive This Deadly Love’ painted directly onto the Berlin Wall’s East Side Gallery, Vrubel is a daring Russian artist with a sense of humour. This painting is an extraordinary depiction of two communist leaders kissing and has been a perpetual hit with both visitors and residents of the German city alike. It perfectly captures the provocative, Bohemian way in which Vrubel lives and works. Much of his art allows him to reflect on his love for and suspicion of his home country whilst he continues to live in his adopted home, Berlin.
Photorealist painter and multimedia artist Faibisovich works from Moscow, Russia. His representation of Soviet life and people at once invokes awe at the realistic nature of his brush strokes, but also wonder at the delicacy he manages to find in busy, chaotic scenes. He describes himself as engaging with the “conversation” to be found in the practice of photorealism, rather than concentrating too myopically on the medium itself. He is adept at conveying emotion through his work, however ‘mundane’ the subject may seem at first.
Mirjavadov’s bold and colourful style straddles his home country of Azerbaijan’s joint membership to the continents of both Europe and Asia. He explores emblematic themes in a confident way, depicting subjects as everyday as a boy with a camel or a nude woman alongside more abstract concepts like ‘Death’ and ‘Islam’. During his youth, he studied formally in Baku before going on to work at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg where he furthered his education. His paintings are riotous and joyful, finding favour with many American collectors since his death in 1992.
Iveković is originally from Zagreb, and therefore represents a creative voice from the former Yugoslavia (modern day Croatia). She identifies herself as a feminist artist, using her work to explore themes of consumerism, the media, politics and women. Much of her work uses photography and moving image, though she also uses sculpture. Her most acclaimed piece is ‘Lady Rosa of Luxembourg’, a fearless and heroic golden statue incorporating the country’s national symbol and the infamous Marxist activist of the 1919 German Revolution.
A modern social landscape requires contemporary artists to reflect back to people the anxieties and triumphs of the age. Whether this involves the smart phone, as in Żychlinska’s work, or suspect politicians, as in Vrubel’s, it should strike a chord with a present-day audience. In a world where you can now access thousands of songs through Spotify, classic casino games through PokerStars, and the artwork of centuries through apps like Google Arts & Culture, there is more need than ever before for art and artists from all walks of life.