Monday, September 24, 2012

Marta Spendowska:
On translating "home" into art, the Slavic Soul & Polish Disco from the 80s

A print from Marta Spendowska's TechnoFolk Collection.

A little while back I decided to take an Alt Summit class to get re-inspired to work on my blog. I was never really UN-inspired but I felt like I had lost my focus a little bit and being the Type A/OCD/perfectionist that I am, I reached for the one solution that always works for me: trick my brain into thinking I'm a student again. Whatever, don't judge. The class was OK in the way many of these things usually are: they don't tell you much you don't already know but somehow bring you clarity. What's best about them is that you sometimes have a chance to meet a fellow anxious mind that makes you feel less alone in the world and through that interaction end up re-energized. As I was waiting for the presentation to begin, I noticed a Eastern European sounding name in the participants list and clicked through, to occupy myself. What I found was the beautiful world of Marta Spendowska who is originally from Poland but paints and creates general visual wonder across media (print, web, you name it) in sunny Green Bay, Wisconsin. For the non-Americans reading this: this was a joke. It's really cold there.

I really wanted to introduce you to Marta because in just a few short weeks and no cocktails (alas) but some serious email exchanges, she has become not only more inspiring to me but also...gasp... a friend. Read along and you will know why.

I was looking through your website and was already in love with your work but what made me want to interview you for The Migrant Bookclub was your prints inspired by your recent trip to Poland. I was so intrigued by it. I could totally see "Poland" in the collection and yet couldn't describe how or why. Could you share your process with us? What did you see that inspired you and what were the steps that you went through to translate that inspiration into an actual print?

Thank you for relating to my work even though it’s hard to thank for feelings, but that gives me such a pleasure, to know I reached the connection. Before I answer, I’d like to say that I think it’s so easy to “see” Poland in my design or some similar designs for an European person just because we’re Europeans. We grew up with it around us, so even if someone isn’t so literate in the design language, he/she knows the piece it’s Polish, or Czech or Hungarian.

First of all, I go to Poland once a year and while there I act like every step I take is my last. I breathe with open mouth and can’t sleep, because it feels like a waste of time. 2 years ago I spent most of my time visiting friends, between trains and luggage. It was insane, too saturated, but lovely. It affected my stay and actually by seeing so much I didn’t experienced a lot. So this time my goal was to slow down. I take this month off, totally, from my work. I have some favorite clients for whom I always have time no matter what planet I’m on, but I want those trips to be almost sacred. This year, by slowing down I observed more.

My hometown, Jawor, is a small and neglected place. It’s loved by Germans and generally by visitors, because it’s charm is obvious. But it’s really kind of a worn area and for the past few years I complained about it a lot. So, this last time I felt guilty and quite frankly disgusted with myself for such point of view. It’s my town, beloved place, with memories of first kisses. I needed to rethink, refeel and retour it.

And I did. I signed up for a month long gym and I walked every day taking different routes. After 3rd day I fell in love with my old eaten by time, rusty town again. I saw how happy it made my mom.
I collected few albums and painted few pieces for my family. While there we had Europ2012 and that’s where I saw the blast of the past—folklore in modern days. I loved the branding for this event and I think that was the moment when I’ve decided to design TechnoFolk collection. It was an organic meditative process. Shapes, colors, overlays. It’s a vibration of movement. How? It was channeled, and I’m not kidding. I sat down, looked at my pictures from my town, and started drawing without even preparing my color palette.

Does Poland or being an immigrant inspire your work frequently? In what way?

After meeting you in ALT class, checking your website and reading your bio I almost broke down. Even now when I think about this moment I get chills. I felt so lonely for a moment, but only because I discovered such neglect of my heritage in my work and you, your work made me aware of it. I still am processing those emotions, maybe even strategizing it a bit for the future. I want to include my Polishness more in my work. So no. But, if you’d ask my peers and friends from school they’ll tell you that all my designs were so European and you can spot them among others in a heartbeat. So maybe I’m not aware of how big of a deal it is for me, maybe I carry it within me and work through it not even knowing about it.

It’s important to mention that Polish culture and art inspires me very much. I just don’t see a big influence of it in my work.

Are there Eastern European artists that inspire you that you wish people here in the States knew about? Do you think that there is such as what some people describe as a "Eastern European sensibility" or "Slavic Soul" ;)))) or is art just art?

I definitely think there is such thing as "Eastern European sensibility" or "Slavic Soul". Apart from art we’re friends for life, our humor is black and very much self centered. Also, we have round heads :)—just ask my husband!

But, honestly, I think there is a strong influence of Polish posters on art since that was the main way of revolting during communist times. Flat graphics, the symphony of colors. In Polish, both design and art you can see quite a few symbols that are borrowed from traditional folk, like roosters and colorful corn cobs. It’s not mainstream but I saw quite a few of them in blogs.

My favorite Polish illustrator is Ada Buchholz. I’ve been following her work for a long time and I’m enjoying seeing her growth so much. She also works in flat, graphical, humorous way. You can distinguish her work from everything else out there.  She’s really witty and not afraid of self depreciation, which I adore when done is a sensible genuine way.

Two other Polish illustrators I adore are Agata Nowicka and Agata Dudek. Scary how all of those fabulous girls’ first names start with A!

Do you ever get homesick? How do you deal with that?

Often. I talk to my mom at least once a week. When I’m really homesick I go to YouTube and play Polish songs from 80s. I wouldn’t complain if Lufthansa would sponsor few of my trips to Poland!

Thank you, dear Marta for sharing so much of yourself in this conversation! And, everyone, set aside some time to dig through Marta's websites. Weather you are working on a website or need some beautiful art for your home or for your soul, I think you will really enjoy getting lost in Marta's world. She says it's Slavic. 

Marta's work is available at and


  1. Thank you Petya for this interview!
    It's a blessing to have you in my Polish/US life and we should send postcards to ALT every Christmas with big gratitude all over it!
    You're such a curious soul and eye. Love it!

    1. Haha! Christmas cards to ALT! Awesome idea! Hugs!

  2. Thank you, Petya, for yet another beautiful, heartfelt interview. And thanks to Marta, too -- she seems like a very sensitive, perceptive, considerate person, and she has a great way of expressing her sensitivity - through words as well as images - that made me relate to so much of what she shared.

    1. Thank YOU for your really sweet note. Marta is amazing! I was so glad she agreed to do the interview!