Image courtesy of the artist, Metro Pictures, New York, and Foksal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw

Chess Player 1

Date: 2010

Materials: Oil on canvas

Dimensions: 68 7⁄8 x 49 3⁄16 in. (175 x 124.9 cm)

Credit: Sender Collection

Chess Player 1 is from Olowska’s “Applied Fantastic” series of paintings based on postcards featuring Polish home-knitting patterns from the 1980s. The series title refers to a term developed by Polish novelist Leopold Tyrmand (1920–1985) to describe “a dedicated enactment of a liberal fantasy despite modest means.” It underscores the way the patterns reflect a DIY approach to adapting Western style to the limitations of the communist Eastern Bloc, where shortages of basic supplies were common. The postcards that inspired these works often included directions with can-do language like “in times when there is hardly anything in stores to buy, you can create an outfit from hand-me-downs or your grandparents’ closet.” This kind of utopian punk ethic, a will to improve reality through fantasy, decisions, and self-sufficiency, is characteristic of much of Olowska’s work.

Heinz A