Joe Chesla’s Polish Invasion

Posted on 03 May 2017 by Ian Schrauth

Meramec professor brings Katowice to Kirkwood


JCBy: Sean E. Thomas
News Editor


In 2016, Joe Chesla, professor of art, sculpture, and design at St. Louis Community College-Meramec, spent 8 months teaching at the Academy of Fine Arts in Katowice, Poland. While at the Academy of Fine Arts in Katowice, he met Tomasz Koclega who later became the final artist in a series of artists Chesla invited to Meramec to teach and engage with students.     

Koclega studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Cracow, and at the Academy of Fine Arts in  Katowice. He has made over 30 individual exhibitions and participated in more than 60 collective exhibitions in Poland and abroad, as well as winning numerous awards.

“This is the fifth artist in a series that I’ve been running this semester,” Chesla said. “I was on sabbatical in Poland last year for 8 months studying at the academy of arts in Katowice. Tomasz was one that I actually taught with. When I came back I had an exhibition in the gallery [featuring] over 30 different artists from the academy in Poland, brought this big show over with me.”

Koclega was one of five artists Chesla hosted at Meramec.            

“During the exhibition I brought over four different artists [over four] consecutive weeks to work with the students,” Chesla said. “I brought back a print maker, I brought a painter, a graphic artist — and they were actually in the classes and giving public lectures and doing all this stuff — and Tomasz is the last one. He’s doing a site-specific piece for our campus and it [would have been] better if the temperatures were better so that we could be outside doing this.”

Koclega creates large sculptures of fiberglass that have been displayed in France, Russia, China and Japan among others. Some are large heads without bodies placed in trees and rivers. Others, giant humanoid statues without heads that have been given names like Looseness, Transiency and Destiny.
“He’s got a body of work … he’s shown all over Europe and is doing a lot of large scale public works,” Chesla said.

Koclega spent two and a half weeks at Meramec working with students to create his next piece. A piece that Koclega says, even though he has thousands of sketches, will be unique to Meramec.

“It is completely different because usually on Polish universities we don’t have a huge campus,” Koclega said. “We developed one particular project for this particular location. To show the students how I match idea to location.”

Chesla said that he and Koclega spent some time teaching together in Kotowice, a partnership that Koclega said was made easy by the two men’s similar outlooks regarding art.

“It was a great time to meet him [Chesla],” Koclega said. “When we started to work I realized we were sharing the same point of view for the majority of artistic issues. When we talk to students it’s like being two separate individuals running through the same intellectual process. He starts to say something, I continue, he continues, I started…it was really amazing. Quite an unusual experience for me; I had never met any person like him until now.”

Maria Sanchez, a student in Chesla’s class, said that working with Koclega provided her with some new experiences.

“I’ve never worked with these materials,” Sanchez said. “I’ve never worked with fiberglass. I’ve never been able to work with an artist to use their techniques towards their own project. It’s a really meticulous process, but he does it very well so you’re learning so much just by being involved.”

Chesla said the exhibition and visiting artists would not have been possible without the help of many different groups from Meramec including Global Studies, Campus Life, Provost Initiative, the Sculpture Club and Printmaking Club.

“This group is really the best group I’ve ever worked with,” Koclega said.

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