I first met Piotr Adas 10 years ago when we were in the same studio at the Etobicoke School of the Arts. He had just immigrated from Poland and was admitted to the school – skipping the regular audition process- thanks to a kind art teacher who recognized his talent.
Piotr’s energy is contagious, and it is difficult to be anything but engaged and captivated when hearing him speak. In high school, Piotr was an expert painter, with a quality of work the rest of us could only hope to achieve. Today, he is still making art, and on Thursday February 18th, I met Piotr at his studio to discuss the Fasade project.
What is Fasade?
The slogan is “It’s all Fasade, better than the competition”. What I realized doing Fasade is that a person that emigrates is stripped of memories about the place they came from. Coming to Toronto I had no memory of being in high school (in Poland). Toronto was like a clean sheet of paper that I couldn’t find sentimental.
From bringing the Fasade flowers around, and documenting the project, I was building sentiment, romanticism. It helped me assimilate. I’m building memories of places, and it happens to be in Toronto. It was very important for me to feel sentimental and comfortable around the city, I didn’t have that before.
What kind of art did you make before Fasade?
I focused on developing the craft and positioning myself within mediums, and I had some success. Basically, before I wanted to change the world through painting, and I was struggling to find new or advancing existing discourses. I focused on figurative work, very colourful and very expressive.
Why did you start Fasade?
Instead of changing the world, I wanted to please the viewer and communicate with the biggest masses possible. I found it relevant to paint figurative subject matter, but for me what became more relevant were excessive aesthetics such as cheesy capitalistic infomercials, Ikea, Price Chopper catalogues. Being an immigrant I wanted to understand – what is it about this aesthetic that surrounds me? I immigrated 10 years ago now, but in a sense I still lived in the past. And even though I was very successful socially, what I was making was from the old world. The motivation (for Fasade) was to help me to assimilate 100%.
What has been the reaction to Fasade?
It has been wonderful. It is very accessible. And I am trying to involve as many people as I can. It’s something that I call collectivism [picks up the Fasade calendar]. So 2009 was the year of Fasade. It was the year where I did the wallpaper – very tacky, cheesy paintings that you see here [points to calendar]. And I wanted to put it around the city as much as I could. I created a Board of Directors for the project and gave everybody a corporate title. My father helps me transport. His name is Andrzej Adas and his title is ‘Senior Logistics Manager’. My friend, Nicci is Special Services manager. We have a photographer Nick and his title is Archival Service Manager. So it’s a way to reach out. All these people are excited to be part of the project. It’s not like the group structures were with any other artistic movements, ‘cause they had some kind of manifesto. Here everyone works towards one objective…but it’s not the group objective, it’s the project objective.
What did you find most challenging in Fasade?
Legitimizing the aesthetic. First of all Fasade is a temporary installation. So it has this Banksy guerilla element, but we are not defacing anything. The difference between this and graffiti is that Fasade is temporary. It was interesting when we brought the Fasade wall to the AGO right in front of the main entrance. We can’t get into the AGO, but we can go in front of it. And actually, a janitor from the inside stepped outside and suggested that we put the piece through the back door, because that is where the loading doors are for the gallery. He thought we were there to bring Fasade inside the gallery. There were so many people around, taking pictures, and the situation got obvious. But for a while he was asking ‘Do you want to go through the back door?” It was a funny situation.
Has there been criticism of the project?
Painter peers are very brutal, just because my work before was about being a hard painter….painting, really struggling. And Fasade is the opposite. So others that are still finding their way, ask “Why are you doing this?” To be honest, Fasade speaks for itself. Because if somebody takes time to see the paintings and know the technique, it is sophisticated. People who know me know I did things before.
Do you encourage more artists to engage with a larger audience?
Yes. I’m tired of artists and peers who are hard to talk to, and build walls. Maybe it’s just the time and place where I am right now where I love to talk to people. Maybe that’s a quality of myself, but I think people should be more open and there should be broader dialogue.
What excites you most about Fasade?
It’s constantly changing. Yes I made 40 pieces, and I was just reshaping and rearranging them for different places. But every place it was shown we wanted to do something different. Really pushing and making the next installation better than the one before. Everything next has to be better, that’s why it’s so frustrating sometimes, because you always want to be better. The next things that I work on have to be so much better than this. I don’t know how I’m going to do it. But it always has to be better.
Why are there flashes of swimsuit models in some of your videos?
[laughing] It’s to show that we are part of the spectacle. Today we are very cynical and we know about the spectacle but we don’t want to lose our cool. So for me the naked girls are part of the spectacle. I really want to get married in Las Vegas, just for the idea of submerging in the culture. People often don’t understand me, people either really feel it, or are just like ‘you’re an idiot’.
Why have you succeeded in your practice?
It may sound very pretentious, and I don’t want to make myself into some kind of victim, but in a sense I sacrificed everything to come here. And through sacrifice I am free. I work, I make money to pay rent and I do my art, and I make money doing my art. If I sacrificed so much, I better be the best. Also I see Toronto as a promised land, and I treat life as an opportunity. I find that 70-80% of immigrants are very negative about (Toronto), they just can’t assimilate fully. It’s like ‘yeah Toronto is great BUT…’, and I don’t want to have the ‘but’. So for me, doing things, building the romanticism… it’s like I am fully it… I am fully happy.
To learn more about Piotr’s work visit http://www.adas.ca
Robyn Shyllit is a graduate of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, and a student in the Cities Centre Community Development Program at the University of Toronto completing a Masters in Planning.