Krzysztof Strzelecki works across a range of media to explore aspects of homoeroticism and explore human sexuality. He is primarily a ceramist but considers himself a painter and has training in photography. You can see this nimble approach to art-based communication in his work; Strzelecki often works through ideas through several modalities. However, he has spent recent years focusing on vases.
Central to much of his work is frank depictions of gay sex. Strzelecki’s work references past traditions of depiction in which the nude human form (in his work, of men) was exalted, and expansive forms of sexuality were celebrated. However, his subject matter is contemporary, interrogating modern manifestations of cruising. Cruising has ostensibly happened forever, yet the internet changed everything. Strzelecki’s work resuscitates naturalistic depictions of the act and presents an idyll for his cruising participants. Regarding how people respond to his depictions of sex, he mentions his intrigue in learning at what stage viewers are either interested or repelled.

Strzelecki’s work is dense. Densely textured carvings and paintings decorate his intriguing ceramic forms. His vases are orthogonal and require an attentive walk-around exploration to view in full; an action he sees as akin to cruising itself. In our rigorous conversation, the artist reveals the how and why of his practice. Having just finished an exhibition, Summer Scenes, with the Taymour Grahne gallery in London, he has a lot to unpack in this interview.
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Could you please introduce yourself and tell me a bit about your art?
Hi, I am a Polish-born artist, based in London and a graduate of the University of the Arts London Camberwell. After some time travelling and thinking through options, I decided to make London my home, established a ceramic studio and work now as an artist.
I would describe myself as a ceramic artist mostly because it is my preferred medium, however, I like to think of myself as a painter. Clay allows me to combine various fine art techniques including painting, photography and sculpture. These skills need to be nurtured but allow me to express myself and create art.
My art is often polychromatic, and I want to share my love of colour alongside an acceptance of the human form. It explores aspects of homoerotism, and some consider it provocative in its representation of sexual congress. However, I want my art to promote an acceptance of the body and sexual difference, rather than making sex a taboo subject and stigmatising such a fundamental aspect of our lives.
Essentially, I see my work as colourfully abstract but when you come closer you see figurative motifs and when you focus you notice naked bodies often in (exclusively male) sexual acts. I’m always curious to know at which stage do people get interested – or (conversely) when are they repelled?
You recently held your second ever solo exhibition: Summer Scenes at Taymour Grahne, in London. Tell me a bit about this show and your preparations for it.
I started working on Summer Scenes back in May 2022. I was preoccupied making plans for my summer break and decided to spend the time visiting lakes and riversides. Looking for potential destinations, I researched some books depicting young men escaping the city and spending time in nature, cooling off by the water and exploring various cruising fantasies. I was drawn to the essence of summer with long days languishing in the sun, perfecting your tan, maybe taking a snooze in the shade but then at twilight, some sexual tension needs to be released. Perhaps some playful wrestling to establish one’s masculinity, or maybe embarking on a summer romance. Summer is the perfect season to explore one’s sexual fantasies, so I was trying to evoke such charged memories in this series of works.
My research took me back to a classical art history, especially the traditional shapes of the vases containing wine and water intended to keep it cool during the summer. I was busy taking lots of photographs but started to focus primarily on isolated body parts only. I then realised that the background scenes were also intriguing, even if I had not registered it at the time.
Could you elaborate on this?
For example, in my piece Torso, two figures are ‘fighting’ in the background, whereas, by contrast, the principal model is closely cropped and anonymous. Here I play with scale and juxtapose near and far (the zoom-in and wide-angle aspect of a camera). This idea sparked a new body of work which I refer to as “paintings on ceramic canvases.”
This interplay between photography and painting mimics the effect of the camera lens when capturing an image and allows me to escape the plinth and hang pieces on the wall instead. My final piece for this show, The Heatwave, was made during a spell of extreme temperature in London. Initially, I wanted to depict a lush green landscape but the soaring temperature in my studio prohibited me from working on this piece, so instead I painted it orange with dying sunflowers as a commentary on climate change. The intense colours here should sound alarm bells about how we live our lives today.
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Your work often depicts scenes of joyous cruising in natural areas. How would you describe cruising to someone unfamiliar with the activity?
The definition of ‘cruising’ changes with time but I might describe it as the act of watching and waiting for someone with the same energy and desire at a particular point in time. It is about finding one person (or more) who craves the same as you at the same time. I depict this energy in my work by carving the lines from every person and at some point, these lines connect to each other – generating a wave.
However, it is difficult to describe cruising exactly because it is different for everyone. It involves a period of waiting, catching someone’s eye, understanding the tension, and finally giving in to the pull of desire. Sometimes it can be a long process, and nothing may happen, but at other times you get what you want in a few minutes.
Cruising usually involves sex including oral, anal, touching, masturbation, etc. but it can also be about watching others or just the feeling of excitement and/or other emotions such as the fear of being seen or caught. Today, however, the majority of cruising happens online, on dating apps. It has moved from a public space to an anonymous ‘safe’ space in your own home. Here it can be simply about chatting, exchanging pictures and possibly meeting for sex. Cruising brings an adrenaline rush and adds some excitement to our humdrum lives. It can be dangerous, but I believe it is worth the risk because of its unpredictability, its ability to create powerful memories and stir our emotions. It is not for everyone, for sure – as with every fetish. 
You have discussed the internet as the current scene of casual gay sex. Yet your work is also heavily invested in natural representations. How do you reconcile this tension in your work?
Cruising can happen anywhere including natural environments such as parks, forests, beaches etc. In cities and towns which don’t have queer bars, gay saunas, etc. nature provides a refuge to meet for sex. With the development of the internet, I believe most cruising encounters happen online rather than in any park or bar.
My artwork often depicts open-air environments and might be seen as a nostalgic reverie harking back to pre-internet days. During the Covid-19 pandemic most safe places for gay men were closed. We could not meet in a queer-friendly environment, so many reverted back to parks, forests, beaches, etc. Those places had become safe places to meet friends again or go on a date.
And when did you series Cruising Fantasies start?
Soon after the lockdown was imposed, when I spent more time in open spaces, rather than in clubs or bars. Nature has always been an important part of my art. I’m looking for some sort of connection to the earth – this can be seen quite clearly in my photographs. Many photos comprise a naked body set within a vast landscape (desert or mountainous terrain) and becomes almost invisible. Our skin can become like a camouflage, mimicking the appearance of sand, soil or rock.
However, during the pandemic, my focus moved to the Internet. The fusion of online and natural spaces has inspired my new work. I employ images of men (often sent to me via social media) and photographs of places I have visited to create a collage, evoking a memory or unrealised fantasy of what could have happened in those places. The particular circumstances during those two years of lockdown generated an imaginary world, where the male body is adored, and same sex liaisons are accepted as a natural part of our being.
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You moved from painting and photography to ceramics, what motivated this switch?
I always wanted to be a painter and enrolled in the painting department at university but, by my third year, I had shifted to ceramics and photography. Moving to London has given me a lot of opportunities and impacted my lifestyle. My life here is more active, often chaotic with unplanned changes, so I need to cultivate greater flexibility, especially now that I have started to travel again.
Painting needs time, focus and space, but living in a bustling metropolis (with a myriad of distractions) pushed me more towards the immediacy of photography. Taking photos is fast and dynamic – it allowed me to capture momentary feelings and could be accommodated within the limited studio space at university or my bedroom at home.
Eventually, I started ceramics in my final year at university because I wanted to transfer my photographs onto ceramic plates as an experiment. Once I started to work on my first project, I knew immediately that this was my medium. It was the feeling of clay in my hands, I enjoyed the physicality of handling this pliable material. Compared to painting, making ceramics needs more space and more time, and yet it fits easily to my lifestyle in London. I would say listen to your body and trust your intuition – don’t be afraid to change, even if you end up back at the start. When I reflect back, I can see this pattern in my own life.
Why vases? What prompted you to take up this genre through which you primarily present your scenes?
In ancient times, vases were used as everyday objects for storing water, wine and food but they were also a way of sharing stories, events and myths. These vessels were both practical and representative. Today most vases are bought primarily for decoration or perhaps to contain flowers. My mother has a big collection of vases for flowers and, even when not in use, they are on display. Today I make vases only as art objects, rather than as useful objects. Nonetheless, it is still important to connect to ancient times and use the vase as a vehicle to tell a narrative. It is significant to build on the tradition of decorative objects with ambiguous meanings.
I tend to make my vases ‘orthogonal,’ rather than the more traditional rounded form. The fact that you can’t see the sides or back of any vase without some physical movement is important to me. This physical action is akin to cruising – you need to explore in order to see every side of my work. So just move yourself, circumnavigate the work but, of course, it’s your choice to see it, or not.
You have mentioned Greek mythology as a reference for your work. I am also reminded of classical Greek pottery with its frank depictions of gay sex. How do you consider this connection in your work.
Greek and Roman mythology (where the gods embraced every form of sexuality) was always something that I was curious about. My studies resulted in my first exposure to images of gay sex (on Greek pottery) and so I started looking for more expressions of such same sex couplings, many of which are marginalised in the Western canon.
Travelling in Greece allowed me to engage with this ancient culture, and also in Italy, where I was able to learn about the Renaissance. Their art reflected a degree of acceptance regarding sexuality and the naked body, unlike our own society today. I was also inspired by the fact that their ceramics had survived for centuries.
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Tell me about the artists that have led you to where you are now. You researched David Wojnarowicz extensively in university. Who else has influences your development as an artist?
Yes, David Wojnarowicz and Robert Mapplethorpe were the focus of my university dissertation and their work embodied the edgy dynamism of New York in the 1970s and 80s, when the city was a magnet for gay men, largely because of the countless opportunities for cruising. I am also interested in religious paintings from the 15th and 16th centuries and the photography of Wilhem von Goelden. Obviously, classical art has had a big impact on my work but my passion for ceramics derives from contemporary artists such as Philip Eglin, Johan Tahon, Stephen Bird, Molly Hatch and others. It is exciting to see how these disparate artists can use the same material but generate such different results.
With each new project, I seek inspiration from a diverse range of artists. So, for example, my exhibition Forbidden Fruit at the Anat Ebgi gallery in Los Angeles, draws on Henri Rousseau's paintings and David Hockney’s work. Whereas my show with Taymour Grahne gallery in London was inspired by Frédéric Bazille, Ludwig von Hofmann and early drawings of Greek wrestlers. I get enthusiastic every day by new artists (often via social media) and the exciting new work being produced.
What kind of relationship do you hold between scholarship and art. How do the two meet in your practice?
It is important to know the history of art and understand the various historic movements. We are living in very interesting times – almost everything has been made, every avenue explored, every object photographed in seconds. The old masterpieces were laboriously painted in oil, but art evolves with time. Today we have more practising artists than ever before, employing every imaginable technique to create work. There isn’t any obvious style that would encapsulate the 21st century – it is chaotic.
It is important to know art history in order to understand my own approach. It’s vital to research every field and this scholarship ensures a conscious connection to the historic continuum and provides an opportunity to challenge the prevailing style. My ambition is to mine history and find some new perspective which acknowledges the changes (or lack of them) in our world.
What is the production process of one of your vases? From idea to finished form, walk me through the steps.
The first step is to draw the shape of the vase full size. It's important to sketch out the shape, review its proportions and check the overall dimensions, otherwise it may not fit into the kiln. I work with slabs of clay to create the flat walls of my vases – so the clay has to be rolled and left for some time to firm up. This process is about feeling the clay with your hands, watching it, waiting for the perfect moment and is key to its success. Then I construct the walls together as per my drawing, but this stage can vary from a few days up to a couple of weeks before I can start painting.
At the same time, I’m creating a digital collage of the final image. I usually try to conjure up a story to present on the vase and the bigger pieces afford an opportunity to create more complex narratives.
Having settled on a vision for the vase, I then draw the lines on the leather-hard clay and add any additional elements such as flora or wildlife. The next step is to start painting with colourful slips but this is tricky as it must be done as fast as possible. At this stage, the clay dries fast – it may not absorb the pigment or it may crack when carving lines. When my painting is finished, I carve outlines to add depth to the image and give character to my work. Then you allow the work to dry very slowly in order to avoid cracking. I’m still learning how the different clays cure at different rates and any impatience can cause problems later. When the piece is bone dry, it is fired in my kiln for bisque (approximately 1000 degrees centigrade).This is when pieces can crack or break and all my efforts will have been wasted. It’s so unpredictable and still happens, but experience informs just how much I can push the clay and the kiln to get the best results.
Once I have the bisque-fired vase, I glaze it with a transparent glaze to provide a layer of protection and lift the colours. It's exciting to see the transformation of these dull matte colours after another glaze and firing at a higher temperature. Finally, after weeks of toil, I can see the finished article.
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Tell me about the relationship between form and image in your work.
I tend to work serially, rather than tackle individual pieces. Often the shapes are the first step and my drawings try to capture a visual connection between the individual pieces. The shape of each vase can establish a link between the collection and the subject. A good example is my exhibition with the Anat Ebgi gallery in Los Angeles, where my primary subject was tropical seascapes. The shapes of all those vases were inspired by the movement of water and waves – each had a different size and shape but if you look at them together you can discern this aquatic theme.
What kind of life do you hope your ceramics will have after they leave your hands?
I hope that my work brings a positive energy to every home and makes the place special. Whether it's an individual’s home, private collection or museum, I hope that it's going to spark a conversation between people. Perhaps the work can help create a new perspective on life and shift attitudes regarding gay men, body positivity and sexuality?
Do you draw a line between art and pornography? Is such a boundary valuable?
That’s an interesting question – I think art and pornography overlap in certain aspects because both can act as a stimulus in our lives. Certainly, both create unrealistic realms but boundaries between the two are explicit. I think good art should elicit a range of emotions, raise questions and prompt a conversation.
So many people watch porn but it’s a taboo subject which can stigmatise and lead to problems of abuse and human trafficking. Pornography is performed by actors to arouse our basest instincts, but it raises many other questions such as the degradation of women and the dehumanisation of passive (penetrated) participants. Porn is often associated with prostitution and a nefarious underworld, so it is never going to be taboo-free whilst it remains on society’s fringes generating such huge profits. However, when porn is employed by artists it is imbued with a different meaning and therefore reinforces the schism between art and pornography.
What is next for Krzysztof Strzelecki? Where do you hope to see yourself in 10 years?
10 years is a long time and I really don’t look so far forward. I try to be present in the here and now but in the art world, you tend to project no more than a year or two because of gallery schedules. Hopefully, I will still be making art, maybe undertaking bigger projects to increase society’s tolerance for, and understanding of, queer people.
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