Take a look at Gosia Herba’s illustrations and you’ll see echoes of early 20th century modern art. She pays homage to predecessors—with traces of Picasso and Matisse emerging in her rich, vibrant compositions—but there’s so much more to her paintings. They are her own special blend.
Herba lives in Wrocław, a city in southwest Poland that’s a bit out of the way for an illustrator who regularly contributes to well-known Polish cultural institutions, music labels, and magazines (Przekroj, Zwierciadlo, Pani, Charaktery, Bloomberg Businessweek Polska, Chimera, Gaga, and more). This is a deliberate choice. “The rat race isn’t for me,” she admits.
“Illustration is my whole life,” she continues. “I know that sounds banal, but it’s true. I draw everyday. I wake up at 8:30 a.m. and at 9:00 a.m. I start my work. My day usually ends at 8:00 p.m., though sometimes I work until midnight.”
As a child, art wasn’t something Herba did just once or twice a week for class. It was a daily practice. “There were thousands of books in my family home, many of them about art,” Herba says. “I looked at books of paintings every day. One of my favorites was about Hans Memling’s The Last Judgment. I really loved those devil figures.”
She went on to attend the National School of Fine Arts in Wrocław and, since there were just two programs to choose from at the school, she received her diploma in jewelry-making. Surprisingly, Herba didn’t focus on fine art when she attended the University of Wrocław—instead, she pursued art history. It was a rather thoughtful approach to education; instead of focusing on what was already so much a part of her—drawing and painting—Herba chose to fill in gaps and build a strong foundation.
“My studies in art history left me with huge personal art gallery in my head. I really appreciate Gothic painting and sacral sculpture, Japanese print art as well as paintings by Balthus, and works by Polish painters Witold Wojtkiewicz and Wojciech Weiss.”
Picasso and Matisse get their due, of course, but so do Frans Masereel’s woodcuts. The influence of the Flemish artist can be seen in Herba’s graphic “Get Your Head around the City,” a series of illustrations for the Wrocław City Guide. Herba also raves about contemporary comic art by Charles Burns, Daniel Clowes, and Joann Sfar, to name a few. If you haven’t figured it out already, I’ll spell it out for you: Herba likes variety. That’s the one constant her work, and it feeds her creativity. Case in point, she has her first comic book, Fertility, created with Mikołaj Pasiński, in the works. (The pair is also creating a children’s book.)
Herba is also reaching beyond her work online or on paper. She’s currently working on her second collection of hand-painted porcelain. Her first foray of transferring illustration to different objects, the “Festen.Lava Lake” collection features dense, intricate patterns of red lines—a departure for an artist whose style is often described as having a Cubist bent. In a nutshell, Herba will keep you guessing. And that’s a very good thing.
“Experiments with media are an important stage of my work process. Each technique influences the style and character of the image. My favorite medium is gouache paint. I like its velvet-like color,” Herba explains. “I also use ink, paper cut-outs, and Ecoline. When working on illustration for magazines, I often use a graphic tablet.”
With a piece in the Washington Post under her belt, and soon the Virginia Quarterly, it won’t be long before we see Herba’s unexpected and delightful work in more U.S. publications. In the meantime, she’s reading up on cultural anthropology, iconography, and the history of mirabilia (medieval monsters and freaks). Her inspiration knows no bounds.