Pole of attraction for artist

Launch of new exhibition, a collection of work by 20th century Polish artists. Matthew Bateson and Sian Brown
Launch of new exhibition, a collection of work by 20th century Polish artists. Matthew Bateson and Sian Brown
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It’s surprising to find that a man who has filled two rooms of a Sheffield gallery with paintings by Polish artists has no connection to the country.

Art collector Mathew Bateson is an artist himself. He started collecting works from artists who had moved to this country from all over the world.

He is lending the Graves Gallery in Sheffield Central Library 59 works by 19 Polish artists, who mostly settled here when their country went to war against Nazi Germany. At first he didn’t realise he had so many.

He said: “I didn’t come from any Polish connection at all. I’m interested in Expressionist and narrative painting. I paint and it’s an extension of my own interest and personality.”

He says that he bought the pictures because he thought they were fantastic works of art.

He picked up his first Polish painting from what is known as an ‘abbatoir’ auction, where works and frames are lumped together, often damaged.

Mathew, who lives in London but has shown his own work at the Graves and lent the gallery other pictures in his collection, chose the gallery because he likes its unusual approach to the way it chooses what to show.

He has no time for the London art world, saying it is full of snobbery about what’s fashionable, making stars out of people with little talent.

He said: “If I wanted to make money, I would be much better buying prints by Damien Hirst.

“In London, they’re not looking at this kind of art. They’re just not sexy.”

Sometimes he found the painter’s details on the back of a picture and got in touch.

The process has turned Mathew into a champion of Polish emigré art. He hopes Sheffield’s sizeable Polish community will visit the sh0w.

He says the art has been forgotten, partly as Expressionism was a German movement unpopular after the war.

Some religious works were painted by Marian Bohusz-Szyszko, who died in 1995. He was a recluse, says Mathew, and was driven to paint every day.

He said: “I always admire artists who can be that dedicated. I’d rather watch TV!”

The most disturbing work on show, Prisoners Fighting over Food, shows a scene from a Nazi concentration camp. The painter, Piotr Mleczko, witnessed it from the prisoner of war camp next door. He was haunted by his war experiences and had a mental breakdown.

However, many of the works are bright and vibrant and they are in a wide variety of styles.

Pole Position is at the Graves Gallery from Saturday until June 28.