Contemporary Charcoals: The Work of Eryk Giermak


Examining the rich variety of artists working with charcoal requires turning the lens upon those working in the medium today. Accordingly, this week’s post inaugurates a new intermittent series initiating such an investigation. Entitled “Contemporary Charcoals,” these entries will feature the works of rising international artists who are taking the art of charcoal drawing to new levels, from classical to cutting edge. And, of course, showcased simultaneously with the celebration of these talents is the remarkable versatility of the charcoal medium, which lends itself as much to traditional academic approaches as it does to more abstract expression. Few embody this freedom of expression as well as our first featured artist, Eryk Giermak. A Polish artist working in the United Kingdom, Giermak centers his artistic production in abstract charcoal works that explore both the extremes of tonal value and the boundaries between real and unreal. Eryk took the time to answer some questions about his approach, which allow us a brief peek into his working process and his inspiration. For more about Giermak and his work, please visit his website.


Nitram Charcoal (NC): If you had only one word to describe your art, what would you choose?

Eryk Giermak (EG): Joy.

NC: What drew you to working in charcoal? What advantages do you think it has over other media?  

Eryk Giermak

EG: I tried many techniques before I came to charcoal. In this technique you are doing, or not doing. There is no try. Advantages? This is not a question for me; you need to ask the Italian Renaissance masters - they knew what to do with charcoal!


NC: What’s the first piece of art you’ve ever created? What did you learn from it?

EG: Once upon a time...I invited some pupils from primary school to watch my performance. I designed the set, made puppets, and prepared dialogues. It was not a big deal; ping pong balls with drawn faces attached to a pencil. The most important thing is the atmosphere of the performance. I learned then that art can benefit people .

NC: Do your pieces always start with a clear vision of what the end result is going to be or does the piece “create itself” along the way and dictate the direction?

EG: Charcoal gives you unlimited possibility in expression. You can focus on some thoughts, some topic at the beginning, but then free your mind. From there, I try to make good choices.

NC: What is your most unusual quirk or ritual when working on your art?

EG: When I really like one of my drawings, I am sometimes compelled to take off my shoes and dance to the accompaniment of loud music. I do not think I'm crazy, but sometimes I have too many emotions.

NC: Can you tell us more about one of your favorite creations? Where did you create it? Does it have a story attached?


EG: A series of charcoal drawings entitled Duende. In the dictionary, the word is listed as "elf" or "magic". However, in actual practice, when the word shows up in text it is rarely in the context of a woodland spirit, although that is where the word`s etymology begins.

In 1933 Spanish poet and theater director Federico Garcia Lorca gave a lecture in Buenos Aires titled "Play and Theory of the Duende" in which he addressed the fiery spirit behind what makes great performance stir the emotions: “The duende, then, is a power, not a work. It is a struggle, not a thought. . . . it is not a question of ability, but of true, living style, of blood, of the most ancient culture, of spontaneous creation.”

My drawings were created during my stay in Spain. Recently I sold some of them to Figueroa Hotel in Los Angeles. Apparently they needed that spirit at home.


NC: What do you hope your works communicate to the viewer?

EG: Freedom - the freedom to feel emotions.


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