Karol Bartoszynski — Karol B. to fans and clients — makes vestments and accessories in a post-apocalyptic style, with cinematic shades of horror, steampunk, and a decidedly Mad Max, rockstar energy. Having fled Poland with his family as a young boy, he grew up in California in the 1980s, where the American pop culture of comics, movies and music infused his imagination with a taste for character and spectacle that fuels his work to this day.
Working in costume design and fashion-forward, military-inflected urban goth fashion, Karol’s work has a sculptural, bespoke ruggedness with hefty materiality, hand-wrought detail, and a radical textile-art object presence — especially his new line of one-of-a-kind face masks, whose elegantly dystopic style is so perfectly matched to this moment.
L.A. WEEKLY: When did you first know you were an artist?
KAROL B.: I’ve seen photos of me drawing when I was two. In grade school, I was a shy kid and my main way of getting any attention was to draw until someone noticed.
What is your short answer to people who ask what your work is about?
I have a desire to bring quality work to people with specific niche interests. My inspiration comes a lot from movies, rock & roll, as well as traditional clothing from around the world.
What would you be doing if you weren’t an artist?
If I stayed in my last profession, I’d still be teaching surgical technology. Or maybe still running festivals or special events.
Did you go to art school? Why/Why not?
I never went to art school. People have always asked me if I took any classes, and honestly, I was always proud to say I was self-taught. I tried film school once, but gave it up when I had a job offer.
Why do you live and work in L.A., and not elsewhere?
I grew up in the Bay Area. Los Angeles was always a special place we would visit every other year — the land of Disneyland and Hollywood. When I moved down here, I felt that magic in the air — a sense that here there were opportunities to be seen and recognized that most of the world didn’t have.
When was your first show?
I’ve never really displayed at an art show, even though I’ve wanted to try it one day. I go to conventions mostly. Some of my biggest shows have been Monsterpalooza, the L.A. County Fair and Wasteland Weekend. I helped found Wasteland Weekend in 2010 and have been vending there since 2015.
What artist living or dead would you most like to show with?
Do you listen to music while you work? If so what?
I think that would depend on what kind of project I was working on. I’d want to get in the right mood. So maybe some Hans Zimmer or industrial metal.