One of the painters of the Bydgoszcz ekomural. Photo by Marcin Czaja

The source of (painted) life

Plants and water are our sources of life. Nature provides us with oxygen and absorbs the nitrogen dioxide gases that could kill us. Water keeps us alive.  

In the Polish city of Bydgoszcz, (painted) plants, rivers, and technological energy systems also contribute to this natural function. ‘The source’ is a 400-square-metre mural drawn using ecological anti-smog paint that absorbs nitrogen oxide. 

Road transportation is responsible for 42% of those particles that make up these poisonous gases. Poland’s reliance on coal and the heritage of burning low-quality fuels to heat homes is not helping with air and land contamination, which exceeds European air standards in almost all areas.  

The European Environment Agency has certified the air quality of Bydgoszcz as ‘fair’ for the past year. Yet vehicles are an essential source of air pollution, especially in urban hotspots. The ‘ekomurals’ are led by several cities in Poland to reduce air contamination, educate in ecology and colour residential buildings. 

Educating through urban design 

“An important aspect of the implementation of eco murals in urban space, apart from the ecology and artistic values of the project, is the educational element and the promotion of appropriate patterns and behaviours regarding the care for clean air, nature and the surrounding world,” declares Marek Iwiński, Public Art Officer of the City of Bydgoszcz. 

Water is overlooked in discussions about the environment and climate change
— Marcin Czaja

In its broadest meaning, the theme ‘ecology’ was the focal point of the educational initiative. Such freedom of interpretation inspired the author’s creativity. Marcin Czaja is a mural painter and a teacher at the university. The artist won the contest the Bydgoszcz city council organised to pick a leitmotif and an author for the selected spot. 

A mural painted in green, blue and orange
Bydgoszcz ekomural. Photo by Marcin Czaja

The mural covers the side of a residential building in the city. “Due to the location of the wall in the design, it was necessary to take into account a distant perspective from which residents and passersby could view the design,” explains Iwiński. 

In seven days, the artist and five of his friends painted the ‘ekomural’ in Bydgoszcz. Czaja is also the author of several other murals located in Polish cities such as Lublin, Łodz, Opole, Warsaw and Elblag.

Unforgettable water 

“I am not a specialist in global warming,” Czaja says. “However, I decided to go with something that is overlooked in discussions about the environment and climate change ⁠— hydrology and water problems, which are observed around the world and in smaller towns in Poland.” 

One square meter of ecological anti-smog paint absorbs 0.44 grames of nitric oxide. It is like planting 374 trees
— Marek Iwiński

The author of the mural explains the lack of water is an increasing challenge people face year after year. He states the main factors are droughts and reckless urbanisation given that whole areas in cities have been paved using materials that do not allow water to drain to the ground. 

Four people look at the finished mural
Bydgoszcz ekomural and some of its authors. Photo by Marcin Czaja

“When I started to think about my design, I thought to start with spring. Water comes from underground as a source of life, and the river flows down the mural. It’s a pretty metaphor,” the artist explains.  

Striking from the ground, water supplies the vital energy of animals, plants and people represented on the wall. The design integrates water and ecological motives and displays technology through sustainable energy systems like solar panels and wind turbines. 

The air purification paint 

“The mural was supposed to present an ecological message, and at the same time to be made with the use of ecological paints that purify the air of harmful gaseous pollutants, based on photocatalytic mineral paints,” explains Iwinski. 

“It is called photocatalytic since you need light for the paints to work,” explains Czaja. These materials, which have become increasingly popular in Poland, positively impact the environment, contributing to air purification. Organisers and painters worked together to select a regional provider. 

“One square metre of ecological anti-smog paint absorbs 0.44 grams of nitric oxide, which is a very poisonous substance. The same amount is absorbed by one tree in one day. The wall area is 374 square meters – it is like planting 374 trees,” says Iwinski. 

Bydgoszcz hosts two eco murals, and the council is planning further related projects to decorate the city and reduce traffic pollution. 

An important aspect of the implementation of eco murals in urban space is the educational element and the promotion of appropriate behaviours regarding the care for clean air, nature and the surrounding world
— Marek Iwiński

A mural with orange and brown tones
An ecological mural painted by Czaja in Opole. Photo by Marcin Czaja

The meaning of colours 

Apart from being the author of ‘The Source’, Marcin Czaja gives lectures at university on the physics of light, colour and composition. He also leaves the physics standpoint to analyse the psychology of perception, which means how humans’ visual system perceives colour forms. “Visual perception is built at the biology of vision and takes place in our visual cortex, which is in our brain,” he explains. 

Red is used to represent danger. “There’s no coincidence that all the traffic lights and the warning signs are coloured red. They are very much related to blood. It’s engraved into our culture and our psyche.” 

There is no red on the mural, though. Does it imply we are still on time to reverse the danger? The author tried to make the colour palette as bright and optimistic as possible with warm colours like orange tones. 

‘The Source’ is surrounded by green, a colour often associated with nature and that suggests good luck.

Definitely, nature is the source of our luck. 

Marta Buces Eurocities Writer
in numbers:
  • 2

    ecomurals are located in Bydgoszcz
  • 0.44

    grames of nitric oxide is absorbed by the painting materials
  • 7

    days it took the artist and five of his friends to paint the 'ekomural' in Bydgoszcz