Michał Suchora: What kinds of dilemma does an abstract painter have?
Sławomir Pawszak: The greatest dilemma is a question that I ask myself about the value and sense of what I’m doing. I have a very strong awareness that my works are not yet mature, that they are still evolving.
Paradoxically, it has been much easier for me to work since I adopted the rule to attempt to create paintings that will irritate me. I hope that now I am able to lose the modest elegance of my artworks from a couple of years ago.
With my way of painting, a lot of artworks are not successful and I throw them away which can be frustrating. When you are watching Jakub Julian Ziółkowski or Tal R – and how many good paintings they are able to paint during the day and you get an impression that these artists do not make mistakes. I make a lot of them. There are moments when everything goes smooth, but also periods when I toil over every aspect of the painting. Then I recall Jean-Jacques Rousseau who said that an artist should create art with the same kind of ease and naturalness with which a child poops.
MS: The title of the exhibition is taken from a painting by Djordje Ozbolt in which nature and culture are contrasted in a very crude way.
SP: In my opinion that painting shows the eternal breadth of a human being, that which lies between metaphysics and common physiology and without which no one can live, that which itself is life. The question is, how to find a balance between one and the other. What should one do in life? In my case, art has become my main endeavor and abstract painting has become a natural reaction to the clash of the unimaginable complexity and richness of the universe.
MS: In Poland we have a great tradition of abstract art. Today, however, it is marginal. Do you think that there is no space for it?
SP: Many people unfortunately think that abstract painting is a kind of artistic conformity. Many times I’ve heard that painting is easy to do and to sell, that it is a salon art.
I am motivated by an awareness of deficiency. I simply have the feeling that there is not enough abstraction and I want to fill that emptiness.
I know that for someone who is a bit older than me it may sound like blasphemy, but when I was studying, critical art was an established way to proceed. That’s why abstraction, which almost no one was doing at that time and it seemed that no one treated seriously, was the most tempting. I had an urge to put a cat among the pigeons. Of course when I look at this from the perspective of time, it is quite naïve.
MS: What do you think about the line “a conservative turn” that has been used lately by art critics and which has emerged in the context of art created by a younger generation of artists?
SP: I do not agree with that at all. Firstly, I would not like to generalize because the scene consists of many milieus, which have various motivations. Maybe someone will be surprised by this, but I think about myself as an engaged artist. I really do believe in metaphysics.
MS: Once you told me that you have an urge to create something that does not exist. Do you think that more paintings should be added to those, which have already been painted?
SP: I do not at all feel that “all the paintings have already been painted” and it’s time to say goodbye. As if we should say that we have achieved everything within painting, and that we have landed on the Moon etc. We know enough already so why do we need labs and research. Again and again I read that we suffer from a visual overload but I do not feel such an overload. A state of visual wealth is a natural state, regardless of whether we are looking at the sky on billions of stars or at the millions of micro-organisms in a drop of seawater.
MS: Often an allegation against abstraction is that it is tomfoolery that it is about nothing.
SP: I like the thought that maybe what I’m painting, what seems to be entirely detached from reality, is in fact space landscapes of distant planets which exist, but to which simply we cannot get to yet. No, I’m not a medium, but imagine: if space is infinite, there must be everything.
But is it about nothing? A lot of works are in my opinion literally too much about something, sometimes the effect is a caricature. I’ll give you an example: recently during the exhibition Progress and Hygiene I stopped in front of a work entitled Painkillers – two machine guns made of powdered and hardened painkillers… an analogy to not-funny jokes like: “What time is it when an elephant sits on the fence? Time to get a new fence” – is striking.
MS: And why do you think that in art it doesn’t make any sense to refer 1:1 to life? Do you create a parallel world for yourself?
SP: I think about my paintings as about a piece of marble. Marble also seems to be about nothing, it does not imitate anything. It is enough that it has a fascinating form, may be associated with something, evoke some emotions.
Art does not have to fulfill any function; it may simply be a certain surplus, which increases the number of things to contemplate. I once talked to my friend about those sparkling particles blended in the floor in the city buses. The fact that they sparkle phenomenally in the sun on summer afternoons and have no practical function is awesome. Paintings have the same function as listening to music or watching a sunset, or cooking something delicious. J
MS: Is there anything that you would like to achieve through your art?
SP: My great ambition has always been to make my paintings stodgy. Not for a townsman who is outraged by peeling potatoes in the Zachęta Gallery, but for an art geek – a specialist who excellently recognizes patterns of contemporary art. Once my friend made up a term “artsy art” to describe works which ideally blend into the landscape of contemporary art. I would like my paintings not to fit into that category.
Translated by Małgorzata Kaźmierczak