Polish artist Jacek Kaczyński was born in Warsaw in 1965. While he describes his life as “boring” I’m sure not many of us can say we “tried to escape from the army”! Perhaps his rebellious character is what makes him such a wonderful artist. After all, every artist has to be willing to break a few rules!
After he served his punishment of working out his two year military service he began his professional life in 1986. Over the years he has worked in a few printing and publishing houses and currently works for the Polish Ministry of Education. Jacek opens up about life under communism, literature, loss and his philosophy of life and how it influences his art.
IT’S ART: In a colorful world you have chosen to express yourself in black and white, why is that?
JACEK: I guess for many various reasons, some of them unknown even to me probably. The world is not simply such as is but is such as we can see it; our own perceptions are very subjective. So, I can see a colorful world in black and white because the experience of my life has made me color-blind. This can be thought of as a kind of disability but it is a disability which was chosen, it is a self-limitation. Black and white is the way I see things and as a consequence it is my means of expression, thanks to which I can communicate with the rest of the world with the highest degree precision. This limitation has become my way to pass on emotions, atmosphere, ideas etc. In a colorful world sometimes the essence of things can be lost. My color asceticism allows me to approximate to truth, I hope. It is also the way I escape from standards, from easy visual attractiveness and from insincerity.
IT’S ART: Your illustrations are mostly ethereal, far away from the classical fantasy/sf illustrations we can see on many forums. Can you tell us what other digital artists do you feel close to? Who has been an influence in your art?
JACEK: I do not divide digital and traditional art. My fascinations and discoveries of art that have been the most influential for me date from times before digital art was starting. Truthfully, I don’t know many digital artists, even the very famous ones.
This is a result of the fact that I don’t look for new trends or follow up much on the industry. I had never shown my works anywhere until May 2007, except maybe in a few Polish forums. Generally, I’m unfashionable by choice, which is probably visible enough in my work. And if you could only see my clothes!
One artist whose works I have felt close to for many years is Grzegorz Kmin. Some of his graphics have forced me to ponder over. But we are very different artist from the technical and formal part. Another excellent and original artist is Tomasz Trafiał. His compositions are subtle and aesthetic but still intriguing. There is probably more CG artist whose names do not come to mind at the moment but whose works have blown me away in the past. Really, like I said before, I have been most influenced by art from before the digital era. And by art I mean not only paintings but also movies, photography and literature. Some of the differences in my illustrations date probably from the specific times and conditions I grew up in. For instance, my youthful fascination with the fantastic comes from the classical science-fiction literature published in Poland in 70’s and 80’s. The authors that I read a lot are: Stanisław Lem, Arkadij i Borys Strugaccy, Janusz A. Zajdel, Adam Wisniewski Snerg and, from time to time, Philip K. Dick and Brian Aldiss. During the 70’s and 80’s writers from West were seldom published in Eastern Europe. Remember that I’m talking about times when communism ruled in Poland and press and literature were censored.
Science-fiction literature from those times was more humanistic or even more of a philosophical reflection of man. Writers covered the truth about our world under the mask of fantastic anti-utopia. This world was awful sometimes. Words had double meaning; for example, “friendship”, “peace”, “freedom” meant something dangerous was still in the air. This restricted atmosphere formed me and my friends and maybe it affects my way of seeing things and my drawings until today. We lived in a very Orwellian world. I consider George Orwell’s 1984 to be a prophetic book and it is still one of the most important books for me today.
IT’S ART: Do you think your culture has something to do with your artistic style?
JACEK: My intention, unquestionably, is to make my works honest. That means I do not pretend anything and I don’t make up the stories. I try to show my real feelings, fascinations, fears or even obsessions and of course these are all closely connected to my culture and to the place where I grew up. My roots are part of me and there is an archetype I use instinctively and maybe subconsciously. From other side, I do not think it is a predominating element in my graphics.
IT’S ART: Your art is influenced a lot by symbols and dreams. Can you tell us more about this?
JACEK: It’s true. I fear literalness because it flattens the perception of reality and it reduces it to primitive materialism. Inner reality, which I try to describe, is far from the obvious; it is equivocal and full of tensions not defined up to the end, it is wishes and fears. This is why I need symbols. For example, little paper boats represent the world as I perceive it; unstable, dangerous and unpredictable. The fundamental feeling I experience in contact with this world is absolute powerlessness and my only line of defense is to become a supersensitive membrane that reacts even to the slightest movement of the air around me. I try to catch warning signals, lack-luster messages and confusing instructions that flow in from outside as unclear premonitions. Next, I try to understand, translate and interpret it. I know all of this probably sounds like a description of shamanistic practices but this is how I manage with the external world and get to know and understand it through my art. Symbols and dreams are ideal tools for art. First, they signify. The presence of symbols and signals in the picture reveal something more than aesthetic layer. Second, their meaning is not obvious. With symbol and signals the space of possible interpretations is widened. In some ways this serve’s me by helping me to free my mind from primary assumptions. In other ways, I hope, it gives something to the viewer. The conclusion that the viewer comes to is very individual and I leave it completely up to him or her to interpret my work.
IT’S ART: I also sense some symbols of human oppression hidden in some of your illustrations. Do you agree?
JACEK: Yes, I think this is the essence. It follows directly from my attitude towards existence. I have come to terms with problem of death early in life. I lost my father when I was very young and this has affected my view of reality. My sense of safety was destroyed in one moment and it has never returned. I have learned to live with this but it consistently appears in my work. I suppose my art is a form of self-therapy.
There is always an awareness that shines on the border of my consciousness and reminds me that among peace and grey boredom of daily life something horrible and absolutely out of my control can find its’ way into my life. Contrary to Greeks I believe that fate acts mindlessly and accidentally and if fate leads to something that I define as evil it makes it deliberately. I believe there is a power without consciousness, meaning we can forget about pleading through prayers. This is the way I see life and the human being and this is how I try to show it in my works.
I am talking about fear, loneliness, love, death, dreams and about the frailty of human existence. I’m interested in very simple, basic and almost naïve emotions. I want to be naive this way. Life is so beautiful and yet such a terrifying experience that in confrontation with life all ingenious philosophy, each pose, every ideological
construction must be destroyed. All that should be left is a few elementary cases.
IT’S ART: Thanks to internet, a lot of CG artist have recently discovered Beksinski and try to reinterpret his art. What classical painters do you like and do you feel close to?
JACEK: I like Beksinski very much and admit that his art has definitely influenced my own; especially in my range of thematic interests and similar attitude for reality and the human form. Beksinski has become the guru for many CG artists but at the same time he has become a real curse for them. It is difficult for many to take inspiration from him and then free themselves from constant comparisons to this master. This is ironic because his digital works are much weaker in comparison to his traditional ones; however, his paintings seem to be ideal to create with digital tools.
There is a similar problem with Giger, who is another artist I feel close to. On a Polish forum someone described me as “Giger of the Orthodox Church.” I hope he means more “Orthodox Church” and less “Giger” I’m not Giger indeed. Giger is cool and ruthless and his images are almost inhuman. In his works there is chemistry, strangeness and solitude. Maybe this is the reason why I feel so familiar with his work that I could sleep in one of his paintings.
In addition to Beksinski and Giger, there have been a number of framers whose works have changed me and
changed my manner of looking at art. The artists that inspire me are random and include anonymous artist to Lasceaux, whose art was some kind of magical practice that cast a spell over reality. I think my style of drawing is similar. I transform imagination to something that really exists. I try to materialize dreams, premonitions, desires and fears.
Also, I get very inspired by Medieval art with its’ specific perspectives, religious topics and the eastern tradition of icons (which in this tradition each genuine icon is work of God who has used artist as instrument).
There are many painters of Renaissance, such as, van Eyck, Breugel or my favorite, Bosch. And Baroque artists Rembrandt and Vermeer have enchanted me with the way they created light. I also like and take from impressionism and post-impressionism, especially Cezanne and van Gogh. Cubism and surrealist artists Max Ernst, Chirico and Tanguy have also has a lot of influence on me. Other powerful inspirations come from Paul Klee and Chagall. As for Polish painters there is Makowicz, Wróblewski, Sliwinski and especially Józef Czapski. I feel connected to many artists from the Polish School of Posters; among them Hentryk Tomaszewski, Wiktor Sadowski, Jan Lenica. Their way of interpreting a picture is very close to mine. I still have many of their posters in my mind. I’m sure, I have forgotten many names that have been important to me: Alferd Kubin, Jan Lebenstein, Bruno Schulz, Edward Munch, Józef Gielniak, Stasys Eydragevicius and Łukasz Banach are some more that have been a source of inspiration. There are thousands of them still in my head. It’s impossible to say how all of these influences have mixed in my mind and I’m not sure how it really works. I can say for sure I know that my art exists thanks to all my past and current interest in other artists work. And I am certain I’m also influenced in ways that even I don’t know about.
IT’S ART: When I was in university I was asked to make a comment about this question: “Do you think art can free men?”. You once said to me in a past discussion that freedom was one of the most important things for you. You told me that while you were working for a creative agency you didn’t feel free. Can you tell us more about this paradox?
JACEK: All that I create is very emotional and very personal. When you are working in creative agency you must be professional and your creative energy must serve the clients. You have to be ready to make something beautiful but something that the theme is given and under time constraints. Is it possible to make art with conditions? It may be for some but not for me; perhaps it is a problem of individual predisposition and priorities. I don’t want to do this nor can I. I put so much energy and so much heart in my work that it can not be limited and directed.
As well, the work in creative agencies in Poland is usually heavy drudgery rather than a festival of creation. There I was working under the pressure of deadlines 12-16 hours a day and this really weighed on me. I work rather slowly and I spend a lot of time just thinking over my work. I often make a few alternative versions of one drawing before I will decide which will lead to the final piece. It’s impossible to work this way in agencies, at least the ones I am familiar with. Everyday after work I would return with no energy left and no power to create my own drawings.
The joy of creating was gone and the ideas left me. I no longer felt what I was creating was art. Maybe
it is a different situation at agencies in other parts of the world; or it may simply be that it is just not a job for me. However, when I stopped working in agencies my ideas came back and the drawings you see now are the result. Now I draw for my own pleasure only, without orders, instructions or any interference. And as it happens it is possible to sell my personal work and it is an overall good situation for me.
IT’S ART: Do you think you have your own style? And can you explain how you think you’ve integrated influences to make your own way?
JACEK: Yes, I believe I have my own style. One sign of this is that my works are recognized by people who have connected with them. It’s hard for me to evaluate it myself. From other side, I can say that my style changes with periods of my life and I am still evolving. My current “style” is not something achieved one time and forever. My experiences are constantly growing and new interests and influences are coming from everywhere. I’m open and I do not fear to change. In my last piece I experimented a little with color, so colors will probably appear in my work some day... who knows.
As an artist I know there are thousands of years of tradition behind me and there is a vast source of inspiration from which I draw. Yes, I use different tools such as digital technique, etc. but in my opinion this has little importance. An instrument is just that, an instrument, in the end it doesn’t matter with “what” something has been made but “what” and “how” it has been made.
My attitude to CG Graphics is probably not typical. I always hate the unnatural perfection and smoothness of digital pictures. We can’t allow the tools we use to dominate our works. When we use these tools we should express our own individuality to the extent that our spirit is visible in our work. Because the artists I admire are predominately traditional ones I search for ways to create my drawings without the sharpness of digital
art. In my drawings everything is imperfect, there are no straight lines, forms are a bit curvy, there are irregular textures, imperfections, roughness and erosion of form. I think, in these imperfections the perfection of reality is hidden.
IT’S ART: How would you qualify your style?
JACEK: There is a problem. I don’t like to classify anything, especially myself. Classification is falsity and creates boundaries.
In reality everything in the world is connected to each other.
I am sometimes included in the category of so called “dark artists”. Unmistakably, my work often moves in that direction but I would like to give it a more universal character. We are living in times when reality can equal even the boldest fantasies. We are staying in this reality but we have not changed much from the times of Lascaux framers. The basics of science-fiction serve only to push me to ask the questions: Where are we going? Is there a place for humans in this glacial, industrial reality? Who or what will be human in the future? What does it mean to be a human?
IT’S ART: Can you tell us about your creative process? How do you transform your ideas into art?
JACEK: I’m afraid this will not be a good lesson for beginner artists because my methods are not the most professional. I create everything contrary to the basic rules that are taught in schools. First of all, I almost never make sketches. I have a general vision in my head, sometimes I have several ideas for one drawing. I call these ideas “living sketches” because they are living their own life and they are changing during the creation process. I like when the picture surprises me and then the next steps are all made by my reactions. For a few weeks I started uploading stages of this process on my blog to have a better understanding myself of how it happens.
Often at the beginning I have only some unclear and very general ideas. Sometimes I only feel the atmosphere of the piece I’m about to create. Although, it sometimes happens too that I can see full, ready to draw images in my head and I need only to convert it into pixels. Right now I’m working with Photoshop CS, this version has everything I need, and cheap tablet. I don’t use any photos or ready textures.
I draw with custom brushes, no factory brushes from PS, and use the same brushes as an eraser. I am working with black backgrounds and white brushes. Starting from Big Dubs I try to give main lights and forms in broad outline. The next steps consist in the gradual addition of details, modeling, shading and lights. In PSD files I never have more than 3 or 4 layers at the same time, sometimes one only except background, and I combine layers when it is possible. I hate to spend time dealing with technical cases as names and grouping layers. I work rather slowly. I can look for hours at the drawing and I wonder what drawing expects from me and it remembers the conversation. Yes, I believe it is necessary to talk to the lines; you can lock me into a house of madmen if you want. Many times it happens that I draw and erase some part of picture only to find out exactly what I want. For this, having a separate layer is useful. My final drawings are a result of numerous approximations and working over and over the details. The details are always a genuine hell. I have never achieved a state when I can say my drawing is finished in 100%. I always have to quit at some point, but this does not mean that I think the drawing is finished. Sometimes I just have to tell myself to stop.
IT'S ART: In your opinion what gives a signature to your art?
JACEK: This is a difficult question. When I’m drawing I don’t care if there is going to be anybody who want to buy it. I try to be honest and stay on what is important to me.
So maybe that is my signature. That I am the most anachronic and naive digital painter in history of mankind!
IT’S ART: What do the new tools bring or not bring to your artwork?
JACEK: In my case, everything. This thing you call “my style” was brought about starting when digital tools first appeared. I have managed to find proper tone. Pictures and graphics which I have created before digital tools are far away from those I create today. I think the day I bought my first Tablet I was born again. Photoshop and Tablet, I waited my whole life for these two tools.
IT’S ART: If you were asked to reinterpret one classical artwork, what would it be? And why?
JACEK: It would be one of the paintings of Jan Vermeer van Delft. Maybe “De kantwerkste”, the painting you can see here I would especially like to reinterpret it in the context of the poem by R.M. Rilke, “The Lace”. I believe there is something mysterious in this picture, and from the technical side, exceptionally beautiful in the light. I’m dreaming to evolve someday to create such pictures, in my next life maybe. For now I feel I have not enough time or the ability.
IT’S ART: Would you like to add anything else?
JACEK: Thank you for giving me the chance to talk about my passion.