PROJEKT: You have graduated as architect, so how has it come that you are a painter?
ZDZISLAW BEKSINSKI: Generally speaking, the answer is quite simple. I am incapable of working in a team. Architecture implies collective work. If I could build quite on my own and for myself, I would be an architect in the same way as I am a painter. I enjoy only individual action. I do not care on what scale. Perhaps I would be happier producing large wall paintings, but only if I owned the paint and the wall and if the deadline, the manner of execution and everything else depended entirely on myself. The case being different. I prefer small pictures that fit a room and that are painted in a crammed studio. If I accepted a commission, I would be anxious to satisfy my employer. So why take on such obligations?
P.: What is the reference of your art to the output of great visionaries of the past, such as Gustav Moreau, Arnold Bocklin, Odilon Redon, Blake? What can you say about the Young Poland inspiration which is quite obvious to your public?
Z.B.: The question answers itself and I do not really mind. As a rule, I am compared with Linke and Bosch and in both cases I do mind. I do not accept all of Bocklin but his "Island of the Dead" made a great, unforgettable impression on me when I was a child and this impression survived until this day.
P.: In a number of your paintings and drawings, the chief role is played by symbols, signs or accessories such as the cross, skeletons, or a skull, which have functioned in art for ages but in a way differing according to the period. You use them in a stylistic version reminiscent of modernism or, at times, Romanticism. It is a conscious intention?
Z.B.: All I want to do is to paint. One cannot escape tradition. A painting as such, an object hanging on the wall, defined by its geometric shape, framed, looked at and commented upon is as a whole the result of tradition. Both contemplation of a work of art and conversation about a work of art, are elements of tradition, which have penetrated even conceptualism. Why, for Heaven's sake, should I, of my own free will, give up other traditional elements, such as the dim glimmer of varnish, composition of figures, and so on? From the very first pictures that I saw in'childhood in churches and people's homes, I have gradually built up the idea of apainting in my consciousness. And I wish to materialize this idea. It can be done through opposition, irony, in inverted commas, from a distance and through persiflage, but it can be also done literally and naively. I use my accessories for the large part quite consciously because they are, in my opinion, linked up with the idea of a painting, linked as closely as the frame or the hook at the back. And what if I use a particular sort of accessories? I have not got so many. All the greatest pictures in the world resemble oneanother and it does not really matter what they represent. Personally, I prefer painting a fantastic, irregular ruin to a contemporary regular office building, the main reason being that in the former case work does not bore me. The message of painting does not dwell in the accessories but in the unspoken. At most, accessories or rather the preference for a certain kind of accessories reflect the artist's mental disposition. But I do not paint in ordertoinitiatespiritual contact.To bequite honest, I do not really know what it is all about. I simply feel an urge to paint And whether I have too much or too little imagination... I must say that I do not think much of imagination. A tree against a misty background means more to me if it is well painted than all of Magritte.
P.: Your work is strikingly uneven. Some paintings seem to unveil a mysterious, eery world, but there seems to be even more that annoy one for their banality. Do you classify your works according to your own hierarchy?
Z.B.: I would certainly not like to annoy anyone with banality. I believe that lam not banal, but that is only my own belief. Is it not a matter of reading false symbols into what I have painted? Quite naturally, I regard some paintings as good and some as poor. Good work is the fruit of good luck or a good period. I always want to paint well but I do not always succeed in doing so. I am speaking about my own judgement. A poor painting results from the chosen method on the one hand, and the chosen object on the other. As regards the latter, I often find half-way that I do no longer believe in what I am dqing. It happens as rule with figurative scenes and I feel as if I have suddenly seen the scene I am painting through a window and had to describe it in words. lt does not apply to landscapes with which there are formal problems but this is not the subject of the question. To return to what the public may find banal: I think that what happens is misinterpretation. When one paints real objects, each of them evokes a number of simple associations but not all of these associations are apparent. For instance, the first association evoked by the word fish is not the same with everybody. What will be the first association 1 for one person, may be the seventh association for another and the hundredth for yet another. A number of real objects painted in one picture naturally prompt an interplay of first associations, according to certain fixed schemes, e.g. the symbolic scheme or surrealist scheme after Magritte style. As I have often said, in my case notional associations are only a by-product resulting from the fact that I paint real or almost real objects which enter into mutual spatial relations in a painting, though not of a notional type. Certainly, the word fish evokes a certain primary association with me as well as with others, and if I paint a fish in certain surroundings, I cannot discard the entire baggage of associations, but nor do I, by any means, use them in a creative way. If I do not paint a red fish hanging from a balloon (which is something I do avoid), I believe that it is clear to everyone that a fish is a fish and nothing else. Nevertheless, if I paint dead fish that the sea has thrown on to the sand, which apparently is as natural as a tree against a misty landscape, because the fish are presented in a most plausible situation and environment, it does not mean that I have avoided the danger of response bordering on literary banality. Incidentally, I am describing a concrete work painted a few years ago which I have grown to loathe because of the commentaries speaking about the traditional "fish on the sand" or, still worse, "a protest against the danger of ecological catastrophe". But I did not think in this way originally; what I thought was quite simple: I painted the sea and the dead fish thrown ashore. And nothing else. And if I should ever paint a nude girl with a skull in her hand, it would be neither "love and death" nor "vanitas". Banality functions only as a by-product. Oncea painting has been finished I very often realize ex post facto, from public response and opinion that high brows have read something else into my work than I have.
P.: Enthousiasts of your art argue that it reveals the depths of an extreme existential experience. Opponents see it as a masterly show of a fairly stereotype horror. How would you verbalise the message it conveys?
Z.B.: I think that all I want is pretty paintings. Simply pretty. You may easily call me a poseur, it would not be the first time that I meet with such a question and such a reaction to my answer. But I really want to paint pretty pictures. At the source of my definition of a pretty painting lies a large Baroque or 19th century altar piece or a dark landscape in an old home, hanging in company of family portraits and other landscapes; in such a company there would undoubtedly be a place for a painting by Vermeer. That does not exhaust the subject but I am quite sure that I do not want to produce horror... I would find it a very nice compliment indeed if someone told me that what I paint is morbid. I am very strongly attracted to the morbid, which does not imply that I relish the common cold; what I mean is morbidity in 19th century understanding of the term. I mean something which attracted Thomas Mann. Hence, in some respects, Wojtkiewicz is closer to me than Vermeer, but only in some respects. Perhaps the synthesis for which I astrive is quite inconsistent and unattainable...