Interview by Małgorzata Czyńska
You have treated holy statues rather gently. You have never given Christ a pirate eye-patch. You haven’t dressed Mary in a bikini either. Haven’t you ever been tempted to violate their sanctity?
Violation – that’s saying a lot. I had a slight temptation to deconstruct and abandon conventions. The problem is that I gave up before I really started. This is not what I have been looking for these days – that’s not what I need now. Therefore, I won’t paint Christ with a pirate eye-patch, a rifle, a Hitler moustache or Harry Potter’s spectacles. I am not going to blend other religions with Christian iconography. I sometimes see figurines that have a kind of decomposition, a change of meaning, but for the time being I cannot do that, because it’s against my outlook on life, against my conscience. If I ever change anything, I do it in accordance with my character and nature. I never show off.
Perhaps we have got used to the fact that whenever a contemporary artist deals with holy figures, we expect another scandal, some iconoclastic actions. And in your works there is only the sweetness of kitsch, sugary beauty, pop art.
For years the stylistics of kitsch has been close to my heart and such figures are the essence of folksiness, amateurishness, domestic work. I grew up in Częstochowa, where I still live, and can see church fair stalls every day. I look at devotional articles with sentiment and interest. If something puts me off, it’s not kitsch, but bad taste, shoddiness, bad quality materials.
You haven’t freed yourself from the childlike delight over the colourful Christmas crib, the money-box angel that nods its head.
It was magic. And as a small child you observe and you believe that if you give the angel a coin, it will thank you and really nod its head. You wonder what it is like and how it works. Ten years ago I bought a ready-made gypsum cast of such an angel and painted it my way – it was a gift for my goddaughter. I also used that opportunity to find out how the angel works – I saw a simple mechanism with a curved wire and a small metal plate.
My relationship with angels has a longer history. As a child, what I liked best was to play with a china trumpeter angel. It was my mum’s old figurine – she had got it from a German soldier stationed in my grandparents’ house during the war.
I have devotional articles such as figurines, little altars, shrines and holy pictures inscribed in my genes. When my grandpa was going to war in 1939, he got from his mother a picture showing the Black Madonna of Częstochowa. This picture accompanied him for the rest of his life and it was also a big part of my childhood, because every evening grandpa would finish his prayers and take it out of his wallet and give it to me to kiss. This respect that I do not want and cannot overcome – I have it coded in my system.
And the figurines? They have some positive energy, positive thinking about God, the Mother of God, about the saint. I do not want to destroy it in my works.
You have got your own method to deal with these figures – you process them in your own way, you work upon them with colour and decoration. At times they are like the saint, but from Bollywood.
Casts are a ready-made deal – the Mother of God with a rosary, a heart, etc. But in my works, Her robe must be gorgeous – not some kind of washed-out blue that you find on the church fair stalls, but ultramarine, lapis lazuli. What matters is the symbolism, and the mysticism of hues and how expressive and blatant they are. I pimp colours up, strengthen the contrasts, add ornaments – but all that within the framework of an established convention – so I won’t replace a lily or a pigeon for a swastika, a peace symbol or a pentagram.
I would like to invent a devotional article that the whole world would start buying. Something that would be cheap to manufacture, something conventional and yet noble. Something like a figurine of the Mother of God. A cheap gypsum cast – a simple thing that, at the same time, is capable of conveying such intense emotions.