Mateusz Szczypiński is becoming increasingly successful in Poland and abroad. His artwork has been warmly received at the Arco in 2012 and 2013 and at VIENNA Art Fair in 2012. His work was featured in group exhibitions “Collage Time” in Kordegarda Gallery in Warsaw, “Tribute to Robakowski” in lokal_30 Gallery in Warsaw, as well as, he has got two solo exhibitions “Demolition” in Baltycka Galeria Sztuki Wspolczesnej w Slupsku and “Can you Shave?” in lokal_30 Gallery in Warsaw. Szczypiński is represented by the gallery lokal_30 from Warsaw. He graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Cracow (2012). He shares with Contemporary Lynx with his reflections about his practice as well as Polish art world and art education.
Contemporary Lynx: Your interest in the 50s and first avant-garde is evident. Where does this come from?
Mateusz Szczypiński: The references to the past occur on several different levels. On one hand there are the references to certain works known from the history of art, certain motifs, themes or aesthetics. At first these were mostly the great masters and modern art, but with time quotes and references to art from the previous century started to occur, especially abstract Russian constructivism or Bauhaus, but also the less ‘refined’ socrealism. Generally, I don’t have a concrete work scheme, I do not have any preconceptions. The term painter’s Found Footage seems to express best what I do, as it resembles assembling the whole painting from various found ‘litter’ – random images. I believe that what I do results from the character of modern culture, in which we are attacked by images from everywhere up to the point when they cease to be unique and lose their initial meaning depending on the context in which they are presented. In this crowd, in this chaos of presentations, individual images merge with each other, change in an often random manner.
By invoking some of the ‘cult-classics’ I wish to ‘examine’ painting, its force of impact, when all has already been done and each new thing in art seems to be echoing the past. The postmodern plurality of everything, the blurring of all boarders, the merging of the sacred and the profane, high art and kitsch fascinates me on one hand and terrifies on the other. What I do, my paintings result from being enamoured with this complicity of culture, the possibility of breaking or bending its rules. But it is also derived from the feeling of fear of the fact that there is no safe Constant in all this.
I see contemporary art and culture as a “composite” phenomenon, comprising of what occurred in the past, thus, connecting it to the past is natural. I believe it is written into the character of the postmodern world.
When gluing together different elements, such as particular works known from art history, to create paintings, I place them in new contexts, and thus I change their meaning. A moment of tension is created, in which the painting is at the same time something known and unknown. I believe that a certain nostalgia is written into it, a nostalgia for “the golden age”- the period of modernism, in which “art was still art”.
The materials I use for collages constitute another level of reference to the past. These are mostly old Polish newspapers from the 50s and 60s. I am totally enamoured with the world they create. Political propaganda is mixed with a kind of commercial reality. These also are certain specific representations, written in a certain way into the social consciousness. I do not perceive this world through the perspective of political trauma, I think this problem is not relevant to me. I was born in 1984, so one may say that I belong to the transformation generation. For me the period of communism in Poland is the mysterious “other” world, which seduces me with its difference, its distinctness.
CL: You studied art history, how does it influence your approach to painting?
MS: On one hand such studies allow to approach art more consciously and to look at art history as a whole; the perspective of our perception of art broadens. The second matter, a more important one for me perhaps, is a kind of rebellion against what art history proposes on the reception of art. I did not appreciate reducing art to the level of science, in my opinion it leads to pathology. It makes us perceive art only with our minds. It means that we treat a work of art as a riddle or a puzzle with only one good answer, and this in fact limits our ability to appreciate it. We focus more on the importance of some details rather than on the whole works. It often happens that art history employs certain simplifications while classifying artists and works, it labels them. Also I do not fully agree with explaining each work, verbalising it and dismantling it down to its elementary parts. Lets take painting for example, we must remember that it is not only a subject, a topic raised for discussion, what the painting is “about”, but also a very specific and concrete language, which is not translatable into words. Explaining painting, trying to express it in another way, is at best a simplification, if not a form of falsification. Sadly these practices are common, and result in people walking around galleries and limiting their contact with art to reading the short inscriptions under the works.
CL: Where are you looking for inspirations?
MS: Everywhere in fact. A single photograph, a title of an article, a painting in a gallery, or in a colourful catalogue. My interest with old newspapers derives from the fact that I liked visiting flea markets, where I could find real treasures in the form of old magazines, objects, photographs. At the moment I buy these old newspapers on internet auctions.
CL: How do you come up with the titles of your work? What are the relationships between images and titles?
MS: I’ve always had a problem with entitling my paintings. Often when I am to come up with a title, I have an impression it becomes very pompous and forced. I believe it is very easy to ruin a good painting with a heavy title. A title is a very important element of a work, it often becomes a guideline, which allows us to interpret the painting in a certain way. When my works are comprised of many elements, they are “open” to different ways of interpretation, I want the title to be only one of the elements, I want it to enter symbiosis with the rest of the works. For that reason the title is often also a found element, as are the photographs used for the construction of the work. It often is a text from a random article, which takes on new meanings the new context, in this way it is freed. If I am not able to find an appropriate text, I use a single word-connotation. It also happened that the titles were given by other people, they called the painting something or another and it stayed that way.
ABOUT THE ART WORLD…
CL: What do you think about the Polish art world?
MS: If you look at the Art World from the perspective of galleries promoting art, it is a very centralised environment. The capital definitely dominates. The galleries in Warsaw are very active, they present interesting material and, what’s important, they promote Polish art abroad and participate international fairs. Cracow and Poznan are two smaller centres. In the former Galeria Starmach, in the latter Stereo and Piekary galleries definitely come to the forefront.
The matter is different when it comes to institutions and other non-commercial artistic events. There we have huge decentralisation and often small towns organise very interesting exhibitions, competitions and festivals. An artistic circle is formed around such small centres, with curators, critics, art historians and of course the artists themselves.
CL: What do you think about curators?
MS: I believe that the role of curators is vey considerable. It does not differ hugely from what the artist does him or herself. The curator organises, “composes” the exhibition, often creating a new artistic quality. The context in which we place individual works, may often change their meaning. The problem of impassable borderlines comes to the surface here. But this is a very broad topic. The matter is different with individual exhibitions, and different with group exhibitions referring to a concrete problem. I once heard an opinion that the worst exhibitions are these which were fully organised by the artists themselves and there is something to it, as the artist has no distance to his or her work, and that is where the curator comes in, who is able to take a different perspective on everything. On the other hand the curator should not dominate the artist too much, not try to enter his role, treat his works in a purely instrumental manner.
CL: Tell me what is a main characteristic for the art community in Cracow?
MS: I don’t think one can ascribe one characteristic to all Cracow artists. These are all very different personalities and creative perceptions. What is interesting is that Cracow is a considerably smaller artistic centre than Warsaw, but it still remains so rich in artists. I am under the impression that most of the artists who broke through to the foreign artistic scene come from that city, or are somehow connected to it. They say that Cracow lives in its own history and forgets about the present, however there is something in the air in that city. A certain atmosphere, in which everybody feels an artist, which is often funny.
CL: Who are your favourite contemporary artists?
MS: It’s a hard question for me to answer concretely, I fear that if I start giving you names I will not stop. I do not one one favourite, who I would be treating as some sort of artistic guru. There are artists I consider interesting, but I don’t know if it makes sense to list the names. It all changes very quickly and I often catch myself not making a distinction into modern and pre-modern art. Either something works, or it doesn’t.
CL: What is your attitude to art fairs?
MS: I think it’s a great initiative, allowing to promote art beyond the borders one’s country. Fairs often take over the roles of different festivals or biennale. One may see interesting material there, often better than in the museums or galleries. When most important galleries dealing with modern art gather in one place, one gets the chance to spot the tendencies, which are current in art now.
CL: How would you describe the Academy of Fine Art in Cracow and an art education in Poland?
MS: I believe that the Cracow Academy is for sure one of the more important artistic centres inPoland, and it is proven by the number of its graduates, who not only are active as artists, but also have great success all over the world. Naturally, each institution of this kind has a bright side and a dark side, not everything is ideal, but really a lot depends on the students, the departments they choose and how they approach their art. Someone who paints, sculpts or draws only to get a high mark in their student’s book and to get praised by the professor may wake up some day and realise it is not what they wanted and that they’ve just wasted several years. The biggest danger at the Academy is choosing the wrong leading professor. On one hand you have the professors who give you freedom to explore your own creative path, they let you out into the deep waters and allow you to take risks. On the other hand, there are the professors who impose their own vision of art, ready schemata, they teach “proper” art and negate everything which does not fit into their concept of it. We also must remember that we are talking about higher education, and I believe thinking as well as individual artistic exploration should be prioritised, rather than perfecting one’s skills as an artist. Of course they are important too, but limiting one’s work only to this is taking the easy way, which leads to “producing” craftsmen.
CL: How important are collectors for the art world?
MS: I think it is the private collectors, not the big institutions, who often take the risk of discovering and promoting new trends in art. From my experience these are usually people with a lot of positive drive, full of passion and naturally very much addicted to collecting, as it truly is an addition. Similarly as in the case of curators, the collectors are something like artists. While building their collection, constantly giving it new character through buying new works and selling old ones, they build a concrete work of art, a kind of artistic installation. It is very interesting to observe. It seems to me that most collectors don’t think about profit. As I wrote before, collecting becomes a natural reflex to them, a process in which rational fact analysis stops, and only passion and the urge to obtain a given work remain.
Interviewed by: Sylwia Krason
Translation: Ewa Tomankiewicz