(born on October 23, 1928 in Vilnius)
By Way of Curriculum Vitae
a child, I imagined the heavens up above, a paradise full
of colorful birds, and that an arrow shot high from a good
bow would bring a wonder bird back with it to lie at my feet.
a time may have arrived and the arrow is on its way back.
In the meantime I have survived the World War II, losing my
father, the country of my childhood and a lot of illusions.
In the middle of the war I made drawings of pine trees and
studied icicles hanging from the roof. I also tried my hand
at painting the hooves of General Voroshilov's horse in oil
paint. After the war, I enrolled in the School of Fine Arts
in Lodz, Poland, as a student no. 15 on the list and at my
mother's impassioned request I also took up studies at the
Humanities Department of the Lodz University. It was in Lodz
that I was lucky enough to meet Wladyslaw Strzeminski. His
influence opened my eyes for the first time and I am grateful
to him. With Strzeminski we discussed not only art; we reminisced
on the Minsk region where he, my father and our relatives
had all come from. I can still see clearly today the austere,
beautiful face of Strzeminski although half a century passed
since his sad funeral.
cannot say I have always been his faithful disciple but I
am ever closer to his "white silence". I graduated
from the Academy of Fine Arts in Cracow, the Faculty of Painting.
Andrzej Wroblewski was my friend. His life was a short one
but his “Execution” (Polish “Rozstrzelanie”) is to my mind
the best of the paintings that tried to cope with the war
time, maybe the best painting produced by our generation.
Let this statement be considered my credo.
have seen a lot in my life. My journeys through the mountains,
deserts, steppes, taigas, jungles, across the seas and oceans
and through civilizations and time have thought me tolerance,
relativity and brought me closer to accepting fate. Art seemed
to me such a natural act of existence as everything else to
be found between birth and death.
shall skip here the list of things I have accomplished over
several decades in the field of painting, drawing, graphics,
book illustration, the art of arranging exhibitions, scenography,
photography and poetry. I shall not mention the awards and
successes nor the setbacks, humiliations and defeats that
fate, anxious to preserve the balance, did not spare me. Many
a time I had to earn my living doing things that were trivial,
expedient, foreign to me. For a number of years I was an assistant
reader and a professor of painting. For two years I was an
officer with the United Nations Organization in New York,
heading a graphic design studio there. Manhattan gave me everything
that an urban civilization could offer. I visited hundreds
of galleries and thousands of exhibitions marked by the "I
am the best" mentality and presenting the drama of existence
in loud terms. Beyond all that there is nothing more deserving
than silence. Falling asleep under the Brooklyn Bridge I wandered
in my mind to the Lithuanian border.
years now I have been dedicating my time to "the creation
of the human environment", working for the protection
of the landscape of north-east Poland that is dear to my heart
because it also reminds me of the country of my childhood.
1954 the fates made me go on a long trip all over China. My
wide-open eyes and an urgent need for actions resulted in
over 200 drawings that I made during the two-month voyage.
I drew in Chinese ink on Chinese paper using a Chinese brush-pencil
as the main tool. I watched live faces and autumn landscapes,
visited museums and relics of the past, shook hands with outstanding
workers and ministers, looked into the eyes of exotic women,
listened to the beat of the drums in monasteries while Qi
Bashi standing at the door of his house – and his death -
waved me goodbye. From the 40-year perspective I can see clearly
the importance of that adventure. I faced difficult choices
then; one had to do with the study of style and was a choice
between a divine calligraphy awaited intuitively and a menial
realism required so badly at that time; the other consisted
in finding a balance between action and reflection, or between
creation and contemplation. If the first perplexity was solved
relatively successfully and I can present my works from that
time without embarrassment, the second one was beyond me.
I just had to get down to work. I made sketches and took snapshots
day and night. China was followed by the Khabarovsky country,
India, Mongolia, Vietnam, Syria, Turkey, Nepal, Japan, Thailand,
again China, India, Mongolia, Vietnam and so on, and so on.
A big adventure, big civilizations and big dramas. The spirit
most sublime and the matter at its lowest. The vestiges, remnants,
fragments and crumbs of what I had seen and touched become
my drawings. Today, when sorting out drawers with thousands
of photographs, negatives, notes and sketches I can say: this
or that was done to no purpose. But is judgment possible out
long ago, in a foreword to an exhibition of mine titled "CITY",
I wrote "I AM IN DOUBT" as to whether the personal
tools given to us can know and express in full the essence
of the things beyond. "The Cartesian adage: "cogito
ergo sum" (I think, therefore I am) seems to be right
only in respect of an individual human being provided with
a singular brain and placed within a limited space of experience.
A picture of boundless world that cannot be entirely known
seems to be truer. Nobody knows the heights of the Meru mountain.
Nobody has seen its summit. All a pilgrim will see is grass
and pieces of rock on the footpath. Some try to read the rules
of the universe based on the shape. Thanks to reflective thinking
and our imagination we can see further "beyond the small
part" like a Chinese painter of old seeing a tree in
a twig, a mountain in a piece of rock, a demon in a sign and
death in the pale. All the composite structures – genre pieces,
scenes, wide landscapes and accounts of distant lands fraught
with their author's judgment seem uncertain today. After years
of experience I am fully aware of taking part, together with
others, in a dramatic performance drawing aside the heavy
curtain of darkness that was supposed to unveil the truth
but only unveils subsequent curtains.
the Auguries of Innocence by William Blake:
see a World in a Grain of sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
In 1988, I painted eighteen pictures which make up the PSALMS
cycle for the rebuilt synagogue in Sejny. I dedicated that
work to the memory of the Jews. In the little town in the
Polish-Lithuanian border-land there were often more of them
than Poles and Lithuanians. In the years 1860-1870, the Jewish
community in Sejny built and impressive prayer-house in the
style which was a mixture of the Classical and neo-Gothic.
During World War II, that edifice shared the fate of the community.
It was a prison and a fertilizer store. Today Sejny boasts
the white restored walls of the Beit kneset. I know very well
that Pentateuch authoritatively forbade the Jews -and this
prohibition was repeated several times - to create figurative
works of art. "You shall not make a carved image for
yourself nor the likeness of anything in the heavens above,
or on the earth below, or in the waters under the earth"
- that is what God of Israel told Moses on Mount Horeb. That
law forbade to paint the figures of God and man. Synagogues
were decorated with painted canopies, tens carpets, cloaks
and curtains, as well as folds, lambrequins and fringes. Among
plants and flowers, vine shoots, dates and pomegranates, also
the signs of the Zodiac, hands and symbolic animals, such
as the deer, lion, tiger, eagle, leviathan, and musical instruments
were painted. Holy cities and scenes from the Bible were presented
in such a way that men were left out. Each wall-painting contained
also letter compositions, mainly quotations from Scripture,
prayers or dedications to the Founders. There fore I first
thought of an abstract homage. Of black-and-grey-and-white
painting. Of the painting based on restrained metaphor and
suitable austere synthesis. Of the matter which would be coarse,
plain, decrepit, burnt-out, downtrodden, dusty, and essentially
dramatic. In my search for a language of common communication
I reached for the Psalms. "The Psalms are a record of
Israel's identity. And more than that. The Psalms, which are
sort of identity papers of the individual and the nation,
express also superbly the universal character of human reality.
That paradox, that contradiction of the concrete and the universal,
is only a seeming paradox in the Psalms, as it is the case
in each great work of art. Where these two contradictory values
appear, a unique, original and universal works is created",
I first found inspiration and justification in these words
of Father Jozef Sadzik, in his introduction to the most recent
polish translation of the Psalms from Hebrew by Czeslaw Milosz,
published by Editions du Dialogue, Paris 1979. It might have
also been the fault of my imagination which is of illustrative
character, or perhaps the influence of medieval anonymous
painters. Or maybe the neigbourhood of the village of Krasnogruda,
which can be reached from Sejny after an hour’s ride. I felt
justified for the second time when a year later I stopped
in front of the manor house at Krasnogruda, in the company
of the Poet. We were both engulfed by the world of Psalms.
The poet hid his face in the shadow of the trees. I thought
about the bitterness of passing away and about understanding
suffering. It happened that at last this autumn I could present
the pictures from the Sejny synagogue the M.K. Ciurlonis Museum
in Kaunas. At the opening ceremony the Psalms were recited
in Hebrew, Lithuanian and Polish. The Jews from Kaunas admitted
to being deeply moved. When my health was drunk with kosher
wine in the blue-and-white synagogue, I felt justified for
the third time. The winter nights at the village of Mackowa
Ruda are long. I read Psalms, selected some of them and particular
verses, and made sketches. Finally, I chose eighteen Psalms
out of a hundred and fifty. The number equal to the number
of the fields outside the synagogue windows. My selection
was affected not only by the dramatic parallel to the fate
of the Jews, my contemporaries, but also by the visual qualities
which inspired my imagination. I avoided mass scenes. Man
is solitary here, apart from the double-faced priest and the
intertwined couple, the saved and the damned together. Man
is accompanied with his attributes and with space. That is
all I can do. Man is defined neither by his race nor by his
epoch. He stand blind and naked between the sun and the moon,
created, as well as these heavenly bodies, out of fiery magna.
The Psalmist asks: "O Lord, what is a man that thou carest
for him?, What is mankind? Why give a thought to them?"
(Ps. 144,3). This is the final question of the cycle.
Ruda, autumn 1990