Artist Szaweł Płóciennik came to Genk for a month for a residency at Le Charbonnage. His art features mythical and fairytale-like creatures, presented in a vibrant palette with meaningful compositions. During his stay, he drew inspiration from Genk’s mining heritage, incorporating this theme into his artistic approach.
Interview with Szaweł Płóciennik by Yasmin Van 'tveld
Hi Szaweł! Nice to meet you. Let’s talk about the origin of your art. What has your artistic journey looked like so far? How has your style evolved? It’s been quite a journey! I grew up in a large apartment complex in Warsaw behind the Iron Curtain. Back then, I was heavily into drawing and making comic books, but the stories I was interested in gradually evolved towards painting. I completed my studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, where the works of Poland’s old masters became a source of inspiration, prompting me to experiment with various styles. Nevertheless, drawing has remained the first step in my painterly process. I prefer to let my mood and imagination lead the way when creating my artworks. Who would you say has influenced your work? One of my favourite Polish artists is Robert Brylewski, a counterculture musician who played a significant role in Warsaw’s art scene. He was a friend of mine. I’m generally drawn to the trans-avantgarde movement. I like the feeling of creating a new identity, of crafting something tangible from the raw materials of life. Figures like Polish sculptor Władysław Hasior, who pushed the boundaries of form, have always intrigued me. I’m also captivated by artists such as Marc Chagall and Max Ernst. In literature, I find myself gravitating towards existentialist writers like Hermann Hesse, Albert Camus, Thomas Mann, and Kafka. More recently, I delved into the works of Hugo Claus. I tend to favour complex narratives over simple poems. They compel us to ponder the intricacies of the human experience, and the sometimes difficult choices we face. I read in another interview that you paint ‘non-binary bodies’. What does this mean to you? I’m not drawn to filtered beauty because that isn’t always beautiful. For me, everyone is beautiful, regardless of their background or identity. That’s why I enjoy portraying characters who exist beyond specific notions of sexuality. It’s less about the physical form and more about the inner energy that radiates from within. I place great significance on what lies beneath the surface. My paintings explore the essence of who we are deep within ourselves, the person concealed beneath layers we may not always reveal. As a painter, my aim is to bring this inner self to the forefront, to make a statement, and to foster a non-verbal connection between the viewer and the artist, allowing us to unravel this mystery together. Does the idea of ‘human and non-human subjects’ going through a process of ‘deformation’ also relate to this concept? Deformation is about self-healing. These figures are like my personas; they also embody a kind of inner essence. They reveal the inner self, our subconscious, perhaps, but in a human-like guise. They are the masks we all wear throughout the day depending on the situation, and I depict them through my portrait paintings. Simultaneously, they take on roles in my own fairytales and recollections. They are the past of the mind. What is your own fairytale about? When I refer to fairytales and myths, I’m not talking about mythology. I’m referring to the personal myths within our own stories – the various personas and the narratives that live within us. It’s a poetic concept. While I appreciate and draw inspiration from ancient stories, which often find their way into my work’s titles, these personal myths hold greater significance. Consider the first three years of your life; it’s a myth, a period you can’t remember. What are the subjects that occupy you often while painting? I go through cycles in my work. One I call ‘niedola’, which translates to ‘misfortune’. The other is the affirmation of joy. Both stem from pagan mythology. I tend to lean towards the latter when I’m in a good mood. When in moments of inner struggle, I turn to niedola. Crucifixes play a significant role in my niedola creations, but it’s important to note that these crucifixes aren’t tied to religion; they symbolise my own body. It’s an opportunity for me to play with such a traditional symbol and interpret it within the context of niedola. I also undergo cycles concerning personas, many of which are rooted in mythology. Take Mamuna, for instance, who hails from folklore and is known for taking children away from their mothers right after birth or even before. Additionally, I draw inspiration from The Red Book by philosopher Jung. The personas I derive from this piece of writing possess a more fairytale-like quality. During the time it was written, it was considered somewhat silly because it delved into matters of spirit and religion. I pick up on some sadness in many of these stories. Would you agree? Maybe. I believe there’s a sense of joy in my paintings, evident in the colours and composition, and I consider myself a happy person. However, there’s undoubtedly a touch of melancholy beneath the surface of my characters. At times, when life isn’t going smoothly, art can serve as a form of sublimation. Painting helps me find inner peace. I appreciate it when you gaze at a painting that appears visually pleasing but simultaneously stirs a sense of unease within you. It’s that jarring sensation when something looks aesthetically pleasing yet leaves you with an odd feeling inside. It’s almost like a trap, you know. What trap is that? The interplay between art and its audience. What you see isn’t always what you see, much like how people wear masks to conceal parts about themselves. There’s depth beyond the surface, entire internal landscapes hidden behind the facades we present to the world. Perhaps it’s not a trap after all, but a necessary element for creating art. Painting provides me with an escape, a form of inner peace. How has your time at Le Charbonnage inspired you? I've found a lot of inspiration in the mining history here in Genk. There used to be many Polish workers in this area. I've attempted to breathe life into the stones through deformation, in order to give back value. It’s almost sculptural work due to this reference. I've also been inspired by a more philosophical aspect of the mines; they resemble the subconscious within us: you go down deep into it, and come back up with black yet valuable material. I've also loved visiting several exhibitions in Brussels and Antwerp. I had the pleasure of meeting Larry Poons at Almine Rech, whose work I love. He was very charismatic in person. Is there anything else you would like to share with us? I am very happy to have been given the opportunity to work here. I hope my art will find its way to the hearts of the Belgian people. Thank you for the lovely conversation!