A few words about Beata Zuba’s painting

Prof. Zbigniew Bajek
Faculty of Painting
Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków

As luck would have it, I’ve been accompanying Beata Zuba on her artistic path for many years now: she had been my pupil long before she became a student in Department of Painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków; together we visited the ruins of a psychiatric hospital in Otwock and were struck by what we saw and what had happened there some decades earlier; following my invitation she took part in a couple of artistic and research projects with “freedom” in their titles (“Labyrinth of Freedom” – Nowy Wiśnicz 2012, “Horizon of Freedom” – Radom 2013, “Follies of Freedom”– Łęczyca 2016). In hindsight, I can see it clearly that those events have exerted a significant influence on her art. Visits to prisons – whether closed or inhabited, visits to psychiatric hospitals resonated with a particular social sensitivity of the painter.

A result of such “meetings” – with places and with people – was the project “There” intended for her future PhD studies. I wish it had been fully realised. More than five years ago I wrote: Beata Zuba’s artistic project “There” seemingly follows in the footsteps of many Polish and European artists who haven’t directly experienced the nightmare of war and holocaust but still felt compelled to have their say in the case which will always grab people’s attention due to its inhumane /albeit so human/ dimension, due to “folly” entwined in it. There is something, however, that makes Beata Zuba’s project stand out and distinguishes it from the works of, for example, Artur Żmijewski, Mirosław Bałka or Wilhelm Sasnal: a very contemporary facet of what happened more than half a century ago and whose codename was “T4”. The number of people suffering from a distorted relation with reality is not decreasing, but quite the opposite, it is growing with respect to population size. Mental illnesses, anxiety disorders and depressions are most common conditions afflicting highly-developed societies.

The dust of soot and ashes brought from the places I’ve mentioned has settled on the artist’s cityscapes, still lifes and portraits; made her paintings carry the flavour of melancholy, reverie and reflection. Even though many of her works bask in the sun of the south – Italy or Spain – the atmosphere of the north, the chill of desolation or the vastness of backcountry cannot be effaced from them. And just as well. To a large degree, the tonal qualities of Beata Zuba’s works make them unique and make them attributable to her.

The painter’s favourite motifs are places that, though abandoned, still permeate with human presence. Shabby walls of Zofiówka, the psychiatric hospital, at the same time hide and uncover the drama of people doubly affected by life – affected by illness and the bestiality of fanatic anti-Semites.

The tragedy of this place has its continuation: looking at the walls of the former psychiatric hospital in Otwock I noticed some fresh wounds in them – huge holes between door and window openings. I suspected what that meant… I wasn’t wrong (my suspicions were confirmed by people I met there), modern hunters of treasures left by murdered Jews search for them doggedly ripping the walls of the dilapidated hospital.

Deserted backyards of Kazimierz (former Jewish quarter in Kraków) recorded in Beata Zuba’s paintings and drawings along with decrepit staircases, and empty window openings hark back to the past, but also talk about the present – perversely though as the motifs are disappearing. Kazimierz is rising from the ashes, shaking off the dust, washing off the dust. It’s becoming “international”, but at the same time it’s losing something important. The Kazimierz paintings already have a historical dimension, they document inevitable changes. Changes for better, we’d like to believe.

Windows, gates, stairs – zones in-between: between presence and unbeing, between destroyed and saved, between ugly and beautiful, between good and non-good … images understated, suspended. A vast semantic field – there are cues, but deliberately ambiguous. Their technological layer is understated as well – it seems that the artist stopped working on the canvass, hesitated, not to say too much… Left roughness, sometimes coarseness, traces of streaks.

Beata Zuba combines in her painting two opposite technological qualities: glazes and impasto. In many places primed canvass shows through thinly laid layers – this method infuses the painting with light; there are textures, crusts, cracks and peel-offs like those on the walls of abandoned rooms, which she watches and is moved by. That is evidence of how strongly the artist’s work is rooted in observation, in the direct experience of touching the world.

Still lifes have been ever present in the paintings of the Krakow artist. Despite their academic pedigree, they clearly bear the artist’s stamp – evidenced by their colour scheme, composition and technique. The painter underlines that her paintings don’t refer to the dead world; they definitely are about life, its phenomenon, which should be contemplated, respected… They are about the significance of life, whose beauty we can find in apparently unimportant details, in the objects that seem worthless.

“The human dimension” of her paintings transpires also in her portraits – she has always been interested in the man, she has always watched herself, too. In a wide array of people’s images, self-portraits form a numerous group.

Experiencing on ourselves and through ourselves, to make credible the stories we tell…

Kraków, December 2017