„Freedom for me is painting”

In the series „Interview with an Artist” – Beata Zuba, whose exhibition in Villa Decius in Krakow is open until April 25.

Artystyczne spojrzenie (Artistic perspective): How did Villa Decius become an inspiration for your latest exhibition “Conversation with a Place”?

Beata Zuba: The first discussions about holding an exhibition of my works started in the middle of the last year when Ms. Dominika Kasprowicz, Director of the Villa Decius Association, invited me to cooperate with her. I’ve known the Villa as a place for many years, but it wasn’t until then when during a few preliminary meetings and spending some more time in its interiors, I was mesmerized by the light quietly seeping in through the windows and the villa’s unique atmosphere. An opportunity to set up my exhibition in such a place was quite a challenge for me and I set about dealing with it together with Ms. Katarzyna Trojanowska. The exhibition, held under the patronage of KRAKERS Cracow Gallery Weekend – Change, as indicated by the title has temporarily changed the look of the renaissance palace. In front of the entrance we can see large-format photographs from the series TAM (THERE) fitted in a renaissance arcade. An ephemeral installation made from hemp strings entwines the old walls like a web of life. Everyone can come and hang their notes. All is moving to the rhythm of the spring wind, transient, left unsaid like the words written on one of them “here and now, which will never stay with us”. In the interiors, the ambiguous space with a lot of windows, doors and antique furniture has been invited to the eponymous conversation. Through the introduction of contemporary paintings Villa Decius has gained a new look and a different opening. Multiplying windows and stairs, as if reflected in the paintings, have added some lightness and another perspectives. The works are placed in different rooms and on a few floors. The latest paintings have found their home in the lobby. They come from the eponymous series “Conversations with a Place” and the series “Sketches from a Journey”, which includes delicate, azure works filled with the light of Lisbon streets. Moving up, we watch real stairs and windows reflected in the exhibited paintings. We reach the border between reality and art. The reflected worlds engage in conversations.

Artystyczne spojrzenie: Do you like to paint architecture?

Beata Zuba: Architecture is often present in my paintings, but, as a matter of fact, it is not the main theme of my art. It’s more like a key to entering into a conversation, getting curious, starting to wonder what’s behind it.
Artystyczne spojrzenie: Villa Decius is a charming place, are there any other places in Kraków that are “magical” for you? 
Beata Zuba: I was born in Kraków. Its atmosphere shaped my perception of the world around me. I soaked in the old streets of the St. Bronisława Hill and Salwator, where I lived for many years. I love Kazimierz with its unique atmosphere, so the quarter is as often present in my paintings… different than today, a bit empty, grey, dusty. This “magical” Kraków, in some uncanny way, is reflected in each one of my paintings, and its colours blend with the colours of the places I’ve visited. It creates my own personal set of colours and the way of looking at the world around me.

Artystyczne spojrzenie: The dominating theme at the exhibition “Conversation with a Place” is stairs and widows; why are they so fascinating for you?

Beata Zuba: Actually, my paintings are a story about people, not always shown explicitly, but often through the lens of a place, light and shadow. I’m fascinated by people’s choices, zones in-between, the decision-making process, that light we want to go to…that’s what we can find in my paintings, on my stairs and in my windows. Thoughts and images transferred to canvass become independent entities, create reflected worlds, parallel, enter into a conversation with places where they are exhibited. They are open to interpretation, everyone can find their history in them and look at them through the lens of their own experiences. And, finally, doors. The motif comes back to me like an imperative, processed again and again in different formats and colour nuances. Shown at dawn and at noon, something that attracts, that is a signpost – calls. These are different faces of doors to our dreams.

Artystyczne spojrzenie: The exhibition also includes the painting from your travel series – a result of your visit to Lisbon; what appealed to you most in the Portuguese art, which in Poland is not very well know and is mainly associated with music (fado) and wine (porto)?

Beata Zuba: “Sketches from a Journey” is an autobiographical series, created during and out of inspiration by the journeys to various places I got to visit. We can say that it’s another instance of the eponymous conversation with a place. What fascinates me in the world around us is how light in connection with surroundings creates their unique atmosphere. Lisbon bathes in the rays of warm sun but, at the same time, it’s sunk in azures of beautiful azulejos and the Tagus, which surrounds it. It is also a city of stark contrasts, where richly ornamented churches in the Manueline style contrast with run down and dusty streets in the oldest part of the city – Alfama. Lisbon for me is deep blues, azures, ubiquitous white and yellow of Belem cakes in all their different shades, warm sun and trams slowly prowling down the tracks. In the spacious interiors of Villa Decius we can also find paintings inspired by a visit to Bologne. This is an orange series. There, the sun of southern Italy glides down the orange and ochre walls of old townhouses. Windows, doors, arcades, streets leading down grey lanes to a different city, different place, different colours. The world processed through the lens of my feelings and memories.

Artystyczne spojrzenie: We can also see in Villa Decius some works from the series THERE, harking back to the experience of the Holocaust and created as a result of your time spent in Zofiówka in Otwock. Can you tell us something about the origins of the series?

Beata Zuba: Zofiówka is a place that appeared in my life by itself. It has left an ineffaceable mark on me and has been ever present in each of my exhibitions. It’s as if the tragic and forgotten history of this place cried out to be told. It’s the large format photographs from the series THERE that stand at the gates to my exhibition, in the arcade of Villa Decius. As if saying: “come in, see, get interested”. They were created out of inspiration by my stay in Zofiówka in Otwock, the derelict and defunct mental health facility for Jews. During the liquidation of the Otwock ghetto in August 1942, most of the patients were killed, and the facility was turned into a centre of the “Lebensborn” programme, which should provide the Third Reich with a new race of superhumans. It’s a place with a difficult and unwanted history, not commemorated, which comes back to me in different situations in my life. The interiors of Zofiówka appear in my paintings, installation, murals painted in the prison yard of the Detention Ward in Radom. The paintings from that series were featured in “Bezimienny” (Nameless), a film by Urszula Sochacki. This is a subject I try to talk about. I presented projects related to it at a conference in MOCAK and at SIPE – ART, the World Congress of Art Therapy w Toulouse. This problem is still inside of me and calls to be uncovered.

Artystyczne spojrzenie: The motif of “the Other” is often present in your art, an alienated man, trapped by a disease or locked in prison. What is freedom for you as an artist and why is the subject of a man excluded by society so often taken up in your paintings?

Beata Zuba: Freedom for me is painting, a chance to express myself through a brush stroke or a colour patch on canvass. This is the freedom I have pursued for many years. I think that each of us can be free, because actually freedom is in us, and many people just can’t find it inside of them. But freedom is also a multifaceted notion. The greatest freedom we have is freedom of choice. At the same time, freedom is for me tolerance with respect to a broadly defined “the other”, that’s the freedom we give to others.

Artystyczne spojrzenie: Thank you for answering my questions.

Beata Zuba: Thank you for the interview. I’d like to invite everybody to my exhibition “Conversation with a Place” in Villa Decius, which is held under the patronage of CGW Krakers – Zmiana. Through the lens of the eponymous change you can look at this extraordinary place, see my works from different series, have your say in the name of broadly defined freedom and join in the creation of an installation.

Interviewer: Ewa Mecner
10th april 2018