My painting is a story of searching for myself “…ever since I can remember, gates and windows recurred in my childhood drawings … they came individually or in groups, drawn on a piece of paper, in notebooks, on the margins of the books I read … like a mantra coming from the depths of my consciousness, the urge to get out, to get through and to find the door leading me to my own “self”.

In my art, I’m primarily interested in the man. Not necessarily to be shown explicitly, but rather through his or her choices and its consequences. That’s why my paintings are often an art story about the world around us, places and what happened there, quietly told by the contrast of light and shadows.

In my art, large-format paintings and murals co-exist alongside quick drafts and miniatures. Understated works telling interesting stories are accompanied by strong textured giants. Picking a medium and format I try to accentuate the subject I’m working on.

In my art, I utilize various media to create photo series depicting closed worlds, participate in international conferences where I show my original projects, but first and foremost I paint.

A sketch on Beata Zuba’s painting

Agata Wąsowska-Pawlik
Director of International Cultural Centre in Kraków

Beata Zuba, a painter, a women with a unique, nearly seismographic sensitivity. Her artistic activities originate from a deeply held need to express her own feelings inspired not only by ideas or places (a trip to Lisbon, for example) but, often, by a difficult history we’d rather not remember. Beata Zuba wants to encourage us to reflect on our own sensitivity, on our relation to “the Other”. In one of her self-portraits, standing at a window with her back to us – like figures in Caspar David Friedrich’s or Salvador Dali’s paintings – she makes us “watch” with her, “see” beyond ourselves, take the path of knowledge.

One of her most interesting cycles is “There” – inspired by a visit to a dilapidated, former Jewish mental hospital, “Zofiówka”, in Otwock. Most of its patients were killed during the liquidation of the Otwock ghetto in August 1942. Afterwards, it was turned into a “Lebensborn” operation centre aimed to “supply” the Third Reich with new German citizens. Beata paints open windows, often without panes, stairs leading to nowhere, abandoned and decrepit spaces. She’s one of the artists who process in their art the inexplicable experience of Holocaust. Beata Zuba, however, sets a trap for us. She creates beautiful refined colour compositions with rough textures. Her paintings seduce us with greys, a spot of paint with visible brushstrokes. At the same time, through motifs leading to “nowhere” Beata talks about the tragedy of people doubly punished, for being Jewish and for being ill. The painter asks us to: look deeper, become interested, show care. Have we really learnt a lesson from history and do we now approach ill people with sensitivity? Despite their beauty, those painting were not made to please our eyes. We must place them deep in our souls and let them do their work.

Among Beata Zuba’s paintings we can also find some works of a lighter kind. One of my favourites is a still life with a skillet, an egg and a bowl leaning up against the wall warmly painted with greys, browns and a touch of white and yellow, in flat brushstrokes. It brings to mind Dutch vanitas still lifes with their idea of transience, the passage of time and vanity of life. Even though Beata, a Francophile, will probably classify the painting as nature morte, I’d rather view it as English still life. Quiet life, balance, sensitivity to the beauty of the moment, these are also most important things. Beata Zuba is a mature artist, in her case a lack of youthful idealism is an added value.

Stairs recur in many of her paintings. Usually painted from the bottom, from a worm’s-eye view, leading up, often to “nowhere”, to some invisible destination. Stairs mean effort, necessity to climb, tiredness or, at least, gasping for breath. Beata Zuba, let me say it once again, tells us: you have to make an effort, knowledge doesn’t come easy, but the reward for the toil is awareness, emotions, skills. Art is effort. That what we merely like is not capable of changing us. Development, working on ourselves, transformation are the meaning of life.

Finally, a few words about portraits which form a large group among her paintings. Portraits of her family, relatives, friends, frequently shown wearing glasses. The glasses cover the eyes, not letting us look into the souls of the subjects. The painter watches her reflection in the eyeglass lenses, so, in my opinion, these are double portraits: of an artist and of a person – in a tender conversation. And that’s how I can describe her painting: a tender conversation. I’m grateful that Beata Zuba has invited me to one.

Kraków, January 1st, 2018

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