Domek M. Powidoki (Copperplate Engraver’s House. Afterimages)

Copperplate Engraver’s House. Allegedly the smallest townhouse in Wrocław. I go inside, and as soon as I close the door, all the noise from the Main Square disappears. Right at the door, I am hit by the smell: a subtle mixture of printing ink and dampness that is so characteristic of old noble houses. Inside, it is semi-dark, irrespective of the time of day. The light is hardly able to penetrate through the curtains made of glass plates; on some of them, there are small colourful pieces of glass: maybe if you looked inside from the street, then, if you were lucky, you could see a ‘collage’ that used to be called ‘niebko’ or ‘secret’ when I was a child. There are particles of dust dancing in the light. I stumble on the threshold between the gallery and the hall. In the studio, the handle of the printing press’s flywheel digs into my thigh, always hitting the same spot. Small houses are cramped and uncomfortable.

The press intimidates me: I have never used it before. They say it is the best printing press in town, but I really do not have the courage. I prefer my own, the one I’ve tamed, even though each time it almost dislocates my shoulder.

I turn the radio on. I go upstairs. I open the window and look down onto the Main Square. People are in a hurry, running somewhere. The House is very narrow: I imagine that it is me who is standing at the corner of Mikołaja and Odrzańska Streets, and the passers-by are brushing against my walls. The House is part of that hustle, but at the same time it offers a quiet space that is perfect for work. The residents who come here for a few weeks to live and work all say the same thing.

In the summer, with the windows open, the House fills with a cacophony of sounds: monotonous recitations of tour guides mix with the background music coming from nearby cafés, with performances by street artists, with romantic pieces coming from the Przedwojenna bistro.

Domek M. Powidoki (Copperplate Engraver’s House. Afterimages) is about pieces, fragments, flecks and colourful spots that sometimes are even gold. And although I have not attended any gilding courses, I do try, and they come out rough. And I like things that are rough.

Sometimes a zigzag appears within the Main Square’s space, a crushed ball of paper, or a coil of wire. A glass moon, a glass heart, a paper voodoo doll, whose shoulder and chest have been pierced mercilessly. In the background, you may recognise the Garrison Church whose size seems to dwarf the House even further. That is why it needs to have its own moon and cloud. Sometimes, at night, it dreams that it is a huge mansion looming over the city. Or it opens out like a wooden needle and thread box, floor after floor.

In my cycle of prints entitled Domek M. Powidoki (Copperplate Engraver’s House. Afterimages), I move from the big picture of the city to details, fragments and scraps. These are my impressions from meeting this building. The House puts me in a lyrical mood; I have a lot of respect for it, but at the same time I keep my sense of humour and stay away from pathos. I have to say it: staying at the House has an influence upon me that I will not hesitate to call destructive. Until recently, I used to treat the matrix very seriously, as something sacred. Having made the print, I would dutifully put it back on the shelf. The thought that I could do something else with it would not even cross my mind. Recently, I have cut my matrix! I will also add that my black and white linoleum prints, that I have always considered to be the only “right” ones, have been invaded by colour that I have consciously rejected so far. I thought that it introduced some kind of unnecessary ‘contamination’ into the prints. And it all started with three innocent spots of colour in the print entitled Okno Geta (Get’s Window) . However, I feel no remorse, and, actually, I even derive pleasure from it. I play safe by additionally printing a black-and-white version of each work, just in case.

The city is my domain. You can spend your lifetime painting your own face and still keep finding in it an endless source of new ideas. I could deal with the Copperplate Engraver’s House for a few more years and it could still be the spark that would inspire further prints. Or perhaps it is so that this first impulse is only a pretext. Something that does not limit but rather opens you up. And so I filter it through my emotions, my sensitivity. The city, or in this case the Copperplate Engraver’s House, is a kind of reference; otherwise, I would turn to abstraction, which is something I do not want to do right now. Maybe I am not ready yet.

I did not meet Eugeniusz Get Stankiewicz, the teacher – when I studied, Get was absent from the Academy. I do not know whether it is a good or a bad thing. In the 80’s and early 90’s he was to me the man whose face looked at me from the posters that were hanging all over Wrocław. The lucky guy. Those posters informed me of all the important cultural events in the city.

Anyway, in the recent years Eugeniusz Get Stankiewicz has caused a little havoc in my head. In the basement, we have found a stone carved into the shape of a house. Maybe it is the House’s heart?

The city grows like a tree: first there are just a few streets around a central square; then, as the years go by, it spontaneously develops. It is a space that captures history, records the evidence of existence of a man whose life is but an episode in the city’s history. The city lives longer and that is why it is so fascinating. It exists as if for itself. Natural elements, like water and air, intermingle with human creation, with architecture. After some time everything blends together and becomes harmonised. A city that is abandoned by people and left to its own devices becomes part of nature, it returns to it.

Some cities remain with me forever and I never leave them anymore. Lost somewhere between dreams and reality, I wander the streets of a small Italian town; when I’m stressed or sleepless, I spread my arms and fly over the night city, high above its rooftops.

...“We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there. We go to ourselves, travel to ourselves, when the monotonous beat of the wheels brings us to a place where we have covered a stretch of our life, no matter how brief it may have been.”...
(Pascal Mercier).

Many journeys are prompted not just by a wish to see new places, but by a search for your own city, one that has not yet been seen by anyone else.

In my prints, I organise this space myself. It all starts with a motif seen somewhere that I later start thinking about. When travelling, I look for places that will captivate me, that will stimulate my imagination. They must evoke specific feelings or longings, sometimes even those of dread or claustrophobia, while at other times they seem magical. After all, the most important thing is the sensual experience, the observation of a specific place, astonishment, awe. I don’t know any longer if it all starts with a state of mind and therefore I am able to find the right motif, or if it is the other way around: it is the image that evokes a specific mood. I choose a fragment of space that I find visually interesting, and I construct that space anew. I gather materials, watch maps, but when I work it is my intuition and emotions that start to lead me, and so I push those materials that were initially so important, aside.

I think about it in various situations, I imagine what my city might look like. Actually, I do not make any drawings, I start working directly on the matrix. I try to evoke the climate that I took with me from that place using multiplication, densification and rhythms. I seek to create tension, I concentrate on the energy. I choose places that both attract and repulse me.

When I work on a print it so happens that a new city emerges. The processed image receives a new meaning. It captures and retains some experiences, memories. In a sense, the actual city is just a pretext. In my prints I create my own space, sometimes literally, as in Living on Rooftops. Florence, where I erected a hut for myself on one of the roofs. In old Italian cities, their inhabitants build illegal structures on the rooftops of their homes; below, i.e. at the street level, it is fortunately impossible. If you turn on Google Maps and look from above, you will see what is happening there: in the maze of additions, rooflets, tiny terraces, porches, another city is created, another layer is formed. It is a clear display of the inhabitants’ fancy, their need to have some tiny space of their own, just for themselves, closer to the sky and nature. Those tiny areas, torn away from roofs, are often turned into densely-planted miniature gardens.

My cities exist outside of time; there are no people, vehicles or signs there that would be linked to the present day. I consciously avoid it. They would form unnecessary accessories. Without people, voices and noise, a city exists as a separate and independent entity.

The problem of time touches everyone; it is impenetrable and hard to become accustomed to. It is extremely difficult to imagine your own finiteness, therefore my cities are to be timeless. Observing the city that has existed for centuries gives you a huge sense of relief, of permanence. In today’s reality of constant changes, flashes, the present seems to be an illusion, something very ephemeral. Any attempt to get to know it is doomed to fail, is impossible. Changes take place overnight. Places disappear so that new ones can come into existence. Unreal reality.

...“The city is a clear potential that constantly loses/regains its potentiality. The city is continuously expanded/reconstructed. It is constantly destroyed and created... The city relives its own existence in many ways.”...
(Krzysztof Nawratek).

There are no human beings in my city, but the city itself is evidence of the spontaneous presence of man; the city is alive: you can see it in the diverse structure of its rooftops, different roof slope angles, fluctuation and rhythm of that structure, density of streets that resemble a labyrinth wherein it is good to get lost sometimes.

I usually start working on a print after having come into contact with a real space. The starting point is usually a specific place that is important to me for various reasons. It may be a large portion or a small fragment, one house or one wall, or, for instance, the concrete-and-stone architecture of the Portuguese waterfront. Water-corroded stone, seaweed, rot. And water bursting through the cracks in concrete blocks with each wave, foamy and insistent as a living organism. The repetitive cycle of high and low tides: a kind of perpetuum mobile (Ocean). The motif of water often recurs in my works. I have realised it only recently. This means that I choose this motif subconsciously, but it is a good thing. Intuition lies at the foundation of my work, I follow it. Water, and in particular flowing water, hypnotises me, evokes both awe and great fear. Each time when I cross the Pomorski Bridge over the man-made waterfall, I am so scared that my skin breaks out into goose bumps. The cycle of three works entitled GX Island is about places temporarily reclaimed from nature and elements, namely the water. People were there only for a moment. The life there no longer distracts you. Nature is slowly claiming it back.

An ideal city takes the form of a mandala. I have always liked the idea of creating mandalas. It is a form of therapy; if you want to believe it, it has the power to heal, to strengthen. Like dreams, it speaks the language of symbols. And it is like a city: there is a centre in the middle, and all that is further away from the centre, towards the edges of mandala, symbolises contact with the outer world. The Renaissance abounded with plans and concepts of ideal cities, places to live characterised by regular division: the main square as the meeting place in the very centre, and streets radiating therefrom. The belief in the power of symmetry and ideal divisions was to support the conviction that such order would help people live more happily. ...“The inhabitants of a star-shaped city are the only ones who are never plagued with the necessity of choice. Wherever you are, there is only one right road opening up in front of you. Therefore, the passers-by look calmly straight ahead, which gives them the aura of gentleness, inspiring trust.”...
(Magdalena Tulli).

I have always been more attracted by places and objects immersed in the past: it is a kind of nostalgia for antiquity. Dilapidated, worn objects, corroded by time, organic, coarse; quiet, deserted areas; decomposition, grime all catch my eye. I subconsciously look for such places. Maybe it is so that I find more balance in the ruins. In my house, I live among objects that have their own history. The melancholy of transience attracts me more than the fireworks of the present day. In such places, the visible and the invisible are equally important. The city outskirts, dying, where everything has come to an end; the city as stage scenography Venice – a Claustrophobic Landscape. Perceived as an art object, frozen, full of memories, the city acquires an unreal dimension.

My own city of Wrocław provides me with numerous motifs. I don’t have to always look far: after all, I drive through it every day. There is a lot of architecture here that I like: gloomy, old town houses built by Germans, an old river harbour with old barges that noisily scrape against one another, post-industrial architecture.

I pay a lot of attention to layout, I select a dominant element, for instance, a river intersecting the picture Florence. Living on Rooftops, My City of Wrocław II. If I focus on a larger part of a place, then the ideal format for me is a square; if, however, I intend to focus on a small fragment, I choose a horizontal layout.

From time to time I happen to “stray from the main path;” most recently, I did three prints under the working title of Heads. However, they do not in fact deviate from the main theme of cities so much: they are an answer to my moving out of town, a reaction to living closer to nature, to changing seasons that are hardly noticeable in the city, to my insect phobias, to constant waiting for the spring to come, to winter melancholy. And then I come back to cities again. It may be perceived as a limitation, but it is a conscious choice. We can considerably influence our lives, but we also have specific capabilities that we have to accept because, in truth, we cannot get away from ourselves. After all, the city itself is also an enclosed area where people live within a limited, artificial space.

I hope that the time and energy that I put into my work are important to the audience. Time is, after all, an important element in printmaking. Digital graphics have created an opportunity to use a full colour palette, without the necessity of preparing subsequent matrices. I am not tempted by this overabundance; so far, I have consistently remained within the realm of black-and-white graphic art. It is easier with all this new technology, but is it better? After all, it is the final outcome that counts. I value the technique which is very important in graphic arts. It may not, however, be used solely to show off or serve as an ornament. I do not believe in art that is detached from emotions or calculated. I do not respond to such art.

Talking about paintings is like explaining dreams – it always diminishes in value (I have read it somewhere).
Małgorzata Stanielewicz