SATIRE & SURREALISM GALLERY „On the Ladder” recommends
An interview with Dariusz Miliński – painter, sculptor
In conversation: Grzegorz Misiak and Sylwester Kurowski
Dariusz Miliński was born in 1957 in Cieplice. He is a professional artist – a visual artist. He has participated in over 250 solo exhibitions and more than 100 group exhibitions, including in Poland, Germany, France, Belgium, and the USA. He has been involved in numerous artistic happenings and theatrical performances. He has received many awards and distinctions.
He is a culture animator and the founder of the artistic group „Pławna 9”, the creator of the Castle of Silesian Legends, Noah’s Ark, and the Museum of Displaced People.
I get apoplectic and feel messed up in the Gallery when someone gets all up in my face. I have this thing with people, they start circling the table around me. So, I just bugger off when everyone wants to be as close as in an American movie. I say, mate, I can see you, hear you, let’s keep some distance. I won’t be proving anything to anyone, whether it’s this or that, because every other person is a greater philosopher… And when you get tangled up, you lose both energy and sense.
This isn’t the creative state that interests me.
GM: You never know what kind of specimen of people you’ll come across.
Sometimes, I come across such weirdos, I don’t know where they get that knowledge from. They read, listen to some oddballs, some fancy people, well-dressed, cool, who’ve splurged on that external decency. And they show me here, there’s this professor, and that one… and I’m just an ordinary bloke and I simply don’t want someone to tell me that I’m already feet up. I live my life in my own peculiar way.
I’m painting a picture for this guy, I turned on the watch, wondering how long I’ll be painting it, ’cause I don’t even know if I’m painting these pictures, it’s like stamping seals, I’ve got an unbelievably stoned soul, a soul like a capacity of sensitivity, some sort of pot, I’m made up of a pot, a grater, all my musicality fits in this grater, here’s a box, there’s a can of paint, and everything’s here… that’s it, I’ll whack myself a self-portrait like this.
SK: Where did this chestnut guy come from?
Well, I don’t know, maybe it’s just something that comes out of the blue. You get talking, and when the person you’re talking to or the one asking is genuinely interested, well, things just spill out. I take a notebook, not just one, but a few of those 10-page ones with decent pages. I take a few of those notebooks now and head to the seaside to our cottage, and there, I go through this incredible process of extracting situations from under my nerves. It’s a wonder of wonders, really, that in that particular setting, self-control goes hand in hand with extrasensory perception, diving, a bit of fear, and a touch of… total cluelessness. Recently, I had a terribly messed up time, nothing was working for me, and I thought I was in some awful place, where veins, streams, the Earth’s energy and all that jazz were. So, I moved to a place where I’d worked before, and everything was alright again. Damn, I dug something out, saved myself. But, overall, the state of affairs was pretty crap. The second time around it got better, and now, the last time I was there, I was just amazed, every drawing was a hit. It’s both the idea and the digging, and I spent a long time on each one. I keep these drawings, I don’t sell them, and when I do, it’s for more money than prints of those drawings later on. Because, you know, those prints are reproduced up to 20 times and they’re cheaper.
GM: Besides these drawings, are there any paintings as well, I suppose?
Oh yes, I suck everything out of the drawings, not just that, in the end when I turn them into paintings and spend time with them, then later, one here, another there, and they communicate with each other. From one earlier drawing, this guy was walking and expecting to meet that person, and to start showing off here.
GM: That’s a brilliant observation, Dariusz, because I have a similar experience. When I was looking – I have your album on my page – there are about 140 paintings in the Gallery on Facebook…
In this album, there are probably around 160, I didn’t count it, but that’s roughly how it was meant to be…
GM: Let’s say 150, and I didn’t include any drawings there, it’s the same observation you have within you, that if you were to put some of the paintings together, it’s like a journey, living figures or action, or some kind of path, they pass from one to another and complement each other.
Actually, the important thing is simply how to extract yourself, how to bring out something delectable. Something that appears intriguing. It’s not that straightforward, like a guy on a bike for warm-up, or whatever, because in reality, those are the things I do anyway. Humanity needs it, buys it, and I’m not foolish, I just won’t say: no, I only create exceptional pieces, because that’s nonsense. I’m a painter, and I do what humanity desires. But how to get into that tunnel? I work, I hustle, and something comes out that astonishes me. It’s a marvel. Then I had a certain issue and I thought: wait a minute, I’m crafting the head, I once drew a face somewhere on a piece of paper, and I drag the head over it, pulling it out, and I logically align the rest of the situation that will result with that head. And so, while creating its hands (and hands are the trickiest to draw), it goes great, then the head, as if I were anchoring in the skull, and afterward, through that head, I entered into the world, I was silent, and simply drew. And here came the first, second, third. Magnificently. I rarely like my own stuff, very rarely, because I’m critical and that’s palpable.
And so, I extracted 13 drawings from it within 4 days! I once had a similar experience in Italy, in the Alps. I don’t know if it’s the purity of the air or the distinct nature of that air. There, too, I worked like this, managing to do 5 a day. But they were less polished, less nuanced, with fewer values, less play of light and shadow, and other details. And here, when I worked for 4 days and got 13 drawings, quite densely carved, I said to myself: mine! How cool it is when you can say: Mine. And not just that they’re mine, but I still don’t grasp it, I look at them and wonder, where on earth did you all come from?! What on earth is this wonder?!
I’ve got another painting I’m doing for this guy, but it’s also based on these drawings. It’s an example where on one drawing, there was a separate bicycle, on the second drawing, there were people, and the one that captures the story, the guy somewhere mentioned he likes clocks, so I added a few clocks, ones that could exist in a surreal world and just wander around abandoned. Guys throw things into a barrel and heat it, and moonshine comes out of it, but it’s a historical one, traces that people leave behind, wonders.
Just like with drawings, you extract from the conversation too. Because you guys guide a person who’s sitting there like a fool, and he’s just been pushed to do something, well, he knows nothing, I’m sitting there and I’m totally uninspired.
I’ve sort of imagined that it’s about some telluric connection, something from the sea, I envision these people. The sea isn’t as „giving,” because there are just fish and not much else, better to dock by a lake or a river for those prehistoric folks, the ancestors, where they’re digging and firing ceramics, the kind I unearthed once, Lusatian precisely, from the ninth century, and I made those pots. The drawing conveys so much about these people, a single stroke, and you immediately know it’s Lusatian, that it’s distinct. But wonders. In any case, I go there and enjoy, glad I bought that little house there for myself, because here, even if anything is happening, even if a person is in the studio like now, someone always catches up with me, if not a mosquito, then someone else, asks a question and answers it themselves. I want to be polite, and they want to be even more polite, but it’s distracting me now.
I wanted to tell you about the discovery from beyond the sensory worlds – you can get there, perhaps I’ve imagined it, but I’m getting there, and I’m certain, and let any drawing dare to slip away somewhere and start playing tricks like that!
GM: Now I’ve looked at this strange vehicle behind you. It’s in the painting. Was this vehicle first in the painting, or did the vehicle come into existence, and only then the painting?
I’ve drawn that before, and later I asked Igor Morski, because we’re friends, to visualize my idea, and that very minimal drawing resulted in the creation of the vehicle.
There was a guy here yesterday who looked like Janusz Głowacki, almost identical, except Głowacki had this grimace. I spent time with him at Woodstock and later in Warsaw and in a few other places, but generally around Woodstock-related matters, Jurek Owsiak, and the Academy of Fine Arts.
They came here for the Kargul and Pawlak folklore.
GM: The Polish Comedy Festival in Lubomierz.
Cool people gathered there and were also here. A fantastic set designer from Łódź, he comes here every day and says he’s observing me. An excellent set designer.
And I’ve often worked on set design in theatres, most frequently at Norwid in Wałbrzych, and also posters for theatre. I’m still doing it now, I’ve already done one for Wojtek Smarzowski for his new film: „Wesele 2”.
I figured out the idea without even watching the film, just by reading the script, but now I visited him and he showed me the movie. A fantastic film, very visually appealing.
SK: Do you often go to your plot of land by the sea?
No, no, because I simply paint a lot, and now I’m finishing building a house here by the Ark, a beautiful house. My wife wanted a bigger living room, because we live like in a house built with love, sticks, grass, bushes, and enthusiasm… love above all. And the little children were born. And now we have a house like that, I covered it all with canvases, and if someone is insensitive to art, visually limited, they get stuck somewhere along the way. And now I want it to be a living room, with the kids, grandchildren. I have four sons, I also have a granddaughter and a grandson.
My wife designed the studio for me, and the studio is five or ten times bigger.
SK: Yes, sometimes I donate my works to the Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity (WOŚP).
Not only that, I have about 30 annual organizations to which I donate my works.
SK: Where did this theatre come from?
I was good friends with Wiktor Wiktorczyk from the Puppet Clinic, and we used to travel together, performing everywhere. I did the stage design for our shows. We had spirited discussions about art. It was something wonderful – we’d walk around wearing hats and colorful trousers. Once, in Białystok, we were putting on a play called „Invite Me to the Table,” in which I had a significant role and I thought, I have to make an impact, that’s why I’m alive. I came back from Białystok and came up with „Three Lives of Salvador Dali,” a fantastic performance with great props. And it took off from there. I instilled passion in people around me, especially in young people, and I came up with all sorts of wonders, and it all worked out for me. Now, there’s a new play every hour here.
GM: What’s interesting about your paintings is that they are surreal, symbolic, or a fusion of it all.
Are they surreal as well?
GM: That’s difficult to label, as „surrealistic” is too narrow a term. They are surreal, but interestingly, within that surrealism you have, I noticed in the paintings where there’s a high saturation of elements (pig, people, sleigh, bicycle, and who knows what else), the image is actually strongly grounded in reality. It’s surreal in terms of its iconosphere construction, whereas the title (e.g. entering or exiting Europe) is very real and powerful.
Yes, I’ve done a few like that.
I recently made a windmill, and I wanted it to look like it was falling apart, so I built it from planks, sticks, and whatever I could find.
SK: Do you feel like a world fixer? You said that once.
A fixer? … I wonder if he’s still talking in me. I certainly consider myself a sort of fixer of the world’s poetics. Just the fact that I exist in this world and have been making music with theatres for many years speaks to that. We’ve been doing open-air events for 25 years, theatre for 15 years, and activities beyond the area of Pławnia or Jelenia Góra. We simply had a field to showcase our skills. People from the backwoods, poets, strugglers who were struggling financially – they would bring any piece of Styrofoam to make a prop, because everything was a challenge, but then things started to go well. During the theatre years, I began to receive money, but initially, I invested my own. „Pławna 9” started about 10 years ago. I founded an association to support rural culture, and that functioned as well. And once in our lives, we managed to secure funding, so we organized the Legends Theatre Festival [editor’s note: August 8, 2014]. We performed 11 plays in two days, concerts, Henryk Waniek had his meeting, and there were many interesting people. Stare Dobre Małżeństwo played on the Ark, the whole Piwnica Pod Baranami, where I used to go because I had a small connection through Krzysiek Litwin, who came to our open-air events.
GM: In 1981, there was an incredible Street Theater Festival in Olsztyn…
We acted several times in Olsztyn.
GM: Amazing theatres from around the world came, like The Bread and Puppet, for example.
We performed in Poznań at Malta and were even nominated for the Orpheus Award for two shows. They organized everything for us in a hurry, „keyboards,” because at that time everything was stolen from our car under the hotel. We were everywhere: from Malta we went to Jedlina, from Jedlina to Wałbrzych, and then further, so in a week we did 5 performances.
[Editor’s note: „Pławna 9” received numerous awards and accolades at prestigious theatre festivals and events, including: Łódź Theatre Meetings, Teatrum Orbis Terrarium in Olsztyn, International Theatre Festival „Malta” in Poznań, Rhine Festival in Boppard (Germany), „Chronos” Festival of Contemporary Art in Nuremberg (Germany).]
I remember that heavy rain was falling and someone said, „We’re not performing, people won’t endure this.” So we were sitting in a pub, drinking wine, having fun, and suddenly the director comes in and says, „We’re going on stage in half an hour.” We had assumed that if it was pouring rain, real heavy rain, we wouldn’t perform, and people would be there with umbrellas…
Hands, now hands, and a tailor pops up, the one who sewed clothes for the stars, steps into the middle and starts playing with his hands, he thought it was with his hands, but he had to animate it with those big hands of the folk. Unbelievable.
G.M: The Bread and Puppet played similarly, only their puppets were two or three meters tall, while yours are gigantic.
Five people animated it. It rode on a large installation, one person led it, two controlled the legs, feet, and two the arms. I have all those props, and the young people here are learning small exercises to show people. I always made sure the theatre was here, that the kids put on masks. And those kids got into it. Now there are 30 people.
G.M: In the Czech Republic, there’s a very deep tradition of puppet theatre, but here we don’t have that population with Czech roots; instead, there’s an influx of people, mainly from Kresy [Eastern Borderlands], so you create a completely different fairy tale here.
Yes, quite literally, here we have both Belarus and the Kresy [Eastern Borderlands].
G.M: I’m fascinated by the way you actively involve the youth, the kids…
Yes, I love it, and in fact, they are my children. Let me tell you a beautiful thing that I managed to create out of simple human respect for life. Hardship always left a mark on me. In our family, there were seven children. Wherever I lived, I would gather kids together, organize games, adventures, activities in the woods. I would come up with various games, antics, and initiatives. I adore positively shocking people.
G.M: What you were saying, that you like to influence the reality that surrounds you and create it.
Literally. I made the first „Santa Claus” and gifts here. I collected money from shops. The idea of these gifts emerged, people bought modestly, but large ones. Some biscuits, apples, oranges. But I liked it so much that it continues to this day. It’s an event we’ve been doing for about 27 years now. In the hall, because I built beautiful halls specifically for such things. People cheer, there’s theatre, a performance, I put up paintings for auctions and it turns out that each time we have 10 grand. The gift packages cost a few thousand, and with the rest, we organize contests for children. In the garden, there are sausages, food. I encourage them to create, to make things. Now the „Santa Claus” event practically organizes itself. We’re all in love with it. When that day comes, everyone moves differently, has a different energy. It’s incredible. My wife, my colleagues who have been doing this with us for years, everyone gets involved in it. No one asks anyone, everyone knows what to do. I have costumes purchased for us, red ones, so we’re like Santas, ho ho. The school is also already arranged with us. The important thing is the swarm of happy children, colourful lights… and suddenly an orchestra, a choir from somewhere in Lwówek, completely unexpected, asks if they can sing?! What a palette of colours. Amazing. And now try to hand it to someone.
The meeting with Dariusz Miliński took place in Magical Pławna on a sunny day in August of this year…