"I paint the world which is inside me", says Karol Palczak

Congratulations on winning Grand Prix at the last Biennial Bielska Jesień 2019! Please, tell us how you feel in such grand company of the past winners of the competition as Sebastian Krok, Ewa Juszkiewicz or last but not least Wilhelm Sasnal? And so positively judged by the jurors, among others Piotr Rypson and Anda Rottenberg?

Thank you. To be honest, I still haven’t grasped the full weight of it. I am a little shocked and surprised. It is a great honor to be appreciated by such respected experts on painting and art. I am very happy that my painting has been so well received and that certain qualities of this painting have been noticed that not everybody sees.

Why the motifs of Polish province? Is it an intentional reference to great realistic painters? The association with „Smoke” by Chełmoński seems obvious.

The subject of my works is closely related to my place of residence and the world where I live in. If I want to paint honest and „true” paintings, I need to know and feel these motifs. I don’t make anything up. I paint the world which is inside me and in which I am steeped. I never thought of Chełmoński, at least consciously. He had his world, and I have mine.

As justification of the prize it said that you combine contemporary images of the province with the feelings of anxiety and threat. It is true that in your works, if there are any human figures, they are turned back to the viewer, with no face; the trees are leafless; the color of grey prevails. Positive feelings emanate only from the portraits of your father. What happened to the Polish bucolic countryside?

I think that most works from the fire series emanate with such emotions because this is how I feel now. When choosing the subject of my works, I often take recourse to my intuition, emotions and reality, and so – when it comes to this series – this is what it looks like. In the past, I used to paint quite a lot of positive, sunny, bucolic works, but right now these emotions and themes have become more appropriate. The bucolic countryside is still there, but perhaphs the older you get, the less often you see it.

In your works you often present the element of fire and water. Sometimes the figures portrayed are on fire, they emerge from smoke billows or they wade in icy water. This brings to mind a form of purification. Purification of what? What does the Polish province corrupt with?

I think the Polish province does not corrupt with anything. Quite the opposite, it ennobles you. Which cannot be said about the city. If there is anything wrong with the Polish countryside, it is the lack of development and poverty, which is often caused by the city, by the way. If it corrupts with anything, I would say that would be it.

Fire is destruction. Is the complete consumption by fire the only solution?

The symbolics of fire is very extensive and has a great tradition. Fire destroys but it also purifies, it makes gold precious in the melting pot. When used wrongly, it brings destruction and fear, when used right – warmth and safety. If we continue thinking in this direction, there can be fire of wrath over which we have no control and which infolds with smoke of disorientation, but this can be also turned into the fire of love which purifies and lets us see the truth. In other words, the consumption by fire is only one of the options and it is up to us which option we choose. 

Please, tell us about your artistic project of travelling to 25 countries of Europe and Asia.

This is a project of a solitary trip by bicycle to Singapore. I have been planning this trip for quite some time now. I came back from a test trip from the Balkans to Greece a few months ago. I like travelling alone and broadening my horizons, get to know new people, stay with them and learn their truths. I would like to create a series of paintings inspired by this journey one day, and only if I experience it physically, can these paintings ever be honest and true. In this cycle, I would like to find and show a common element in the different cultures of the world. Let’s see if I ever succeed, until now I have had to move this trip because I just never had time for that. Perhaps, I will have to take this trip not by bicycle, but by motorcycle or train to make it quicker.

Interview held by Michał Begiert exclusively for MAK Gallery.