Best world’s galleries. Newest trends. Controversial artists. How does the international art market work? Who was hated the most by Picasso? Marius Zabinski — Polish born world-renowned artist, living in Brussels for the last 25 years, whose paintings are being sold in prestigious galleries of Paris, New York, Beijing, Singapore, Hong Kong, Luxembourg and Monte Carlo among others, tells it all about his work, the ins and outs and ups and downs of being an artist
[Photos by Marius Zabinski source: private artist’s archive]
Novelmasters.org: Do you remember your first days after arriving in Paris? What year was that? What was your impression?
My first stay in Paris — the year was 1979 I think. Of course it was a big deal for me. For us living behind the Iron Curtain, international travel wasn’t as “democratic” then as it is now.
It wasn’t my first visit to Western Europe; I had been to Sweden, Norway and Spain by then and also had visited Soviet Camp countries: Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania. But Paris, for me and many other artists, has always been a “Mecca”. My first visit there was more of an artistic adventure rather than a tourist excursion.
While studying at the Fine Arts Academy in Warsaw I was already managing my career as a painting artist. I would sketch and paint some surrealistic fantasy scenes. It was my passion, my way to get away from the dull grey reality of living (in Soviet controlled Poland) back then. One of my friends, who used to set up a stand at the Old Town Market Square, selling commercial landscapes of Warsaw to tourists, had this idea to capture tourist’s attention. He asked me to set up some of my drawings next to his display and it worked like a charm, almost immediately. It drew the attention of many tourists, not only the Polish ones, for whom my drawings were too expensive (I could only draw 1-2 a month) and I wasn’t ready to dump them at a low price. But half an hour after I displayed them, they caught attention of a French tourist traveling with his wife. He looked all fifteen of them over, asked for their price and whether I had more at home. Well, I had about twenty five more finished drawings. He bought them all; I dropped the rest of them off at his hotel later on. This tourist turned out to be a well-known art expert and merchant from Paris, Mr. J. Bailly. For a poor Fine Arts Academy student in socialist Poland this was like a dream come true: an offer to work and show in Paris, many artists fantasy!
That’s how I ended up in Paris for the first time. The City welcomed me nicely. I loved it! It is impossible to compare Paris’ atmosphere with that of any other city. Paris, with the morning smell of fresh baguettes being delivered to cafés, aroma of morning coffee, art galleries, historical places, architecture, Seine, Notre Dame Cathedral, bridges, flower markets, used book salesmen near the river Seine, museums. Pompidou Center, with its own pulse of colorful street dancers and circus performers, street theaters, Champs Elysees and exclusive shops. The Lido, movie theaters, Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Place Pigalle. Great Seine Boulevards, Olympia, Latin Quarters, Boulevard Saint Germaine des Pres — and of course Montmartre – all these elements — known to me from books only – all of a sudden became so real. I felt like I belonged there, my lack of knowledge of the French language being the only barrier. French did not speak any English back then. I learned to count in French immediately so that the dishonest waiters would not take advantage of me. You can say I have fallen head -over-heels in love with this fascinating city where fun never stops till the wee morning hours. Paris adopted me. I knew then I would be visiting this magical city often in future.
And what happened then? Did you settle in Paris?
My first stay in Paris lasted two months. The art dealer, who invited me to come, bought some more oil paintings and drawings from me. He suggested I stay in France but it was not an option just yet.
My professional plans after graduating from Arts Academy was to try California. I thought Paris already had so many great artists, way too much competition, which would strain me financially and make it impossible to make a living and give me comfort to create.
In the meantime I was able to “inhale” Paris. I did lots of sightseeing; I spent a lot of time visiting Versailles as well as other towns like Deauville, Honfleur, Trouville, and met many new people. I participated in a Parisians’ lifestyle. I painted some. This visit made me feel so good. It was an intensive vacation full of wonderful impressions. I went back home to Warsaw with lots of great memories and charged “batteries”.
Artists are a colorful crowd. They don’t care about adhering to the rules. Do you like “artistic” lifestyle? I mean getting together, discussions, partying till dawn, women, alcohol, and drugs. Back then it was much easier to have a good time. Today there is the danger of terrorist attacks, the corporate rat race, the materialistic approach and consumption.
“Artists are a colorful crowd” — well, depends on your point of view. Colorful because they often appear in the limelight — everybody likes to take a peek into their lives so a simple incident from artist’s life is perceived way different than similar experience in, let’s say, a clerk’s life. Artist’s life is different, definitely not a nine-to-five job. In my opinion my life is normal and settled down, but that’s how I see it, however many people around me see it as very colorful — no regular hours, no boss. I decide when I work and when I don’t (usually I work seven days a week, often very late at night).
Frequent international travel is a part of the job and I see it as a natural element of my life. An artist has to be available, “seen”, if he wants to be a professional.
As far as conventions, I approach them simply: don’t think about them. I act as myself and if anyone doesn’t like it, it’s their problem. And especially when I paint on canvas, then there is absolutely no conventions, total freedom, anything goes.
However, I do stick to some social rules: Respect for family, elders, etc.
“Artistic lifestyle, discussions about art till dawn, alcohol, women?” You can say I enjoyed the “artistic lifestyle” when I was much younger, not so much anymore. I have been married for 25 years and have a stable life filled with work. I am approaching 60 and have to take care of myself — so many plans yet to do.
When I think back to my young years in Poland, well, yes, we had lots of fun. It was such a carefree life in a non–consumption society. I don’t know if today we would be enjoying it the same way. We lived in a different political system. Normal, everyday things that we take for granted today were not so readily available and much appreciated then and made us happy.
Times have changed. Terrorism, which I denounce as well as worshipping material goods, it’s not healthy. Today’s young generation is more into bling than mine. It is how it is, I try to keep up with the flow and not ponder about the negatives of twenty first century.
Is there any difference between young, contemporary painters and the ones in your generation?
Of course, the differences are enormous.
Living in Poland I was not aware of any French peer painters and their art. Well, unfortunately today I do not know much about Polish artists. I don’t visit Poland very often so it’s hard to compare… but I will try.
Art is a universal language; however there are trends, directions, tendencies and other influences, characteristic to any country. Artists of my generation did not know things like computer graphics or 3D printing or computer replicators, the ability to convert a paper sketch into marble statue 3 meters high, or other techniques based on new technologies like Photoshop, etc.
There are many, who quickly follow technology and adapt to it, but I think more stay behind to paint just like they used to do thirty five years ago.
Unfortunately artists whose techniques and styles stayed in the 80’s (based on classical painting, figurative like landscape, still life, etc.) have it much more difficult today.
I have a perfect example — ten years ago, in Honfleur, a nice port town in northern France there were numerous art galleries, many of them (I worked with a couple of them myself). You could find lots of classic figurative paintings by the young as well as old, known and unknown artists. This was just ten years ago. As far as I know, these types of galleries went bankrupt or closed for lack of interest. New stores popped out in their place, selling clothes or chocolates. There are a handful of galleries but the art is completely different — much more modern.
Today’s trends are mainly in color palette — bright color straight from the tube. There is also a lot of American influence, where comic books, street art and graffiti found their way to artist’s canvas. We also notice a strong tendency to go back to pop-art.
The latest fashion, Lenticular Prints, or three-dimensional post cards, considered tacky years ago, show up in different settings in super galleries. Another difference between now and the old days is photography, reaching a status of art parallel to paintings and sculptures. Photographs today reach the same prices as paintings. Art galleries today are filled to 60% with photography and only 20% with paintings. The rest is installation art, sculpture and other techniques. Those changes, associated with technological progress have their influence on art. So it is very logical, that there are visible differences between artists of different generations.
World famous art shows like Flac Biennale in Venice and other important shows have just about the same proportion of fields of art, since there are so many categories, like, for example: installation, mixed techniques, numeric collage, video, sculpture, fabric, paper, computer graphics, 3D photocopy, performance, happening, artistic ceramics, photography. Paintings on canvas became a minority, perceived as a thing of the past. Contemporary art in contemporary times seek contemporary technologies and the XXI century techniques. Plexiglas, aluminum, synthetic resins are being used now and a paint brush has been replaced by computer — I myself use a computer for photographic compositions that are later printed on Plexiglas in Diasec technology.
Let’s talk about your art, how critics define your painting? Why did you choose this style?
I never liked to be designated to a certain style. Art gallery people, critics, public – love to stick labels on artists as if we were less valid without labels.
I understand why galleries do this, their goal is to sell art and if they can use references of few names as a crutch, it brings order to how clients think and selling is easier. It looks worse from the point of view of the artist who always thinks he’s a one of a kind and is proud of that. By being categorized, the painter loses this individuality, becomes one of many, belonging to this certain group.
In my case — as I mentioned many times before — I have gone through various periods starting with academic painting through fantasy, a short period of impressionism, realism and hyperrealism till I finally reached cubism. Why — everybody asks? Well, for me painting is like a playground. Playing with styles makes me happy, but I am like a child who gets bored with his favorite toy and after a while moves on to the next one.
Cubism fascinated me since I was a child but didn’t feel I was strong enough to create something unique in this direction, The moment came very naturally — I was painting hyper realistic objects then – and gradually, instinctively I was showing them from many different directions on the same canvas, overexposing and superimposing “projections and perspectives”. This was the beginning — diametrical change of technique, style, tools, color — the new” toy” was waiting for me in my shop, or rather in my head. Of course cubism was only the inspiration; the goal was not to imitate the masters, but to create something of my own, differently. I think I managed to come up with something new, hard to compare with other cubists. Right now not too many people see cubism in what I create – it is continuous evolution, I change it constantly. I hope the label of a cubist painter will gradually peel off me. As far as experts and other critics — it’s them who are stagnant in their opinions – so for them I will stay one of the contemporary cubists. It’s easier for them to write, copying what has been said long time ago. I hope someone will eventually notice.
Some painters chisel out every single detail in order to reach their vision. Others claim that the creating process — this mystical trance –as they say, is more important than the final effect. How do you see your creativity? Is it a profession? Adventure? Passion?
I am very impatient by nature and like to see results right away. However when it comes to work, I have lots of patience and details are extremely important to me. So to combine those two characteristics I love to come up with techniques that give me expected effects, but the creative process is instantaneous. As a result, many people (and here I mean professionals — painters and professors) are completely unable to estimate the amount of time I spend on a painting. Well, I cannot really say I spend tedious hours finishing every detail. And this is when we arrive at the “magic” part — spontaneous creating process, trance — instantly using elements that look very labor intensive. My paintings are done very quickly. Actually painting on canvas happens to be the final stage of creating what already exists in my head. For example, I like to start a concept of a painting while, let’s say, having a swim in a pool or walk in a park. Back in the shop I stand in front of my easel to transfer the image that was created in my mind while in the pool. This is when small corrections of the concept take place, always minimal.
Summing up your question — it is passion for me as well as adventure and profession – maybe with a little bit of addiction mixed in. The painting process itself brings me the most satisfaction though.
I think your paintings are designated for connoisseurs. Average recipients prefer classic paintings: portraits, landscapes… In museums they admire Vermeer, Rembrandt, Kossak, maybe some impressionists, or Dali and Van Gogh. Picasso may be just little bit too much and abstractionism or expressionism is out of question. Looking at your paintings first time is very pleasing — perfectly selected color palette. There’s delicate line. Ingeniousness. Everything composed perfectly. One can see objects, there are human faces, decorative ornaments, but this world is unreal, non–existing. I have a feeling that inexperienced recipients would not be able to “understand” your paintings although they may consider that all those elements and figures represent something. How one can “understand” your paintings? What is their sense? What are you trying to express by them?
Very well said, you captured it well — my paintings are “unreal world” and “non-existing”. Of course what you see on my paintings cannot be taken literary. We’ll get to the symbols shortly.
Ever since I was a little kid, in elementary school, I used my own coding for remembering text, facts and so on. My code consisted of simple association symbols that I invented offhand, to describe certain sentences. After I read the text few times, with those symbols drawn on margins, I could visually remember big quantities of information. It was my personal logograph writing, based on associations. Only I could decipher it.
A fantastic mnemotechnic method (remembering aid) — existing only for me, since most likely visual memory has already been my attribute. I could make a cheat-sheet that no-one would recognize as one, just a senseless doodle to others.
I use a similar system in my painting — only not for remembering but rather recording intangible things like moods, feelings and perceptions, spiritual conditions, defiance, joys and philosophical contemplation, reaction to reality, questions, attempts to enquiry, visualization of what surrounds us, problems, contemplations — analysis from my standpoint, in other words — my world.
My paintings are not riddles to be solved. I will explain the meaning of some of the symbols I frequently use. Color palette is important. The nuances of greys, blues, delicately interspersed with warm scales, mean that I am in a great shape and mental comfort.
Sharp contrasts and ranges in aggressive juxtaposition mean either super negative or extremely positive condition. I often use pyramidal forms in my paintings — it is my symbol for energy. Frequent insets of symbolic landscapes, built in symbolic architectural objects — mean look into the future. On many paintings my world happens on a sort of stage, suspended in the air, where various forms intertwine. It is an allegory of reality surrounding us. Often an element of chessboard can be found, it means knowledge, prudence and logic. The next frequently seen form is a symbolic bird, meaning aspiration and strength. A butterfly symbolizes an ephemeral quality or a dream, like in surrealism. Half-human half-animal shapes mean forms of tolerance. Very important elements that always can be found: texture, facture and ornaments, which obviously are not there for decoration but the allegory to highlight the wealth of diversified matter surrounding us: air, stone, wood, metal, water, etc. I should also add that my inspirations are often cyclic. I can continue one cycle for extended periods of time. Most recently a cycle like that lasted a few years. A cycle of paintings was caused by a few things that happened in my life. The black series – a number of people close to me “departed” in a short time, and the other element — meeting an extraordinary person who cured me in spectacular way by using a very non-conventional method. I went to his doctor’s office all broken, sore and limping and left jumping with joy and ready to dance. These were the stimuli that started my sudden interest in energy and a philosophical approach to death. Another example of cycles of my paintings is a Japanese cycle — it was my reaction to the nuclear plant tragedy in Fukushima, Japan. It was a shock for me because I knew that place; I displayed my paintings in Sendai. Right away my paintings started showing samurais and geishas. To sum it up – my painting is somewhat a reflection of what I feel. It is a spiritual visualization but it does not mean that it will always stay that way. Good study for psychologists [laugh].
I hope this short explanation would help you understand my painting. I would like to add, that I would prefer that my art was interpreted by everyone in their own ways. I offer general explanations during exhibitions and detailed ones privately if asked. I do not like to expose myself.
Please, share with us a few shop secrets.
I am not too keen on exposing my shop secrets; it took me years to develop. It is a so-called trade secret; I do not share my shop and technological secrets. Art schools are for that. It’s like asking a magician to reveal how he does his tricks [laugh].
I can share some general information.
At the school of arts I learned painting techniques based on old recipes and technologies – with quite a good theoretical and practical background in chemistry. Later on I came up with my own techniques. Very often I use watercolors, acrylics and oils in the same painting – of course in proper sequence. As far as canvas goes, when I was a student, I used to prepare them myself; today I use the ones that are already prepped and ready to paint. I use some with small, some with thick weave, depending on what effect I want to achieve. I used to use the very smooth ones but now I prefer them with a little more grain. The canvas itself creates an additional effect on the paint-covered surface.
Sometimes I paint on wood boards, on aluminum sheets, Plexiglas — the base you are painting on is very important. Canvas is convenient, it’s easy to transport and you can roll your paintings. Paint… I use paint by different manufacturers, depending on its ability to cover or the color (pigment) palette and quality. I used to make my own concoctions: paint, varnishes and magic media that dried in five minutes. Today I prefer to use product of the highest quality available on the market, to save time. I also use spray paint. Stretcher bars, depending on the size, I use sturdier and thicker ones for larger sizes. Canvas stretcher is just as important as the canvas itself. Good quality of materials shows respect for your work. I like to work with high quality equipment. Galleries all over the world pay attention to the technical aspect on the reverse of paintings. For larger sizes, over one meter, or irregular shapes (circle) I have stretcher bars custom made. As far as an easel, I use the modern chrome plated metal stable easel that I can use for painting large pieces. To sum up, high quality materials make my job much easier and it is much more pleasant to work without stress instead of experiencing technical difficulties all the time.
Which work of art do you consider your best accomplishment?
The answer is very simple: there isn’t one — I haven’t painted it yet, most likely it would always be the next one [laugh]. But seriously, I am unable to judge my own paintings. For me the most recent is the best… for 1-2 days until the next project “sprouts” in my head and there is no place or time for sentiments.
There is one painting that is very important to me, painted after a visit to a Doctor in Belgium and his extraordinary, spectacular session, after which I was healed without the use of any medications, massage or any other commonly used methods. Since then I have a different approach to how I perceive reality, I opened up a lot to the invisible but very real aspect of our surroundings: energy and its power.
In other words art is merchandise, just like shoes or automobiles?
In Middle Ages painters produced their paintings by the yard — mostly religious scenes – and later traveled from village to village selling their art by the yard. It was completely different art from what we see today but even back then it was subject of commerce. In those times it was “culturally” necessary to have a religious scene in the house. Today people buy art for various reasons — because they are receptive, because they have all the “things” and they want to have something to hang on the wall. And then you have collectors and a very large group of people buying art as an investment; to resell and make profit on it. This last category was particularly hated by Picasso. Whenever a stranger showed up to buy something from him, with money-filled suitcase, Picasso would ask him who referred him and why he wants to buy a painting. Usually it would be a businessman wanting to buy art as investment, with minimal knowledge of art — and regrettably he would end up walking away empty-handed.
Art is an intellectual value but we cannot forget that we are talking about objects that are being made in a certain stretch of time then add the cost of materials which can be substantial. So physically such an object already has a measurable price — and then you add the value of how attractive it is. So yes, in my opinion unfortunately art is merchandise — album with music, photography, poster, film, theater play, all has to sell, and artists have to eat like everybody else. In the USA it is normal to refer to people working in art as “Art Business” — there are periodicals devoted to this kind of business, “Art and Business” for example.
No artist wants to work for nothing — I met such deceivers many times, saying: give me your painting as a present because I like it so much. And then they add: you can make many more, better ones, and besides, you like to paint so much…
You mentioned automobiles… some of them can easily fall into category of art pieces.
How does the world’s art market work? How commercialized is it? Does anyone manage it, “makes up” new trends? I mean wealthy collectors, influential art critics, media, and world famous museums. Is it true that in the Western Europe or America, an artist can have a career without any support and promotion?
“World art market” sounds very general. Are we talking about museum purchases, auction sales, tendencies or artists’ prices? I will try to put some sense in it. Legend has it, that a man named Richard Green is the leading “fashion dictator”, say a trendsetter, who, alongside a few other art magnates, governs tendencies — just like how it happened in the case of contemporary Chinese art. In my opinion this was a marketing operation aiming to promote Chinese art all over the world. What’s amazing is that Chinese artists were paid really low fees while their works were sold at astronomical high prices. It was a gigantic financial operation of the global proportion.
The art market for museums that are on yearly budgets for purchases of well-known artists’ works would not relate to what is really going on in art galleries where they have to sell in order to pay their rent and make some profit on top of that. I need to add, that there are Galleries and then there are galleries. Artists’ levels, their popularity and market prices vary. There are galleries (so called paintings’ shops) whose sole purpose is to sell paintings.
Other galleries — the real ones promote their artists for long periods of time, years. They invest in their artists — in advertising, exhibitions, press, publishing, books, catalogs and so on. And there are galleries on the highest level, called “Blue chip” in US art merchant’s lingo, holding world’s renowned names like Picasso, Warhol, J,M, Basquiat, Lichtenstein, Gerhard Richter and others in their collections.
I am convinced that an artist — no matter how good he is — has very small chances to succeed acting alone (and I will stress ALONE) without a dynamic promoter with unlimited financial assets, ready to risk huge resources. And I am talking about painters here. Besides, a painter’s role is to paint — agent’s role is to promote and sell. Of course there are exceptions, but they only confirm the rule. No recipe for success has been invented yet for painting artists, talent itself is not enough. It reminds one of a lottery somewhat where luck plays an important role and I am not talking about a million dollar marketing operation that can promote sales of a common rock, board or a nail LOL.
Where in the world can you find the best and most interesting paintings galleries? Places where one can find newest trends in painting and where uppermost vernissages take place.
In my opinion, in about 25-30 years if not more, the center of contemporary art shifted slowly from Paris to New York. We can find a very good assortment of interesting galleries. The biggest aggregation of them is in Manhattan, in the Chelsea area. Not only there are numerous galleries there to visit, but also workshops and young artists’ lofts. The SoHo district has plenty of interesting galleries. Same on 5th Avenue and Broadway. Of course there is plenty to see in New York: exhibitions, Living Art Productions, not only the museums.
In the USA we can find interesting galleries in larger cities — lots going on in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Napa Valley, Boston, Miami Design District, Aspen, etc.
Recently Berlin, Germany became a popular gathering place for artists, with many galleries and art happenings. A big cluster of street art and urban art can be found near and around Rosenthaler Strasse in Berlin.
A very interesting aggregation of contemporary art, all in one place, exists in “798 ART DISTRICT” IN Beijing, China. A former armory has been converted into an art center with contemporary art galleries. Tourists flock to shop there but the main audience consists of art merchants from all over the world.
In Asia: you can find very interesting galleries with contemporary art, Japanese in particular, in Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan. District Ginza of Tokyo is a good choice.
Back to Europe, London is obviously a fascinating place as far as art is concerned. Apart from Tate Museum (museum of contemporary art) you have Saatchi Gallery and numerous galleries along Bond Street and Albemarle Street.
Art lovers would appreciate the highest level of contemporary world art gathered in one place – International Art Fairs like Art Basel in Switzerland, FIAC in Paris and absolutely a must: Biennale in Venice.
Obviously when you are in Paris you need to visit Centre Pompidou-Beauborg, where apart from permanent exposition there are series of interesting exhibitions of living artists. Beautiful plaza Des Vosges (birthplace of Victor Hugo) with 20+ galleries would be another place to visit in Paris. Then the area close to Beaux Arts Academy or Marais and Bellville districts as well as in proximity of Rue de Seine: another 20-30 galleries. French Opera Gallery is a very interesting one, with its franchises in Dubai, London, New York, Geneva, Singapore, Paris, Hong Kong and Monte Carlo, Monaco.
My personal favorite: Paris, I visit it very often and never miss an exhibition in Centre Pompidou-Beauborg. And at last I cannot forget my home turf Belgium. An exclusive seaside resort Knokke-le-Zoute is home to very avant-garde and cool galleries with contemporary art. This place is a must to see when visiting Belgium. Another, perhaps the biggest art center is located near the cities of Ghent and Antwerp, with numerous fascinating galleries showing contemporary artists.
Apart from participating in international contemporary art exhibitions, so called biennale, do painters partake in painting contests?
I know that there are painting contests somewhere in the world. I was never interested in them. Personally I never participated in a contest, although, yes — only once — I was 7-8 years old then and unfortunately I won the first place. Unfortunately, because the first-place winner received a humongous watercolor paint set and I already had one like that. Eventually I managed to convince the jury that I wasn’t first prize worthy by pointing out mistakes in my painting and suggesting that a friend was better. I won second place with a big crayon and pastels set as a prize. I have never participated in any painting contests since then. In my opinion there is no precise way of gauging art, who’s the first, second or third. You cannot compare painting to sport competition; there is no objective measure of artist’s sensibility.
But recently I was awarded a prize in painting category at Biennale in Florence. I was pleasantly surprised, more so that I didn’t know there would be any prizes, I was completely unprepared for this exhibition – the theme was given very late, after I already had selected paintings, long before Biennale. Eventually just before departure I managed to finish one of my three paintings in the required theme. Now I remember another nice surprise — Grand Prix of Contemporary Art in Monte Carlo. Several years ago I was selected from many international artists to participate in a very prestigious exhibition under the auspices of Princess Carolina and her father Prince Pierre de Monaco. It was a great honor to me to be one of the twenty artists selected from all over the world. Evidently a great help in my professional career.
These are anecdotes. Back to your question: For certain, contest prizes help open the doors to better and better galleries — and the awarded artist strengthens his position and popularity thanks to them. Also, prizes are tangible achievements, just like bars and stars added to your epaulettes in the army [laugh]. Galleries often use them to facilitate the artist. One thing for sure — the artist who is a recipient of Grand Prix at Venice Biennale is potentially at the top of the pyramid. Just to make the grade is extremely difficult. In Venice only the artists with best references are allowed to exhibit. Most of all the prestigious exhibitions have this type of prizes and accolades.
Would you agree to the notion that photography cannot measure up to painting? Paint (especially oils) reflects light more intensively and even the best photo paper can’t compete with it. Besides, a painting, created “manually” by the artist possess that magic we could call “soul”. A painting on canvas has this “something” we can’t really name. Photographs and other innovative visual techniques, however alluring, seem to be inanimate. If you were starting your artistic adventure today, knowing directions visual art is heading for now, would you still become a painting artist?
Naturally photography and painting on canvas are two different things. First of all, in an oil painting one can create an illusion of materiality — magic visual stimuli where you can feel material attributes of painted elements, the effect that cannot be obtained in photography no matter how good the paper or any other medium, implement is used. The painting is created by human brain and each part of it is controlled differently for that magic to happen. Some people often fail to see it on paintings. Photography on the other side is a registration of a moment, with set parameters of light, contrast, etc. Simply it is a different field of art, with huge creative possibilities as well. With today’s technology those two disciplines are successfully combined , there is a number of artists painting on photographs as the base — in the way that parts of a photograph are obviously visible, but the background works with painted layers. I have seen many paintings like that and effects are amazing. The fact that living arts exhibits have much more representation of photography versus oil on canvas, that seems to be in minority, is, in my opinion a result of a fashion as well as affordability. Photographs are edited in numbered series – the bigger quantity, the less expensive copy. The painting however is one and only, thus much higher price. Although well-known photographers are starting to reach prices very comparable to famous painters at auctions and in galleries.
As for the second part of your question — everyone has his own predispositions — and if not — he has no idea [laugh]. Apparently I was programmed to paint from the very start. I would change nothing — I would become a painter — it is the most beautiful profession in the world. Besides, a painter can easily do photography or practice other visual disciplines. Many film-makers have art background — I think Andrzej Wajda was an Art Academy student first before he became the top Polish film-maker. I know some artists who set painting aside and now they crank up videos or photography. It’s been said more than once that painting art is finished, a “has been” because it does not have anything new to offer, all has been said already. Maybe someday, when all the vegetation is extinguished on Earth, landscape painters will be in great demand [laugh]. To me it is a monumental nonsense. With the dynamic progress in technology one can always come up with something new. I have absolutely no idea what I could be creating today, other than paintings.
We live in fast and hard times. Just about everyone dreams about great career or making a fortune. Many stockbrokers use cocaine, athletes use performance enhancing drugs. What’s the artist’s and painter’s “poison”?
In my artistic “neck of the woods” no-one does any drugs, or they don’t admit to it [laugh]. I can’t imagine how a painter can possibly think and work under the influence — it’s waste of time, unless he has problems with inspiration and needs some kind of stimuli. “Many painters are alcoholics” — it is a stereotype that has no sense. Alcoholism among painters happens as often as it does among truck drivers or teachers. This cliché I think started in Paris many years ago, when our celebrities of Montparnasse or Montmartre spent their time long into the night drinking absinth and squabbling all the time. It must have been them that helped create the negative image of an artist. Artists are same as other people only their job is more colorful and fascinating.
You cannot qualify all of them as drug addicts and alcoholics just because a few famous creative spirits perished early: Jim Morrison, Jimmy Hendrix, Amy Winehouse, Michael Jackson, etc. In show business it is impossible to keep on performing a gig every other day in different cities or countries year round and have no ill effects. The body protests, so few of them turn to drugs for help. But painters? Maybe to stimulate their inspiration if they lack it LOL. In my case, the “drug” of choice would be a cantaloupe or a watermelon.
What is your opinion on the Internet?
Internet — wonderful invention. When PC’s showed up in every home — the world changed. It provided easy access to any information, online shopping with no need to leave the house, facilitation in all aspects of life. Fantastic tool for artists. I remember first time I sat in front of a computer, I spent hours on virtual visits to galleries all over the world. Thanks to Skype the world became smaller, more accessible; you can chat for free with your friends on the other hemisphere. There are countless programs and applications to manipulate photographs, music, movies. Instant mail, sending images and sound — you can list its innumerable advantages. Naturally this is a double-edged sword. How is it in my domain? Let’s take a vernissage for example. Thirty and even twenty years ago, invited guests would show up at the exhibition and if anyone liked a painting, they would buy it. No more impulsive shopping. Nowadays I noticed a different trend in Europe: invited guests would come, look at the paintings, and go home – nothing sells at the vernissage anymore. At home the research begins: is the painter well known, is it worth to invest in his creations, what’s his value? If it’s all good, then attempts of a private contact begin, through a web page if he has one. The goal is to barter the price of a painting or sculpture by surpassing the gallery that usually takes 50% of its value as commission.
Gallery owners do not like to work with artists who have their own web pages. And then there are large numbers of Internet galleries that are in competition with traditional ones. To sum it up, an artist is much more accessible on the market today and advertising via Internet is less expensive — all it takes is a few marketing skills and you can increase your visibility in the world and get in touch with galleries at a minimal financial burden. But there is a negative aspect of such accessibility. It’s the so-called “artists” who steal other painters’ or photographers’ ideas and sell them as their own. All in all I think that there are more advantages than disadvantages of the Internet.
Please tell me which artist impressed you the most? Who is worth looking at?
There are numerous interesting artists in every country. Everyone has his favorites. With me, it’s little different, I like to see them all — both famous and undiscovered ones — I find something interesting in all of them. There is however a group of favorites. We’ll find Jean Michel Basquiat (deceased) in this group as well as Gerhard Richter, Istvan Sandorfi, Lucian Freud, Takashi Murakami, Niki de Saint Phalle, Damien Hirst, Belgian artist Panamarenko, Theo Jansen — and the most controversial of them all Jeff Koons.
Let me say a few words about him. A very interesting and controversial person, I will explain why. After graduating from Art School in Maryland, USA by the end of the seventies he moved to New York where he became a Wall Street stock broker. He claimed this was to obtain financial means to be able to do his art. He works in Chelsea in his atelier where he employs about a hundred apprentices: Fine Arts Academy students. He does not create anything himself, no painting, sculpting drawing, because — as he claims, he can’t and is not capable. But Jeff Koons has ideas! Is he an artist or a businessman? Good question. He uses the “ready-made” techniques. His studio creates paintings, sculptures, photography, computer graphics, cultivates kitsch.
I visited his exhibition in Paris, Pompidou Centre recently — beautiful! After talking with some other guests I realized that not too many knew that all the pieces were created not by Koons, but other artists. Both USA and Europe follow the rule that if someone creates his own project using somebody else’s hands, he is still its author. Concluding — “anyone can become an artist”.
In the 90’s Koons married Ilona Staller, also known by the name of Ciciolina – a porn star of Hungarian decent. It was a shock and a scandal! Koons published a series of “artistic porn” photographs starring himself and his wife. And the scandal, that he created all by himself in the USA — in the art circles, gave him the boost to the very top of the pyramid. Was it a marketing operation or an artistic vision? It’s up p to individual interpretation. As for me, I like “his” creations. He shows at the most prestigious venues of the Planet: Versailles, Venice… His monumental sculptures can be found today on a street of Florence, home of Renaissance, right next to Renaissance masterpieces. He is by all means an exceptional personality in the world of business or art? Or I should rather say Art Business.
Do you have any advice for the young Polish artists, planning to travel to USA or Western Europe in pursuit of success?
I hate to give good advice, I hate it myself when someone gives me “instruction”. I will try to answer but it is more suggestions rather than advice.
“The world belongs to the adventurous”. It is very beneficial to travel the world, particularly for the artists, to open new horizons, learn different cultures, exchange experiences. It is indispensable in order not to be left behind the galloping world.
USA would be in my opinion the best place to try your luck in a quest for success; the country is much open for art than Europe. There is much more respect for the profession of the painting or sculpting artist there. Also it is the place where painters of classical art (landscapes, still life, etc.) still function — unlike in Europe, where this type of gallery is almost extinct.
Persons traveling abroad have to understand, that at the beginning they will have to find a way to sustain them, meaning a paying job. It is very difficult to work all day and then try to paint after hours.
Even if you have found a gallery that is willing to represent you, you have to consider a long period of adaptation before things start to sell. Each gallery has a list of guests that they regularly invite to exhibitions and it is those guests that have to get acquainted with a new artist. See a few of his exhibits before they start buying.
The safest way is to travel to an already established contact. Once upon a time I read some advice by one of the American art merchants, given to young artists who want to be noticed by a possible promoter. He said: Show everywhere — not only in galleries, but also in bars, restaurants and other public places. Why? Making rounds from gallery to gallery with your paintings does not have much sense. Gallery owners hate when somebody wants to impose anything on them, however wonderful it may be. On the other side they love to discover new talent.
Another activity to avoid is emailing everyone pictures of your art in order to make a contact. Every gallery receives several emails like that daily and guess where they all end up? Trash folder. But there are exceptions, and here is a piece of useful advice; there are galleries in the USA, who have a tab on their web pages named “admissions” — this is your way in, place for possible candidates for a gallery. And this is the only kind of galleries you can submit your work examples with no problem, they ask for it. Of course there is no guarantee that they are honest people where your art will not vanish along with the money.
“Next thing you have to avoid is paying for exhibitions.”
Galleries that want money from artists are a fraud and useless. If anyone can afford participation in an Art Fair in the USA or other country — I will get back to it in a while — I highly recommend it, but the cost might be prohibitive. The price of participation in the Art Fair depends on where it is, which country and city — and on the size of a lot the artist needs. Then you have to add the cost of transportation of your paintings, hotel, and air fare. Let’s say, 10 to 15 thousand US dollars will buy you a presence at the Art Fair in Miami or New York. The advantage of such a show is that it is visited exclusively by art lovers or people in art business meaning they are looking for new interesting faces. I highly recommend this option for those who have something interesting and original to offer. If the venue is chosen wisely and paintings are exceptional, your chance to success is very high. I did participate in such fairs several times with the positive effect. But you also have to expect the chance of a failure.
Sometimes paintings that sell well to Polish audience, may not be completely desirable by French or American buyers, and here is where the Internet comes in handy – you may correlate your art to the art in galleries of the other country. You can observe general level, tendencies, etc.
Naturally I do not want to discourage young artists — on the contrary, but it takes a very motivated and hard working person to make it in art world. Remember, the competition is enormous — and if you can make your art pay for your living — you are successful. I wish good luck to all the adventurous.
You have been living in Brussels for 25 years. What kind of a city is it?
I remember my first visit to Brussels because of an exhibition in the North (back when borders existed in Europe) and my first impression was positive. I traveled from Paris then (where I was living for 10 years). Paris is a metropolis with a population of ten million, a city full of life, millions of people moving on the surface and underground (subway), in other words crowds of people. So my first notion was this: “Wow, it is so quiet here, people walk instead of running, nobody bumps into you on the street” — in short an oasis of quiet, different pulse of life.
There are numerous places worth seeing in Brussels, naturally the museums: Museum Margritte, Royal Fine Arts Museum, Musical Instruments Museum, Victor Hort Museum, Beaux- Arts d’ixelles Museum, Art Centre BOZAR, Erotica Museum, Museum of Toys, Beer Museum, the unusual String Panties and Slips Museum (the Musée du Slip — Underwear Museum in Brussels) founded by artist Jan Bucquoy, the list goes on and on. There are numerous art galleries — unfortunately within last 25 years their number decreased badly and they are scattered all over the city. Mary renowned Belgian artists, namely Rene Margrite-JamesEnsor, Paul Delvaux, Pierre Alechinski — these are the world famous painters and of course the whole pleiad of the others.
In the past few years about 70% art galleries vanished from Brussels. Many moved to Paris or South of France, others to the USA or simply closed down. It shows how much the economic-political situation affects the art market in Belgium. Summing up, Brussels is a fantastic city with specific atmosphere, where anyone can find interesting places to visit.
What would you still like to achieve as an artist?
I have many plans, things I’d like to accomplish. I would like to paint monumental murals in cool places, also paint in very large format.
I would like to get into Installations. Fusion of Photography and painting is one of the projects that I’d like to develop soon. I am in the process of its implementation but the results are not satisfactory yet.
I would like to experiment with holography and 3D print (three-dimensional printing of cubic objects). I think if and when will achieve these plans, new ones will appear with time. I am not planning to retire anyway — it is an abstract option for me.
Thank you for the talk and I wish you lot of success.
Marius Zabinski was interviewed by Christopher Gretkus
June 06, 2016, Brussels
Translated into English by Marzenna Wojcicka-Gilbert, July 2016
Christopher Gretkus (1970) — publisher of portals Eprawda.pl and Novelmasters.org, photographer. In the 90’s he published stories and poems in legendary Warsaw literary magazine bruLion. In 1995 his book of poems “Whisper and Scream” was published by MOK, followed by a three-part prose poem ”Czarne Światło” in 1999 that was translated into english and published in 2013 through Smashwords and Amazon as an e-book, under the title “Puff of Black”. In the years 2008-2012 photo-journalist with magazine The Polish Times and photo agency London News Pictures (LNP).
Marius Zabinski, born in 1956 in Warsaw, Poland, is a world-renowned painter artist. He is a graduate of Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. The artist paints and exhibits his work successfully for 35 years, all over the world, namely in Paris where he works with four galleries, and in the USA, Japan, Belgium, Italy, Singapore, Hong Kong, Beijing, Monte Carlo, Monaco, Luxembourg and Denmark. He participates in Art Fairs, presenting both oil painting and photography. In October 2015 received International Award in category of painting at the X International Biennale of Contemporary Art in Florence. Lives and works in Brussels, Belgium.
Marzenna Wojcicka-Gilbert (1955) born, raised and educated in Warsaw, Poland, graduate with Masters from Central School of Planning and Statistics, worked as tourist guide and tourist group manager, English and Russian interpreter, road manager and promoter with International Jazz Festivals in Poland (Jazz Jamboree, Warsaw Summer Jazz Days) for over 20 years, currently living in Virginia, USA since 1989, where she owns and operates a small business.
Slideshow: paintings by Marius Zabinski and photos from his private life in random order.