THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF KNOWING
Where are we when we paint? Where are we when we sit and look back at the painting? These of course are two different moments.
When some are painting I think the best painters cannot answer this, they are somewhere else. They do not even know where they are.
When they later sit before the painting meaning starts to slowly emerge, make sense, start to be more clear but this takes time, perhaps years. And perhaps things become clear between the paintings.
One painting helps understand the next and the next. Things start to add up over time, become more clear and understood as the fog lifts.
Jan knows this, he understand this, he lives this.
Painting is a beautifully private affair, for some it has to be. For the best I believe it is. It has nothing to do with fashion of the moment and in chasing a belief that can never be sustained, it has to do with the urgent necessity of trying to understand a life while at the same time you see it passing you by, like trying to hold water in ones hand. The impossibility of holding ones breath so as not to sink, a painter has to always risk sinking, failing, there is no other way to be free.
Jan paints to understand a life that is not understandable, it is impossible to pin down. The clo- ser you think you get to understanding a thousand more questions arrive. This is the beauty in what he paints, the impossibility of knowing.
What freedom this is, to know there are always more questions than answers, and always more paintings to come. For the possibility of painting in Jan’s world is inexhaustible.
There is almost no blue or green or yellow in his paintings, there is white but it is a winter white, a blanket of white that covers the black and gray and soot and dust of a history so many are running from or trying to bury. This is an internal landscape. A landscape of memory that Jan is not letting us forget, whether it be a personal one or not. How can one move through life without facing life, how can one close the window or the door of memory and truth to smother the noise that we still can hear. I not only see and feel things deeply in the paintings of Jan, but I also, hear them. Even if I close my eyes to forget what I saw it is impossible to quiet the noise of knowing what I saw and felt. These paintings stretch between many worlds and this in one of there many strengths: They are private and at the same time public, they are seen and heard and they are most importantly felt.
In looking at Jan’s painting I try to understand where I am in the painting. Am I looking in or am I inside looking out, or could it be both. Am I locked out or locked inside, is the light inside or outside. I ask this as I look at his painting Empty, Nobody In There. Am I walking the stairs from the inside to the outside or the outside to the inside, this ambiguity amps up the tension of knowing where we are and most importantly which is better. Where are we more free? This is always the question of the painter, where are they more free.
Lawrence Carroll Bolsena, Italy December 31, 2017
My friend Jan Pruski – he’s a wild bird.
Well, that’s what’s generally said about him, and his closest frineds certainly think of him like that. And so do those for whom a committed and serious artist really counts – and with whom they sometimes even argue An artist like Pruski is no purely entertaining creator, for sometimes artists have to throw salt in our eyes. Jan is unconventional. Vladimir Nabokov, that creative genius and ambivalent figure, would also have liked to be as unconventional; known as a non-conformist in the 60’s, he would have been a willing pupil of Jan’s. He’s both Frank Kafka’s transformed creepy-crawly, and also that rather nice Mr Pruski from Czarna Street: the meditating painter of colourful Mazurian meadows and the accusatory anti-war and anti-violence ranter. Jan paints Butho-style pictures from two philosophical viewpoints. One is inner conscience and contemplation and the need to be noticed – pictures infused with sprituality; the other is callous, not letting himself be pushed around, growing at his own pace – stringy abstract walls, pretty boxes and columns, benches, and gigantic lipsticked women. Gigantic women? Yes indeed, and these women, in the uttermost corner of our imagination, in our deepest grey cells, they are the second direction of his existential-romantic theatre of pictures. Women, and men too of course, in the heaviest of thigh-length, heel-clicking boots Jan’s a real Jekyll and Hyde. A multi-skilled polymath. And thus his art is ambiguous, many-faceted. Pure aesthetic, yet becoming wild, aggressive. But unpretentious, for Jan has an archimedian point of view. Exactly. We can only envy him his artistic freedom. He has the courage to throw himself and his creativity in at the deep end. We devotees of art, who look at his pictures and muse over them, need have no fear. We can only grow with the help of this wild bird, for in a prison cell there is written: Brave birds talk about freedom; wild birds fly. Jurgen
Jurgen Huber Regensburg, GRAZ
Cześnik and Pruski
Demented, really, bless ’em. One sad, the other happy; and the sad one’s quite happy, and the happy one a bit sad. They can turn death into a joke and take comedy seriously. Different personalities, similar souls. Their artistic experience is human experience – for them, painting, thinking, living is a moral issue. Gut feelings settle matters of technique, primer, colour, brush and stroke; existential questions are their focus of attention. Students and apprentices can have problems with interpretation - looking for reasons for what these two do, why they paint on road signs, on waste paper, why they produce tiny scrawl. But the masters are not to be questioned, they are the point of reference. Their shared consciousness isn’t collective consciousness, just the first step to it. The similarities flowing from these two consciounesses of depiction are striking: but the connection with naive art, with art brut, with Jean Dubuffet, with the new expression, with the brutal theatre of Antonin Artaud is a mere prosthesis of the artist’s experience, telling the blind about colours. Cześnik and Pruski have fun with these associations that we poor inhabiants of the iconosphere have to trawl up; look, no fragments of the ‘pixelosphere’ here, this choking and atomizing of our perception of daily life with digital cameras and mobile phones. Their work is not everyday, but holy; partly, not wholly, religious art; and from stream of consciousness inscriptions in their work we discover what is going on in their minds: the creative work of the hand in the faithful service of the subconscious. But why the frequent appeal to disdain, suffering and extermination? Perhaps it’s like this: in our lives we set up our own units of measurement, imposing our own scale on distance, time, weight, temperature, emotion, effort, erotic attraction; and for many of us (and for me) Auschwitz is a waymark, both topographic and moral. And not on the national scale (the racist insanity of the Nazis, Jewish-Polish-German relations) but universal, a negative waymark, a black hole, an ethical ‘anus mundi’. Auschwitz provides a moral perspective, an antithesis to Mecca on Muslim airline TV screens pray in this direction. From Auschwitz, an icon of the grim potential of human nature, we should turn away. But we can’t disconnect ourselves from it. It’s not a prosthesis.
Auschwitz, our little homeland.
Piotr Olszówka, Berlin, 19.05.2009
..and so I had to define my attitude to all those coils, cylinders, phallic emblems and whatnot. Landscape is obviously three-dimensional by nature, but we somehow tend to transpose it onto two dimensions, and then all of a sudden you get three dimensions again... that never fails to surprise and inspire, and it's not merely a question of that aesthetic force where observation reaches beneath the surface of things. In that sense the objects the artist hints at are transparent. It's, you know, very sensual, it can be touched, you can almost smell and walk among these "landscapes." It is new and it is fun - it has always been like that with Pruski: he has fun, and you have fun looking at his pictures; he enjoys his work - and it all smells of lakes, reeds, sweet flag, it is Mazurian in its mood and intent...
Sometimes he is a Picasso, drawing a nude with a single line or tossing off erotic "shenanigans" on the paper. Another time he is a Dubuffet, inspired by ritualistic African sculpture when he covers kitchen planks with black geometrical patterns or when he sets his "Two monks" in rhythmic rhombuses. He can be a WOLS when his line becomes nervous, delicate and creates wholeness and meaning as if against its will. His views of the lake-land are a response to the "concrete abstraction" of Leon Tarasewicz not only because his pared down idiom renders the landscape of northern Poland with no less compassion than the Belarusian painter does the beauty of its eastern borderlands, but also because both artists take landscape painting beyond two dimensions: Tarasewicz fills interiors with landscape by painting directly on adjacent walls, Pruski lends a vicarious, parallel existence to landscape within the object - a pipe, a block, a solid board covered with the speculation, the suggestion, the veneer of a landscape. He does not treat minimalism as a means to an artistic end: it is a value in itself which in his Mazurian landscapes achieves a unity of representation and atmosphere - for how better to capture the silence, calmness and ascetic greyness of the misty lake, the island outlined in rushes and reeds, or the intuited shoreline? Only by showing yourself unsure that they exist, especially in terms of form, tangibility, and susceptibility to being put in models and patterns. Pruski is no stranger to this hesitation, so befitting the methodological sceptic: "Maybe it is. Maybe it isn't. Maybe this way, maybe that. What does exist is my doubting in the obviousness of the you see it all, the way you see me, my art, our undoubtedly beautiful world!"
.... I don't care whether his affinities are elective or accidental, and besides you can't paint as if no one had ever painted before, and reading references to predecessors into an artist's work is like stringing beads onto the necklace of culture. Just assume that he's become another Hakuin, that those bricks and pipes of his are just a Zen joke on the inability of showing the blinding light of the real - like a phenomenologist, he only grants true existence to that which appears to him in direct observation. I accept your sublimity but I prefer listening to the silence of these paintings, to the rustling November silence on the bank of lake M. reeds on the island
the lake shimmers within me
the ducks leave today
You said there was no point writing about art? Not about trivial art there isn't.
Well, I thought Jan Pruski had calmed down and settled down a bit, after all those dramatic warriors, his “Teresas” and his “Sickheads”, and that he'd finally got the urge to take it easy and say to himself 'time to put my feet up for a while.' I thought he'd be contemplating his calm, refined landscapes - or rather his echoes of landscapes - not only his canvases, but also his three-dimensional forms, cylinder surfaces and blocks...
But what have we got? An eruption of distaste for the world. Hammering of fists on the table. His new cycle 'Klatki' links with the ancient theme of the dance macabre, morality sobbing over the wretchedness of the world. It's a whole little theatre, full of dolls on wires, folk in prison, incapacitated, bound together with string and wire, packed in tin can coffins. Here's a couple tied together for good and bad, from birth to the grave. There's a gaggle of people packed together in a cage; unhappy wretches, restrained by strong fetters, they remain motionless in the eternal ritual dance of life and death; and among them saunter spectres, their names emblazoned on sashes: Deceit, Jealousy, Hate, Gossip.
And what are these three figures doing, with their smart ball gowns and white crowns, like masks from the Carnival of Venice, strutting a step of the gavotte from Mozart's Don Giovanni? One thing I know. I wouldn't have wanted to get in our Jan's way while he was creating his little world of theatre. The load of phlegm and fury carried here is enough to strike you down with a thunderbolt from a substantial distance; his anger bears the power of a Voodoo curse.
Rhomboids. Landscape materials. Means of recognition.
Jan Pruski is on intelligent artist. Watching him work I was struck by his concentrated, decisive approach. His whole body paints - his intellect marks out the direction, he reconsiders, re-forms earlier work and takes, from the many possible paths, the next step forward. Each stroke is emotional, impulsive, passionate, his artwork verges on brutality. All these intermediate steps are, though, a result of Pruski's reflective, ruthless self-focusing. An impulsive process of creative thought and energy is apparent. Pruski wants, I think, to create in us, his viewers, a certain reverie and intelligent appreciation, together with emotions bordering on obsess/on. His works are not 'art brut’ as we know it from the works of Dubuffet or the psychiatrist, Prinzhorn. We may talk here of the classic understanding of the landscape form, of mystical primaeval shrines, fantastic drawings - fantastic because they are born from a fantasy of complex structures with secret entrances - not a copied form but an archaic prototype. In Pruski's work rocks become inhabitable apartment blocks. His works are not reflections of himself, not memoirs or a description of the state of things. These are prototypes, pictures within pictures, to me they are a source of the most important questions; who am I - where have I come from - where am I going? Who knows? Pruski does not completely desert us, leaving us alone with his artwork, but he offers too little help in the learning of his alphabet, giving us too much freedom: he allows us to conceive our own images - he himself looks on, distant, reserved, reticent. Wild thoughts' of the kind described by Claude Levi Strauss, are provoked by his artwork. The beauty of his visions of nature soothes, and induces contemplation - such visions there certainly are - but at the same time these visions portray another aggressive, threatening side of nature. There is a palpable hunger for freedom, exposing us to constant discontent. This dichotomy is disturbing.
Jan forces himself on his budding creation like a demented warrior, like a punk wrecking his guitar. Brutal strokes, violent lunges, clawing, stabbing. His use of soft brush strokes is rare. His raw material: cement, glued paper, cardboard - he rips it off, sticks it anew: again and again. He cuts thick gashes into the picture, fills them, like dry needle technique, tarry blackness, smearing, rubbing the whole work, constantly repeating the same manoeuvres. Suddenly very subtle, delicate forms begin to emerge, landscape, elements of countryside, which nonetheless fail to hide their scars, their painful inheritance, possessing beauty without illusions, respected, untarnished. Like cult figures in rites of passage. Eventually one can discern filigree boats, boats, or perhaps only sails and masts, those elements Indispensable for sailing away - boats in the distance, in an uncertain and yet hopeful future, Finally he reveals to us his one real 'means'.
Jan Pruski, the intelligent artist shows us the means, processes, thoughts and actions - but not the banal.
I appreciate you engaged your talent to protect memories from forgetting - memories of those who were closed behind the barb wired fences. Some of my friends described that horrible time in their books. I think that nobody could speak out those memories that are still so painfull. For almost twenty years I have been avoiding all those people and things that could recall those painfull memories. I was afraid nightmares could return. I was afraid one of them especially: I run breathless carrying the sack with food - I see skeletons of little kids (nutritional oedema recedes after death) - kids try to push open eyelids with fingers - I awake and still hear mothers howling. During last months at majdanek I have been working at isolation hospital. Kids. Mental patients. There was one thing I could not do - I could not write numbers on gaunt bodies. I asked my older friend to do it form me. I offered I do all the hard work for her.
Transport from Witebsk - gaunt mothers and gaunt children, beautiful Jewish kids. All of them straight to gas. I asked WHY? Me - the true believer, yes, I blasphemed. And in the evening we tried to recollect happy moments. We sung songs composed in the camp. We even organised theatre. Life had two dimensions: the first - everyday nightmare and the second - evenings after apel - ours although aufseiress often appeared 3.11.1943 - with the accompaniment of waltzes and operetta songs eighteen thousands Jews were gassed. We saw this from the window of the barrack on the fifth field nearby the crematorium.
We saw a woman who climbed from beneath the dead bodies. We started to shout in several languages. The esesman womancalled "Lumpish" dragges her back to ditch. Single shot. Silence. It could be me. It could be one of us. Everyday. But among beasts there were also true man. Well...Iremember...Sick of typhus I am on the track going to crematoruim. Half conscious. I can hear the engine pumping cyclone. I hear somebody shouting: "Hedwig Wolska". I cannot speak a single word. I pointed at myself. Jewish woman sitting near me shouted: "Hier is das". I saw Rainertz. My friends asked him to take me back. I fainted. In 1977 I went to Dusseldorf. I felt I had a debt to pay. Rainertz was released. Soon after this he died of heart attack. Well I could describe my stay in the next camp. I could describe how I met my husbend camp`s doctor. But this is still opened wound. It still hurts too much.