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Jacek Yerka: “I don’t think I could paint a realistic picture”

  10 
Fans of fantasy, surrealism
Avant-garde is how modern art critics refer the general trend of new artistic directions that arose in world art at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. A very thin line separates it from the concept of “modernism”. Read more Surrealism (Fr. surréalisme) is an avant-garde art movement of the first half of the twentieth century characterized by the fusion of reality with something else, but not oppositional. Surrealism is a dream which is neither real, nor surreal. The style is characterized by allusions and a paradoxical combination of forms, visual deception. In the paintings of the Surrealists hard objects and rocks often melt, and the water, on the contrary, hardens. Read more
and magical realism
Realism (from late Latin reālis — “real”) is considered to be the beginning in the development of modern art. In a strict sense, “realism” is an art movement that faithfully and objectively reproduces reality in all its details, regardless of how beautiful are the objects in the picture. Read more
know Polish illustrator Jacek Yerka very well. In 1995, he received the prestigious World Fantasy Prize for his work, and in recent years, the popularity of his paintings with collectors has only grown. Recently, the artist gave an interview at the Agra-Art auction house in Warsaw, where he talked about the influence of the Old Dutch, his technique, his favourite music, hobbies, and how the famous flying islands appeared in the Avatar movie.
"One of the questions most often asked by the collectors and fans of your work: how do you find inspiration and ideas for your paintings?"

"I often ask the same question. There are many answers, because I am inspired by the present, everyday life. But I also went through a lot in my 60+ years, and I still remember it. At some point, it all adds up. It’s not that I come up with something and put it into painting; the idea develops, appears several times in my dream. Or I can see something, a situation that inspires me, and suddenly I can create a picture. I can sketch
A study is an exercise painting that helps the painter better understand the object he or she paints. It is simple and clear, like sample letters in a school student’s copybook. Rough and ready, not detailed, with every stroke being to the point, a study is a proven method of touching the world and making a catalogue of it. However, in art history, the status of the study is vague and open to interpretation. Despite its auxiliary role, a study is sometimes viewed as something far more significant than the finished piece. Then, within an impressive frame, it is placed on a museum wall.
So, when does a study remain a mere drill, and when can we call it an artwork in its own right, full of life and having artistic value? Read more
and paint."

"But your pictures, shall we say… are not from this world. They are inhabited by the strange creatures or they contain distorted reality. Does it happen in your dreams or is it something else?"

"There is completely nothing to envy, because I need to visualize it, which is sometimes really scary. And now, and at that moment I think about it or I use some nightmares from my past — or I create them myself."
Jacek Yerka. Hunter's morning
Hunter's morning
2016, 47×59.5 cm
"And how do you get the initial sketches of the first version of the idea? I suppose some time should pass."

"Yes, I have my notebooks with sketches from 15 years ago. When I leaf through them, I always find ideas for work. Recently I was thinking about something interesting I wanted to develop. I worked on several projects that are about 12 to 15 years old, but I don’t know how to approach them now. I also began to communicate more with myself. I moved to suburbs, I live in the wilderness. It’s so quiet that I can hear my own thoughts."
Jacek Yerka. Spring maze
Spring maze
2005, 71×73 cm
"Earlier, you mentioned that you were inspired by Dutch painting. Is there something else? As collectors note, each of your paintings has a number of symbols, and they are not so easy to decipher. Did this symbolism
Exquisite still-lifes and marvelous plants on canvases: flowers do not only beautify the appearance, but also open secret meanings, and convey messages to the attentive researcher. Leafing through captivating Herbarium, we're examining enigmatic garden of flower symbols.

Read more Symbolism is an art movement that has been reflected in painting, literature and music. It emerged in the 1870s-1880s in France, later spread to Belgium, Norway, and the Russian Empire. It reached the peak of popularity at the turn of the 19th-20th centuries. Symbolism is characterized by sadness, introspection and understatement: as if an artist came to quiet despair, but he was too shy to talk about these feelings, so he painted them.



Read more
come from the Dutch?"


"Actually, from case to case. I often upload pictures to my iPhone to have them close at hand when I’m looking for inspiration for a beautiful sky or an interesting mood. I look at them and see how it was done three or five hundred years ago. I never copy their ideas, only get inspired. Some time ago I was enthralled by Italians, the most impressive of them being Giorgione, Titian. I flipped through albums and photographs. And then by chance I saw some Dutchmen in the museum and thought: ‘God, what was I thinking? Only the Dutch of the 15th century — and nothing else. Everyone else is just a supplement, they all are still searching.' These Dutchmen touched me and they always do."
"What about other artists and movements?"

"There are many great artists. And I appreciate them all. But still the Dutchmen are the ones who inspire and encourage me to paint."

"What kind of music do you listen to at work?"

"I listen to everything. Depends on what I’m painting or drawing. Most of the time I listen to some quiet track like Enya, which my family can no longer listen to as it is constantly played for 3 to 4 hours. But it helps me to experience certain feelings. Only the music and the idea I’m working on."

"I have such an idea of the artist, perhaps taken from the cinema, that aggressive music thunders around him, and he fiercely acts with his brush —"

"Perhaps if I listened to this kind of music… No, I need it if I’m tired or trying to meet deadlines. In such cases, I pick up a heavy sound, some kind of punk, and it helps me a lot. You can work 24 hours without sleep."
Jacek Yerka. Walking lesson
Walking lesson
2005, 38×45 cm
"Punk?"

"Rammstein, Sex Pistols — they help me. The same thing happens when I’m on the road, this is the only music that energizes and invigorates me. But 95 percent of my time I listen to novels, audiobooks."

"Even when you paint?"

"Yes. I found that I had listened to more novels than I had read in my entire life. This is an amazing idea! Especially while drawing. I need to turn off some of my feelings for a while. When you paint, you cannot be distracted by what is happening around, and you must focus on the picture at the same time. Listening to novels helps me to sort of disconnect my mind from reality. I’m listening to a novel and painting a picture at the same time, that’s all."
Jacek Yerka. BOUDOIR
BOUDOIR
2001, 81×81 cm
"Ok, let’s start from the very start. As far as I know, you were born into a family of artists. Have you ever tried yourself in realism? At the beginning?"

"I'd say, I resisted it. And before I learned how to draw correctly, I experimented with some imaginary, some fantastic things. I don’t think I could ever paint a realistic picture."

"Landscapes like [Józef] Chełmoński—"

"Well, yes, but I don’t know how to draw ‘as then'. My first attempts had something to do with Cézanne, something with the Cubists, but never with realism
Realism (from late Latin reālis — “real”) is considered to be the beginning in the development of modern art. In a strict sense, “realism” is an art movement that faithfully and objectively reproduces reality in all its details, regardless of how beautiful are the objects in the picture. Read more
. I didn’t go experience the realism
Realism (from late Latin reālis — “real”) is considered to be the beginning in the development of modern art. In a strict sense, “realism” is an art movement that faithfully and objectively reproduces reality in all its details, regardless of how beautiful are the objects in the picture. Read more
phase. Now I am a realist all the time."

"You are definitely diverse. From surrealism
Avant-garde is how modern art critics refer the general trend of new artistic directions that arose in world art at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. A very thin line separates it from the concept of “modernism”. Read more Surrealism (Fr. surréalisme) is an avant-garde art movement of the first half of the twentieth century characterized by the fusion of reality with something else, but not oppositional. Surrealism is a dream which is neither real, nor surreal. The style is characterized by allusions and a paradoxical combination of forms, visual deception. In the paintings of the Surrealists hard objects and rocks often melt, and the water, on the contrary, hardens. Read more
to —"


"I also don’t know how to classify what I create. But this is just like me."

"Sometimes they call it magic realism
Realism (from late Latin reālis — “real”) is considered to be the beginning in the development of modern art. In a strict sense, “realism” is an art movement that faithfully and objectively reproduces reality in all its details, regardless of how beautiful are the objects in the picture. Read more
."


"I tried to define myself once, but nothing suits me 100 percent."
Jacek Yerka. Ammonite
1989, 81×92 cm
Jacek Yerka. Express delivery
1992, 60×73 cm
Jacek Yerka. November
Jacek Yerka. Erosion
2000, 65×73 cm
Jacek Yerka. Please do not slam the door!
Jacek Yerka. Sunspots
1993, 55×73 cm
"All right. My impression is that looking at your work, I notice a group of recurring themes. Old Warsaw, for example. Is it so? Are there any themes you return to?"

"Yes, absolutely. But they are temporary. For example, I painted old Warsaw in six or eight of my works in the 90s, and then I stopped. I have completely exhausted this element. Everything I needed from Warsaw, I expressed in my pictures. I also remember the rural cuisine from the period of my country charm. In the 70s, I travelled much to the countryside. Imagine a 20-year-old boy who sees an inhabited farmhouse for the first time! I was fascinated. I painted a lot of country paintings, and this topic soon completely exhausted itself as well."

"There is a question that collectors often ask. How long do you paint a picture and why so long?"

"Wait, if someone knows my work, he certainly understands that it could not be done quickly. All these details that must be brought to perfection… And also the space, colour, light. Often I have to finish a painting in a week, and I’m still trying to paint the sky. And I know I’ll finish all the details within a week, but for the first three weeks, I only focus on making sure the mood I want to convey is the right one."
Jacek Yerka. Metropolis
Metropolis
2000-th , 94×85 cm
"Do you feel a lack of inspiration from time to time?"

"Well, I can’t draw all the time, because sometimes I need to live, look aside, work in the garden or repair something. And it makes me sad. In order to feel on top of the world I need to sit and paint. There is no life without painting, no happy life at least. Drawing, painting, drawing…"

"Do you have any favourite themes in your work? Do they vary? Do they relate to real events? It seems to me that you convey personal stories or historical moments from your life."

"Anything can be an inspiration that encourages me to be creative. But sometimes it blocks me. I can come back to the idea in six months, try to sketch, but I still cannot reveal it. Then the third attempt can be successful — I see that it turns out to be successful. What inspires me is a painting or a melody that has a strong connection with what I know. A book, a story from the recent past… Absolutely anything can be a source of my inspiration."
"I wanted to ask how you feel about science fiction literature. You’ve had the experience of working with Harlan Ellison, resulting in a joint masterpiece."

"I have created several paintings and he’s written some stories based on them. They were pretty hard to read. To be honest, I never read them all."

"Were they short?"

"Fortunately, yes."
Cover of the Harlan Ellison’s fiction Mind Fields by Jacek Yerka
‘I got the impression that your work is well suited to the generation that grew up on Star Wars, science fiction literature and computer games. Did your style originate independently [from that]? Or did science fiction culture, games, computer imagery still influence you? Perhaps you were trying to get away from them, and this generation noticed you in some miraculous way?"

"It started when I study in the institute. Then I came across fantastic literature, but did not appreciate it. It seemed too simple to me, childish and banal. And then I found a book that pulled me in. It was Stanisław Lem. I started looking for other sci-fi authors, and by the time I was 30, I was well-read and looking for some really interesting novels. It was a really powerful hobby. This has passed now, although with my audiobooks I sometimes return to things I read a few years ago or those that were not available then. I’m too old for Star Wars. When I saw them for the first time, I was already old enough, so they did not make much of an impression on me."

"You can imagine the universe yourself, and you don’t need Star Wars for that. I was puzzled and even shocked when I saw floating rocks in Avatar movie, just like in your paintings. As in String Theory, although it appeared earlier—"

"When I was in Hollywood, I talked to producers and directors. Their libraries have all types of albums with works like mine. Symbolic surrealism
Avant-garde is how modern art critics refer the general trend of new artistic directions that arose in world art at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. A very thin line separates it from the concept of “modernism”. Read more Surrealism (Fr. surréalisme) is an avant-garde art movement of the first half of the twentieth century characterized by the fusion of reality with something else, but not oppositional. Surrealism is a dream which is neither real, nor surreal. The style is characterized by allusions and a paradoxical combination of forms, visual deception. In the paintings of the Surrealists hard objects and rocks often melt, and the water, on the contrary, hardens. Read more
. And they use them. Maybe someone has seen some pictures or an album at some point. Albums with my reproductions can also be anywhere. They are open to seeking inspiration from non-standard, weird artists."
The flying rocks and islands in Avatar are also correlated with the Roger Dean's art (perhaps, his landscapes are even more similar, add the dragons), and if you recall René Magritte, it becomes obvious that the album library is really extensive in Hollywood.
"Shall we talk about the technology. If my memory doesn’t fail me, some time ago you painted in oils, but switched to acrylic. Why?"

"Yes, it was such a romantic beginning. The initial period of my oil painting. And at the same time I tried to derive from the technique of the old artists. It looked like this: I put a layer of paint and waited three weeks for it to dry. In the end it started to annoy me because it took me a year to paint a multi-layered painting. Then I followed the path of the Dutch. They turned out to paint very quickly. What they were doing was pretty sketchy. And I turned to this method, made the acrylic undercoat brown, and then put the layer of oil paint. I ended up painting with acrylics as they got better and better. They were terrible at first."

"What about painting on paper? With pastels? You use it in your work from time to time? In general, what do you like more — drawing, pastel or acrylic painting?"

"Pastel is great, because it allows to work pretty quickly. But I prefer to draw with chalk, it gives me great pleasure."
"What is your present hobby?"

"I have no time for hobbies now. After my 60 years, I got myself familiar with gardening, with all those tricks necessary for everything to live and grow. I’m also a philatelist, but I don’t have enough time to spend with my albums. I have over forty of them, and I need to put them in order. I collect mostly old stamps. I also collect stones. I started collecting them when I loved walking, so I must be a rocky person to some extent."

"Do you mean you collect the stones just lying on the road?"

"Exactly. Regular stones with interesting fragments."

"That is, some fragments, colour matter?"

"I'm looking for exceptional ones in their own way. I read the Roadside Picnic sci-fi novel by the Strugatsky brothers, they came up with objects that were part of the cosmos and could accumulate and give off light. I also believe that my stones are part of the outer space and other worlds. I don’t have enough time for them, but the stones fascinate me. And shells. Sea shells are gorgeous because of their proportions."
Jacek Yerka. Tectonic
Tectonic
2005, 81×73 cm
"Did your children follow your [professional] path?"

"My daughter Melania graduated from college in London, and she paints. She was exhibited, and she has her own style."

"Is her style similar to yours or is it something completely different?"

"They avoid it. Even my youngest daughter, who showed promising talent, at the age of 10, said that she didn’t want to paint because she didn’t want to suffer as I did. And she kept her word until she finished school. Then she said that she was going to the art institute and passed the exams at the first attempt."

"What did she mean by suffer? Is art suffer or amusement for you?"

"She saw that art absorbed me. That I don’t have time for my children, that I always give myself to it. That if I devote some time to my children, I do not have enough time to finish the painting on time. That if there is something wrong with my sales, we all have to save and borrow money. She was tired of this lack of stability. My children had a wonderful childhood, but they were worried about me."

"So money is still important? In art and especially for an artist."

"Well, of course. Life is life, we cannot live without money."
Jacek Yerka. Aquarius
2008, 50×61 cm
Jacek Yerka. Communal Paradise
1982, 85×92 cm
Jacek Yerka. (no title)
2001, 65×73 cm
Jacek Yerka. Ocean kitchen
1998, 92×72.5 cm
Jacek Yerka. Under the dunes
1990, 91×83 cm
Jacek Yerka. Sonnet
1997, 81×93 cm
Jacek Yerka. Doors
Jacek Yerka. No entry
Jacek Yerka. Between Paradise and Hell
Jacek Yerka. No snow allowed
Jacek Yerka. Base
Jacek Yerka. Piano
1990-th
Jacek Yerka. Summer bedroom
2003, 73×92 cm
"But things haven’t been that bad in recent years, have they? I see that your work is becoming more and more demanded among collectors. Or the fact that you only paint a few pictures a year makes people want them so much. There are few of them, and someone has to wait for them for a long time."

"I do not have a workshop (the artist does not mean a room, but a team of students — ed.), I sit and paint everything myself."

"Like a genius, a lonely Dutch artist. You have to do everything yourself."

"Well, they painted rather lively and often lent money when they were prosperous. It all depended on how things were going. They had tenement houses on the side. They were in control of something. Rarely have paintings been the only source of their income."
Video recording of the conversation on Jacek Yerka’s official Facebook page