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Excerpts from the reminiscence notes

You two were biking and right past Obuchowizna a forest – a space – a forest. And in this space, on the right side, where later you would often see cows grazing, a narrow patch of low mist blurred a small herd of deer somehow exactly in the middle. Seventy centimetres over the ground. You could see the legs standing in a row and heads held up over the line of mist. They were looking at you, their heads turning very slowly and it was the first and the last time the deer watched these two bikers going by. At that time you couldn’t have known yet that you would see this mist from very close, thick and sticky like pudding, spreading from the floor up to the ceiling, thirty nine years later in the post-operation room in your city, which became your city because of that bike trip with your mother. With a huge effort, pain even, you tried to focus your eyes on a soundlessly moving, small rectangle of white, which was clear for a moment and then again it appeared to be flowing away and merging into this mist. It was at the level of your stomach. You wouldn’t have sworn, but that was how you determined it. It was silent like heaven and nothing seemed strange to you. You would fall asleep, wake up, fall asleep. When saying goodbye to a very young nurse in a white gown, you noticed her clogs clattering on the floor.

You rolled hundreds of kilometres on a bike. You were Gazda and Formalczyk. You were called Kapitonow. You would ride to the city, to the river, to Sztabin, you remember the famous night rides, headlight off, through the forest, when the only piece of world you could see was a little bit brighter piece of sky above the road. You would watch that sky and always find your way.

Never before and never again you rode with your mum. You were fourteen, it was the year which you and your elder brother could read in the same way while sitting opposite each other. The year 1961. You were playing who was the first to find the closest date for such upside down reading. You found 6009. If somebody in this inconceivably remote year searches the previous similar date, he or she should know that 4048 years before somebody rode a bike with his mum to get to the Pedagogic High School in Lublin, that he woke up early in the morning to make it for seven a.m., that he liked riding a bike but was afraid of the exam and that he didn’t know anybody. And that a small herd of deer came to meet him and tell him everything was going to be fine. That was exactly what he thought that day, because he wanted it to be this way. Later, when travelling on a train, he would always look through the window in search of even a small rabbit in the cabbage next to the railway tracks, and finding one he would feel, just like on that day, that everything was going to be fine.

The boy couldn’t have known he would meet there a Polish language teacher, the woman to whom forty years later he would write his first letter. And two guys from Mogilnice. And that there would be Kazik, who would shoot beautifully from over the zone. Kazik, the shot put champion, would win the competition for the best school sportsman. He would come second. Years later Kazik would live with a heart transplanted from his neighbour and he himself would have two brand new valves professionally fitted into his own heart. He couldn’t have known he would make many friends and meet a girl with whom, like with many other girls, he would exchange barely two words – he wouldn’t become talkative until his elderly days – and who would stay with him forever, not knowing about it at all. But he would thought it didn’t matter, it absolutely didn’t matter…

But that’s Augustow and later.

First there was Kopiec.

Leaving the yard and going out to the road, through the fence and the branches of an oak your grandfather’s hands had planted, you see a piece of landscape that has always been with you. Alders on the edge of a shallow ditch that goes to the river, on which you would skate since the very first ice, at the beginning with only one skate, which you got from your neighbour. You would watch his old, long house with adjoining barn while eating lazanki with sugar at the table. You liked lazanki with sugar as a child. Heniek, when you asked him how much the skate was, dad told you it was essential you asked, answered seriously and shortly – a sackful of money. And he followed you, and all the way you were afraid he would call – just a second, first the sack, then the skate. You were 4 – 5 years old and only the day before you had skated on a little piece of wood nailed with a wire. And when you grew a little you remember your dad was building a new house for Heniek, this one facing the road, like your house, you remember it was end of May and starlings in their nesting box in the ash-tree were choking from chirping, cows had already been grazing for a long time and it was then when this sidelong wind with hail came. You saw surprised cows stand evenly in a row, their rumps against that wind. And you remember how sorry you felt when the next year, in Augustow, you didn’t find the ash-tree and the starlings.

So the alders on the left, then a lot of deep space, meadows with haystacks that could be collected on sleighs only when it was really freezing. For a couple of years you worked here bare-backed with a rake. You were the first to bare your back. Then Heniek picked up this fashion for a while, the same one who had sold you the skate for a sackful of money and who left for the seaside with his family. You saw him recently on your dad’s funeral and through the whole funeral you had no idea who he was. Then there was a tree nursery and trenches from where, after the war ended, dad would bring floor pieces, windows, doors and window shutters of his own house. On the after-war mines pretty boys were dying there, and pretty boys were left without their arms.

You were on these meadows with yourself only, when quietly and whitely, on skis made from straight planks, you would follow the traces of hare or roe. You were delighted by a small flock of tiny birds which would rose to the air with a start, right in front of you, forming a moving patch, changing shape and colour. Like a live column of mosquitoes, that accompanied you once on your long way back from the river. You would think about life and girls. One always thinks about life and girls.

Further away there was only a closing bluish smudge of a forest. The sky. Everything set evenly like on a table. If it wasn’t for the forest, you know this, you would see America. Is that all? On the right we might add alders again and so called tree weed, which your dad, when the pasture was yours already, would root out, cut out and burn, putting a lot of hard work into it. In the evening you would go to bring the cows, you would open the gate and call – myzia, myzia – and one of them, the one with asymmetrically curved horns, would look at you and say – oh, right – she would come first and behind her the others in queue. Well, and we have to add voices of people and animals, voices you had known since ever. Sometimes a stretched strip of mist. But it isn’t necessary. The sunset. Sun was red for the wind. That was what grandma Franciszka would say. And so it was.

You consider this simple maybe, humble and not overloaded with sweetness landscape the most beautiful you have ever seen in your life. Maybe you weren’t a globetrotter, you’ve only seen a bit of Poland, even less of Finland, Germany and Russia. Nevertheless, you’ve seen many wonderful places. But those wonderfully beautiful places were empty and lacked content for you. You don’t question their beauty. You just give priority to the view of sunset, view from your yard in Kopiec over them.

Pictures in the school canteen. Behind glass, in frames. On the walls between the windows and a whole series in the hall. All colourful and all painted in art classes taught by Mrs Wasilewska. You know there was a masterpiece by the girl of the most beautiful surname “Whitegown” among schoolgirls. You don’t remember what it depicted but you can still perfectly see Krystek’s “Still life with flowers” by the window, closer to the kitchen. And it was most probably through that half closed window that you entered one winter morning after a night at Halina’s, when, as you remember, you also met Mlynarski.

The flowers on Krystek’s painting were blooming harmoniously with their primary and complementary colours, you noticed that the blue-violet coloured flowers, which you recognized as irises, were predominant. They were put nicely into a low, podgy vessel without a handle, and this vessel threw a dark, fading shadow on a white tablecloth, you think there was a table underneath. The farther from the vessel, the more delicate the shadow. On the right side of the podgy, pottery, as you suppose, vessel, it had a yellow-brown colour, a glimmer of light was painted and you could guess it had a shape of a tiny window.

Krystek was older than you and graduated earlier, but you still had the pleasure of watching his art and you had always wanted to be at least partly as talented as he was. And you wished your picture had hung in your boarding school’s canteen as well. 

You went to Elk because of your fear of a school with real children. Today you know that without it, Gdansk wouldn’t have come. What would you have brought there? Besides you had no idea at all that there was for example something like the history of art. In Elk you learnt about Suberlak, whose fairytale imagination matched so well the fairytale imagination of your beloved Tadeusz Nowak. And when your little group from TC was looking for the leaning tower in Torun, you noticed, you remember, a big poster inviting you to the exhibition of Stanislaw Fijalkowski graphics. And you stood in front of them stunned – oh God, so it was allowed this way? That daze has been coming back to you in front of the works of people you love, like, respect and whose art pieces you sometimes even own in your modest collection.

Together with Suberlak, Fijalkowski and your very young teacher Maksymilian, you are in a beautiful album “Polish Graphics – Prize Winners of International Exhibitions 1950-2000”. If you say you have ever dreamt about it, you would lie.

Maciag, Nowosielski, Brzozowski. Open air session. Task: the sunset. Each one painted in a different way and each one talked differently about painting. You remembered a few thoughts, they were strange in your opinion:

“I don’t need the contact with the topic to paint a picture” – Brzozowski

“Long before I start painting, the picture forms in my head” – Nowosielski. “I paint not what I see, but what I know. The final effect comes as a great surprise for me”. 

In Elk, in the lecture room, where on the very first day you saw that prettiest girl, you were watching a movie. There was Czes, you don’t remember whether Maksymilian was present. You’ve already said you were lucky to have good teachers and attend good schools.

You think your best school was the Teachers College in Elk. 

Without Elk, Gdansk wouldn’t have come… 

So the graduation was getting closer and closer and you were trying to escape a school with real children again. The Public University of Arts sent you a notification, that the application committee, having seen your works, invited you to the entrance exams which would take place in the building and on the day. Those works were the first linocuts in your life, stamped with oil paint on tracing paper with a method known only to you. Sensitive drawings in Kulisiewicz’s style in ink on wet paper and, you were versatile, two pictures in tempera mixed, for the texture, with toothpaste. You have different opinions on staff of the university in Gdansk, but you would like wholeheartedly and honestly congratulate that committee on their professionalism. 

Your works fitted into just a bit bigger envelope, you sent them along with the application form, of which the draft, you remember, you had written quietly and calmly sitting behind the green field of potatoes, sitting in the green grass. You were ashamed of your idea in front of your friends, you didn’t feel good enough, you wouldn’t tell anyone until you held the invitation to the exam in your hand. 

Your joy was partial, as it often is in your case. In those beautiful times you had to have a permit to study, so it was called if you remember correctly, a permit stamped and signed by director Bartel. You were all aware you had cost this country a lot, and now it was expecting you to start paying it back with your teaching job. The country prepared many positions, many addresses and most of your colleagues had already signed, it was May, preliminary work contracts with schools scattered all over the map. The director organized a meeting for all of you with the school headmasters, that was for your benefit an you should appreciate such forethought. And he announced you shouldn’t try with further studies, he wouldn’t give out permits, such were the ministry’s directives, every teacher was worth his weight in gold, the torch of knowledge, end of story. 

And that was when a miracle, not the first one in your life, happened. When you already felt you wouldn’t have to pay for the ticket to Gdansk, that after graduating on time from TC you would use the saved money in the only right way – and as already happened to extra money – with your friends, who in a while, with their diplomas in their pockets would be dispersed around the country – and when you were looking at this bottle of wine on a shop shelf, Czes, who knew about everything and who, you know it, was with you even if he wouldn’t show, came up to you in the corridor with his hand outstretched – give me this paper, the director is out of town, I’m going to Myszczynski. And he put his fingers on his lips. Mr Myszczynski taught Russian. You have a feeling it’s him you will see in Hermitage in Leningrad in three years, he’s turning too fast towards impressionists with his little group, so you see it. He was a vice-director and he and Czes surely liked each other. It lasted seconds. These seconds with your year’s tutor, Czes, Mr Myszczynski and absent director Bartel were decisive for the rest of your life. 

Sometimes you wonder – and if that hour, minute and that second you were in the corridor upstairs? What if director B hadn’t left? What if Czes had forgotten about you? Life would have continued its blue way. But for you it would have been a different life. 

Here, it was the busy time of final exams that were to finish everything, there, in Gdansk, you were standing by yourself by the closed Armoury door. Afew years ago, behind that door, a Gypsy stood in your way to inform you about your 96 years long life. Every now and then you would glance at a little red plaque saying “Public University of Arts in Gdansk”. You were happy, refreshed and full of energy. On the train you were alert, with your head out of the corridor window you were breathing in the night landscapes, that you would see many times more, and you made sure not to doze off because you didn’t want to miss, the train was heading to Szczecin, the city that was to be your city, where you would meet your wife and where your children would be born. You got off at 4 a.m., you were asking, you were lost, next to the music school one more time you can’t resist and you check the address on the envelope again, and again you know you’re asking about the correct address, and finally the next person passing by, a morning bird, shows you the right way to the Coal Market. So before six you were standing by the Armoury and what were you supposed to do, you were waiting for the opening at eight. The exam at nine. You had light coloured trousers borrowed from Makary, you knew it was lucky to wear something borrowed, the bag that weighed almost nothing, a nylon raincoat, pyjamas, a t-shirt, socks, a few small jars with paints, a brush. A big drawing pad, the hard covers were needed as canvas, you bought it right before entering the room, in a kiosk by the theatre. In the theatre you would see later two actors that you would respect forever – Stanislaw Igar and Henryk Bista. 

You painted beautifully, colourfully, like Cybis whose paintings you had seen a year before in Maria Konopnicka museum in Suwalki. Really, you never know what turns out to be important in your life. Arelatively short, quiet man, who was setting the still life with a jug, stopped to look at your work and said – I think you’ve already painted this before. One could have understand that in two different ways, but you felt quite happy, self-confident, dear God, and you would never forget Hugon doing it. 

A note with congratulations on the admission to the group of real students, with suggestions of my participation in the sections of basketball, volleyball and athletics came from Jurek Brzuskiewicz, president of the varsity sports union. Jurek always played great basketball. I would see him thirty-five years later, as president of the Union of Polish Artists and Designers (ZPAP) Toruń; he would host my exhibition of linocuts. Jurek was the first to draw attention to the convergence of the handwriting of these linocuts with – I showed him the picture – the handwriting of the wooden beams on the walls of my family home, cracked and weather-beaten by rain, wind and sunshine over so many years. I gladly applied to every single sports section, but to be on the safe side I sent a formal inquiry to the Dean’s office about my actual status. The holiday season was in full bloom and I, joyful yet uncertain, had to wait a bit.

I came to admire the well-known night landscapes with the famous Mewa [Seagull] hall of residence. I lived in a nine-person room right opposite a flight of stairs, on the first floor. On the radio, some girl sang in English “Those were the days”. I vividly remember today that I sat down on my bed and, looking at the wall with women’s footprints walking all the way up to the ceiling, solemnly declared that I would live these next five years so that I could say later: “Those were the days!” I am not always truthful to my solemn pledges, but this time I kept my word. The girl’s name was Mary Hopkin. 

I remember the best correction, the smartest one, I’m sure. It was given to me by prof. Pietkiewicz. It was in the studio; there were mostly girls there, Cezary, who was soon to open the door to the Annex where I made impressions of my first linocuts on the only available press, plus Kostek or Andrzej, a.k.a. “Green Konstanty”. And there was Jurek there. On the window sill of the studio I showed musical notes to Jurek; he would become an outstanding and handsome baritone. Anyway, these were still-lifes such as onions, a jug, a guitar on one rag. We painted either brown thick sauces or, especially the girls, something spicy, very colourful and tasty. PostImpressionism. I was being courageous and I painted flat; I used only green, red – because of the jug – black, and white. Everyone was looking at me and my picture as if they were two monstrosities. The old man would come and he will give you a telling off. He finally arrived. My turn came and I propped my work against the wall; he looked at it, the entire studio shifted their weight from foot to foot: it would start soon. The professor did not raise his eyes and said: “I am very pleased, Mr. Grabowy, I am very pleased.” 

In my last school I was taught principles, for example, of composition. Mr. Baryłko, our teacher, looked at the laboriously pasted set of coloured papers and said: Mr. Grabowy, you have not captured it yet. I took my geometry exam as many as three times, trying not to cross paths with black cats on my way to the examination room. I was not a record holder, though. Mr. Kobzdej, our lecturer, had a whale of time with us; in his catalogue of quality we ranked last, behind the African students, whom he appreciated highly. Today, some people describe my linocuts as “pure geometry”. I do not have to agree but I’m not sure if I really walk the paths meant for me.

It is not important for what reasons one writes “Goldberg Variations”. One good motive is insomnia of whoever orders it.
You – maintaining all the necessary proportions – keep picking at these linocuts of yours because you would simply like to see ones you’ve never seen before.

Where from the moustache? Where did it come from? He remembers when in 1980 a man with moustache appeared on television, one of the neighbours, who he respects and who had known him for ages, leant on her stitches and said as if she saw for the first time in her life: “you have moustache like the brave one form the dockyard”. Whom soon she stopped respecting. She stopped earlier than him. She was Maciek Kossowski’s mother. He remembers he bridled a bit, just to joke and he grunted, “even if – it is him who has moustache like mine”.

So after the second year he went to his first open air session to Kadyny. With his head bold. Maybe to fool around or maybe he thought it
would grow stronger. He met Kydrynski family and on the way back from cinema he held hands with a girl in glasses. They wouldn’t shave.

For winter break he came home with a beard. They all laughed and he sat in front of the mirror. When there was only moustache left he
thought he looked like Janusz Mych from the “Novi” band and that he looked funny. It was 1970. Exactly 10 years earlier.
Maybe soon they would celebrate their 50th anniversary?

From the book “Black on White” 2010

you cried 
couldn’t talk to him 
he was big and had epilepsy 
and you were scared 
you didn’t know what it was 
and that he’ll threaten you with it 
the neighbor you’ve met 
at the age of two or three 
he lay on his back 
his hands as if in prayer 
and you stared at the candle 
lit lower and lower 
that girl in the cafeteria 
you’ve been waving at 
her very same gesture 
for many years 
was your most anticipated 
gesture in the world 
and who in concentration 
used to slide from her plate to yours 
usually a cutlet 
who walked silently on the fourteenth of July 
on the road past the cross 
on a clear and silvery night 
your school friend Stach 
who had a pretty sister 
and one accordeonist 
and those you don’t remember 
thank them 
you’ve met 
maybe it’s them who wrote your 
first poem

and seventy in girth 
and your young mother 
the sportsman a magazine 
and so called possibilities 
her by your side 
deep faith 
seventeen years 
once you had everything 

Self-Portrait or a letter of someone old to someone young

At the beginning, a word about the superiority of the young over the old: the young are still promising. What promise can I offer? 

A teacher of many composers, Nadia Boulanger said: “What can we, teachers, give them besides reminding them of what they themselves have contributed.” This does not mean that you have to avoid lessons with your teachers. On the contrary, take every possible advantage of them. Ask constantly: “How? Why? Maybe in this way? What if I were to?” Know everything about every technique and try your hand at each of them. If something is within you – you will hit the right one. You will find it. Set out into the world if it is the world you need. If it offers you something that you will see in your work – a new perspective, breath, a trifle that will surprise you. Because, just think today: is it worth engaging in a work that does not surprise you? 

If not – stop it. Look down at your feet when coming back from the shop. Have fun. Don’t feel inferior because of this, thinking that you are not walking down the streets of Taipei or, say, some holiday resort. You’ll see three sticks on the way and the second one, you’ll be amazed, touches the ground at a scant, lightly, on both sides, and so you will find here the wind, the simple sunshine in the dirt under your feet, a shadow thrown by a spring myrobalan plum tree in bloom. Like in Hiroshige. You will see, I am telling you, you will see a wall, its plaster flaking in such a way and in such places that you would never consider it possible in your entire life. And there are also two-three guys sitting with a beer next to expertly arranged, vertical, crushed cans. Thy know how to live. Do you have a moment? You can change the world! Why not sit down to keep them company? Bear in mind that your every interlocutor is better than you at something. Live life to its fullest. You’ll never know who might offer you the most. It is enough if you simply walk on. You’ll see so much beauty that you will think you will not endure this. Stop on the way. Remember: the artist is always at work! Look into the sun. Look and seek yourself. Seek your own personal handwriting. So that I can have a look and know. So, I do not have to wait for the end credits. After all, I will never believe that you have mistaken with anyone else Suberlak, Fijałkowski, Hiratsuka, Maksymilian, Wiesio, Marek, Jan, Nicolas or Celina K. Finding your own handwriting might take you some time. But do not let up. Do not get disheartened by the term “seeking artist”, implying that you continue doing the same thing over and over again. Those who run into all the gardens and snitch this and that, know all the roses of the world and they pick one here today, a second one there tomorrow; every day is a new day. Work on your own. Consult with nature – as Cezanne did – and probe ever deeper, trim, chat, talking is a must, it understands everything, everything really, pay no attention to the empty laughter of those who know better, who say: transplant, transpose and this is going to look beautiful; nod your head while continuing working with your shovel and breathe a warm breath on your roses, take good care of them, wrap them up for winter and do not forget that the same handwriting can be used to write a denunciation note and a love letter. Then surely you will hear someone say: “You know, good day, I walk and visit all the gardens of the world, part of my profession, I walk and jot down the addresses, this is part of the job, and I see yours from afar, and I am pleased with the meeting, because even though our faces change, these are not substantial changes – after all, as we know, the same field does not sprout the same blade of grass every year – if I did not know that it is your garden, sir… “ And here you should hear your name.

Keep within yourself the wonderful ability to be amazed. This is a skill. Cultivate this skill. And remember that Stachura’s words relate both to you and the viewer: “Besides, it so happens that wherever you go, you are bound to meet at your destination point first of all what you have left behind, that is to say, what you have brought yourself. If you have brought a little – you will find the same little on the other side of the world. You just cannot help it.” One more thing – a book is written by the sensitive mind of the reader. You will need this knowledge at others’ and your own exhibitions. Don’t you ever wait for a reading of your work as you read it yourself! Can I tell you a story? Once upon a time, someone made a wood engraving X 2, very beautiful, which was bought by an English lady who did not know Polish that well. She read the title Królowa śnieżków [The Queen of the Snows] and saw in it the snow, a blizzard like in Lermontov, the queen wrapped up in a snowy silver scarf, oh, and because she adores winter holidays, she writes to the author a thank-you letter, describing the joy this work gives her. And the author responds immediately in English, he is well mannered after all, that he titled the work The Queen of Sleepers, right, and that he put in it this and that. Please look carefully! And he confused her completely. So, she does not come out of the kitchen, thinks she is a silly Englishwoman and probably she has already removed this woodcut from the wall. 

When writing to you, I am writing about myself, so I will always think that in the author-recipient duo, the latter is an important, and perhaps even s more important artist, and that my exhibition is created today, want it or not, by all those present. That is, in short, all of us will get what they deserve. You just cannot help it. 

Remember: you’re not to recreate the world. This is not your calling. You can go ahead and speak the words of Jonasz Stern: “I have no doubt as to the existence of the world and so I don’t need to copy it”. Your duty is not to describe the reality you see, but the world within you. “I paint a viable spiritual reality.” Do you know who said it? Paint, then. With your own handwriting. Saying “handwriting” I mean not only the lines but everything you wear within. Or maybe it so happened that at the beginning of the road, seeing the twin sisters which are difficult to distinguish at first glance, you embraced the one called Commercialism, and she immediately spread her peacock fan in front of you; well, then I apologize and make myself scarce, we have gone one bridge too far, we erase it all, after all to love her you need only agile fingers and nothing more! Nothing else! Then this letter will make matters worse and will offer nothing good. One would need to throw it out the window before reading. It is written, as you can see, in an awkward style and some can handle it, others not. And you’re not going to know why. So I apologize, although I firmly believe that it is you that have been inseparably bound with the beautiful young lady whose name starts with an A, which offers blood, sweat and tears, and – truth be told – can be a bitch, too.

Maybe you’re a graphic designer and maybe they will talk about you as an “artist”. Do not attach yourself to that word, the importance of which for me is still not entirely clear, but that’s not about me. Do what you do, because you have been assigned this spot; this is how life has evolved. Try to work well, using all your knowledge, intuition and, if you have it, talent. Know that all this is needed for each and every work – of a cobbler, tailor, philosopher, farmer, or a Polish singer. Know that you are no different and that there is nothing that makes you stand out. Of course – this is the way it was, is and will be – someone makes shoes which are more comfortable than those of another shoemaker. It is not that one pair fits all. Only the coffin has to be tailor-made and well adjusted. Dear Young Friend! There is no difference between a good graphic designer and, with all due respect, a good shoemaker!

Work on a print as much as you think appropriate – an hour, ten or fifty days and nights. You are its author. You are the creator! You create something out of nothing! You have received a great honour and grace! It is you who say the word “beginning” and you say the word “end”. May you not keep in mind a golden thought of a certain Artist, as I will call her, hanging paintings for tomorrow’s exhibition, who – when I sincerely wished that she would sell of all her works – replied to me: “Right, but how much should I charge for them if I paint one painting an entire year? Who can afford it?” So she implied that a painting painted a longer time is better – and therefore more expensive – than that painted very quickly, i.e. she says that the best paintings are those painted by any fool that simply happens to have the time…

You should work as much as it takes. Work in “tension, in this terrible tension”, because working another way is pointless. Do it as if the whole world were to collapse without this print! If you do not know it yet – then know that you will know. If you treat yourself and the viewer seriously. Let Cybis’s dream come true for you, too: “I want to do something that people will not cover milk with.” Know what old Madam D knew: there is no experience gained, no acquired skill – every time everything starts from scratch – you always take the first steps with the ineptitude of a one-year-old child and there is nothing ready and pre-existing. Certainly not once or twice you will think that at that time you could build a house for yourself. Or maybe, think, when you do what you do you are actually building the house? Maybe what you do is not work for work’s sake. Life begins only when the viewer, listener and recipient appear. But remember: you are the first recipient! You make prints that you have not seen before, ones which you would like to see! You do it your way because you are not afraid of having your own say. Even at the expense of laughter. Perhaps those who laugh at you can only afford empty laughter?

In your city, at the launches of your exhibitions, with your wine on the table, everyone will pat you on the back. You will surely be known in every gallery here – in “Triada”, in Długa Street and any place else really. If you live in my city of Gdańsk. You will be a star. It will even seem to you that it is good, it is beautiful, it is as it should be. You will know who has exhibited their work before you and who will display them after you; these are the other well-known stars, respected and loved by the same audience for years and the same newspaper journalist: Wanda, Stefan, Marżolena, Stan, and Banan. My friend – again I have trouble getting to the heart of the matter – do not be fooled! Do not let trinkets beguile you! Try to reach out to the world. To Wrocław, Kraków, Bangkok, Kyoto, and Taipei. Test yourself. Give yourself this chance. The possibility of comparison with others like you, with the best of the best from your own country and from abroad. Do not let one GTPS award be the reason of your glory for a lifetime! Work, then, and remember that nothing is given once and for all. You only get life once and for all. In a word: I do not wish you to belong to those unheard of outside the limits of their hometowns. I do not want to hear you, as they say in one of my favorite films, I want to hear about you!

I know. You look at me and ask me questioningly: “What did he do here, who gave him the right? Some exhibitions, a few awards, an age which, they say, should be accompanied by wisdom?” I will help you out: treat my letter the way it deserves. I know that I have no right to give advice, because everyone can grow old, if all goes well; as to shows and prizes, if they come, they come by the way, so to speak. This you should know. That I know. And you should know that the job is the most important thing. Why “self-portrait”? Because everything I do publicly and intimately, every word spoken and every movement of my hand – is my self-portrait.

Fairy tale number two. Once upon a time, far away, behind many a mountain and many a forest, one old, bald moustached man turned on his tv. He did not pay any attention to the screen, closed his eyes and, as old men do, dozed off. He dreamed of a meadow as even as a table top, and he dreamed of himself in this meadow with a rake and his bare back; he stopped, wiping off the sweat of his brow with his hand, staring into the distance – it was as even as a table top and were it not for the bushes, he knew that he would see America – so he wiped off the sweat and said to himself: My God, thank you for letting me be born in my hometown of Kopiec; we both know that nothing is more beautiful than a beautiful flat landscape! And God answers him simply and in a straightforward manner: come off it, Grabowy, it is nothing, you know that everyone gets what they deserve. And they talk to each other as equals, he does not stammer in God’s presence, is laid back and relaxed, and only waves his hands as usual. It is good, it is beautiful, it is as it should be. Do you still make those lines of yours? – he asks him and immediately answers himself – I know, oh, sometimes I forget that I am God, I also get older, so do, do it, after all not everyone has got their own handwriting, I have not given everyone that much. Some, we both know, are still looking for it, well, at least they can call themselves “searching artists”, and this is fine, everyone has what they deserve. 

So it is beautiful, even and clean, and only the bald man can hear the voice more and more clearly, which seems to him not his voice, yes, this voice says the same things he would like to say – if he could talk nicely – word for word, maybe only the word “art” is used unnecessarily and the word “create”, completely unnecessarily, and besides – he cannot agree more! Everything is correct and everything fits together! The voice is not mine yet these are my thoughts – he murmurs under his breath – rational and ordinary, and he hears: “My, sorry to say, artistic work is nothing better than a shoemaker’s work.” Yes, it is, that’s what it’s all about, but how does he know? Does he know it, too? It’s good, good, that’s great, but look what this is, this talking person, unfortunately, brings his paintings which are huge, painted literally, without poetry, without air, without understatements, pompous and Siemiradzki-like. He is constantly talking about them, and he speaks well, wisely, as God is my witness, and this bald moustached man casts his eye here and his ear there, listening and seeing, he hears and does not believe his eyes, he cannot stand it anymore, he wakes up, God disappears, smiles with a divine smile and raises a finger in a gesture of warning, so the moustached man wakes up and bellows at the top of his voice in capital letters: BOYS! GIRLS! IF YOU HAVE TO USE THE WORD “ART”, YOU SHOULD REMEMBER EVERY DAY – ART SHOULD BE DONE AND NOT SPOKEN ABOUT! 

My friend! If you have been with me, you already know that you have lost time. Will you, after all, listen to the third tale? A short one. It, too, features my person. Well, it so happens that the mom from Kętrzyn has lived with us for the past ten years. We meet and she sees me cleaning, sweeping, cooking potatoes, and looking at the ceiling. The artist, after all, is always at work. We talk little but sometimes she reminisces – I like these reminiscences – her childhood and youth in Vilnius, her singing with Stefan Witas and Beńka Ładysz, who lived nearby. And she sees me leaning over a print or a drawing. Give yourself a break – she says then – you’ll twist the neck again! I often get the cramps in my neck because I bend over constantly. I have told myself that I am worth as much as I have done on a particular day. 

And it is so that sometimes I am rewarded. She knows about it. And when I wave my hands and grumble that there I could finally earn some money on it, she says: come off it, Sławek, take a break, any fool can have money after all. 

Dear Young Friend! I do not wish you tortuous neck cramps and legs aching from making prints if you are a graphic designer. I wish you health and many prizes, because, as someone greater than me said once: “Rewards? They are proof that you are premiership; without them you’re just blue-collar!” And there is the money. Remember – you will always have doubts, concerning form, content, quality or which side to start with and when to say “This is the end”, or that during this time you could shovel a large mountain of cement for real money. Perhaps you will earn in direct proportion to your height. If you are my height. You may even regret it and there is nothing worse than to have regrets about yourself. You tell me that no one knows, understands, looks, reads, writes, and listens? My friend! Everyone gets what they deserve! Oscar Wilde said that the only crime is being superficial, Cocteau spoke about brilliant works requiring a brilliant audience, I tell you about the insoluble relationship between the author and the recipient and about Stachura, and it is enough for both of us to be certain that the dubious mission of simplifying the message is embraced on a daily basis by Polish soap opera stars. Let’s have fun and be magnanimous! Let the sun rise and set after us. And let life continue to be worth the trouble to live it. To live it our way. Peiper wrote for “the twelve”, it is good company, so stay calm and know that nothing in our lives is as certain as death. And what if the wind that wipes off everything will have something to do when we are gone? Why should we care about it today? Really, believe me, each day has enough trouble of its own and has its own gods, and my posthumous exhibitions, if they are any, will be of tangential interest to myself even. Therefore, my most sincere wish to you is that you, here and now, could hear once in a while from someone who sees you at the work that you love and believe in as nothing else in the world, these few simple words at your home: come off it, (insert your name here), take a break and do what you do, and the money? Any fool can have money…

And now – I repeat after an Indian – purify your heart, protect your language and dream your dreams. I hope you know what I’m talking about and you do not need further explanation. Because if not – all the more, then! Because it would mean that I have wasted my time. Watch yourself. Look after yourself, because at any time, like any of us, you are at risk of losing your face. Of your human face. So, watch yourself. Do not leave yourself. So that, when the time comes for the most important question: “Was it worth it?” – you could answer honestly and without delay – yes, it was! “It was worth it, wasn’t it?” 

Yours sincerely, Sławomir Grabowy

State Gallery of Art in Sopot, March 2018.
“45 years of work, 81 awards and honourable mentions or a self-portrait of SŁAWOMIR GRABOWY rendered through brush, chisel, knife, and words”

…people it’s me look here I am I came I was born for you I am the only one in the world I Grabowy in the only right moment everyone is born in the right moment so here I am in spite of difficulties and dad had to escape from captivity in rags his shoes covered with rags I arrived especially for you for nothing is without a cause nothing and no one and so here I am I invite you with my arms wide open come and enjoy the food and the drinks you can kiss the hands boldly rightly so I will never be again I will be out of service after hours we are closed so today only today I invite all the fair-haired and dark blond chestnut women men and children non-stop until the sun shines until I see the sun touch me stroke my hair after this I was born once in my life as you and he because every birth ends in death and no one knows if life is worth the trouble to live it so stroke me here and now speak good words you know I did not expect this let me congratulate you do not keep these words in a safe and today boldly and easily until I am together with this sun because afterwards you would regret not having talked with this chap or something like that and typecast him as 81 years of age or something similar that you would not say anything better afterwards after sunset you had better not go to the cemetery lot forty two with a rake and thoughtful eyes because it is only fitting today talk to me with a slight smile and love in your eyes today I spread my arms and legs for you I am all yours tomorrow well tomorrow the sun will be screened by the fog that awaits around the corner and I say that you do not regret tomorrow this day I never want or need anything from you my posthumous exhibitions if they are any will be of tangential interest to myself even so after sunset there is nothing away with teary rainy eyes I have come to give everyone a chance to love here and now I am waiting and this linocut 45 years well so much more to tell me today because then there is nothing and you can only blame yourself at the end full-stop period…