In Mikołaj Bieluga’s studio From chaos to harmony
Can we separate the visible shape from its interpretation? The question is always with us every time we stand face to face with Mikołaj Bieluga’s paintings. The artist unmasks our sensitivity which we are unaware of.
A tiny studio on the last floor of a tower block in the centre of the town. Several square metres of sunlit surface area with windows which occupy the whole wall. But that is enough for the artist to create his great worlds of imagination, which, after drying on the easels, impress the viewer in galleries.
Screams and whispers
He is called an abstractionist. For the mass audience it is a serious and distant term, but only seemingly. When we take a look at his works from close up or from a distance each of us will see something different in them. We will “dust off” our soul, recognise the desperate scream, choose the stream of light which falls on us after dramatic experiences. This is Christ in the crown of thorns – the shape visible in the black and red space becomes a human figure, if this is what we want to see in it. Or the face tied up with a cobweb – when I saw a reproduction of the picture in the catalogue it seemed to be different. These pictures scream and whisper. Although the primary subject is light, it is only a streak, a slit knitted in the murky background. Perhaps that is the reason why light dominates the picture, floods the space, struggles with the dark to make its presence felt even as a tiny streak. It is enough to conquer the dark.
I paint quickly, with gestures, when I’m alone – I don’t like when somebody keeps an eye on me – says Mikołaj Bieluga. – The process of creation requires complete privacy. My pictures are emotional, I search for intimacy in them, the reflection of myself, or even deeper – spirituality – admits the artist. – I ‘m glad when people interpret my art in their own way. Though we don’t realize it, each of us is sensitive to art. What we see remains in us – he says.
The art historian Krzysztof Wachowiak succinctly describes the essence of artistic achievements of the artist from Siedlce: "from chaos to harmony". What did he do to deserve this name? "During my studies I set myself to strict discipline and systematic work on my artistic technique, which fought with the deep and violent need to express my emotions" – we can read on the site of the on-line gallery Test. "The struggle between the ascetic discipline and the emotional rebellion, which was beyond the technical and expressive limitations of the traditional painting, is visible in my works of that time. After the seventh semester I began to paint in the "canon" of black and white painting, which lasted until 1995. Beginning with the notebook size my pictures grew into the surface area of several and then several dozen sheets of grey wrapping paper. Glued together before I painted them "to measure" they filled the surface area of a large studio. Then, I applied white primer to them with a roller, and, when it set hard, I filled them with the help of different tools in one go. The already completed pictures, dried and rolled up, resembled low quality carpets in the storehouse. Then, I tried to work out a way to display them in the urban space. Among the ideas which I did not put into practice was hanging the sheets from the jib of a several-storey high building crane and hanging my works from the windows of tower blocks. Becoming known in the urban space required financial means and permits, which I did not expect to obtain. I managed to show the relationship between painting and space at several exhibitions and reviews. Sound played an important part in these projects. I mixed the background sound on cassettes or used the already existing one, for example, the hum of fans. My diploma project was also a spatial installation (small formats against the background of a big one). The impermanence of the sheets of paper, which were often destroyed during outdoor exhibitions, their material transience – were a lesson in humility and provoked reflection on the transitory nature of my artistic enterprises".
The art of learning
Mikołaj Bieluga belongs to the small group of artists from Siedlce who do not sell their works. But he is not extremely attached to them as well. They are spread in the world as gifts for friends. Though he would never get rid of some of them – the first ones, painted in an inexperienced hand, in which he included the whole world of his happy childhood which he spent in his grandparents’ tenement in the Old Town in Lublin.
"Since I remember painting has always been my way of living. When I was a child I preferred not to go and play outside with my peers, not to go to kindergarten but to stay in the private kingdom of my home and devote myself to imaginary journeys and plays accompanied by music from the valve radio. I often spent that time, stolen from the monotonous schedule, surrounded by colourful crayons, capricious watercolours and impermanent, dripping with water sheets of paper, which served as a medium transferring me for a moment to the world of dreams".
On a daily basis the artist is a teacher of painting and drawing at the Academy of Podlasie. He likes working with his students. – It’s easier to teach painting when you are a professionally active painter – says Mikołaj Bieluga. – I try to encourage them to return to the initial stage in their painting, to the original ability and sensitivity “unspoilt” by theories which characterised them before they began their studies. I’m worried when students imitate my style. It’s a blind alley. Everyone should search for his own way of artistic expression – thinks the artist.
While defining the idea of beauty in Mikołaj Bieluga’s pictures we enter the world of metaphysics. – What is genuine and real is beautiful, even if it seems to be ugly from outside – says the painter. – I try to show the truth, at least as much as it is possible. Certainly there is some aestheticism in it. You can’t avoid it while choosing your artistic technique – he adds.
Mikołaj Bieluga’s pictures remain in us for a long time after seeing them. They come back when we need them. That is why we yearn for art like this, as we yearn for light, harmony and all that is the best in us.