I come from a small town huddled among the woods and the lime rock of the Jura region, southern Poland. For those among whom I grew up with pursuing art and being a painter was something completely unfathomable. I think it was easier for them to picture someone wanting to be an astronaut rather than a painter.
Robert Bubel’s paintings offer a really unique experience to the eye. The blending of the colours and the borders between them, the lines as separators and as communication channels in between capture our vision and invite us to dive into the scenes.
Robert was born in 1968 in Zarki nr Czestochowa, in Poland. He soon realized what his call was. Being an Artist was the only way. He studied Painting at Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow, while he holds as well two master degrees in Art /painting/, Painting Faculty, Academy of Fine Arts and in Polish Philology, Polish Philology Faculty at Jagiellonian University both in the city of Krakow. He has participated in a wide range of exhibitions in Poland and across Europe with his latest solo show taking place in State Gallery of Contemporary Art in Bielsko-Biała Galeria Bielska BWA, Poland in February 2018 under the title ‘Quiet days, quiet nights.
His works will bring back memories, narrate a story, and deeply touch your inner intuitions. He rarely uses pure black, but he is not afraid to darken his artworks. He is balancing between abstract and figurative painting and his commitment to a specific colour in most his painting is just one of the unique characteristics of his style. For him, an emotional rapport with every topic is the condition sine qua non in every painting.
Meet Robert Bubel and his momentous oil paintings…
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Hello Robert! It’s really nice to have you at The ART.gallery. Thank you for accepting our invitation!
Hello Elizabeth, pleased to meet you. Thank you for inviting me to this conversation.
So, you are from Poland and you studied Arts in Krakow… When – and basically how! – did you realize that you wanted to be a painter?
I’ve been living in Kraków ever since I finished Art School, that is for 28 years, but I come from a small town huddled among the woods and the lime rock of the Jura region, southern Poland. For those among whom I grew up with pursuing art and being a painter was something completely unfathomable. I think it was easier for them to picture someone wanting to be an astronaut rather than a painter
With hindsight, I would say that to them it was beyond the pale. I just knew I wanted to paint. It was easy for me to say it as a child; people don’t normally take child’s declarations seriously. With time, as I was growing up, it was burdened with a sense of shame (sic!), as painting is something that borders on dreaming and madness. I too started losing my confidence and thought I succumbed to child’s daydreams. My studies and my path later were not straightforward. Looking back, I may say that you need to trust your feelings, which emerge so early and which last. They affect how your life later unfolds even if you fight them back.
Is it an “easy” job?
Just as with any type of work that you approach seriously, painting is simply about drudgery. And I have a perspective on this because I have had many occupations in life. Plus, against a commonly held view, it does require much self-discipline, and this with the assumption that you actually want to achieve something in this realm rather than just be seen posing for photos next to the same painting for another year.
You need to set up your own working environment and framework, sometimes against the odds and against those around you. No one will give you the workspace or set up your workshop for you. Also, no one will slave-drive you to work or mind your working time. This is all up to you and your discipline. Talent is like an undeserved donation, a gift from above. If you have it, you have the capacity and the aptitude. Yet, talent must reveal itself and make itself evident. For this, you need time and work, followed by more work, and work again. The ideas alone, the skills and the creativity inhabiting your head will not suffice. Painting is a conceptual and physical activity.
A painting must come to this world. And it does not always come easy. Often, you need to struggle with your dissatisfaction, frustration, the recurring sensation of pointlessness. In fact, I should say that the crises and the recurring feeling of the pointlessness of this work are its permanent fixtures. And so, as it happens, you need to get a grip on yourself and just keep on painting.
I just knew I wanted to paint. It was easy for me to say it as a child; people don’t normally take child’s declarations seriously.
Is it therapeutic? Art therapy gains ground day by day. Do you believe in it, and of course has your art helped you in your personal difficult times in the past?
I appreciate the value of such therapy. I know it yields good results and that many people use it in various forms, and that it helps them. Yet, I think that you need to set apart art therapy from pursuing various forms of art as work. The fact that work can help you in certain difficult circumstances is another matter.
Yes, I too lived moments when painting helped me through hard times. There are times when work is the only thing left to you that makes sense, at least to your mind. The same goes for painting. But, this occupation is also tiring. It may frustrate you or bring about a crisis. Obviously, it involves emotions and the intellect to the highest degree. This occupation takes over your life incredibly, too. It engulfs you and invades all aspects of your life. Often it causes major problems. In a way, it’s like a compulsion. Can you cope with it? At least you should try!
Staring at your paintings, I could say that it’s like watching a movie, reading a book; like taking a trip to somebody’s memories. Do you “tell stories”? Do you share your stories through your art?
Do I ‘tell stories’? Yes, I may call it this way. The question remains what you mean by ‘stories,’ because painting speaks on many levels. Sometimes it leads you along many paths at the same time, or at least it offers those multiple paths. Where in my paintings you recognise figures, things and places, you read a story into something that happens among them. But, do I tell you the story, or are you yourself telling it? Perhaps I merely offer you something to ponder? Or, maybe we tell two different versions of the same story?
Yet, simultaneously, there is a story that is being told on the basis of relations between a patch of colour and a line, between the vertical and the horizontal in a composition, between how colours interact, how they are encoded, selected, and between their strength. Sometimes the abstract layer of storytelling interferes with the figurative one, and sometimes it lives a life of its own.
Yes, I concur and admit to being a storyteller. In a moment of spite someone even once said that it was my flaw: in my works, they saw a morbid drive towards constant narration.
I don’t think there is anything morbid about it. This is my need which I externalise in my paintings. This is my message to the world. I think I have something important to say and this is what I do. You may call it sheer vanity, but for quite some time now I’ve been having strong feedback from the public. I may thus claim that my message gets across.
How would you describe yourself as a painter?
I am just a painter. I convey content via paintings without the intermediation of words. I stress the importance of emotions in the creative process and in the process of receiving. I am driven by intuition. This does not preclude the intellect, however. To me, each painting is abstract both in terms of purpose it strives towards and the content it touches upon; and most of all, in its foundations: the founding block, the bone structure and the backdrop for each painting consists in an abstract arrangement of elements. This is what affects the viewer, however, sub-conscious it may be.
Some call me an expressionist, others have me as one conveying emotions. I don’t know what is right. I am a painter. Just a painter.
You choose to blend darker-cool colours with an intense warm colour, like that beautiful yellow in “Welcome” or that warm and cosy orange-pink in “We have a lot of time, whole life”. How do you select your colours? Are they presented in your paintings as they appear in real life or it’s part of your artistic touch?
Certainly and noticeably, I use some colours more while avoiding others. I act intuitively from the very outset when I opt for one from amongst ideas spinning in my head, right through to the decision regarding the composition and the choice of colour. Even though I often use photographs (and sometimes I conceal it, other times I wittingly bring out the connection) the outcome on the canvas will not be a straightforward reproduction of a photo. What for? Who needs such copies? A colour may crop up in the real world that needs bringing out on a canvas. Another time this will have nothing to do with what is referred to as real life. A painting is a world created from scratch. It is a new coherent and logical universe, one that makes sense, but only within the frame of the canvas. Reality might perhaps be chaotic, but a painting cannot be.
Creation is about decisions. You decide that things will come about this way rather than the other. You assume responsibility for sense in the message. Hence the choice of colours.
Black can be seen in every painting of yours taking a lot of space; sometimes it almost delimits the pictures. However, it doesn’t give a “darker” impression on your works, I could see it more like a door for a time-travel experience through the past, present and future of the painting. What does it symbolize for you?
Darkness, shadiness, the twilight zone: they have their meaning and cultural connotations. I am conscious of some, and I carry some within me like a burden of archetypes, a legacy of past generations. Of course, I reach back into to this burden. But, I do not want to suggest my interpretations. This would restrict the message, I’m afraid. I might use my framework of notions to name only a part of these meanings. Perhaps there are also many that I would not know how to identify and define, which would be misleading. It is the painting that speaks to the audience, this is where my full statement resides.
The painting as a symbol, as construed by Hans-Georg Gadamer. The contents we read and name in part, to which we return by turning a circle in a world of other experiences so as to read them anew. A painting, a work of art has made a physical presence: I painted it and thus I spoke. Now it awaits its viewer and their reading and interpretation. If this happens and if the painting still interacts with the viewer(s) it will become a platform for communication. It will be our common part, it will become art.
A painting is a world created from scratch.
Another thing is that I hardly ever use pure black. It normally is a very intense Prussian blue or any other hue giving the impression of black.
I want to make a pause, and see what’s behind “When the face of the moon looks in my eyes”; a beautifully made dark scenery and a touch of bright yellow showing the way. Tell us a bit more about this painting…
And, here is an excellent continuation of the answer to the previous question. Because I painted this yellow waste container glowing in the night.
This was for real: once I went outside in the night and in the darkness something extraordinary loomed: a blinding glow, something that attracted the eye. Up close it turned out to be your regular plastic waste bin. And the moon shone above us. Here, I’ve just quoted a real-life situation which set off a painting. But, does it explain everything? Of course, not. For the painting itself it is in fact rather irrelevant; what matters is what I felt and thought back then. What matters is what you say when recalling a painting, or what the painting says to you and what is in it, first of all. Not the yellow rubbish bin.
You are mostly using oils as we can see from the descriptions of your works. That’s your favourite material to work with? Do you experiment with other materials and techniques?
I use oil paint deliberately. Years ago I used all manner of acrylic paint, I painted with sand and earth. I mixed oil paint with other types of paint. I developed my own technique only to abandon it. Today, only oil paint gives me the capacity to say what I want and how I want to say it. Yet, this may change. They are just tools. They are good so long as they bring the expected effect. This is not a dogma, though.
Or, maybe I paint in oils just by habit?
What are your sources of inspiration?
To say that I am inspired by the surrounding reality is a cliché. But, it is so. These are both observed and imaginary situations: everyday life seen from a car window, a landscape you see every day on your way to buy your bread. But, it’s also photographs or video frames of which I take a lot. Later, when revisiting the photos, all amateurish, blurred, snapped with a smartphone, I find one or two that speak to me. And in comes a painting that may hinge on a photograph, a situation, or something else. And, it is not a reproduction of any of these things. It is something new.
What matters is what you say when recalling a painting, or what the painting says to you and what is in it, first of all.
Your favourite artists of all time?
Wow! A difficult question: there are so many. OK, in one breath: Caravaggio, De Kooning, Franz Kline, Francis Bacon, Gerhard Richter. Different eras, different painter’s vernaculars. And that I mention them together because that’s how they work in my mind, one next to another, is my choice from the multitude of the painting tradition.
Your latest exhibition was entitled as ‘Quiet days, quiet nights’ at the Bielsko-Biała Galeria Bielska BWA in Poland… Tell us a bit more about it and of course what’s your next step. Is there another one scheduled for spring 2018?
Each show is important, and each is different. This exhibition comprised paintings from two cycles: ‘Quiet Days, Quiet Nights’ dated 2017, which lent its title and was inspired by the experience of threat which I live with all the time and which I find hard to shrug off. It’s about a threat to the individual and the global threat: the sense of an end to a civilisation as we know it. I deliberately juxtaposed this cycle with one painted in parallel in 2017, called ‘Kingdom’. This tells a story of a loss of a close person. ‘Kingdom’ is a cycle dedicated to my father. I wanted to show how after a loss of someone close to you your world changes overnight completely. Quite unexpectedly, without warning. And I think that this is the kind of loss we may experience on a global scale. Quite unexpectedly, the sword of Damocles that we ourselves have hung over us will fall upon us.
I have a group show slated for May 2018 in Kraków. I am part of a project devised and run by my painter friend Agula Swoboda. Apart from her, the show will include Jarosław Modzelewski, Artur Trojanowski, Krzysztof Gruse, Artur Przebindowski, Wotek Pietrasz, Kacper Dudek: seven male and one female painter. It is called ‘Projekt o Nieznanym Tytule’ (‘A Project with Unknown Title’) and this is the second exhibition in a cycle initiated last year. It is a cool thing: we come from different towns and cities and we use various vernaculars in painting. An interesting clash of approaches and statements has come about.
Thank you, Robert! It was a pleasure. We wish you all the best!
I should be the one to thank you, Elizabeth.