Inside the Studio

Rafal Chojnowski

Favorite material to work with?
Mainly oil paints on canvas. The smell of turpentine and linen oil mixed together is something exceptional. Slow brush strokes and the feeling of plunging into the texture of paint makes me float away from here and now. Oil paint is universal – thickly squeezed onto a palette, it can soon turn into liquid watercolor.

What themes do you pursue?
Themes appear accidentally and impulsively. An idea can emerge suddenly. Sometimes a sentence read somewhere in a newspaper or a word heard on a bus may become an inspiration. A random snapshot from TV news – taken out of its real context  and transferred on canvas – may be given a new life as a piece of art.

How many years as an artist?
When I graduated from The Wroclaw Academy of Fine Arts, I temporarily left art for the advertising market which was then developing rapidly  in the post-communist reality of Poland. Advertising was a complete novelty in a country where just a year or two before you couldn’t buy practically anything in shops. A picture of a big grocery store with nothing but vinegar bottles on empty shelves was suddenly replaced by numerous items that had to be sold. Advertising in Poland was bound to be born, and it absorbed me for several years. Was I an artist then?

It was a totally new experience for somebody who used to spend all day in a studio, accompanied only by paints, brushes, canvas and drawing charcoal (which I once used to light a grill, for the first time in my life). On the other hand, that was an experience which may now be compared to painting a nude without a model or without the knowledge of the human body at all, where the base was only a few pictures taken from some Western country’s magazines. At the beginning of the 21st century I took up painting again.

What was the best advice given to you as an artist?
Once the owner of a gallery, where I had an exhibition in Wroclaw, said, “If you want to be a famous painter you should drink a lot, paint a lot, and then die of tuberculosis in some shabby attic.”

Where is your studio?
My studio is in the attic of my house in Wroclaw. The house is a big lively place always full of friends, pets and of course, family members. Music links the top and the bottom parts of the place.

Art school or self-taught?
I studied art for 5 years at the Wroclaw Academy of Fine Arts. While still a student, I took a year off and went to London for a half-year episode in a graphic design department in Camden School of Art. At that time I was painting intensively in a tiny  studio in Chiswick. Finally, I had an exhibition at the Eva Jekel gallery on Portobello Road.

Prefer to work with music or in silence?
Sound is as inspiring as a word or an accidental picture. Painting in silence seems too hermetic and sterile for me. Music and the smell of paints stimulate me while I’m working, but music itself is too abstract to be the theme of a piece of painting.

What’s around the corner from your place?
I live in a peaceful residential area. In the summer there is a lot of greenery and mosquitoes, and in the winter my neighbors like to have snowball fights in front of their houses.

Where can we find you outside the studio?
In a local climbing club, in the mountains, or at the cinema with my wife, Anna.

If you couldn’t be an artist, what would you do?
I’d be a professional climber, the best in the world, of course.

What do you collect?
I am addicted to buying vinyl records in wholesale numbers. I love getting them as presents, too. When I unfold a record’s cover and music starts playing, I feel magic. All those imperfections, cracks and other signs of a vinyl’s aging create an exceptional atmosphere, which is something special to me.

Favorite contemporary artist?
I really appreciate painters for their contribution to new realistic painting: Neo Rauch, Matthias Weischer. I also admire Gerhard Richter for his perfect technique.

If you could only have one piece of art in your life, what would it be?
Photographic documentation of the making of the stone heads on the Easter Island. But seriously, if you like art, can you make a choice of one piece only? One record, one book, or one place sounds too poor, unless it is something really meditative, timeless, or something that evokes an image without being one – something like Van Gogh’s razor.

Who are your favorite writers?
Edgar Keret, Bohumil Hrabal, Milan Kundera, Amos OZ, Julio Cortazar, Jorge Luis Borges, Michail Bulhakhov and many, many others.

Is painting dead?
Painting, as any other field of art, is subject to seasonal fashion. It may disappear from popular media but not from artists’ studios.

Favorite brush?
All kinds, provided they are clean. From time to time I have a big cleaning day and I clean all my brushes, which may take a few hours. A Nobel Prize for the invention of self-cleaning brushes!