Dlaczego zostałem satyrykiem? (9)

Why have I become a satirist?

Although they miss one common denominator so much, they’ve come together to act cooperatively from time to time. Claiming they did it just for that, would probably be too much malice. Nevertheless, the only thing they share, in satire and any other sphere, is their undoubted status. Acting on their own free will, they decided to answer that one fundamental question you’d rather shamefully avoid to ask. (Whatever temped you feel. The famous second of that type: Where does your inspiration come from?). Their answers, so varied, surprising and obvious, laconic and effusive, brilliant and sincere, agreeing and opposing the images that form their quite essential part, they just might contribute nothing, paralyse a few generations of their successors with their excellence, or inspire Polish satire development for the light-years.

Why have I become a satirist?
FECO Poland group presentation
RING Gallery, Rynek 12
The exhibition opening 16th June 2017 (Friday) at 7 p.m.

Why have I become a satirist? A difficult question it is. I’m biting my pencil…
What is awaited – a funny suggestion; if I have none, I’ll feel ill.
Here – a joke between two lines, there – a wink of an eye.
And to be quite honest, I still don’t know why
But here comes a tag line… and it won’t be a long list:
I’ve become a satirist because I’m not a real artist!

Szczypiorno near Kalisz, Poland, the late 1960s. My parents teach arts. When they leave for work, the Chlasts’ Elka, the neighbours’ daughter, takes care of me. She chain-smokes, and meets with her girlfriends at our place, and I lie down howling. Elka throws newspapers into my cot then. I tear them, make balls of them and lie down happy surrounded by litter.
Kalisz, the 1970s. My Mum leads me to the kindergarten. I hate my kindergarten, I hate all the kids and kindergartners. I howl in the streets, I lie down on the pavement, and yell that I will not go anywhere. I stop only if my Mum buys me a pencil at the nearby newsagents’. And the story repeats every day: a hysteria in the morning, and a pencil to comfort me down.
Elementary school: teachers shout, and the school is ruled by Ostrychalski brothers from municipal housing. My school uniform is wet of sweat. Nerves and fear. The only pleasure is doodling and drawing in my course books. The black-and-white portraits of national heroes and originators of Socialist Realism gain holes in their teeth, scares oh foreheads and pirate eye patches drawn with a ball pen. But all these could be drawn by anyone, so I come up with an idea of rubbing away the printing paint. I delete hair from their heads. The grey shades I retouch with pencil. It looks like photography. I shave Lenin, Kościuszko receives a different nose shape, I change Konopnicka’s sex. I can do anything.
I’m in a bath-tub. My Mum turns the tap – and surprise, surprise! – pours a few drops of a special liquid which creates stiff foam. I build various forms on the top of my head with it, I sculpt new haircuts, I model moustaches and beards. I am standing in front of the mirror and I become Einstein, Tolstoy or Franz Joseph. Suddenly pounding on the door: – What the hell takes you so long in the bathroom?!
A new girlfriend appears one day in the third class of the grammar school – Ewa. I fall in love with her, but this is a secret. My classmates start to adore her at once: they fuss over her, walk her home, carry her schoolbag. I observe this with envy, so I write a nasty poem stultifying the admirers. The text is passed from hand to hand around the class, someone even rewrites it during the lesson. – What on Earth are you writing under your desk?! – the teacher is tearing the sheet of paper from my classmate, and then reads aloud with satisfaction. I can hear all class chortling and I burn with shame. Ewa is sitting at the desk next to mine.
Secondary school. I am drawing with my ball-pen all over the desks. I have to stay after the classes and clean up the desktops. I stay but instead of scrubbing I take them out to another classroom and replace them with clean ones.
The 1980s. I study printmaking in Wrocław. We are standing at our easels in the studio and would paint the model for a few hours. The only thing you can hear is the pencils scrubbing all over Bristol boards. How dull all this drawing is. I am staring at my mates. One is walking like a duck and bleating like a goat. I’m aping him so I’m also walking like a duck but I’m swaying more, and I’m mocking his voice. My friends are bursting with laughter.
A poster to “Boccaccio” designed for The Opera in Wrocław by Get Stankiewicz. Get is my guru. In the poster he painted himself: he is sticking out his huge belly, and presents a big red carrot attached to his groin with a smile. The times are gloomy but this poster beams with great energy, joy and mockery. I have dressed up as Get from this poster: I’ve made my belly bigger by means of a pillow, and with half-metre-long paper carrot poking out between my legs I’ve been strolling around Wrocław. I don’t know why I’m doing this. Perhaps I just want to be this guy from the poster who can do whatever he wishes.
Autumn 1990. I am in a small town at the Baltic Sea. The first presidential campaign in Poland. Jarosław Kaczyński is persuading the Poles to vote for Lech Wałęsa. It is difficult to escape politics – it gets through all holes and feeds emotions. I’m trying to draw but I have no pencil as the shops are closed – the season is over. I’ve grabbed out to the bin: packages, newspapers, sweets wrappers. I am tearing these pieces and glue them together to create politicians’ mugs. Joy is the same as the one long ago in Szczypiorno, when the Chlasts’ Elka used to throw newspapers at me. Hey you, over there, can you hear me? I have a rubbish bin and I am aiming straight at you, motherfuckers!

***drawings in the catalogue Why have I become a satirist are from my book, Coś Pan zmalował! [What the hell have you painted!]

I’m at home sitting and drinking tea, wondering why I have become a satirist. Since always I have perceived myself as a merry person with a great sense of humour. I like laughing and telling funny stories, taking part in practical jokes and fooling around with my friends. I am not a bundle of laughs or a clown, and definitely not a buffoon – nevertheless, joy and amusement have always been close to me. Therefore, as a natural consequence of this lifestyle has been transferring this joy onto paper – into my drawings. Laughter, fun and a humorous slip-up serve as inherent parts of illustration. My beloved Professor Zygmunt Januszewski in living memory, used to explain to me twists and turns of good illustration, and his advice to use joke as the most powerful tool. This is how I have created the pantheon of rickety heroes, monkeys dressed up in suits and sticking out their red bottoms towards the audience, one-eye dogs or series of family-and-friends portraits. I have added speech bubbles to the figures with finely calligraphed inscriptions so all of them would have their lines and never be forgotten. In my case satire has always been combined with caricature. It is not a description of the world in a distorting mirror – it is rather a tiny detail which changes the character of the situation. A rheumy eye, a taped ear, gliding aside legs, thickened proportions…, sometimes someone is squeezed by a huge shoe, at other times a head filled with instruments goes off. Imagination is the best arsenal of ideas and gags.
Would I call myself a satirist considering all the above? I don’t know…, but I know for sure that I entered the Satyrykon environment very easily, and I met people who think in a similar way to me. And perhaps I think in a similar way to them? Anyway this mutual flow of ideas help creating situation in which you can laugh as much as you wish. Moreover, this laughter is infectious.

Why have I, Stanisław Gajewski, become a satirist? It has happened somehow, and what more, it could not have been another way since it is as it is. Since I was born I have lived in the centre of, let’s call it, a social life and public space: between the church, the police station, the grocery, the post office, the school, the fire station and the bus stop. As it seems, I have always been surrounded only by attractive jobs (obviously except for a priest, but it is not a profession, it is a vocation). A policeman, a shop assistant, a postman, a teacher, a bus driver – all these should have been excluded. Either a great competition (policeman), or one should have been a woman (shop assistant), and I am not one; or one needed riding skills (postman), and I used to ride only my scooter (a postman on a scooter almost equals a satirist); a teacher could not have been considered – everybody knows: let them teach others people’s children (all is clear, why should you spoil the life of others and your own!); I did not have a bus (as a child I used to think that a driver in public transportation was the owner of a bus). Therefore the only job left was a fireman. But one would confront in this case with a great competition (even greater than in police). And, despite the competition, I almost succeeded. I say, almost. I wanted to be a fireman but I became a satirist. In my opinion all is really ok and it makes perfect harmony as I am who I wanted to be in my childhood (well, almost), and after many years of strenuous work over myself. As, ladies and gentlemen, a satirist is a quasi-fireman who sets fire with one hand to put it out with the other. So a quasi-fireman. And moreover, you always have a lot to do (try to show me a jobless fireman, or a jobless satirist!). It is thanks to you all, ladies and gentlemen, yes, thanks to you we have a job. You provide me with work, and my colleagues, other quasi-firemen. You are the real authors of satire in all its sorts and varieties. Us, satirists, only dress your “works” in forms, we add colour and expression, one can say that we edit them, so you get back what you have created in a readable form. A satirist, or a quasi-fireman has always something to do. And this is why I, Stanisław Gajewski, have become a satirist because I wanted to be a fireman.

I still doubt if I really am a satirist. I am surprised with smiles on illustrators’ faces as reactions to my humble art-proposals, in which I depict nothing special or surprising. It is meaningful for me and makes the hidden satire, I am not always aware of, reveal. This reception of my works is satisfying enough, and motivates me to continue this. Satire is not the target of my work as an illustrator, and it results from my way of observing and perceiving the reality. I have always been fascinated with metaphor and freedom of artists who draw and convert topics into a fine ambiguous form…I have always wanted to do so, and I still want to do it better.

I have always been attracted to journalism, especially the unbalanced one.

Dlaczego zostałem satyrykiem? (7)

When I was a little girl, I used to spend my time drawing – with anything and on anything possible. At the age of six I engraved beautiful flowers on a TV set case with a bodkin. My parents’ opinion was extremely different from my own. Undaunted by devastating criticism I would go on with my artistic work. I used to show off in front of my peers, drawing birds and princesses, and then the teachers’ caricatures. I was very popular thanks to them. In a school shop I used to sell envelopes with my drawings, so I had money for a doughnut.
“Szpilki” was my favourite magazine. Every Sunday a lady at the newsagent’s would leave me a copy of it. I would read and review it, not always understanding the contents, but I liked all these cartoons, comics and poems. I wanted to draw like this. I used to cut out of “Przekrój” weekly Humour from exercise books, and then I would stick it in to my notebook. “Larks zoomed up to the sky and neighed their morning hymns”, and “I got a turtle bitch”. “Genes sit in brain” – true, and “a giraffe is the highest form of life”. I used to make noticeboards and illustrations out of it. Drawing served as a medicine for hesitation.
Laughter is the best way to be an outgoing and popular person, and I wanted to be such one. I also wanted to be a rock singer, or even more a male rock singer.
I feel half-woman, half-man, half-child – does this sum up to one and a half?
It’s not true that everything makes me laugh – just on the contrary. Making up cartoons is very exciting – gymnastics for your brain, searching for artistic code in order to send a message. I can express what I like but I can also lace into somebody with impunity. It is a language understood by all no matter what nationality, age, race or sex.
Why have I become a satirist? Am I a satirist?

Because I had no choice.
Once I met a man who collected caricatures of planes. Then I realised that everything – people, animals and things have their own characters.
The easiest way to demonstrate it is to exaggerate features which have already been exaggerated.
And so… the job was growing on the trees, picking it was enough.

I don’t know. This would probably be the best answer, but straight up, it possibly resulted from native contrariness and inspiration brought by life itself. Actually, I have taken photos since my childhood. I can remember my first photo – some dried out tree trunks, a dead crow in the park. Today I laugh at this first artistic quest. Then it was worse, as I began to cope with technical side of photography, and tried to explore it. Taking photos apparently seems to be an easy manual task, and perhaps this is why many people think that to take a photo (but is it a good one?), you just press the button. This approach throws me off-balance and to comfort my condition I will not even start the discussion. Once a certain lady of the house during a party greeted me with these words: you take so wonderful photos, this must be thanks to good equipment you use. I ate dirt, and when leaving, I said to her: you cook great, this must be thanks to your pots. Photography teaches you humility, and I realised this quickly. Later on I would repeat this to my students: you have to think when you take photos, against all appearances. Sometimes it is a coincidence or a stroke of luck but… With sheer pleasure I trace faults in everything what is puffy and pompous, and the more it is monumental, the more ridiculous. It may be referred to phenomena or happenings but first of all to people and their behaviour. I feel sorry for some of them but as a satirist I won’t hesitate to give them a wallop.
A satirist should be unbiased. He should be above everything, and even if he comes up with something, it should be true, as truth is the most important. He should be objective but ruthless in his actions. Some are convinced that they are capable of saving the world, but actually with their own ridicule they can only amuse us.
Many of my photos reveal that we have not changed, and the majority of jokes is still prevailing.

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