Right now we fight in hell – Juliusz Lewandowski
On the streets at an antifascist counterprotest to right-wing nationalists, we consistently had the word ‘faggot’ screamed at us, succinctly outlining the difference between free speech and hate speech that people often seem confused about. As across the world, currently intensely struggling with a surge of populism and conservatism is Poland. Having undergone a lightning transition from Soviet domination to capitalist ‘liberation’, it now faces an uncertain future for women and LGBT+ people under the looming influence of Catholicism and authoritarianism.
As Poland’s oldest squat faces eviction, George F. met with queer painter and ex-worker Juliusz Lewandowski to discuss the upcoming antifascist art festival Rok Antyfaszystowski and how the themes of eroticism and anxiety, solidarity and sexuality are expressed through his innately political artwork.
GF: What’s your situation right now?
JL: I’m self taught painter, and I make my living like that from 2012. Previously I was a worker. I live in Warsaw in my studio, so my situation isn’t bad for the moment. Much better than in the past.
GF: If you don’t mind sharing, how do your identify in terms of gender and sexuality?
JL: Honestly, in terms of my identity, gender and sexuality is important to me but not as much as being a communist. My interests in art, philosophy and politics seem to me to be more important. After all of this I can say, that I’m a man, or a woman, bisexual, gay, or transsexual. Its, after all, not so important for me, but gender equality is. I don’t believe that any economical change would be possible without a change of social customs – like patriarchy, for example. It’s falling down already. LGBT people should stand with women, especially here in Poland, where the church wants to rule all.
GF: Many of your works deal with eroticism, sexuality and queerness. Why have you chosen these subjects?
JL: First – to show that gay erotica is the same as any other erotic art, and, as Klimt said, art in general, is erotic. Second – I think that eroticism is very important, that sometimes people tend to neglect it. It’s sad nowadays that many doesn’t know where the line is between erotic art and porn. Second – I was always for gender equality. Even more than that, similarly to other painters from the past I wanted to create a canon of beauty that is not particularly connected to the male or female body. In fact, many heterosexual people love my gay paintings and they are collecting them. I think that’s great, and some mission is accomplished.
GF: Tell us why you chose to explore the Marquis de Sade?
JL: Many feminists will not agree with me, but for me de Sade was a pioneer in sexual liberation. First, because he openly unbound sexual pleasure from sexual reproduction, and explored human sexuality in a time when psychology did not exist as a discipline. Not many people know that in his works he is glorifying female sexuality as far more “advanced” than male. Today, I will say that although de Sade was bisexual, his ideal partner would be a modern, emancipated woman. He is also a patron for surrealists, another most revolutionary movement I’m interested in.
GF: Many of your paintings reference worker’s movements, resistance to capitalism, as well as a critique of high society. Can you tell us why?
JL: Capitalism gave me chronic illness – both my hands are affected by repetitive strain injury and inflammation of the elbow nerves due to working over 65 hours a week for a few years. I participated in a few strikes and we won one in the UK in 2010. Soon after, capitalism made me unable to work with my hands anymore. I spent 3 years as a homeless guy in the squats of London. The fact that I could manage to get out from these bad conditions in life was only a question of luck. Many people in my situation wouldn’t have had any chance to change it. That’s why I cannot identify myself as middle class, regardless of my current, quite good situation. I think that it is my duty as an artist to criticize society. Just because almost all of the artists in the 20th century were in fact communists and anarchists. I continue this tradition. But people rarely know it. And art history books often will not mention the political sympathies of many famous painters. Art is also political – it should be, especially in these troubled times.
GF: Can you tell us about the situation in Poland right now.
JL: When I came back to Poland in 2012 I knew what is coming here – so now it is even worse, because here there is no leftist party. You can choose between few right wing ones as is happening globally. People are disappointed. After 30 years of capitalism here, this country is a ruin, what I can say… In 2019, many museums organisations and galleries want to engage in an anti-fascism expo in Poland. The project is huge and I hope that me and my friends will prepare our own in my studio in Warsaw.
GF: What are you working on right now?
JL: We are announcing the antifascist “year” of exhibitions from 1st of September 2019 till 8th of March 2020. The start and end of the war in Poland. Generally everyone can join and make a project. We will have a site soon with lot of art and more information. In September 2019, if we will be still alive, the international art exhibition against fascism & war will run here in two public galleries against the national museum, and potentially over 100 exhibition spaces Everyone can join our action. I know its late, but right now we fight in hell.