Wiesław Bielak

Wiesław Bielak. RzeĽba
Polska wersja strony

The art of making a portrait - as professor Cormon used to teach his students, van Gogh and Toulouse Lautrec among them- requires, especially when you are portraying a woman, a great deal of chivalry on the artists` s side, and sometimes simply mercy. Fortunately, majority of women do not realise how they really look like, and cherish illusions as to their appearance . While their sight is sharp and unerring when it comes to judge the looks of their best friends and notice the symptoms of approaching old age, they stay firmly convinced that by some special privilege, they themselves look ten or fifteen years younger than they really are. Therefore, one should, first of all, find out what delusions our model has as to her own person, and present such delusions on the canvas. It would be enough to correct the line of her nose, put a rosebud in place of her lips, lift the breasts a bit higher, make the eyes larger and the neck longer, hide the wrinkles, warts, spots and other imperfections. The model would then be shown with a striking resemblance that we managed to grasp...." Old Cormon was quite right, as we are all vain and a portrait is able to satisfy our desire of complements. It is not this however, that gives the portrait real strength and unfailing, since thousands of years, popularity. A good portrait is capable of a nearly magnetic gift of fascinating us; it is therefore not incidental that so many portraits count among the most brilliant works of art that affect and shape the awareness of high art in so many generations. Let us mention here Mrs Francesco del Giocondo, better known as Leonardo`s Mona Lisa, and the beauty of beauties - Nefertiti, whose face was cut in stone three and a half thousand years ago, by the madly in love with her sculptor-Tothmes. The most valuable painting in the Polish art collections, is also the picture of Cecilia Gallerani, otherwise known as " A Lady with a Weasel" or with an ermine.

What conditions should then a portrait meet to earn the highest acclaim? There are three such conditions, and one more in the case of painting, namely - a portrait should preserve physical, psychological (and colour) resemblance to a model and at the same time be a work of art, which seems to be a paradox in itself because not every painting or sculpture deserves this name. The requirement of double resemblance however determines the style and convention of a portrait, because it is obvious that such requirement excludes too far fetched deformation, as a portrait does not bear exaggeration, neither in the direction of caricature that ridicules the model, nor of the sometimes even more laughable excessive idealisation which also parts with the reality. The greatest problems in this respect are encountered in the case of a sculptured portrait. Why so?

Because since the ancient times it has been the most prestigious type of an image, if only for such reason that a sculpture is considered to be "monumental" by its very nature. It is blessed with the immanent gift of "heroisation", raising the model above the crowd of mortals and bestowing on him the presentable or nearly divine splendour. We know well that the term " a figure of brass" has also a metaphoric meaning to it.

A sculptured portrait then, calls for special talent, skill, and, perhaps most of all - a discipline of thought and patience, as - contrary to painted images - a sculptured portrait is a mass, so it has to present and characterise the model equally well from all perspectives. This condition must be met under the threat of loss of resemblance or, equally deadly for the work of art, stiffness of a death mask. A good portrait must live, what is more, it must pulsate with life, make an impression that in a moment a stone or brass face would change its expression, smile widely or make a grimace of disgust, the eyes turning to the sides or up.

This is what Wiesław Bielak`s portraits are like. Generally dignified, with the grandness of an official effigy, but at the same time somehow close, natural as if they have emerged by themselves out of the cooling metal mass. Just as in the case of the portrait of Wit Jaworski that seems to grow from the mass like structure of the soil. And again we should pose the fundamental question - why? Why is it so and in what way an artist creates the impression of the so difficult to grasp spontaneity and naturalness of his works and sculptured faces? The answer once more sounds lie a paradox: through knowledge, discipline of thought and workshop, and through tiresome, hard, persistent work , because Francesco de Hollanda was right when he wrote already 500 years ago ..." with the greatest effort and labour one should aspire in plastic art to make people believe that something that required heavy toil, was made fast, easily and without any effort whatsoever..." and nothing in art has changed as far as this is concerned.

Firstly then, workshop: Wiesław Bielak is a universal sculptor which means he feels equally comfortable in bronze and in stone, realism and abstract forms, full sculptures and medals, miniatures and monumental works, and scale plays a special role in three-dimensional art. Secondly - theoretical education. Bielak knows the history and the principles of sculpture since its very beginnings. Particularly the classical sculpture of Greece in 5th-3rd centuries B.C. that makes the insurpassable model that affects us even today. The classical sculpture then is a canon, a value, a rough calculation of gravity and proportion and of the forces acting in the sculpture. It is the interrelation of the mass and the texture of its surface, it is the respect of the model, the material and of oneself which, in the art, means the search of perfection. It is finally the power of timelessness, as classical sculptures are indifferent to the passing millenia. Thirdly - the approach to the model: Bielak puts nearly equal stress on the psychological as on physical resemblance of the model. And in this sequence, as he wants to show the personality of the model, his uniqueness and how he thinks of himself- probably a bit more than the features of his face. This offers his portraits the inner life, they are not an empty human shape, they are people. This goal is reached because of the already mentioned naturalness and spontaneity.

That is why Bielak is not fully satisfied with presenting one expression of a face. He tries to embrace in a sculpture a wide potential of facial expressions, suggest changes growing from the nature of the portrayed person. That is why, when making sculptures of historical figures he collects photos of the person and studies them, whereas when working with a living model, he does it, after previous sketches, in many sittings. It is enough to say that to "Witos" he devoted as long as half a year! = 6 months, 180 days of trials and speculations, 180 days of busy imagination, choices out of thousands of possible approaches and their variants. And here comes Witos as if alive, which has been confirmed by his close relative. The subtleties of a realistic portrait are evidenced in the- unfortunately not shown in the exhibition- portrait of general Sikorski, especially his eyes, lightly cross eyed, he makes the impression of looking inside, into himself, not at the viewer, as usually observed in sculptures { a note here: - all the monumental figures from the central part of Veit Stoss` famous High Altar look-for similar reasons - with external or internal squint).

Finally - the scale. Wiesław Bielak applies various measures - from superhuman, monumental, through the so called in antiquity "divine scale" that is only slightly enlarged [ this scale suggested for gods and goddesses to be ca. 210 cm tall] and natural, to miniature, where diminishing of the scale increases intimacy with the portrayed person; the miniature of John Paul II from 1990 border on very kind caricature, increasing the warmth radiating from the Pope` s face, which people liked so much, that during the time of Martial Law they bought over 500 casts of it.

I have written too much, but about Bielak, by the way a professor of the famous Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow, one can write long and academic or light and anecdotic. Still, what is the use of writing if his sculptures speak for themselves?

Jerzy Madeyski

© Grabi 2007