In Conversation: Luka Rayski
by David Connolly
In 2016, Polish artist Luka Rayski designed a protest poster with Demokracja Ilustrowana (Democracy Illustrated), a political group opposing the current political system and in the infiltration of the far-right in Polish politics. Rayski’s design is the symbol of the resistance against far right politics in Poland. Rayski’s design deconstructs the word konstytucja (constitution) highlighting, in the colors of the Polish flag, the words for “you” and “me” hidden within it. Chasm Journal’s David Connolly speaks with Rayski on design as an act of resistance.
David Connolly: As of today what is the current political climate like in Poland?
Luka Rayski: Democracy is in danger. Our alt-right-ish government is passing bill by bill at a terrifying speed, making Poland less and less of what we took for granted in the past quarter century - a state of law.
DC: What are the risks and dangers involved for Poland and Europe by the current government in passing these bills?
LR: PiS (the ruling party) might have a larger plan to leave the EU. This idea of ‘Polexit’ is scary to me. Imagine you live in Wisconsin and the state decides to leave the US. It doesn’t make sense, but with enough of Trump-esque rhetoric I can imagine convincing 51 percent of the people to vote for it. The Brexit case should make us all think hard and work hard on preventing such catastrophes. Crazy separatist wannabe-dictators are in every country in Europe right now. Shit, even thinking about it gives me shivers.
DC: What types of bills are being passed?
LR: All the bad kinds you can imagine. The judicial reform is in my opinion the biggest threat to democracy as it is against the principle of the separation of powers. Apart from that they’re trying to change abortion laws, restricting the freedom to assembly and association, and disobeying the EU ecology directives. They are cutting down the Białowieża Forest - the ancient primeval forest which is a part of UNESCO World Heritage - and they’re doing it just for the wood! They took control over national TV (which in Poland has the largest viewership) and turned it into a disgusting propaganda tool, they’re planning to destroy private media as well. They are turning everything upside down in the education sector, creating a lot of chaos for both students and teachers. They also decided to change the core curriculum and from this year onward Polish children will have to read really bad right wing poetry instead of our national masterpieces, since the revisionist historians in the party found out that some of the authors were leftists.
The laws they introduce is one problem, but another problem is the laws that exist but are not followed by the ruling party. More and more nazi parades can be seen in the cities, even though Polish law prohibits the presence of such in public spaces. It is really sad. It is worth mentioning that despite the fact PiS paints its own image as anti-communist, many of their people were members of PZPR - the communist party in totalitarian Poland. To say this is hypocrisy would be a huge understatement. Also, according to a press investigation by journalist Tomasz Piątek, our minister of defense has many unexplained connections with Kremlin and the Russian mafia.
DC: What was the reasoning behind you designing a poster for Demokracja Ilustrowana?
LR: Demokracja Ilustrowana is run by my friends - Marianna Grzywaczewska and Edgar Bąk. I didn't hesitate for a second. It’s a rare opportunity for an artist to be a part of a cause so important.Their idea was not to organize protests but to provide symbols that could potentially empower the protesters. I was among 15 or so artists and designers who were asked to make something. My poster, thanks to many people but mostly my friend Mateusz Halawa , the “spin doctor” of this if you will, gathered momentum and grew uncontrollably in popularity. That was, I guess, a nice entry point for Demokracja Ilustrowana to start having a bigger public presence. Right now they opened a show of all the poster designs in European Solidarity Centre in Gdansk.
To be honest - a couple months ago I thought I was done designing posters - who looks at them these days anyway? Some time ago I read an essay by Malcolm Gladwell in New Yorker called "Small change- why the revolution will not be tweeted.". It was a controversial read for me back then. I thought he underestimated the power of social media. As it turns out, I was underestimating the power of the physicality, the importance of physically finding yourself there in the middle of the demonstrating crowd. I can say the same thing about images in general: a digital reproduction we see on a screen is just a reflection of the original it represents. It's like sunlight vs moonlight - the latter is much weaker.
DC: The poster has become a powerful and popular symbol of resistance. Can you discuss the concept, the process and the subsequent hype around it?
LR: It's banal word play: Konstytucja=Constitution, ty=you, ja=me. My main focus was to make something as plain and unspecific as possible, to invite everyone into it and not exclude anybody, which could easily be done with, say, fancy typography or being too aggressive. To be honest I regret not concealing my identity as the author. All the sudden fame was super tiring. But I am very proud in a way and grateful that I had this chance to contribute to something good. I think every artist dreams of popularity, but not this kind of popularity. All of the sudden even my friends started to give me names like “the leading artist of the opposition.” You know my work; I paint triangles, squares, shapes. So before I was used to be approached by people interested in what I do who could handle the triangles and such. Of course I shouldn’t complain, I am proud of my work and happy that it reached so many people and helped them in some way. But I feel better now, as the hype has fizzled out a bit.
DC: I do know your work very well, primarily a painter. What are the overlapping qualities between designing and painting for you?
LR: The older I get the more similarities I see between the two. I used to separate them, I still have two separate websites for my design work and my paintings, but it's coming to an end for me. In both my practices what I value the most is conciseness, anecdote, simplicity. Also avoiding "mannerism." Every art discipline requires a fresh approach.
DC: Can you elaborate on the idea of “Mannerism” as it relates to both design and painting?
LR: Mannerism is probably a wrong term, but what I mean by it is an effort to be cohesive and consistent in the eyes of the spectators. Such artists, with their flawed understanding of what “style” is, end up replicating the same thing over and over again, waiting for applause. I personally try not to care whether my new work will be momentarily recognized as “a Rayski.”
Another “mannerism” can be trying hard to make things look good. You can always see it in a bad piece of art - the sweat and tears. They tried too hard making it and now it’s tiring to look at it.
DC: Do you see an similarities between communication through design as a opposed to abstract painting?
LR: Yes, but they have different objectives - design aims to speak to many. Abstract painting can be "heard" by just a few. The guts of both resemble each other. Like with pigs and humans.Both of these things are about creating a surface. You can think about what’s beneath it, you can imagine the viewer in front of it and what they will think, but in the end, for you - the maker- it’s very 2D. Your language is limited to almost the same tools - color, composition etc. I like to think about it in the simplest terms, only then I can focus on what’s important for me.