Być means “to be” in Polish.
When he quit working in advertising (after seventeen years) three years ago, the artist who prefers to be known as Byc, began making these images on pieces of cardboard and other found objects, as a means of expressing the emotions plaguing him during a long battle with depression.
Having made art since he was a child, turning to creativity as a means to explore his journey to recovery, was a given.
His artistic influences range from Norman Rockwell, Toulouse-Lautrec, Hokusai to Blek the Rat, J-M Basquiat or Warhol, and even the comics to name but a few.
His drawings are informed by urban art and reflect on what it means to be a human being in this very political age. His work continues to be made on recycled and found media – cardboard, wooden palettes and industrial objects; much of his work is done with stencils, using graffiti, body painting, markers and acrylic pens depending on what is at hand, to create profound and often disturbing imagery.
Anonymity (as with Banksy), has a certain merit; the work is seen and felt beyond the confines of sex, religion, skin color or social origin of the artist.
Paul O’Connor met the artist when both showed at Art Basel in Miami late last year, and invited him out to Taos, to show his work here.
So when Paul invited me to have coffee with Byc and himself one afternoon last week, I was surprised to discover how young the artist was. For some reason I had imagined he/she would be a bit older, more jaded somehow.
A thirty-something, very good-looking young man sat at a table with Paul at El Gamal, where we met. We were introduced and with Paul interpreting (my schoolgirl French allows for a little understanding while reading, but helps not a whit with fast and furious conversation), I asked him a few questions about his work and his show here in Taos, at the Bareiss Gallery this Friday.
Growing up in Lausanne, Switzerland, the child of families who had come to this island of neutrality from war-torn countries – one grandfather came from Vienna in Austria, another arrived from Poland – he questioned everything constantly, something he continues to do through his art.
Due to certain themes that repeat in his work, he has at times been mistaken for a female artist, something he minds not at all. In fact he says he chooses street art because “it is not subjected to the same technical contingents as is oil painting, watercolor or photo.”
“Street Art is a libertarian protest movement. “ His artist statement reads, “It does not follow the same laws as the so-called “traditional” art. It is practiced on virtually any medium, in any place and under any conditions with restricted material.”
He explains that borders between the achievements of two street artists from two different continents are very thin, non-resistant in fact. That the historical visual codes that differentiate the countries fall and there remains only the image and the emotion.
‘There’s no way to tell where the artist comes from.” He told me.
“There’s no school of graffiti or street art, it’s much more organic in origin.”
And political. I asked if he felt the rise of street art’s (and street wear) popularity is due to the current Global political climate and he answered affirmatively.
“Yes, of course,” he replied. “I see Street Art as a testimony of contemporary reflection in much the same way that the caves of Lascaux tell the life of the prehistoric.”
Was he influenced by Banksy?
“Yes, as well as all other (known and lesser known) street artists – we use the same media and remain anonymous for the freedom it affords us.”
He smiled before answering. “Być (pronounced “Bitch”) is “to be”or “to look for” in Polish, a country that I like.”
A country too, that his maternal grandfather fled for the safe harbour of Switzerland. I asked if the appeal of Poland and other Central/Eastern European States he references are due to them once being part of the Soviet Eastern Block; isolated from the rest of Europe?
“Yes, that too.” He answered. “I think that politicized them even more – in many ways they are ahead of us both philosophically and in terms of the art they make.”
In Poland especially, he is suspected of being a woman, something he has no problem with, identifying as he does with the disenfranchised and downtrodden, no matter their sex or creed. He is especially intrigued with going beyond the personal entirely.
“I like the idea of jostling the Ego as well as personal or narcissistic recognition.” He explained.
“It’s the idea of humanity as a whole with no borders or boundaries.”
With his provocative work, Być asks questions and leaves space for the viewer to discover their own answers. Or not.
Self Defense, the Pop Up show of Byc’s work will be up for one week at the Bareiss Gallery, with a reception for the artist from 4-7pm on Friday, May 18. Byc is donating 20% of all sales to CAV Taos.
For more information please contact Paul O’Connor at 575 779-6737
Featured photographs by Paul O’Connor. All other images thanks to Byc.