interview with NDZW, questions by Vladimir Palibrk, August 2021
NDZW, the artist with almost unpronounceable and quite cryptic name is very active lately at the walls and galleries in Vienna and Austria in general, influencing and being the part of local street art milieu. His iconic visual style, resembling something halfway between newspaper superhero comics of 1950’s and soc-realistic poster stylization from some unknown third world planet, captures your eye at a glance and puts you in intriguing and dynamic mind-quest for meaning within minimalist kinesthetic narratives that are usually told in his artworks. Elliptic combination of symbolic and realistic motives on his paintings bears many layers of potentially allegoric messages, carrying dynamism and tension of torn-apart key pages, turning points of that comics story we all were reading in adolescence, but we just can’t remember at the moment which one exactly…after giving myself blatant permission to follow this free flow of associations after observing his artworks, I will try to pose few questions to NDZW, hoping to introduce us all to his views and, hopefully, generate even more confusion? – VP-
VP: When observing your work, one instantly asks himself, “oh where does this come from?” so I also found myself looped into the naive attempts to decipher your narratives, and the ultimate joy I found actually In giving up and just letting myself being gently triggered to ask/wait for more, next scene, episode…a clue. Can you tell us, what were your first visual experiences as a kid? Where did the first pictures you remember come from? Who were your childhood heroes?
NDZW: The very first visual experiences most likely come from illustrated children’s books. Can’t name any particular titles from the top of my head, but these were most likely Polish and translated Russian fairy tales and rhyme books, as there was no immediate access to western culture in the 80’s. Then there were also comic books – two titles that I still remember pretty vividly are “Kapitan Zbik” and “Kapitan Kloss”. The first one is focused on the adventures and investigations lead by a police captain in socialist Poland. In the second one the main character is a Polish secret agent assuming the identity of a German Abwehr captain during World War 2. It’s actually based on the classic TV series from the 60’s titled “More Than Life At Stake”, the intro music to which is literally engraved in the memory of anyone growing up in Poland between late 60’s and 90’s😉 . Around mid 90’s I was also able to get ahold of some classic comic books like Conan The Barbarian, Batman, Spiderman, etc. and these were definitely a big influence on me later on. In general when I think about the things I used to draw from an early age, it would mostly be knights, warriors and in general characters with these “heroic” qualities somehow attached to them.
VP: Nowadays, where do you see the center of inspiration and activity, between walls, galleries, market? Which part feels most comfortable for you?
NDZW: Ever since I started painting walls, it has become my main focus and all my artistic activity pretty much revolves around that. Most of my “studio” time I dedicate to working on ideas and concepts for wall paintings. I’m not the fastest as far as coming up with new ideas that I find interesting enough to paint outside and I try not to repeat myself, so it can take a couple of weeks before I have something solid enough. My approach doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for freestyling once I’m already in front of the wall, so my sketches are usually pretty close to how I want the final effect to look like.
I release some of my works as prints and sell a small amount of original works through galleries, but I’m not particularly focused on bigger solo exhibitions right now. I feel like painting in public spaces can be much more impactful and get more eyes on what I do than any exhibition, especially given the current pandemic situation.
VP: Everyone has an anecdote from the street life and painting experiences…do you have one to share? Did you ever end up in jail for painting the walls, for example?
NDZW: My first attempt at painting in Vienna actually ended up in getting “caught”. It happened in broad daylight and at a spot where it never seemed to bother anybody, so it was a bit unexpected. Me and some other friends had to spend an afternoon at the police precinct and due to some weird bureaucratic neglect I was the only one who in the end never got a court summon or had to pay a fine or anything. Fast forward 5 years later, when I was about to fly for a festival to Morocco I got held up at the airport, where during passport control it turned out that my case is somehow pending and it seemed like the police were kind of looking for me, but not very hard I guess😉. Luckily I was allowed to leave in the end, but still had to go to court after I came back.
VP: Your top 4 female artists of today and why?
NDZW: Cristina Daura (@cdaura) for her color choices, composition and simplicity. Colleen Barry (@colleenbarryart), because I think she’s one of the best fine art painters currently alive. Eliza Ivanova (@eleeza) for her linework and general mood. Alexandra Fastovets (@hanukafast) for shapes, anatomy and rendering skills.
VP: International aspect of the street art scene – how important for you /or anyone else/, in your opinion, is the ability to travel and see different places, cultures, landscapes?
NDZW: Travelling is crucial for me. It gave me a whole new perspective on my life and a level of appreciation for the possibilities that I have. When in other countries, the seemingly most basic things are the most interesting for me – the music people listen to, their food, clothes or even mundane everyday little activities they engage in. I generally try not to dive deep into grand political narratives, as that makes it easy to lose sight of people as individuals then, yet still in certain places it’s unavoidable and sometimes also pretty sad.
VP: I think Dalai Lama once advised that everyone should at least once a year travel to a place he/she has never been to. If you were to follow this advice, where would you go?
NDZW: This year that would be Brazil and I hope it will still happen😉
VP: If you were to make a movie in future, which topics would you focus on? What would be the title of the movie? Or if the future was to be a movie, how would it be titled?
NDZW: That’s a hard question for me to answer. I imagine that if I ever attempt to make a movie, my process would be somewhat similar to how I work on my paintings and that means a particular topic or theme usually isn’t the starting point. In the beginning I tend to work in a bit of a creative fog, trying to piece things together and see how they work. Even if it starts with one strong idea, it’s usually a visual thing that somehow popped up in my head. So I guess it would probably be one of those artsy silent movies, not a typical plot-driven one. Similarly with the title, it would be something that comes to mind after seeing the finished work, so it’s impossible to say beforehand.
VP: Who are in your opinion, the true heroes of today? If you had three medals in your hands, and could give them to anyone/anywhere, who would that be, and why? What would be written on the medals?
NDZW: As mentioned earlier I’m not too much into grand narratives and giving people medals makes me think of formal pompous ceremonies and things like that. I appreciate anybody who lives their own truth without intentionally hurting other people along the way. Plus, nobody in their right mind should care about getting a medal from me. So, if I had three medals I would pawn them and get myself a plane ticket somewhere nice😉.
VP: What are the biggest fears of today’s people, in your opinion?
NDZW: Job stability, global market collapse, accelerating development of artificial intelligence and what it potentially is capable of.
VP: Hard to avoid this question and topic – How about future? When you close your eyes and ask yourself sincerely, how do you feel about future, what do you think the future will look like?
NDZW: To be honest with you I don’t think about the future too much. More philosophically speaking, the older I get, the less I believe in absolute free will and that also largely influences the way I think about the general direction the world is heading in. But let’s try.
If we’re talking about the near future, I’m still rather calm. Things are definitely going to keep changing and not necessarily in a direction that I’ll be able to fully comprehend. I’m already starting to feel out of touch with some of the technological developments & social media, but I’m also OK with that. I’ll be keeping up as long as I feel like it contributes something positive to my life.
As far as the bigger picture and further time horizon goes, I definitely see a direction where everything is becoming increasingly dumbed down, automated and low-effort-based. There’s also a significant problem with how people get their news and information about the world in general, in effect becoming more and more polarized in particular aspects of life. All of these things combined at least hint at a possibility where things can go rather bad on a global scale. Then again, I still keep meeting smart, kind and generally well-rounded people which might indicate that there’s still hope for this world.
VP: If you could make a phone call to God and say only ONE word in that call, which word would that be?