Q/A Antek Walczak

Why paint?

Painting, on the one hand, is a holy whore. Pure merchandise, potential money on the walls, success still comes wrapped with shame. That’s a bit of the old morality I inherited coming into the art world. On the other hand, the liberating flux of concepts and ideas, while softening the edges around the old, sparks troubles in the brave new art world. Something has been happening to the importance of the idea and the concept, a foregrounding and ordering having to do with the extent of the ground covered by communication as it spreads and expands. Nothing escapes meaning, with ideas working things over into transmissible packets. 

Material is grist for interpretation, for aligning things under concepts. The practice of tagging and annotating comes after the fact, preventing the escape or loss of any fleeting thought that’s unavailable to brainstorm or think-tank. The irony of conceptual art’s dematerialization of the art object is this over-materialization of the idea, where each translation of the abstract and sensory must be accompanied by the solidity of intention: every work is a mission statement. Theory is just an operator’s manual, and most things can be figured out without having to read manuals. 

Ideation has nothing to do with IQ scores and being well-read, and everything to do with surrendering to the freedom to be engaged or connected. Resistance is a concept. Revolution is a concept. Selling out, buying in, and the limited 2-day free trial are also concepts. Non-painting is a spectacularly over-powered concept that needs to be seriously nerfed for balanced gameplay.  By simply making art that is not a painting, 75% of concept is already delivered on the plate as gesture and statement. Add to that any kind of out-of-art-world factor like a social science or two, some agri-culture, animal husbandry, or gene splicing, and your art concept hits the ground running. Of course, maybe painting has the long-term advantage: a stable page-like format, portability, and relatively low starting costs. 

But it is a crowded field, with at least 35% of the practitioners convinced that they are better than the other 95%. Those numbers simply don’t add up, a fact that leads to some seriously risky mental crack-up and physical harm. Culture is more than ever a tenuously faith-based principle around private goals of fulfillment that often crash against reality. Suffering is not a concept, which might explain why, after all these years, the anxieties of painting have left the support of the canvas and frame in order to invest performed gestures, flickering pixels, songs, and utterances. Evacuated by the exodus of ideas into daily life, the central questions of being an artist are reduced to basic human issues of self-worth, fear of failure, or fear of looking stupid.


In the 90s, Antek Walczak (*1968) used to be mainly a video artist. In 1994 he cofounded the collective Bernadette Corporation with John Kelsey and Bernadette van Huy. In recent years, Walczak has continued to write occasionally for art magazines, while mainly exhibiting paintings and silkscreens on lead, which address the influence of information technology and cybernetics on art and personal freedom.