A Return to the Aesthetic Values in Sacred Art

Winner of Pontifical Award Speaks on Beauty and Truth in Art

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By Włodzimierz Rędzioch

ROME, NOV. 21, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State, awarded Polish artist Anna Gulak the 2012 Pontifical Academies Award, along with a fellow Spanish artist.

The annual prize, founded 18 years ago by Blessed Pope John Paul II, is intended for both artists and institutions who are active in the fields of architecture, painting and sculpture and whose work have made significant contributions to the development of religious studies, Christian humanism and artistic expression.

The judging panel consisted of several renowned Italian artists who evaluated dozens of artists and architects from around the world. The prize was awarded during the 17thPublic Session of the Pontifical Academies. Also present were Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture along with representatives of the Church, civil authorities and media.

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Q: Could you introduce yourself?

Gulak: I am a young artist [and] I graduated with a Master of Arts degree in Painting and Sculpture from the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, Poland. I also deal with graphics, interior design, issues of art in architecture and work in the field of sacred art.

Last year, on the occasion of the first liturgical remembrance of Blessed [Pope John Paul II] on October 21st in the Vatican, the governor of the Vatican City State opened my exhibition entitled ”Faces of Blessed John Paul II” in the atrium of  the Paul VI Hall.

Q: Although you graduated from the Academy in 2009, you already had contact with the Vatican…

Gulak: [That is] correct. During my second year of studies, I was chosen to design and execute, at the request of Vatican City State, a medal commemorating the 100th pilgrimage of Pope John Paul II during the 25th Jubilee Year of the His Pontificate.

After the death of beloved John Paul II, our present Pope, Benedict XVI, while looking at several different medals, admired mine created in 2003 and I was asked once again to design one for Pope Benedict’s pilgrimage to Madrid last year. That medal was also eventually chosen among many other projects.

Q: How was it that a young student of the arts started working for the Vatican?

Gulak: In 2002, then Bishop Dziwisz had an opportunity to see my first sculpture. He proposed that I make a papal medal. At that time, I didn’t know that the medals are chosen by open competition and that many outstanding artists from around the world present their works. After a while, I was informed that although it was a big competition, my medal had been selected.

Q: Why you are interested in [Blessed Pope] John Paul II?

Gulak: John Paul II was not only a Pope but also a modern man of great charisma and many talents. He was also a human in every aspect and meaning: Great, yet humble; Strong, but suffering. [He was] a great leader and diplomat, philosopher, poet, sportsman and actor. [He was] firm yet kind, realistic but with a soul of an artist and morally adamant yet emphatic. One could use many words…

[I was] fascinated by his energetic path, his sayings and gestures. His whole attitude and personality are for me a personification of God’s beauty and love.

Q: You mentioned your exhibition “Faces of Blessed John Paul II” that took place in the Vatican last year. Could you expand on that?

Gulak: The exhibition was composed of two sculptures: a monumental bust portraying John Paul II  and a  project called the “Tu est Petrus” monument together with eight enormous-sized graphic portraits (3m high), showing different aspects of His character, His “many faces”. Each presented portrait was inspired by His teaching, various sayings and His personality.

The theme of these portraits is dialogue – between the one portrayed and the viewer. Fascinated by monumental forms with reference to modern billboard art and mass culture and at the same time with use of classical workshop, I want to strongly “speak” to the viewer and to create an opportunity of reflection on His various sayings and teachings that inspired each portrait.

Q: You also mentioned a project of a monument…

Gulak: The “Tu est Petrus” monument is composed of four elements. The upper part of the monument is a shaped figure of John Paul II, emerging from a block of rock portraying him as the “Peter of our time”.

Below, in the geometrical base of the monument, on the front side an inscription “Tu est Petrus” is carved– which is the idea and the message of the whole monument. On the side wall are designed to be carved the most memorable quotes of the Great Blessed and on both sides of the basis of the monument – flowing down water, starting from the mass of rock near the feet of the Great Pope and creating a basin surrounded by a low wall and an “amphitheater” of stairs creating space for meetings and concerts. The monument hasn’t found its place yet and so it waits for a place in the world…

Q: You have been awarded with the “2012 Pontifical Academies Award”.What meaning does this important papal award have for you?

Gulak: First of all, it is a great honor for me to be awarded with such an important prize, to have been chosen from among fifty candidates from all over the world: painters, sculptors and architects. Being recognized with such an important award encourages me more in my work. It gives me the reaffirmation that beauty and truth in art, which are the main objectives of my work, are still needed. In my understanding, their true nature is mystical. It is the beauty and truth which emanate from God and shines not only on humans, but on the whole creation. I hope that the viewer perceives these qualities in my art as a contemplation of some degree of supernatural perfection.

Q: Why do you think the paths of the Church and modern art have diverged?

Gulak: The parting of ways was inevitable when art began to serve other purposes than those recognized by Christian religion and its culture, which proclaims the concepts of goodness, truth, beauty, utilitarianism and development of humanity.

Modern art, for decades now, consciously states notions that have nothing in common with the classical concept of aesthetics. Generally prevailing “anti-art”, and hence noticeable “anti- aestheticism”, stand in opposition to the classical values so precious to the European Culture, which is nothing else but Christian culture. Contemporary art is regarded as a profitable “business”, not conceived in terms of beauty, talent and the genius of the artist.

However, there still exists neo-classical art for connoisseurs where the skills and the work of the artist are highly valued as well as contemporary sacred art. Therefore, it cannot be entirely stated that there is a complete division between the contemporary art and the church. In regards to the latter, unfortunately, it is common that the artists draw from the standards of “anti-aestheticism”.

Recently, Pope Benedict XVI called on [artists] to return to the aesthetic values in sacred art. So let’s hope that the future will bring back the beauty and harmony, at least, to that important sector of contemporary art.

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