Roman Lipski

Roman Lipski, in seinem Atelier in Berlin-Schöneberg (2015).
Roman Lipski, in seinem Atelier in Berlin-Schöneberg (2015).

When Roman Lipski emigrated to West Berlin in 1989 he was just twenty years old – a shy young man from the small town of Nowy Dwór in the north of Poland. Lipski was running away from hopelessness and an unavoidable training at a technical college. He wanted to flee from the confines of a small town and realise his dreams in the big wide world. He had scarcely arrived in Berlin when he took up a paintbrush in his hand for the very first time at the age of 21. Today he is an important artist whose work has been shown in many exhibitions in Germany and Poland. His works can be seen in galleries and museums all over the world and even enrich the collection in the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York.

His arrival in West Berlin and his acceptance into the Federal Republic of Germany was typical of the procedure of integration during the major wave of immigration from Poland in the late 1980s. Polish emigrants were given a routing slip in the emergency welcome centre in the Berlin suburb of Marienfelde, the so-called Lager or “Lagier”. On this were noted the various stations in the registration process, all of which had to be officially stamped by the respective authorities. Everything from the German Red Cross to cross-questioning by American soldiers had to be stamped on the small slip. Following this the emigrants were allocated to hostels, had to attend courses in German and wait for decisions from the authorities. But something marked out Lipski from the majority of the emigrants. It was his long maturing decision to become a painter. So one day he summoned up all his courage and asked his German teacher how to become a painter in Berlin. A painting course in the adult education centre in Kreuzberg provided him with his first experiences in the pictorial arts. He then moved on to study at the Berlin art school “Die Etage”, began to make contact with the Berlin artists’ world and experience the international, multicultural life of a major city. This was the beginning of many years of self experience and self-discovery as a painter and artist. Here he was helped by a turn in world history: the fall of the Berlin Wall. In East Berlin Lipski finally found the empty space needed by every artist. For many of the apartments and houses had been abandoned almost overnight and stood open for him and his artist colleagues. Somewhat later, in the middle of the 1990s, and equally in search of free space for artistic activities, Polish artists and creative Poland met up in Berlin to write a leaflet called the “Small Manifesto of Polish Failures”. Roman Lipski was in at the birth of what was to become the “Club of Polish Failures”; in his capacity as an actor and set designer for the theatre ensemble “Babcia Zosia” (Oma Sophia); as a member of the satirical radio programme “Gaulojzes Golana”; and above all as one of the editors of the magazine “Kolano” (The Knee), where he was also a writer and graphic artist.

Roman Lipski regards himself as a Berlin painter. He only links his Polish origins with his childhood and his family. Today he is an out-and-out European with Polish foundations and a Berlin superstructure. At the moment he is living and working in the Berlin suburb of Schöneberg.

His pictures tell of the tensions at the interface of the natural and human worlds. They portray landscapes scarred by human hands and activities. They reflect the atmosphere that has arisen around these interfaces. The thing that irritates and unsettles viewers is the “third plan” behind the objects and even behind the background. For anyone who has ever travelled across Poland by car or train, everything seems to be familiar. You recognise the houses with their grey damaged facades, the endless rows of electricity pylons and the meandering heating pipes. You also recognise the trees and bushes growing wildly along the roadsides and railway tracks. The difference is that, in Lipski’s works, they all add up to a threatening setting. Sunk in strong colours and powerful contrasts the motifs have the effect of a whispered scream.

Adam Gusowski