Lone Wolf: Mariusz ‘Wilk’ Wilczyński Speaks

BY Kalina Mróz

Mariusz Wilczyński is a painter, performer, author of music vireos and animated films. He speaks about animation, music videos, life in Podkowa Leśna and more

3 minutes reading left

About unexpected beginnings

I discovered animation for myself completely by chance, about 10 years after earning a degree in painting. In 1986, I graduated from the Łódź Academy of Fine Art as a promising painter and performer but, as an independent artist, I was forced to subsidise my work and lived from hand to mouth. That’s why, in 1995, I accepted the job of creating scenography for a new cultural TV show, Goniec. Tygodnik Kulturalny.

Mariusz Wilczyński, photo: Anna Koźbiel Importantly, the public TVP1 hadn’t yet been commercialised and politicised to the degree observed today so working for it wasn’t such a shame. During the recording of the first show, bored with the endless retakes, I unconsciously made a drawing commenting on the Miłosz text they were discussing. Someone liked it and from then I was supposed to make a drawing for every week’s show. I was very ambitious so I made two drawings, then five, then 15, 30, 50 and suddenly I saw it was moving! It’s naïve but the discovery was such an incredible experience that in one moment I decided to become an animator. I dropped everything I’d been doing so far and frenziedly, working day and night, as if to make up for lost time, I started making films, my own way.

About modesty that pays

Until 2007, I wasn’t known as an author of animated films and I wouldn’t even think of my animations as films. I was an absolute amateur and autodidact. The supervisor of my grad project at the academy, Prof Stanisław Fijałkowski, always said, “If you want to present yourself to the public, make sure you’ve got something really good to show”. Today, people will even boast about a trailer of something they hope to create one day. In 2005, my film Unfortunately won the Golden Hugo for best animation at the Chicago International Film Festival. And that was the first time when I thought that my animations deserve to be called “films”. Then came a proposition from the New York Museum of Modern Art, and that’s an artist’s biggest dream. It was a shock, I opened the mailbox and saw “The Museum of Modern Art, New York”, so I threw it out as spam but then something prompted me to read it. It was a proposition to hold a retrospective of my films! Completely crazy, I don’t even know whether it made me happy or perhaps frightened… It was then that I gained self-confidence.


Mariusz Wilczyński was born on 29 April in Łódź. He studied painting under Prof Stanisław Fijałkowski and woodcutting under Prof Andrzej Marian Bartczak at the Łódź Academy of Fine Arts, graduating in 1986. Painter, performer, author of music vireos and animated films. Winner of numerous awards at international festivals. In 2007, the New York of Modern Art held a retrospective of his films. Joshua Siegel, the MoMA film and media curator, called Wilczyński “one of the most pre-eminent animation artists in the world today”. Wilczyński is currently working on his first full-length animation. Selected filmography: Allegro Ma Non Troppo, For My Mother and Me, Chop, Chop, Chop, Chopin, Times Have Passed, From the Green Hill, Unfortunately, Death to Five, Kizi Mizi. The films can be watched on the artist’s official website: http://www.wilkwilk.pl

About a method for music videos

Until about 2000, most of my films were made as music videos. This way, I got money from record companies to create my animations. But in reality I never really did music videos, that is, films at the service of music. Creating an animation for a song I usually played something else and drew my own stuff. One relative exception is Allegro ma non troppo, a Staszek Soyka song to a great poem Wisława Szymborska… But even that, as I remember, I listened to Zappa’s Sheik Yerbouti… I achieved a certain position in the music world, regularly winning awards at the Yach Film Festival, even though my videos were weird and non-commercial.

About how Śmierć na pięć survived

Me and Grzegorz Ciechowski were supposed to make a half-hour film, we called it “the Polish Yellow Submarine”. During the same time, Republika was recording a new album and Grzegorz was supposed to write the lyrics but was behind with it so he postponed writing music for our film and instead brought me a hasty mix of Śmierć na pięć [Death to five] so that I could start drawing something. Two weeks later, he was dead. After some time, when I recovered from the shock, it turned out I was the only person who had a complete cut of the song. Thirty six unmixed tracks were left in Grzesiek’s computer… This fantastic song survived by sheer chance.

About a music video that unfortunately never got made

Kayah asked me to make a video for her Anioł wiedział [The angel knew]. I agreed but when I started drawing I quickly forgot about the song and started creating my own twisted melancholic story about the bitter hope that you can love someone all your life no matter what. And that’s how Unfortunately was made. A year later, Kayah called me and said, “Well, you know, Mariusz, now it’s too late…” But she liked what I’d done. The soundtrack for Unfortunately was exclusively composed and performed by Tomek Stańko so it’s turned out my way, after all.

About cats, mice and loneliness

Kizi Mizi was made for the MoMA retrospective so that these guys in America wouldn’t think that I’m lazy and showing my latest film from 2004, that is, Unfortunately. I decided that all my animations to date had been gloomy and I’m quite a cheerful man so it’s time to do something funny, in the vein of “a cat kicked a mouse in the ass”. A burlesque. I used my rather funny opening sequences for TVP Kultura as a framework. But, of course, when I started making the film, the result was a story about loneliness and not being understood by others. They often ask me which cat I am in Kizi Mizi, and I am the mouse! The cats are unimportant, it’s the loneliness of the mouse and its experiences that matter…

I have no problem constructing enigmatic forms, intricate poetic parallels, full of metamorphoses and metaphors. I was long convinced you can tell any story you want this way. But with Kizi Mizi, when I realised that I wanted to tell is a simple story about longing and loneliness, I decided to keep my predilection for galloping dreamy visions on a right rein and instead experiment with stillness, non-action, monotony. It was very much against my nature and drawing that yawn was a toil, but in the context of what I’m doing today, it was a very needed lesson in quietening down the narrative. I remember how, drawing Kizi Mizi, I wondered how long you can keep a mouse sitting on a bed and doing nothing without boring the viewer but still making them suffer. In the end, the mouse sits for some 45 seconds, which is very long, but that’s precisely what its unbearable loneliness is like…

About an aversion to Chopin

I don’t like the film Chop, Chop, Chop, Chopin, it was made about 10 years ago and today I see things differently. It seems to me that matters for the viewer are emotions, empathy for the characters. Chop, Chop, Chop… is highly attractive visually, I made it to prove to the world that I can make cool animations. What it lacks, however, are emotions, simple feelings, something that moves you, and that’s the most important thing for me these days. And I don’t feel the need to prove anything to anyone anymore.

About full-length features with star-studded casts

Since 2006, I’ve been working on two full-length features, the blues film Kill It and Leave This Town, and Master and Margarita, but I think I’ll put the latter off until I finish the former to avoid schizophrenia.

Music for Kill It and Leave This Town has been composed and performed solo on guitar by Tadeusz Nalepa. It’s the most transfixing, beautiful and soul-ripping music I’ve ever had in my film. Moreover, for the first time in my film, the characters will speak, and the dubbing has been done by some of the greatest Polish film stars: Gustaw Holoubek, Andrzej Wajda, Irena Kwiatkowska, Barbara Kraftówna, Krystyna Janda, Maja Ostaszewska, Andrzej Chyra, Daniel Olbrychski, Marek Kondrat, Krzysztof Kowalewski, Małgorzata Kożuchowska, Marta Lipińska, Magda Cielecka, Janusz Kondratiuk, as well as the classics of Polish animation – Daniel Szczechura, Witold, Giersz, Kazimierz Urbański, Zbyszek Rybczyński, Marek Skrobecki, the musicians Tadeusz Nalepa and Tomasz Stańko, and none else but the football player Zbigniew Boniek. I’d like to finish it for the Berlinale 2013, which is why I’ll be helped by my really outstanding students: Agata Gorządek, Paulina Bobrycz, Piotrek Szczepanowicz, perhaps someone else. The film will be about 90 minutes long.

About the eleven dimensions of poetry

All my films are connected in some way. There are certain recurring motifs, such as girls with pink bows in their hair. Kill It and Leave This Town will feature several scenes identical as in Kizi Mizi, only shown from a different angle. My fascination with dimensions we know and those we don’t is always present in my films. Contemporary science says there are 11 dimensions, that’s truly mind-boggling.

My films are poetic. A characteristic feature of poetry is its ambiguity, everyone can interpret a poem differently. I try to make my films in this way, leaving the message open to interpretation. A glass can mean a glass and a galaxy at the same time, though, of course, you need to avoid chaos. If I were a poet, I’d be able to talk about my films but because I’m not, I’m sometimes a bit afraid to talk about them.

About courage in getting onstage

I like to make art with a certain dose of humility, respect for the viewer, rather than telling myself that I’m so great and others don’t understand me because they’re dumb. You need to face up to your audience, just as musicians do. That’s why I’m proud of my performances with Fisz and Emade as Kim Nowak during their Męskie Granie tour. Three thousand people, most of them probably Fisz’s female fans, suddenly the lights go out, Fisz turns towards the screen, his back on the audience, and it’s only me versus the crowd. And you can’t make a false step because you’ll get booed. Fortunately, the reviews so far have been enthusiastic, the people ecstatic, and that despite the fact that this is avant-garde art. The most difficult thing is to make avant-garde art that won’t be hermetic but, through its multifacetedness, will reach people. Artists like Picasso, Miles Davis or Fellini, to name but a few, knew how to do it… They changed art fundamentally but, at the same time, they respected the audience.

About Mariusz Frukacz’s 24 Frames Per Second. Conversations about Animation

I’m not in the book although Mariusz had asked me for an interview. I refused. I’m a bit of an outsider, a lone wolf, as it were, I don’t belong to the animation milieu. Moreover, because I started making animations 10 years after my graduation, there was some confusion as to my date of birth. I don’t count myself among young Polish animators and among those featured in the Frukacz book are my students from the Łódź Film School.

Now, however, the well-known critic Jerzy Armata is writing a comprehensive book about me, with the working title Armatą w Wilka. The book will come with a DVD featuring a selection of my films and a documentation of the WILKANOC performance with Fisz and Emade as Kim Nowak. The book’s publication is to coincide with my retrospective and performances at next year’s Era Nowe Horyzonty festival.

About the good and bad sides of the Web

You can find three different dates of my birth on the Web. It’s funny but, on the other hand, someone regularly updates my Wikipedia page and, to be honest, I sometimes check dates from my artistic biography there because I don’t keep a chronology myself.

My 20-year-old cousin has recently created a Facebook account for me. Facebook seems to be a very sad place for lonely, self esteem-lacking people. So what that a girl’s gotten out of bed on the wrong side? Or that she’s going to drink a cup of coffee? For me, it only means that she no one to tell it to… and no one to really drink that coffee with…

About Podkowa Leśna

I always wanted to live in the suburbs, like my friend Tadeusz Nalepa. So when I could already afford it and was looking for a house near Warsaw, Tadek found a beautiful plot adjoining his, but it turned out it wasn’t for sale. Too bad. Eventually, I found my place on the other side of the Vistula, in Podkowa Leśna. There’s the sky, the squirrels. I feel good here, it’s quiet, I’ve got my studio. Sometimes, however, I dream of moving to the seaside for some time, working for two years by a warm beach. I wouldn’t like to live in town. Well, perhaps in Williamsburg, New York. But I prefer the forest. Or a beach.

translated by Marcin Wawrzyńczak