Balthus Thought "Painting Is Like Praying"

Showed His Spiritual Side, in a Last Interview

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ROME, FEB. 20, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Before his death at age 93, Count Balthazar Klossowski de Rola -- better known to the world as the artist "Balthus" -- talked about the profoundly spiritual side of his work.



"Painting and praying are the same thing," he said in his last public interview, published in the French Catholic weekly newspaper La Vie.

Balthus died last Sunday in Switzerland. He was a brother of writer Pierre Klossowski, and was born in Paris in 1908 to a family of Polish origin. His home was frequented by artists and intellectuals of the stature of Miro, Camus and Malraux.

His father was a painter, historian and art critic; and his mother, a painter. It was poet Rainer Maria Rilke who encouraged Balthus to dedicate himself to painting.

"Nothing is further from surrealism than my painting," Balthus told La Vie. "I distrust the irregularities of that school, as I distrust psychoanalysis. Painting is a different activity, which has other requisites. To paint and to pray are the same thing. I have never thought of painting in any way other than as a religious activity."

The painter took pains to explain how he lived his artistic inspiration: "A ritual that needs prayer and then silence. When I am in my study, it often happens that I cannot paint. I must first sit in front of the canvas, look at it, and caress it with my hand. It is another way of painting, of proceeding."

He added: "To paint means to reach, to proceed, and to conquer -- to go through secrets, translate what is still obscure, and not try to give interpretations. What is important is that the painter himself often does not know the reason.

"It is not up to him to translate, to account for what he paints, or express himself in this respect. Suffice it for him to have the will to communicate to the world through his darknesses."

"To pray, if one is abandoned in this state, means one can create," Balthus stressed.

On his bed he kept the rosary that John Paul II gave him during a meeting, when he was living in Rome and director of the Villa Medici.

"He is a holy man," the painter said, referring to the Pope, "A saint whom God has given us to save our poor world. I am a practicing Catholic; I have a very exacting spiritual life. Christianity is a religion that produces saints. It is a great elevation, which sustains us every day and makes us grow."

"The world is lost in rumor and furor, in speed and incompetence, in the denial of real values, in a flight that marks the end of all hope," Balthus told La Vie. "It is necessary to rediscover the way the ancients worked, the patience of artisans, the art of living that spiritualizes men.

"It is necessary to rediscover life in a landscape, to extract its breathing. Instead, there is intellectualization, interpretation: things, forms and beings become abstract. Let us please return to the patient wisdom of Masaccio and Piero della Francesca, to the slow, anonymous, arduous exhaustion of the painters of Italian frescoes, the sacred vigor, and innocence of Giotto!"

Balthus´ spiritual life, as he himself said, was intense.

"One day, not too long ago, I had what I might call an ecstasy," he said. "God was speaking to me; I was in a semiconscious state, but my pulse was normal and I realized that God had spoken to me, that he told me my life had not ended, that I still had to work.

"This word came to me at a time of doubt and possible neglect of painting. The road made me anxious and then, suddenly, God illuminated me."

"As I grew older, I was less certain of myself, but this profound voice that spoke to me, gave me strength and courage again," the artist said.

"Painting must bring out beauty," he said. "Each color is combined with another to offer, as musical notes do, a harmony, the sense of eternity, of the sublime. Painting is a response to an interior need.

"It is the only need the painter is bound to attend to, regarding which he should have no choice; then it is not in vain. Thanks to it, to this interior vision, relentlessly, incessantly pursued, the painting all of a sudden finds its order and is illuminated."