Imagine having your work stolen from you and meeting the person who took them. Would you be able to not only forgive that person but become their friend? In The Painter And The Thief Barbora Kysilkova is faced with this dilemma of confronting the person who stole her artwork and find a place of forgiveness. Not only did Barbora had to confront her thief but it was all documented on camera over three years. This documentary which spans over three years witnesses two people confronting life head on and form an inextricable bond. I was able to sit down and talk with Barbora and discuss the journey of emotions throughout the entire process making the documentary.
LRM: You’re a painter, but you’re actually a portrait celebrity at the end of the documentary. Can you please share?
Barbora Kysilkova: I thought you were going to say that you’re also a thief.
LRM: Haha, no.
Barbora Kysilkova: Which I might be and I probably am stealing things from Vertel.
LRM: Well it was yours to start with. So how did you come up with that concept of placing yourself in one of the portraits? And then also I got to ask you about the quote.
Barbora Kysilkova: So this painting is actually referenced to my older painting, which is called Heartbeat. It’s a composition where there are two men where one leans over the other, having his ear on the chest of the iron man to hear whether there is or is not a heartbeat. I was getting to know Karl t more and more, and that is let’s say, weaker days, it was not always clear for me whether his heart is still beating, meaning whether he’s still alive or not. And I worried a lot about him. So I thought it’s time to make a new version of this heartbeat painting where Karl Bertil would be the one. And as you can see in the movie, I actually first planned to have the person to check the heartbeat was supposed to be his, now ex-girlfriend.
But before I started the painting, they broke up. And so I thought, well, why not to do this daring thing and place myself in there because I wondered a lot about Karl Bertil’s heartbeat. You also notice that actually he is laying on the same sofa that Khloe and Emma were painted on, which is the painting’s history. So there are those references, first is to my previous painting and then to Khloe and Emma. So I actually also realized that maybe a love relationship might not be as long lasting as a friendship. It was more safe to place myself there than any other possible girlfriend of that till now. It’s a bit of a joke now, but yes, that was sort of the reason why I placed myself there. Also, I did want to have a pain where I would not only expose Bertil but myself and both of us together. So that’s how this painting started to exist.
LRM: I love it. It’s a really creative concept that you came up with. Especially portraying the friendship at the same time. What made you open your story for when you were reached out to document your whole journey?
Barbora Kysilkova: You know, for me, the reason was quite simple and surprisingly enough though, I have my vanity, but the reason why I said yes was not my art. I actually had the first impulse. Why to say yes to the proposal of Benjamin to film Bertil and me was that I really wanted to share this whole story with as many people as possible and first of all, to show to people what happens when you decide to forgive, when you decide to remove your prejudices and what happens then. Also, I felt that this is such an amazing opportunity for Bertil to finally be seen because that’s what I felt so much, that he’s been lacking all his life to be seen and that was a wonderful moment. That was already the process that was existing. Kyle Beto came one day over to my studio and we sat down and spoke about the film thing and all that stuff. And I said to Bertil this exactly what made me say yes to do the project. Then Bertil said, well for me the reason why I said yes to the project was so that the people see your art. So we have this very nice exchange of what were our reasons why we said yes to Benjamin to film us. I did it for Bertil and Bertil did it for me.
LRM: Wow! You have an amazing heart by the way. Um, what made you even approach Bertil? Usually in a normal scenario, where you have someone that stole something from you, you’ll have a grudge. But you on the contrary were so forgiving, what made you want to approach him?
Barbora Kysilkova: Well, first, the reason why I wanted to approach him, was actually a very selfish reason. It was not to get from him where the paintings are, but actually I just wanted to make a big painting where I would recreate the crime scene, how both of the thieves are removing my canvases from the blind frames. So that was my first concept, with which I approached the courtroom. But there, there was only Karl Bertil, the other thief did not show up. So as I entered the courtroom and I saw Bertil sitting there with his head in his hands, just feeling so lost, so vulnerable, so much wishing to be elsewhere anywhere else but there and I just felt this enormously strong humanity in him. So suddenly this concept of portraying my thieves,resulted in me portraying Karl Bertil as Karl Bertil and not as a thief.
LRM: So I know the filming took a couple of years, I’m sure you didn’t have the camera in front of you for three years, like Benjamin said. But that’s how long it took to film this. What was it like to actually have to live with a camera, you know, for a short period of time and then the camera. Not only that, but witnessing these like struggling points. How’d you deal with that?
Barbora Kysilkova: Honestly, I very seldom noticed that there was any camera around. Not really, because I had no experiences with having cameras around, but I have to admit that it probably is the enormous sensitivity of both Benjamin, the director and the photographer, Christopher Kumar, that they really managed to make themselves so not intruding, not interrupting or not even like being present, you know, like it was so easy to totally forget that they are around. So I truly can tell from my side that what you see me on the screen is actually, it’s really me. It’s not me trying to give a good angle of my face to the camera.
LRM: Right. After watching this and you as an artist, I learned to appreciate an artist more because it has its struggles, you know, dedicating to their art to get it out there for people. What would you advise other painters out there?
Barbora Kysilkova: It’s a very simple, almost cliche advice and that is just go on, just paint, there’s nothing that should be stronger than your will to paint.
LRM: That, that totally makes sense. Where are you today in your career?
Barbora Kysilkova: Well, physically I’m in the middle of a Swedish forest where I am with my boyfriend. We have a great house and I also have great ateliers here. So I’m painting and that’s me physically, if you mean where am I mentally, in my paintings.
LRM: It sounds like your happy place.
Barbora Kysilkova: It’s a gorgeous, happy place. Totally, but of course painting is also not a coincidence that the word painting consists of the word pain. So it’s also quite nice, a quite masochistic, painful feeling to be painting because of course it’s, it’s painful, it hurts, you doubt your work, you doubt yourself, but still it just is stronger than you, so you continue painting. And of course I’m also everyday in touch with Karl Bertil. I’m trying to go to Norway as often as possible to see him, but the border situation is not so easy. I guess the, both Karl and I, we are in a good place and better, even much more obviously because he is now sober for over a year. He is finishing his master degree studies. He has a great place to live. He’s really solid with his feet on the ground. So I dare to believe that his roller coaster up and down is now more settled into a more predictable direction.
LRM: That’s great. You have this awesome, awesome friendship. Thank you so much for your time. I wish you a lot of success and look forward to seeing your artwork in the future.
Barbora Kysilkova: I’m definitely planning to bring some work to the US pretty soon, so you will know about it. Exciting.
LRM: That’d be nice to see your art in person. That’d be fascinating!
NEON will release THE PAINTER AND THE THIEF on Hulu, VOD, Virtual Cinemas and participating Drive-Ins THIS FRIDAY May 22nd, 2020. It was showcased at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and WINNER of the Special Jury Prize for Creative Storytelling
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