Kuba Ambrose – An Interview (2022)

Daniel Mirante

Added on October 20, 2022

The paintings of Kuba Ambrose primarily explore the timeless and ongoing relationship between humankind and the Creator.

Kuba was born in Melbourne in 1982. He completed a Bachelor of Art before embarking on a journey to Europe where he worked closely for some time with the Austrian artist Professor Ernst Fuchs.  Kuba was employed at Victorian Art Conservation where he continued his art education, working as a picture framer and art restorer. Later, he worked at the Academy of Visionary Art as a founding faculty member and instructor. Currently he resides in the Carpathian Mountains, Poland, immersed in a deeply involved painting practice exploring themes of God, Christianity, Holy Mary and the language of divine symbols and aesthetics.

We thank Kuba Ambrose for giving his time to explain some of the dimensions of his current artistic practice.

‘Midday Garden’ 
oil & egg tempera on canvas 
40x80cm (original available)

The Interview

Your past several years as an artist, you were situated in Vienna, Wien, a historic renaissance capital city, a throne of power for the Habsburgs, which also served as a home for the Academy of Visionary Art. However, in recent years you’ve moved to the sub-carpathian region of Poland, and have been manifesting a large body of work. Has the change of environment influenced your work?

The change of location hasn’t altered the art too much. Many of the artworks I am working on now were begun in Vienna so I’ve been gradually bringing them to completion. The sort of work I do comes more from within, I carry it with me wherever I go. If I lived in a small cabin in Antarctica I’d probably still be painting the same things I do now. I do however want to remain open & receptive to the inspiration which may come from the places I visit. Sometimes there is a history or a story which almost calls out to be depicted. My attention is drawn to explore a particular story which may need to be told, retold or underlined. Sometimes I choose the subject yet other times it almost feels like the subject chooses me.

As an artist in today’s world I am free to paint anything I want, yet prefer to paint those things or subjects which I believe would be useful to our collective story in general. Choosing a particular theme is almost like shining a spotlight of attention there. It means that I’ve decided that this particular subject is important enough to pour my effort and energies into. It’s not just about self expression but also about leaving something behind which positively contributes to the string of creations others have left behind in the past.

If I were offered two subjects to paint, the first being what I wish to depict, the second being what I knew divine inspiration was asking me to paint which would I choose? Would I give up on my own idea and opt for the divine or be stubborn? That is the question I am grappling with these days, that of learning to co-operate with the inspirations of Divine Will and at times override those aspects of my art & life which run contrary with the greater good. It’s slow going but I get up whenever I get off track.

‘Man of Sorrows, King of Glory’ 
oil & egg tempera on canvas 
50x60cm (sold)

Your work has a sumptuous, luminous depth and height, where it seems your paintings embody a profound feeling. Do you feel there is a place where your painting practice touches on prayer?

Usually before a painting session I say a short prayer, asking my Creator to guide me in the process.

While painting I flow with it, often listening to music and to what the painting needs in terms of balance, composition, harmony etc.

Some of the subject matter is more overtly sacred art while others are more about nature or the world of created or imagined things.

I think that the underlying intention though is a desire to create beauty, and for that higher beauty to help guide me in the process.

Prayer itself is vital and has helped me immensely through life’s ups and downs.

When praying one has an open connection to God, our soul reaches out and we intertwine our fingers or rather hearts with the divine.

God wants a personal relationship with us, like a loving eternal father to son or daughter. I believe that our prayers are heard and answered if they correspond with God’s Will, timing & the quality of our faith. Many ideas for paintings came as a response to prayers, either as a vision (a flash in the mind’s eye of the imagination) or in dreams. But we have to take the time to ask.

Once while working for my mentor on a project myself & a few assistants were given instructions for what to do while he would be away for a week. We were asked to decorate the walls & ceiling of the space with many small stars….that was it.

So you can imagine just painting little dots for 8 hours each day got a bit tedious.

But I remember realising that each dot, each little brushstroke can be done consciously, with intent as a prayer.

Then instead of a boring tedious task it gained new meaning and was an offering and a pleasure to do.

Can the viewer perceive the intent behind each stroke? Perhaps, perhaps not.

Yet I do believe that intention does radiate out and touch the viewer in some way.

If I pray rarely it can be tedious and difficult to get started. The more I do it though, the more it becomes a joy, the more I look forward to doing it. A wise friend once told me that if a person’s life progresses in its natural rhythm, eventually their whole life will become one conscious prayer, every little act imbued with power & grace. The important thing is one’s intention which is the living kernel within the husk of activity. If I paint for ego, wealth or fame then what is the real value in that work?. So I try to remind myself why I do what I do and reconnect with that original, perhaps naive intent to be of some service.

‘Sun of the Divine Will’ oil & egg tempera on canvas 20x30cm (available)

In surveying your art, there seems to be a timeless or primordial state from which they are painted from – the paintings do not take a visual language from the contemporary, but work with a primordial or archetypal form of language – an ‘edenic’ symbolism. For instance, we do not see modern buildings, contrivances and fashions in the work of Kuba Ambrose. We see creation before the fall, before shame. This makes the work of a special kind – it is not esoteric in the sense that you veil hidden meanings and constellate arcane symbols – rather, you paint the world unveiled.

I expect a lot from art, maybe more than it can offer. The paintings I like most are those which are enchanting, dream-like quality.

I believe that essentially painting is about capturing a still image of a temporal moment and attempting to immortalise it, to make it echo throughout time. The most touching & powerful works of art, music, film etc have the ability to ‘stop time’ and bring us out of the everyday ‘mundane’ reality. That is something which happens very rarely but some artists like the singer Lisa Gerrard seem to effortlessly bring one there.

It’s not that I purposefully avoid the recognisable objects and symbols of the modern the world. It’s more a case of being attracted to an essence which is more dream-like than earthly. With symbolism it is often the case that I discover the meaning only after painting it.

Sometimes I grasp at various symbols which best embody or reflect a particular mood or figure I’m wishing to depict. Then all the aspects of the figure or scene work in collaboration to personify that quality, clothed in recognisable symbols. I most like to work with intuition, to trust it rather than contrive a meaning. But when painting sacred art, one has a responsibility to adhere to dogmas of the faith & some level of sacred tradition. With fantastic, imaginary, visionary art it is an exploration of infinite possibilities.

‘Faith Guiding Hope’ oil on canvas on wood (available)

This is obviously a very unique and personal signature to your work, and I wondered how you understand your life and painterly art practice in context to those painters who have come before you? Would it be fair to say your work expresses a continuity of primordial themes in sacred art as it has evolved out of monastic tradition, into the renaissance, symbolism, and into the current age?

The paintings I feel the closest affinity for historically are those which embody a sense of mystery, a dream-like enchanting quality painted in a tonalist technique. Those of the High Renaissance & many late 19th century French artists come to mind. What they share in common is that they are painted more from memory or the imagination rather than direct from life. I think it’s better to filter reality through the inner vision and memory rather than work direct from life or photographs. This gives the work an authenticity which many of those painters possessed. For me it doesn’t matter when an artist lived, in which epoch. They are all my brothers and sisters in creation & I can learn from them.

Much of the western painting tradition is a visual container the Greco Roman mythos & the Old & New Testament narrative. So much effort, attention & time has been poured into these themes that they have become a very strong attractor fields. For artists like myself, living today it is a collective heritage we can tap into & explore.

Modernism, Post modernism these are sad little glitches in the lineage of great art creation. These will pass and be replaced by many talented & spirit-filled artists which will come after us, creating images far more incredible than we can even comprehend. I truly believe that the great art is yet to come, we haven’t yet stared expressing beauty, we are just getting warmed up. In the future, people will look at our times with pity.

How many wasted their talents & time when they could have contributed something of beauty to the collective human stream of creativity. Art is meant to be about beauty, it’s not complicated. Pictures are meant to be looked at and enjoyed like a flower or a majestic awe-inspiring waterfall.

They are meant to give glory to our Creator.

‘The New Wine’ 
oil and egg tempera on canvas 
50x60cm (original available)

Daniel Mirante is a painter, historian, scholar, teacher and writer.

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