Justyna: You come from one of the most beautiful places in the world. Why then did you decide to come to smoggy Krakow?
Dave: After graduating from university with an art degree there were not many possibilities for a good job so I was considering becoming an art teacher in high school. I did some work experience at my local high school but I didn’t feel like I was ready. I was quite young, I was twenty four at that point so I decided that I would go somewhere for one year, maybe two years to practise teaching before doing my teaching certificate in Scotland. I applied for jobs around the world from China to South Korea, Poland, Greece, Spain… Everywhere. I kind of made a deal with myself that the first good offer that I got I would just go there.
I had never been on mainland Europe before I was twenty four years old. I got an offer from Tarnowskie Góry in Śląsk which included a free apartment and help with everything. The funny thing is that the estate I was moving to was called Fazos, which sounded like a Greek island. It turned out to be 1960s communist tower blocks. But it was fun. I stayed there for two years and then I moved to Kraków five years ago.
J: What made you stay in Kraków? Don’t you feel like you want to explore the world a bit more?
D: Not particularly… Travel is so cheap now that you can fix yourself anywhere. And if you come from Scotland, everywhere is far away. Where I’m from, travelling to England is a big task. It takes 9 hours from my town just to get to Glasgow or Edinburgh on a train. You’re kind of isolated. Living in Kraków you’re close to many countries. Since I arrived here I’ve already been to Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, just by short bus trip or by car, by train. You can’t do that in Scotland.
We just had an amazing summer here. My friends from Scotland came to visit and I asked them how the summer was there. They said they had three days of sunshine. And that was it. So I love the weather.
It’s cheaper to live well in Poland. Living in the city center of Cracow compared to living in the city center of London or Edinburgh is so cheap. It would be impossible for a teacher to live in the center of Edinburgh. This is really nice.
J: If we went to visit the place where you’re from, what should we see?
D: If you take the road 500 you can basically see all of the Highlands. You should definitely take a ferry to Okney Islands cause they have the best preserved Stone Age village in Europe that’s 5,500 years old. You can see the beds people slept in. They also have stone circles there that are older than Stonehenge, amazing archeological stuff.
If you’re lucky you can see dolphins, birds of prey, seals, whales etc. Beautiful landscapes, beautiful beaches. The weather’s awful though.
J: Do you think being from Scotland shaped who you are?
D: Definitely. I’m from rural Scotland, far away from any cities. For me going to a city is like going to a place with 100 000 people, which is a two and a half hour drive. In Poland a 100 000 people town is small, in Scotland it’s a metropolis.
People there live in a television world. We’re always kind of dreaming of being in a big city, being able to do stuff. I know that it’s very beautiful there, it’s very peaceful, very nice place for people to raise families but when you’re young and you like music and art it feels like everything always seems to be happening somewhere else.
Also, living in a place like that, when you have a passion like guitar or drawing, is perfect because there’s nothing else to do. It’s raining so you can’t play football, so you draw people playing football.
J: What is that you do in Kraków? You’re not only a teacher, you also do other things.
D: I’ve been an English teacher for seven years but I’m also a painter, cause I graduated from my university in art and never really wanted to stop doing that. I’ve had exhibitions around Poland, in Śląsk, in Kraków, Gdańsk, solo exhibitions, group exhibitions eg. in Muzeum Ogród Sztuk in Kraków or National Gallery in Lwów.
I’ve also been playing guitar since I was a kid. Ever since I came to Poland I’ve been playing concerts with different bands and different people, different styles of music.
J: Do you see teaching as a lifetime career?
D: I think so. Luckily, I have three different skills that I can teach. Apart from teaching English, I can also teach guitar, which I do. If the opportunity ever arose, I could teach drawing, painting etc. But I’d rather probably teach guitar cause it’s a bit more fun than teaching art. Many more people want to learn guitar than learn to draw.
J: Is Kraków a good place to live for a native speaker?
D: For a native speaker it’s a great city to live in because everybody here speaks good English. It’s very touristic, there’s many people from many different places. I have friends from all over the world, from Hungary, Spain, America…
J: Would you say that there’s a close-knit community of native speakers in Kraków?
D: For me it’s strange to meet a native speaker who’s been here for more than a few years that I haven’t met before. Does happen sometimes, but I generally know all of them cause at some point they go out with people from work whom I know. I’ve never been in the building, but I know all native speakers who work in Gama. You end up meeting people from most of the schools. They usually work till 9 pm and then they socialize at night, go to concerts. When you can’t watch television you got to find something that you can do at night. And when you live in another country you want to enjoy what it offers.
J: What do you think it takes to be a good teacher in a Polish language school?
D: At the beginning it’s very difficult. The people who start this job usually have no experience. They’ve done CELTA but this is a very short course. I think it’s really important to learn to understand the grammar yourself. It comes with experience. A lot of people leave the job after a year or two. For them it’s just like a stop between this and doing something else, wherease I was going to end up doing teaching anyway.
J: Now, can you tell us a bit more about your art? Where do you find inspiration for your painting?
D: Mainly from history and from different cultures. I like to work in a kind of collage style so I take something from the ancient Chinese art and mix it with something from ancient Greece or something more modern. I don’t generally work from life, I don’t draw things that I see like trees and buildings. People, characters, animals, those are things that I generally draw. Since I was a kid I have never wanted to draw a bicycle or anything that is too technical, too straight.
Colour is especially important. I like really bright, bold, high-contrast colours. People generally describe it as being very uplifting.
J: Would you say there is a running theme throughout your art?
D: Yeah, it would be like a mish-mash of historical periods, but there are big difference between them. What connects them is colour. I really don’t like muted colours, which doesn’t mean I don’t like other paintings that are naturalistic. I haven’t painted anything for a year though.
J: Have you had an artist block then?
D: I go through time periods when I’m painting and at other times I play music. It’s very difficult to manage both at the same time.
Doing the art is great, because you’re only responsible for yourself, you can’t blame anybody. With a band you have to have five adults who all have different lives, work at different times. Some are married, some are not. It’s difficult to get those five people in the same place for rehearsals at least once a week and then do concerts at the weekend during your time off-work. I know playing concerts sounds like fun but it’s also a lot of work. You have to get there two or three hours before with your equipment to set everything up and do sound checks. So you spend a lot of time doing crap jobs. And then once you finish the concert all that stuff has to go back. So basically it’s a whole day’s work.
J: What kind of music do you play? Do you do just covers?
D: It depends on the situation cause I work almost like a session musician. I play with lots of different people who all do different things. In The Hello 5, which is a multinational band. we’ve got an English singer, an English drummer, one’s from London, one’s from Devon, and then we have a Greek base player and a Spanish guitarist. Me being from Scotland it’s a nice mix of different people. We cover songs that people know and love. When they come to the concerts they dance, have a good time.
But I play with bands that have their own music as well. If somebody needs somebody for a concert, they can call me.
J: Where can we find you online?
D: Here you can find out about the concerts, reviews people have left. We usually play in Klub Avaria on Mikołajska Street.