The ABC’s of Polish Culture
The exhibition “The ABC’s of Polish Culture” is an attempt to summarize domestic art from the last century. The exhibition focuses on which phenomena have been successful around the world and why. We want to look for elements, which have proven to be popular with global audiences and ask what they say about us and our society.
The exhibition emphasizes the diversity of Polish culture, which contains a multitude of identities: ideological, religious, ethnic, sexual. We want show that Polish art is more diverse than what it is commonly perceived as. We also present the story of Polish culture, which thrived despite unfriendly political and historic circumstances while emphasizing, that its legacy is open to new, albeit critical, interpretations. The exhibition presents the works of 11 young creators – female and male graphic artists, who interpret famous Polish works of art through their posters. Their works are the visual centre of the project.
Together, we seek a supportive cross-generational dialogue, through which a known and already discussed past can become a basis for further artistic work, ensuring the continuity of Polish culture.
11 graphic artists | 44 posters | 44 art pieces | 44 Polish artists from 11 art domains | Meet Polish culture anew.
Popular Culture. New Technologies.
Popular Culture. New Technologies.
series of 36 comicbooks
One of the most popular comic series in Europe.
One of the most popular comic series in Europe was developed in the late 1970s when Grzegorz Rosiński, a renowned comic book artist and artistic director of a comic magazine Relax moved to Belgium. There he was hoping to establish a network in the publishing industry and develop his talents. Soon he met a promising writer Jean Van Hamme. Rosiński invited Van Hamme to cooperate in creating a universal story revolving around fundamental dilemmas faced by people living on both sides of the iron curtain. On the one hand, the story needed to be free of direct political commentaries, and on the other abstract enough for the political censorship in the People’s Republic of Poland to approve it. Thus, an original series was created integrating the Nordic mythology, fantasy, and science fiction as well as such popular genres as western, horror, and adventure novels.
Thorgal series author
“God forbid excellence! As long as the artist is dissatisfied with the outcome, (…) they keep on perfecting their skills”.
From his childhood years, the artist has used his imagination to overcome the bleakness of the surrounding reality. He would create his own imaginary worlds out of broken glass. As he was interested in pictures as a carrier of stories, Rosiński started designing album covers and illustrations. With time he grew particularly fond of comic books, which allow the graphic artist to become “a single-person film crew.” His first comic book to be published was the now legendary Kapitan Żbik. Rosiński’s skills and talents won him such a wide acclaim that he was soon considered as one of the leading artists on the Polish scene of comic books. Published at the same time in Belgium and the communist Poland, the series by Rosiński and Van Hamme was an instant sensation all over Europe. During the first few years Thorgal was created by correspondence, however, when the state of emergency was declared in Poland, Rosiński was forced to emigrate. After settling down in Brussels, the artist created many other popular series. He co-created Thorgal up till volume 36 when he decided to pass the series on to a younger generation of artists. Today Rosiński lives in Switzerland where he teaches the art of comic books. He is recognized as one of the biggest authority figures in this artistic field in Europe.
The renowned film by Zbigniew Rybczyński opens with a scene depicting a typical room from the times of the People’s Republic of Poland.
Animated characters, who look like being cut out from newspapers, slowly fill the room. Each person is engaged in their own activity, follows their own trajectory, and doesn’t get into the way of the other characters. Tango has been a source of constant inspiration. The film has been interpreted as a critical portrayal of the Polish society of that time. As the author explains, however, it presents a universal cycle of life – love – death that everyone has to face. Essentially, Rybczyński was fascinated with formal issues. He experimented with making an animated film with the use of analogue methods. His aim was to show many animated characters, each of whom was following their own trajectory. Such an effect was produced by doing complex calculations and constantly rewinding the film in the camera.
“Art is very similar to science, and artists should do great things; they should be explorers.”
The artist was born in Łódź. He was interested in music, however, his artistic and technological flair propelled him to study cinematography and experimental animation, a field where he could fully develop his pioneering ideas of a motion picture. He considers himself an inventor and technologist. In his opinion, art matters only when it solves a particular problem, delivers a technological innovation, or develops a specific vision of the future. Thus, the artist’s obsession with new inventions. The sophisticated form of Tango has brought Rybczyński an Oscar for an animated film in 1983. As a result, he was able to move to the USA and create short innovative films by use of the latest technological inventions in the field of film making. He produced a series of music videos for such legendary musicians as Mick Jagger, Yoko Ono, or Pet Shop Boys. Although he hasn’t released any new film since the early 1990s, Rybczyński continues to develop his innovative ideas and technological solutions. His new work is promised to be released the moment the artist feels he has achieved a real breakthrough.
saga, computer games, tv series
The spectacular success of Geralt’s adventures lies in the story’s complexity and diversity.
While writing The Witcher, Andrzej Sapkowski drew inspiration from various European cultures and literary traditions, which he mixed and transformed in unconventional ways. The morally ambiguous world he created was filled with political intrigues and economic problems. The writer didn’t refrain from raising such social issues as xenophobia, religious fanatism or social class. What he successfully avoided, however, was the stereotypical portrayal of female characters otherwise common in the fantasy genre loaded with eroticism. Since the fantasy genre is particularly popular among computer gamers, an idea to make The Witcher into a computer game was born. Eventually, a series of three games was produced by the CD Project RED studio over the period of eight years (2007-2015). The third part has become an international bestseller while Geralt has been globally recognized as the most famous character of Polish fiction. Nevertheless, Sapkowski did not feel his work was appreciated enough. This changed when Netflix produced the American series of The Witcher (2019). While promoting the series the Witcher’s literary prototype was strongly emphasized. As a result, Sapkowski has become one of the bestselling and most widely read writers in the world.
“Before I started writing myself, I was thoroughly familiar with the fantasy canon and its formulas. I could tell the trailblazing from the trite. I knew well how to avoid the traps and mistakes.”.
His long-term work for the Foreign Trade Office facilitated frequents travels abroad, where he would buy books, mostly fantasy novels then unknown on the Polish market. In 1985 when the Fantastyka monthly magazine called for literary submissions, Sapkowski wrote a trailblazing story for the Polish fantasy literature, The Witcher. The story won such a wide acclaim from the readers that the editorial office asked Sapkowski to submit more. As the world created in the stories gradually developed, the author decided to turn his initial ideas into a multi-volume saga.
It took Tomasz Bagiński three years to create The Cathedral. He worked on every single animation frame on his own.
The artist drew much of his inspiration from a story by Jacek Dukaj, Zdzisław Beksiński’s paintings and Antonio Gaudi’s architecture. It’s not common knowledge that the impulse behind the creation of The Cathedral was also an animated film The Staircase by a Polish director Stefan Schabenbeck, which tells a story of a man who climbs a countless number of stairs only to become one of them. Bagiński made the animated film after hours of his regular job. In 2002 The Cathedral received an Oscar nomination in the category of the best animated short film.
“It takes very long to create animations. It’s not so much about cheerful improvisation but rather about complex calculations that make film elements go perfectly well together.”
Tomasz Bagiński, a talented animator and graphic artist dropped out of college to learn how to create animations using his own personal computer. He remembers drawing comic frames as a child before he even learned how to write. His first short animation titled Rain (1997) is full of, as the artist admits himself, flaws and failures. His subsequent films have gained wide critical acclaim. After completing The Cathedral, Bagiński started working on Fallen Art and Cinematograph (2009) presenting an alternative history of the beginnings of thecinema based on a comic book by Mateusz Skutnik. Bagiński has also produced a virtual scenography to Krzysztof Penderecki’s The Seven Gates of Jerusalem. The artist created animations to all three parts of The Witcher computer game. On commission of the BBC, he made a spectacular spot promoting the Winter Olympics in Sochi, which has a fantasy feel to it. Bagiński co-created special effects for numerous Polish films. The artist also prepared a highly original and internationally acclaimed series Polish Legends based on local folk tales and legends as a remarkable campaign for a Polish internet platform. Bagiński is the executive producer of the Netflix production of The Witcher series.
Rosemary’s Lullaby is the main motif of the soundtrack to Roman Polański’s horror film Rosemary’s Baby.
The lullaby appears several times throughout the film, each time in a more and more disturbing version, signalling the hellish end. Rosemary’s Baby was the first film that Polański made in Hollywood. The young director insisted on Krzysztof Komeda composing the music. The two artists were good friends since Komeda composed a soundtrack to Two Men and a Wardrobe, Polański’s short made during his studies.
“I have a talent for composing soundtracks. I can sense the image and what I’m doing somehow works out well. The film suggests a kind of music and its use.”
His real name was Krzysztof Trzciński. Komeda was his childhood nickname that he got after misspelling the word KOMENDA (as in command post) on a door during children’s war play. As a child, Komeda suffered from polio, a disease that left him with a limp. He started piano lessons as early as at an age of four. When he was eight, Komeda was accepted to the music school in Poznań as the youngest student in history. After the war, he graduated from medical school. Yet, he soon gave up his medical practice in favour of music, his real passion. Komeda was exceptionally hardworking. He used to start working at the break of dawn and didn’t stop until he finished. Sometimes it meant working several days long without a break. He came to the USA at the age of 37, at the peak of his career, which was abruptly ended by a tragic accident. After one of the drinking parties, Komeda went for a walk with his friend Marek Hłasko. Most probably, the writer accidentally pushed him off an escarpment. Komeda fell down hitting his head, which led to a haematoma of the brain. The composer was in a coma for several months before dying in a hospital in Warsaw. The lullaby is most probably the only popular music piece by a Polish composer to gain such a wide international acclaim. The tune has been covered by many musicians. Krzysztof Komeda composed soundtracks to the total of 68 films. He did not record many albums. The most famous one, Astigmatic, is considered the best record in the history of European jazz.
music album (10 tracks, 49 minutes)
Fusion III, the first outcome of the musician’s cooperation with American artists, was awarded the highest accolades from the critics who hailed it as Urbaniak’s best record of that time.
In 1973 Michał Urbaniak fulfilled his dream and left for the USA, where, over the next few years, he released several albums that won him wide acclaim. Even though the albums were recorded with the participation of various musicians, all of them retain the then highly popular feel of a fusion between jazz, rock, and funk that the Polish musician mastered. Till this day the album fascinates the listeners with an energizing mix of heavy funk rhythms, edgy “folk” sounds of the leader’s electric violin, and incredible vocals from Urszula Dudziak.
“As I once left the violin for the saxophone, I have now started cheating the saxophone with the violin. America (…) has not been fond of the violin but I realized that I would have to conquer it with help of nothing else but this instrument.”
The most American of all Polish jazz musicians, Urbaniak received formal training in classical music. It was jazz and New York, however, that were his dreams since his early childhood years. For this reason, he learned how to play the saxophone and quickly made a name for himself on the Polish jazz scene. Soon he joined the renowned group of Andrzej Trzaskowski with whom he went on his first tour to the USA. With time, Urbaniak set up his own band, in which his music and life partner, Urszula Dudziak, played a major role. After a few years, the couple managed to win a stipend that allowed them to live in the birthplace of jazz. Encouraged by the big success brought by his first records recorded in the USA, Urbaniak settled down in New York. He has enjoyed great popularity with young American musicians. Many of the future big names including the bass player Marcus Miller would often make their debut in Urbaniak’s numerous projects. It was thanks to Miller’s recommendation that Urbaniak performed on Miles Davis’s famous album Tutu (1986), which made him the only Pole to cooperate with the legendary jazz musician.
music album (7 tracks, 40 minutes)
The first album to be recorded by a Polish musician for the prestigious ECM record label. After its release, Tomasz Stańko cooperated with the label on many occasions and beginning with the 1990s he became one of its most prominent musicians.
Balladyna was recorded in a quartet: two Polish and two foreign musicians. Interestingly enough, the band did not include a pianist. Such an unconventional solution at that time provided a distinct space, which in turn could be filled by the creative musicians. It is on this record that Stańko is said to have found his balanced, elegant and melancholic style of playing “nice tunes with dirty tones,” which he was most renowned for throughout his career.
“(…) I’m attracted to what’s unsettling and anarchist. If I was born later, I would be a rock or hip-hop artist. Jazz was in opposition to the educational system, stability and bourgeoisie.”
Born in Rzeszów, Stańko was always very fond of Kraków, were he graduated from music school and started his career as a jazz musician. Early on he was attracted to the more radical and avant-garde sounds. Before long the musician started playing with the most accomplished jazz players on the Polish music scene, including Krzysztof Komeda, whose band he joined being recommended by Michał Urbaniak. In the late 1960s Stańko started his own jazz band Tomasz Stańko Quintet. The three albums recorded by the group are considered the most original productions in the history of European jazz. The Quintet was admired for bringing together modern, avant-garde solutions and mysterious, trans-like atmosphere of the Slavic tunes. They made a name for themselves for moving freely between a total improvisation and highly disciplined performance. When the Quintet disbanded, Stańko was an accomplished jazz musician of international fame. He enjoyed experimenting with other music genres, though. Stańko performed with rock bands, participated in Krzysztof Penderecki’s jazz experiments, and composed soundtracks. One of his unconventional compositions is the trumpet solo illegally recorded in the world-famous temple of Taj Mahal. And yet, the stylistics achieved in Balladyna proved to be the closest to the artist’s heart and as such dominated the albums recorded in the last quarter of the century.
Man of the Light
music album (6 tracks, 42 minutes)
The year of 1976 was a ground-breaking one for Zbigniew Seifert. The artist was finally able to record his own albums and a long-awaited opportunity to visit the USA opened up.
Man of the Light (1977) was the first album he recorded having a complete artistic freedom as for the choice of repertoire as well as collaborators. Seifert made a name for himself not only as an outstanding performer but also a successful leader and interesting composer.
“All my dreams and desires are in this album. I am absolutely proud of it.”
Having received a classical training in violin, the artist grew very fond of Coltrane’s music as early as in his high school years, which propelled him to start his own jazz band. The musician caught the attention of Tomasz Stańko, who invited Seifert to join his project. Being a member of the famous trumpeter’s quarter, Seifert recorded three innovative records and went on a European tour. At the same time, the musician cooperated with the experimental Jazz Studio of the Polish Radio as a recording instrumentalist. After the breakup of the Stańko’s band, Seifert lived and worked in Germany cooperating with local musicians and preparing for his solo career. Although he played the electric violin, Seifert made everything possible to keep the instrument’s sound as natural as possible. Combining Coltrane’s style with impressive technique and classical music inspirations, the Polish artist developed a unique style that earned him a wide acclaim from the audiences and musicians alike. His first solo albums showed his incredible talent and launched an international career. Unfortunately, the disease ruined the artist’s plans. Following the release of Man of the Light, Seifert managed to record a few concerts and make an outstanding record Passion (1979) with world-class jazz musicians in the USA. Siefert died in Buffalo at the age of 33.
Illustrations by Ola Jasionowska
office building in São Paulo, EDIFĺCIO CBI ESPLANADA
The thirty-storey office building Edifício CBI Esplanada dominates the main square of São Paulo, Ramos de Azevedo to this day.
When commissioned in 1950, it was the highest building made of reinforced structure in the world (105 m). Lucjan Korngold, a Polish architect of Jewish descent, gave the building a minimalist form of a cuboid and filled the façade with a thick net of large window frames. The design was of utmost importance at the time when air-conditioning and heating systems were not a universal standard. The deeply embedded window frames produce an effect of chiaroscuro on the façade. As a result, the building is recognized as one of the landmarks of the cityscape of São Paulo. In 1992 the building was put on the list of the Council for Protection of Cultural and Environmental Heritage of the City of São Paulo.
“Mr Antoni, what do they say about my work in Warsaw?
- Do you want my honest opinion? Nothing.
- Indeed, nobody talks about Korngold in Warsaw”.
Antoni Słonimski, Notes from my travel to Uruguay.
Lucjan Korngold was born on 1 July in 1897 in Warsaw. In the early 1930s he opened his own architecture firm. His villa projects, which combined a modern form, classical elegance and attention to details brought him both fame and popularity. His villas located till this day on Francuska, Obrońców, and Koszykowa Streets in Warsaw may serve as perfect examples of his architectural style. In 1933 Korngold moved to Tel Aviv, where he designed several interesting projects, including the Rubiński house. After two years, he returned to Poland. After the outbreak of the World War II, Korngold, his wife, and their son emigrated to Brazil via Rome, which was made possible through his wife’s connections in the Italian embassy. While in Brazil, Korngold designed several important office buildings and institutions in cooperation with renowned local architects. After receiving his Brazilian citizenship, the architect turned to designing luxurious modernist villas. He participated in numerous local and international congresses and exhibitions. The architect was on the jury of numerous architectural competitions. He kept up-to-date with technological innovations and adapted them to his projects. Korngold died in 1963 in São Paulo. His son lives there till this day.
Hala Dorton Arena (Paraboleum)
building in Raleigh (North Carolina, USA)
“Out of this world venue” was the name the Dorton Arena gained even before its construction started.
Apparently, an investor also used this exact term to describe this one-of-its-kind architectural design. In 1949 Nowicki created an unprecedented design of two enormous parabolic concrete arches leaning towards each other (thus its name Paraboleum) modelled on the idea of a suspension bridge. The arches made a foundation for the suspended roof. This flexible multi-functional space that can hold eight thousand spectators was opened three years after Nowicki’s death. Initially designed as a livestock pavilion, today the arena houses big sporting events and concerts. It is recognized as a landmark of the city. As early as in 1957 the venue was listed among top ten buildings that have had the biggest impact on the development of American architecture. In 1972 the Dorton Arena was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in the USA.
“In the constant struggle for professional success, a vague thought flashes your mind that if you achieve one, it will change all fundamental issues closer to your heart than any other professional achievements.”
Maciej Nowicki was born in Chita, what is today’s Russia. His father was appointed as consul general in Chicago, where Maciej discovered a new world, learned a new language and took up drawing lessons. After returning to Poland, Nowicki earned a degree from the Architecture Department of the Warsaw University of Technology. In 1945 Nowicki returned to Chicago as a cultural attaché of the Polish Consulate. Before long, he moved to New York, where he cooperated in designing the renowned building of the United Nations headquarters. From New York, the architect moved to North Carolina, where he was the head of School of Design at North Carolina State College and started working on the Paraboleum. A few years later, Nowicki engaged in designing a new city in India, Chandigarh. Unfortunately, he did not manage to implement the project. The architectural design of the Dorton Arena in Raleigh brought Nowicki wide international acclaim and won him a prestigious place among the pioneering architects of the 20 th century.
The Embassy of The Rrepublic of Poland in Tokio
Krzysztof Ingarden and Jacek Ewý faced a serious challenge of fitting a stately and significant building into a densely built-up area of overcrowded Tokyo.
How to follow all the rules and regulations imposed by the capital’s strict urban planning? No wonder, it took full six years from winning the contest for designing the Polish Embassy in Tokyo in 1995 to its grand opening. With its indirect references to such traditionally Polish materials as bricks and stones, Ingarden successfully captured the Polish character of the building. This posed a great challenge because, as the architect explains himself, the Polish architecture does not have distinctive features. Architectural styles in Poland are very much representative of a local region, which can be clearly noticed in the distinguishing features of land development in the mountainous regions and Mazovia plains.
“Architecture can be a bridge between people and cultures”.
The architect was born in Wrocław into a well-known family. His grandfather, Roman Ingarden, was a prominent philosopher while his father, Roman Stanisław Ingarden, was a renowned physicist. In the 1980s Ingarden completed his doctoral internship at the Tsukuba University in Japan. It was a turning point in his career which shaped as identity as an architect. In Japan, Ingarden worked for a highly acclaimed architect Arata Isozaki. The architecture of Kraków, where the architect lives now, has been enriched with a number of prestigious and unconventional buildings designed by Ingarden, including the Wyspiański Pavilion, ICE Congress Hall, and the Małopolska Garden of Arts, which have become the city’s landmarks. Throughout his professional career the architect has been linked by strong bonds with Japan. Thanks to Ingarden, the main architect of the Manggha Museum of Japanese Art and Technology in Kraków was Arata Isozaki. Ingarden gave a series of lectures in universities in Great Britain and Germany. Since 2002 he has been the Honorary Consul of Japan in Kraków.
What is the best house in the world like? It’s built on the outskirts of a city where there aren’t many other buildings.
It’s functional and modern. It has got spacious glazing and it’s finished with natural stone and wood. This is what the Aatrial House looks like. A reversed design allows to enter the house from the inside – contrary to the standardized entry from the outside – through a driveway located under the building and opening up into a front yard. It took three years to build the house. Konieczny had a clear vision of what he wanted to achieve from the very beginning. He was also well aware of the challenges he would have to face. The investors asked the architect not to reveal too many details about the project including its location. They had worries about a sudden influx of architecture enthusiasts from all over the world, which were soon justified. In 2006 the project received the title of House of the Year awarded by the World Architecture News portal. What’s more, in 2008 the design won a prize in the International Architecture Awards. There are still fans who would like to see the design with their own eyes. However, located somewhere on the outskirts of Opole, the house is not easy to be found.
“Standardized things are bad. Imagine making a one-size shoe. It would fit some but not the majority. The same is true for standardized architecture.”
What matters most for Robert Konieczny is the concept, which frees each of his projects from any conventional solutions. In 1999 the architect and Marlena Wolnik started an architectural firm KWK Promes, which has gained wide recognition for numerous unconventional designs. One of their recent projects, the National Museum – The Dialogue Centre Przełomy in Szczecin, won the title of the 2016 Best Building in the World by the World Architecture Festival. It’s the first time that this prize has been awarded to a Polish irm. In 2007 Konieczny was put on the list of the top 44 architects of the younger generation as prepared by the “Scalae” publisher. The same year the KWK Promes architectural firm was ranked among the top 101 most exciting architectural firms in the world.
Ashes and Diamonds
film, 97 minutes
When the director started adapting the copious novel by Jerzy Andrzejewski for the screen, the first thing he did was to single out the story of Maciek Chełmicki.
Then, he employed cinematic techniques to lighten the narrative’s literary load. Drawing much of his inspiration from the Italian and American cinema, the director believed that cinema does not have to follow literature or reality blindly. Instead, it should focus on visual shortcuts and powerful symbols. These techniques allowed him to tell a universal story about a tragic life of an individual as a victim of the historical processes. The lead actor, Zbigniew Cybulski, who acted wearing his everyday clothes, created an iconic figure of “a lost hero.”
“(…) when I face a challenge, I turn to my former experiences as a painter rather than looking for analogies in the history of the cinema. This must come from my subconsciousness.”
Wajda has been well known for his sensitivity to visual expression. Initially, the director was planning to become a painter. Convinced about his own shortcomings, he decided to pursue a career in the field of the cinema instead. His artistic road was close to that of Wyspiański. On the one hand he was rooted in the romantic tradition, and on the other he was engaged in a constant dispute with it. In his later films, Wajda drew inspiration from the Polish history and literary masterpieces, or creatively adapted the then current political, social, and cultural events to create contemporary mythology. As a result, he was regarded as a prophet figure. Thanks to his versatile interests as well as openness to the latest trends and ideas of his younger co-workers, Wajda’s cinema hasn’t lost any of its relevance and has reinvented itself over and over again. The film about Maciek Chełmicki brought the Polish cinema to the world’s attention. Wajda’s work won critical acclaim in Europe, the USA, and Japan. Considered as the “directors’ director,” Wajda has been particularly appreciated by other filmmakers, which has been demonstrated by as many as four Oscar nominations and the Oscar statuette for his lifetime achievements awarded in 2000.
a series of 10 TV films
The 1980s were a particularly difficult period for Kieślowski. First, his mother died, then his film Blind Chance was banned from cinemas.
With the martial law declared in Poland, the idea of Solidarity came to nothing. Kieślowski’s film No End, which depicted the movement, came in for a lot of criticism. The director found himself at a crossroads. In his search for a new perspective, Kieślowski wanted to show that in communist Poland people do have private lives and are not defined only by politics. The idea of the Decalogue came from Kieślowski’s co-screenwriter, a lawyer by profession, Krzysztof Piesiewicz. Together they wrote ten stories of universal dilemmas set in the concrete jungle of bleak apartment buildings.
“Nobody is born a mean person. It’s the struggle with everyday hardships that changes people for the worse (…) In this way people, who have never been inherently evil, take actions that they themselves are ashamed of.”
The road to the success that the Decalogue brought was filled with twists and turns. Kieślowski made a name for himself first as an outstanding director of documentary films, and next feature films that presented social problems and were filled with political allusions. Gradually, Kieślowski’s interest in politics diminished. He felt that the “objective” representation of the reality serves only as a shield behind which the real life happens. One needs to look “in depth rather than breadth”. At that time the director started experimenting with new forms of artistic expression. Fascinated with the variance of human life, the subtle play between blind chance and destiny, the director focused on inner experiences. The international success of the Decalogue brought Kieślowski’s career into spotlight. His later films were all made in France. Kieślowski won the Venice film festival and received an Oscar nomination. His unique filming style has had a long influence on the world cinema till this day.
The film tells a true story of a young Jewish boy, who posing as a German, joins Hitlerjugend.
The film tells a true story of a young Jewish boy, who posing as a German, joins Hitlerjugend. The director took to the project instantly as it evoked her personal experiences. With its hopeful but bitter ending, the film perfectly exemplifies Holland’s unique filming style, which combines naturalism and grotesque. The dynamic narrative and substantial visual effects contributed to a spectacular success the film achieved in the USA. In 1991 Agnieszka Holland was awarded the Golden Globe for the best foreign film.
“My job as a director is quite distinct (..) you need to be both creative to have a vision of your work and strong to force it onto people and manipulate them to some extent”.
Holland was born into a Polish-Jewish family ideologically engaged in the communist movement. Her father died during a search ordered after he had passed confidential information to a western journalist. Holland left Poland to study in Prague, where she was incarcerated for a short time for political dissent. After returning to Poland, the director cooperated closely with Andrzej Wajda, who facilitated the development of her artistic career by protecting her against the systemic repercussions. The director is said to have a considerable influence on Wajda’s legendary film The Man of Marble (1976), whose main character shares a lot more with Holland than her first name. When her career as a filmdirector took off, Holland became the main representative of the movement known as the Cinema of Moral Unrest. When the state of emergency was declared in Poland in 1981, Holland was abroad and decided to move first to France, and later to the USA, where she worked with Hollywood stars (Ed Harris, Leonardo DiCaprio). Holland also made a name for herself as a successful TV director of such outstanding drama series as The Wire and the House of Cards. Today she lives in Brittany, France. Apart from her artistic projects, Agnieszka Holland has been active in many other fields. She is a public figure, an intellectual, and an activist engaged in social and political campaigns.
The story is based on the memoirs of Władysław Szpilman, a young Polish pianist of Jewish origins, who is fighting for survival in the middle of Nazi occupied Warsaw.
Polański and Szpilman had similar war experiences. They both ended up in a ghetto (in Kraków), miraculously escaped the transport to a death camp, and survived on the Aryan side of the city with the help of Polish families. No wonder the director drew on his first- hand experiences while making the film. The Pianist gave rise to controversies. The film won wide critical acclaim in the USA and sparked off an intense debate in France and Poland. The Pianist won numerous awards including three Oscars and the Golden Palm in Cannes.
“If I were to choose one roll film to be put on my grave, I would like it to be The Pianist.”
Roman Polański was born in Paris into a family of Polish Jews. In 1937 his family moved to Kraków. During the war he managed to escape from the ghetto and went into hiding. Of all his family members transported to the death camps, only his father survived. Polański made his debut in 1948 as a theatre actor, and before long a film actor. He was a student of directing at the Film School in Łódź. Polański’s early films quickly attracted the critics’ attention in Poland and abroad. The success, and at the same time adverse reactions of the Polish government (the Oscar-nominated Knife in the Water was harshly criticised by Gomułka himself), propelled the director’s decision to emigrate. His career was gaining momentum rapidly. He made films in France, England, and finally Hollywood. In 1969 a tragedy struck when his eight-months pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, was murdered by Charles Manson and his followers. Nine years after the events Polański was charged with raping a thirteen-year-old. He served part of the sentence and escaped to France doubting the American justice system. No other Polish filmmaker has achieved such a remarkable success as Polański. His now legendary films went down in the history of the world’s cinema: Repulsion starring the 22-year-old Catherine Deneuve; Rosemary’s Baby, considered an all-time horror, or the outstanding Chinatown starring Jack Nicholson, winner of Oscar nominations in 11 categories.
Illustrations by Julia Mirny
sculpture, granite, bronze, colored polyester, 94 x 51 x 35 cm
Four casts of the lower part of a female face layered on a black granite stone insinuating a female bust.
The masks bear the features of Alina Szapocznikow. In the early 1960s the artist moved to Paris, where she discovered plastics, vinyl, polyester and polyurethan, then not available in Poland. These light and soft materials were easy to be moulded and coloured. The artist made use of them to capture the transience of the human body. She retreated from traditional sculpture forms and started experimenting. She freed her sculptures from the weight of bronze and stone. In her artistic experiments, Szapocznikow focused on casting parts of her own and her friends’ bodies. She fragmented, transformed, multiplied, and expanded them. The body became both the material and the major theme of her artistic projects.
The artist of the sculpture: Double Portrait
“Przez odciski ciała ludzkiego usiłuję utrwalić w przezroczystym polistyrenie ulotne momenty życia, jego paradoksy i jego absurdalność...”
Alina Szapocznikow was born in Łódź into a family of Jewish doctors. As a teenager she miraculously survived the ghetto and Nazi camps. After the war, she lived in Prague and Paris, where she studied sculpture. As a supporter of the communist politics, she did not mind the aesthetics of the social realism although she wasn’t their loyal follower. Beginning with 1963 she lived in Paris with her second husband, a graphic artist Roman Cieślewicz.
Szapocznikow is remembered as a fascinating and beautiful woman. She enjoyed her independence and emancipation. Her life and art were the affirmations of femininity and joy of living. Her art often included elements of self-irony and play as she changed her mouth and bust casts into lamps, while her rubber belly moulds into cushions that she would give out to friends. The artist even considered producing her art pieces on a mass scale. In 1968 she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
The artist made the disease into yet another theme addressed in her artistic experiments. She died prematurely at the age of 47. Szapocznikow gained wide international acclaim only decades after her death. Today she is considered as a pioneer of the feminist art. With her works the artist broke such then taboo topics as sexuality, decay, disease, and death.
jute canvas and resins, height 175 cm
Headless naked male figures forming a crowd; all of them in the straight-ahead position; all of them of similar height.
If spite of their apparent similarities, there are no two identical figures. Upon a closer look from behind one can notice that they are all hollow. Abakanowicz started creating the crowds in the mid-1980s and continued until the end of her career. The first sculpture consisted of 50 figures having the height of a grown-up person. With time the body built and numbers of the figures evolved as did their group compositions. Some of the figures were standing backwards, other were captured walking or dancing. There were crowds of children and women, as well as animal-headed groups. Initially, the artist used jute sacks and when her crowds left museum exhibition halls for city streets she reached for bronze, cast iron, and concrete.
“I was asked: Is it the Holocaust? Is it a religious ceremony in Peru? Is it a ritual from Bali? Each time I would answer: yes, it is. Because my art is about a human being in general, about human existence (...).”
The artist was born Marta Abakanowicz at a countryside manor house near Warsaw. Her father’s origins went back to a 13 th century Mongolian ruler while her mother came from an
old Polish aristocratic family. With the outbreak of World War II, the Abakanowicz family moved to Warsaw. This is when little Marta first encountered the crowds, which would arouse the feeling of anxiety ever since. When the communist government came to power, Abakanowicz made a break with her aristocratic past and changed her first name to Magdalena. Passing as a daughter of a civil servant she was accepted to the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. Following her graduation, she left paining for experimental art involving woven fabrics. It was the artist’s success at the
Art Biennale in São Paulo, where her monumental three-dimensional sculptures of soft woven fabrics, called Abakans, won the golden medal, that propelled her to an international career. Abakanowicz is considered the best known and best-selling Polish sculptor. Her monumental compositions and large-scale sculptures are the artist’s trademarks. She is renowned for her sculptures installed in cityscapes or landscapes. On request of the inhabitants of Hiroshima, she created a sculpture to commemorate the atomic bombing of the city: a group of 40 sitting figures made of bronze.
The Homeless Vehicle
Living in New York in the 1980s presented a real challenge.
The affordable housing projects were suspended and residents of the derelict buildings were evicted and forced to live literally on the streets. Krzysztof Wodiczko witnessed these events from artistic and sociological perspectives. This is when he came up with the idea of constructing a vehicle for the homeless, which was designed to be a fully practical object rather than an artistic installation. It took the artist several months to design the vehicle so that it could fulfil the essential needs of the homeless. For this reason, he talked to many homeless people making a list of their requirements. The vehicle was to provide shelter, transport, and protection for objects found on the streets that could potentially be sold. The artist never meant to turn the design into a mass production. His goal was to bring to light the problems of the homeless and to initiate the search for practical solutions.
“I’m a public artist (…) The role of the artist, as I understand it, is to protect the natural habitat of human beings.”
Krzysztof Wodiczko has a considerable standing on the global scene of the new media art. Keeping up to date with the latest technological innovations, he has always put the human being in the center of attention. His art has been influenced by his experiences with applied arts as at the turn of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s the artist worked for the applied arts industry designing for the Unitra manufacturer. In 1968 Wodiczko graduated from the Applied Arts Department at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. Wodiczko’s projects are more often to be found in the public space rather than in art galleries or museums. In 1977 he emigrated from Poland, first to Canada, and then to the USA where he settled down. In 1994 he was appointed the director of the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Today Wodiczko heads the Art, Design, and the Public Domain program at Harvard University. He continues to collaborate with Poland as well.
How It Is
Overwhelming silence gathering in the complete, deep, and empty darkness. This was the experience underwent by visitors to the prestigious Tate Modern in London in 2009.
In the Turbine Hall Mirosław Bałka installed a gigantic steel container with an entrance ramp covered with soft black fabric. The title of the work comes from Samuel Beckett’s novel. Taking the steps through the entrance ramp and plunging into the total darkness evoked numerous associations. The experience brought to mind several motives derived from art, history, or science: the Biblical belly of the whale, the cosmic black hole, Conrad’s heart of darkness, or the freight car transporting Jews to a death camp.
“I’m not keen on making too literal gestures; narrativity bothers me. I have always preferred to express less than more.”
Bałka is a phenomenon on the Polish art scene. His name is internationally recognized on both sides of the Atlantic. Bałka’s art evokes associations with the traumas of World War II and the Holocaust. Born in Warsaw, Bałka has his art studio in nearby Otwock. The artist earned a degree from the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. His diploma work Remembrance of the First Holy Communion made a lasting impression. The artist recreated a self-portrait from his childhood from the perceptive of a grow-up man. Holding a special place in his art, the artist’s hometown and family home have become a recurring motif in his works. As one of the curators has put it, home is another body of the artist. Bałka’s works are often inspired by house measurements and designs. In 1991 Bałka received a Mies van der Rohe grant from the Art Museum in Krefeld, Germany. Since 2010 the artist has been a member of the Der Künste Academy in Berlin. He has been in charge of the Studio of the Spatial Activities at the Media Art Department of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw for the last ten years. The artist’s work is exhibited both in Poland and abroad. Bałka’s installations are included in collections of such prestigious museums as MOCA in Los Angeles or the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Illustrations: Małgorzata Nowak
Apocalypsis cum figuris
The performance was the outcome of thorough examinations, experiments, and improvisations, which Jerzy Grotowski carried out with his Wrocław-based theatre company Laboratorium Teatru.
The actors were expected to perform “a total act,” in which they enter a state of higher consciousness and become the portrayed characters employing their own intimate emotions provoked oftentimes by traumatic experiences. This act of expressive transgression of the actor’s limits made a shocking impression on the audience. The blasphemous combination of corporeal existence and references to liturgy gave rise to objections of the Primate Stefan Wyszyński, who advised the congregation against watching the performance.
“First of all (…) we avoid thinking of the theatre as constructed of various disciplines. We are looking for what distinguishes the theatre from all other types of performances and shows.”
Grotowski spent his childhood years in a village of Nienadówka, near the city of Rzeszów. There he was exposed to a local blend of Christian traditions and folk rituals, which later
became a source of his lifelong fascination. His mother used to provide him with a steady supply of books about distant lands and foreign cultures. Having earned a degree in directing, Grotowski became the director of a small provincial theatre in Opole. Before long he was experimenting with shortening the distance between the audience and the actors, which along with his fascination with the ritual aspect of a theatre performance, finally led to the development of the concept of “the poor theatre.” Grotowski’s idea was to remove all extraneous elements in order to focus the attention exclusively on the intense relation between a properly prepared actor and a spectator. As a result of growing recognition, Grotowski moved to Wrocław, where the concept of “the poor theatre” could finally be put into practice. His performances, The Constant Prince and Apocalypsis cum figuris, exerted a profound impact on the history of theatre and turned Grotowski into a great authority figure, the leading “prophet” of the avant-garde. Apocalypsis was so radical in its expression that the director abandoned the theatre scene in favour of other interdisciplinary projects. Grotowski brought together performative, ceremonial, and para-theatrical activities, which he realized in various forms first in Poland, then in the USA, and Italy.
The Dead Class
One day, while visiting the seaside, Tadeusz Kantor came across an abandoned building with empty school desks inside.
The scene became the inspiration behind the concept of the Theatre of Death, whose first staged performance was the Dead Class itself. The artist believed that memories are the only reality that humans can experience. There is nothing more real than recollections. Kantor aimed at reviving the world of his childhood permanently destroyed by world wars and the Holocaust and at the same time showed the futility of his attempts. The Theatre of Death, which included five performances, marks the final stage of Tadeusz Kantor’s career and sums up his personal experiences and artistic endeavors.
“The theatre (..) is the space the dead cross over coming from the other side, from the other world to enter our world, the present, our life.”
Born during the World War I in a small Polish Jewish town of Wielopole Skrzyńskie, which served as a recurring motif in his works, Kantor received his formal education as a painter. As an innovative artist and versatile creator, he kept up to date with the latest artistic trends, which he used to develop his unique style. He was renowned for bringing together art and theatre with help from his experimental theatre group Cricot 2. After years of experimenting with various conventions, Kantor developed one-of-its-kind artistic expression referred to as the theatre on canvas. Although it came quite late in Kantor’s career, the success of the Dead Class was unprecedented. The unheard-of formula of the performance together with the shocking message of the Theatre of Death made a lasting impression on the viewers of the Edinburgh festival of 1976. It gave a boost for an international career of “the best theatre performance in the world” as called by the American edition of Newsweek. In the next seventeen years the performance was staged over six hundred times in numerous countries on five continents. Kantor’s following performances were staged and financed abroad and then performed in Poland.
Kalkwerk, based on a novel of a controversial Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard, as directed by Lupa is a hypnotizing tale of big dreams and grand intellectual ambitions that the reality fails to fulfil.
Kalkwerk, based on a novel of a controversial Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard, as directed by Lupa is a hypnotizing tale of big dreams and grand intellectual ambitions that the reality fails to fulfil. Kalkwerk is considered to be Lupa’s breakthrough performance which helped his directing style to crystallize fully. The evocative performance was soon hailed as a masterpiece while the then 50-year-old director was recognized as the most important figure on the Polish theatre scene. Lupa has been seen on the one hand as a continuator of the grand masters and as an innovator questioning the established hierarchies on the other. Kalkwerk came as a complete revelation to the international critics, of which the enthusiastic review in the New York Times is a clear example.
„In fact, we always deceive others pretending we know more than we actually do (…) we tend to hide the unbelievable deficits that we all carry inside.”
Born in Jastrzębie-Zdrój, Krystian Lupa was initially pursuing a career as a physicist. However, having completed a few years in college, he dropped out. In 1969 he earned a diploma in graphic design from the Academy of Fine Arts. He was later accepted to a film school, where he was expelled from for “eccentric and provocative behaviour.” Following his fascination with Kantor and Konrad Swinarski, Lupa decided to study for a degree in theatre directing. It took him two decades to develop his own hypnotizing, trance-like, contemplative style focused on profound explorations of the meanders of the characters’ consciousness. Today Lupa’s performances are staged in Europe, the USA, Russia, and recently China. Lupa is also appreciated as a renowned educator and mentor of a new generation of artists including Krzysztof Warlikowski and Grzegorz Jarzyna. Being aware of his own status as the authority figure, Lupa has been in constant dispute with it. His recently directed performances undergo internal disintegration, are purposefully left unfinished, and keep questioning the role of art and artists in the contemporary world.
Krum is an adaptation of Hanoch Levin’s drama. It is a tale of a middle-aged man who returns to his hometown overwhelmed with the feeling of failure.
From Levin’s drama, Krzysztof Warlikowski extracted a story about a broken and apathetic community whose members dream about a better life but keep hurting each other. It takes random tragedies to bring a faint hope to restore the community. Krum was a breakthrough performance for Warlikowski, who had been recognized as a young provocateur before. The director was finally widely acclaimed for his talent in directing a subtly nuanced performance, where a biting satire and camp aesthetics meet an intimate and shocking psychodrama.
“What identifies every human being is the minority, not the majority, they come from. And every person comes from some minority.”
Born in Szczecin, Warlikowski has always intended to leave the cocoon of the Polish culture. He started studying philosophy, specifically the ancient philosophers, to expand his knowledge and adopt broader perspectives. He spent several years in Paris where he explored literature, theatre, and opera. He returned to Poland to enroll in the directing studies. This is when he met Krystian Lupa, who encouraged him to experiment. The director has been considered one of the most renowned figures on the Polish theatre scene for the last thirty years. Together with other Lupa’s disciples, Warlikowski has transformed the Polish theatre opening its doors to new themes and stylistics. Initially, he was known for shocking the audience with brutality, nudity, unchained and non-heteronormative sexuality, and obscene language. In his performances, there is a recurring theme of maladjusted outsiders, who settle accounts with a rejecting community and face their own choices. Such themes are often portrayed against the background of universal human dilemmas as well as ancient or Shakespearian motives. Today Warlikowski is listed among the leading directors of the European theatre. His opera performances staged since 2000 have brought him a wide international acclaim.
Illustrations: Tomasz Opaliński
opera in three acts
The most renowned Polish opera of the twentieth century has captured the imagination of subsequent opera directors with its mystery, sensuality, and ambiguous message open to interpretation.
The tale of the Sicilian king fascinated with a mysterious shepherd and heretic is based on ancient literary traditions and the cult of Dionysius. The story is filled with dramatic tensions arising between the order sanctioned by culture and religion and ecstatic desires evoked by a visit of the stranger.
“I believe that any musical composition, regardless of it philosophical, emotional, and atmospheric background, is always a work of “pure music.”
Szymanowski was born into a family of the noble class in what is today’s Ukraine. The artist’s imagination must have been deeply influenced by the vastness of the landscape and cultural diversity. Fascinated with foreign lands and cultures, Szymanowski was an avid traveller. The most interesting feature of his works is the clash of various traditions: folk and christian traditions of Poland on the one hand, and the western culture with its modern and liberated, also sexually, practices, on the other; a cross between the ancient Europe and the sensual Orient. Such an artistic combination resulted in internal tensions and a search for a new order for the world, in which opposites could co-exist. Szymanowski’s artistic achievements gave a true reflection of the social, political, and artistic upheaval experienced by the composer living at the turn of the century. He was the one to make the transition from the romanticism of his beloved Chopin to modern solutions, which became a source of inspiration for Lutosławski and Górecki. During his lifetime, he gained more acclaim abroad than in his home country. Polish listeners didn’t appreciate his compositions until the post-war period. For the last several years, Szymanowski’s art has been regaining in global popularity. World-class conductors have been rediscovering his music intrigued by the ground-breaking sensuality of King Roger. Composed by the openly homosexual artist, the work has been named the first gay opera in history.
Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima
When the then 26-year-old Krzysztof Penderecki wrote the Threnody, he was already a sensation on the Polish music scene.
The initial title Penderecki gave to his piece: 8’37’’ (the approximate duration) emphasized the composition’s abstract qualities and sound effects inspired by electronic experiments. The composition was so emotionally charged that, apparently encouraged by his friends, Penderecki changed the title into Threnody and added a dedication to the victims of the nuclear bomb. The change made it easier for the listeners to accept the shocking sound effects while the work was presented in radio stations worldwide. Initially, the Threnody sparked protests of musicians, who found it too revolutionary and claimed their instruments were put at risk. However, each performance made such a strong impression that it eventually earned Penderecki wide acclaim from the audience and musicians as well.
“I was interested in the avant-garde but at the same time I remained constantly inspired by tradition (…). I wanted to demolish and then I always wanted to reconstruct.”
Born in Dębica to a family of Polish, German, and Armenian origins, Penderecki soon became one of the most important figures on the Polish music scene and its most famous ambassador abroad. He established his authority through the popularity of his early avant- garde compositions, whose ideas the composer later developed in longer forms. At that time Penderecki more and more often turned to religious themes, which found their greatest expression in the renowned St. Luke Passion (1966). Penderecki composed soundtracks to animated films and a film by Wojciech Jerzy Has The Saragossa Manuscript (1964). Since the disturbing atmosphere created by the Threnody and similar compositions went particularly well with horror films, Penderecki’s music has been used in many world- famous horrors, including Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Penderecki’s music sparked interest among artists beyond the classical music genres such as the composer and guitarist of Radiohead, Jonny Greenwood. Penderecki and Greenwood gave a few joined performances in Poland and Europe.
The Concerto for Cello and Orchestra
When Lutosławski received a commission from the Royal Philharmonic Society in London to compose a longer piece, the composer suggested composing the first in his career concerto for an instrument and orchestra.
Drawing much of his inspiration from the field of theatre, Lutosławski created a piece of an expressively dramatic structure telling a story of a conflict between a solo instrument and the orchestra. As a result of such an approach, the Concerto was often interpreted as a portrayal of the current political situation in Poland where the vulnerable individual is stifled by the all-powerful system. The composer’s explanation that his idea was to create nothing more than a purely musical experience proved futile.
Composer of the Concerto for cello and orchestra
“Life events have never provided the direct inspiration for my art. However, it has certainly been influenced by my mental state, which has been affected by my life experiences.”
From his early childhood, Witold Lutosławski lived through the 20 th century’s worst nightmares. The outbreak of World War II brought his promising career as a composer to a halt. Drafted to the army, he was taken prisoner by the Germans but luckily managed to escape. During the war he lost his brother. The post-war reality was not favourable to the composer whose innovative works did not reflect the aesthetics of socialist realism.
Lutosławski worked for a radio station composing various jingles and musical interludes. When the political regime somewhat relaxed its repressions during the period known as “the Thaw,” avant-garde composers were allowed to create freely and communicate with the outside world. It wasn’t long before Lutosławski’s original and sophisticated work was widely recognized and provided a gateway to his international career. The Polish composer developed his language of musical expression throughout his career, during which he employed avant-garde solutions and at the same time kept traditions alive. His aim was to “bring back the joy of compositing and the joy of performing” to his contemporaries. In his music, Lutosławski was looking for order and stability as a form of escape from everyday struggles. For him, music was a completely abstract field autonomous from the outside world.
The Symphony of Sorrowful Songs
Three parts – three songs: two of them express the mother’s sorrow for her lost child while the third one is a child’s farewell to their mother.
When Henryk Mikołaj Górecki was writing the Symphony as commissioned by the German radio station, little did he realize the stir his music would cause and the impact it would have on his career. This time the artist, who had so far been acclaimed for his sophisticated experimental compositions, avoided any radical tones, drew from folk traditions, and drastically simplified the music, which magnified the work’s emotional and mourning effects. The compulsive repetition of musical themes, which some took for oversimplification, led to misunderstandings. Górecki composed a work unlike any other: too modern and too traditional at the same time. In 1992 the prestigious Nonesuch publisher released the composition, which broke all-time records. The CD album sold over one million copies, and topped the music charts overtaking such artists as Madonna or Michael Jackson. The Symphony received critical acclaim for its innovation in bringing together tradition and modernity. Critics traced the work’s similarities to the American minimal music traditions and electronic ambient. The work has been used in more than two hundred film productions. In 2014 an exceptional performance of the symphony took place with Beth Gibbons the lead singer of Portishead as the soprano, and Krzysztof Penderecki as the conductor.
Henryk Mikołaj Górecki
“Clearly, people have found what they were missing in my music. I have struck the right note, and instinctively sensed what they longed for.”
Austerity, short-temper, and deep religiousness lay in the very nature of both his private and professional life. Although strongly attached to his native region of Silesia, Górecki was particularly fond of the mountainous region of Podhale. The composer’s appreciation for the work of Karol Szymanowski along with a thorough analysis of folk music contributed to the development of his unique style based on compulsive repetitions and solemnly mystical atmosphere, all of which found their greatest expression in Symphony no 3.
Illustrations: Urszula Palusińska
The Captive Mind
Collection of 9 essays
In the early 1950s when the Stalinism prevailed in Poland, Czesław Miłosz worked as a diplomat, first in the USA, and then in Paris.
At that time he was already a distinguished poet in Poland. His work for the totalitarian regime raised growing personal doubts. In 1951 Miłosz resigned from fulfilling his obligations as a diplomat and sought political asylum in France. He was the first major intellectual from the communist countries not only to “desert” but also carry out an in- depth analysis of his situation, which he did in The Captive Mind released two years later. His political and philosophical reflections on the situation of writers entangled in the totalitarian system won wide international acclaim. The publication has given rise to ongoing disputes and debates regarding Miłosz’s approach and attitude towards the topic that continue.
“Only the blind may not be capable of seeing the tragic situation that human beings have found themselves in since they decided to take the matters into their own hands and eliminate any chance occurrence.”
The writer had enough experiences to last several lifetimes. Named the witness of the 20 th century, Miłosz lived through all major events from World War I through the October Revolution to the Poland’s access to the European Union. During his life, the writer lived in several countries on two continents. He explored all literary genres although he considered himself to be first and foremost a poet. With the publication of The Captive Mind came the writer’s recognition as a world-class intellectual and authority on Eastern Europe, which he would explain to a western reader in his numerous essays. The readers were intrigued by his unique perspective of a double outsider. Miłosz looked at the West through the lens of a Pole and a catholic, whereas at Poland through the prism of a person born in multicultural Lithuania. That’s where his lifelong aversion to any nationalisms came from. After 1960 the writer settled down in the USA. The Nobel Prize in Literature awarded in 1980 strengthened his already established status as an outstanding poet and thinker.
a poem from the collection Calling Out to Yeti
The most frequently quoted poem by Wisława Szymborska.
The day when the Nobel Prize Laureate in Literature was announced, it was Nothing Twice that made the first page of newspapers in Poland and worldwide. This poem was also read by the poet during her Nobel Prize Laureate meeting with readers in Stockholm. The critics consider the collection of poetry Calling Out to Yeti, which includes Nothing Twice, as the poet’s proper debut. Although it is the poet’s third collection of poetry, it shows the features typical of her poetry such as simplicity, melody, and the use of paradox as the essential rhetorical figure. Szymborska was a fan of jazz and her poetry inspired jazz musicians, including, Stańko and Komeda. The song version of Nothing Twice as performed by Łucja Prus and composed by Andrzej Mundkowski gained great popularity. On the day of Szymborska’s funeral this melody was performed from the tower of St. Mary’s Church in Kraków instead of the traditional trumpet call. The poem was also performed by Kora and Maanam.
“Contemporary poets are sceptical and suspicious even, or perhaps mostly, about themselves. They are reluctant to publicly admit to being poets as if they were a bit ashamed of it… ”
Szymborska made her debut as a poet in 1945. Initially, she was a supporter of the social realism, which she later attributed to the naivety of youth. She married a poet, Adam Włodek, whom she divorced 6 years later. For 23 years she was in a relationship with a writer Kornel Filipowicz. The poet published only 350 poems, which gives 4-5 poems a year. When asked why so few, she would answer: I’ve got a paper bin at home. In the 1996 Nobel Prize award ceremony speech she was praised for “poetry that with ironic precision allows the historical and biological context to come to light in fragments of human reality.” The poet addressed important issues using a simple, and reader-friendly language. Her poetry has been translated to 42 languages, and her collections of poetry were bestsellers even in countries where poetry is not commonly read. She hated media hype. The popularity brought by the Nobel Prize was so difficult for her to handle that she humorously divided her life into the before and after “the Stockholm tragedy.”
Stanisław Lem wrote Solaris in June 1959 in the renowned artist residency house, Astoria, in Zakopane.
As the writer put it himself, the novel flowed out of him. He couldn’t tell himself where the story was going. The novel was adapted to the big screen three times. Lem wasn’t particularly fond of any film version. Lem did not approve of the changes made by Tarkowski, or Soderbergh’s Hollywood production starring Clooney. The only film based on his writings that the writer enjoyed was “Przekładaniec” (literally “Layer Cake”) directed by Andrzej Wajda. The author wrote the screenplay himself.
“We don’t want to conquer the universe, we simply want to stretch the Earth to the limits of the universe. We are civil and chivalrous; we don’t want to conquer other races; we simple want to bequeath our values to them and take over their heritage in exchange.”
Lem spent his childhood and teenage years in Lviv. His father was a respected laryngologist. Even though his parents were of Jewish origins, Lem was brought up as a catholic. He declared himself to be an atheist. With the help of falsified documents, the Lem family managed to avoid the ghetto during the war. Lem worked as a mechanic, which he liked to mention while dealing with skilled workers. The writer was keen on skiing and learning foreign languages: he spoke 6 of them. He was a student at medical school but never sat the final exams. Considered one of the major 20 th century science-fiction writers, Lem is the most translated Polish author. Lem’s talent was first recognized among readers in Germany, where his books were bestsellers. In Russia, Lem enjoyed a celebrity status. His meetings with readers were organized by cosmonauts, writers, and scientists. The writer was critical of the American science-fiction literature referring to it as badly-written, thoughtless and commercial rubbish. Nevertheless, his books won considerable acclaim among American critics but never mass popularity among American readers. Philip K. Dick, a legendary American science-fiction writer, questioned the existence of the Polish writer. He believed that LEM was an acronym for a KGB secret unit. In his letter to the FBI, Dick warned against a conspiracy of Marxist writers plotting to take control over the American science-fiction.
The novel is constructed of 116 elements – seemingly non-related but intertwined mini-stories.
Some are several-page-long narratives while others just notes composed of a few sentences. They all address the theme of a constant journey. Another motif recurring throughout the book is that of a cabinet of curiosities and the history of conserving the human body. Tokarczuk spent three years on writing Flights while being on a journey herself. The novel is made of texts “written on scraps of paper, in notebooks, on postcards, the palm of a hand, napkins, and the books’ margins.” Tokarczuk and the translator of the novel into English, who changed the novel’s title into Flights (the Polish version being Bieguni), won the Man Booker International Prize in 2018. It was the first time for a Polish author to receive this prestigious prize.
“Why read a novel when you can see the series? Why read a biography when you follow life of celebrities on the web? The world is missing something when we experience it through the glass of the screen."
Tokarczuk was born in a small town of Sulechów. She earned a degree in psychology, worked as a psychotherapist and a therapist for AA groups that she started. In late 1980s she left for England, where she developed her language skills and did odd jobs, including that of a hotel maid. The writer made her debut with short stories published under a pseudonym. Her first publication was a collection of poetry, so far the only one, and her first novel The Journey of the Book People. The author is recognized for wearing dreadlocks, which she sees as a symbol of blurring boundaries between races and cultures. Tokarczuk lives in the city of Wrocław and her country house in Krajanów near Nowa Ruda. The author was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for 2018. In his award ceremony speech, Per Wästberg, a writer, human rights activist, and member of the Swedish Academy, referred to Tokarczuk as “a bard of the global stature” who does not retreat from the truth, even the most difficult one to accept such as colonialism or antisemitism. Her books revive the hope for Europe without borders. Tokarczuk is known for her literary achievements as well as her progressive views. She has been engaged in social campaigns for the rights of many marginalized social groups including persons with disabilities and sexual minorities. She is a supporter of pro-democratic and environmentally friendly movements.
Illustrations: Łukasz Majewski – Tin Boy
Mr Rouse builds his House
On the scene of the children’s literature of that time, it was a breakthrough book: avantgarde, educational, and funny.
Simple, humorous black-and-white illustrations stimulate the reader’s imagination. By intertwining with the written text, they enrich and complete the reading experience. The Themersons were a couple both in their private and professional lives. Franciszka used to draw illustrations while Stefan would write stories. They started working on children’s books right after graduation. They completed and inspired each other. Their cooperation resulted in several publications. The artists’ fascination with technology and their fondness for art grew out of the then current manifestos of the European avant-garde. Franciszka created illustrations for books written by different authors as well. In her graphic art and typography she retreated from traditional editing solutions. She moved beyond the idea of a horizontal text and used a variety of fonts and colours. When drawing in colour, the artist limited her palette to the maximum of four. Black remained her favourite colour, which she called the colour of the future.
“I was born into this world (...) with a pencil in my hand.”
She came from a Warsaw-based family of assimilated Jews. She was said to be an exceptionally talented child who learned how to draw before she could walk. Stefan, three years younger than Franciszka, was born in Płock. They were childhood friends. They got married in 1931 during their college years. As a couple, the artists created not only books but also avant-garde films. Right before the outbreak of World War II, they went to Paris, and later to England. They settled down in London, where they lived until the end of their lives. In 1948 the artists set up a publishing company Gaberbocchus, which published “bestlookers,” or books that were pleasing to the eye. They took great care in selecting authors for publication. Franciszka worked as an illustrator, editor, and cover designer while Stefan as an editor and writer. Gaberbocchus was named the most significant artistic publishing house of the 1950s and 1960s in Great Britain. Leading European avant-garde writers trusted them with their works. One of their biggest successes was the first English edition of the Ubu King by a surrealist Alfred Jarry.
Wozzeck – an opera poster
poster, 96x67 cm
The poster was designed on commission of the Warsaw Opera in 1964. Bohdan Wodiczko, the director of the opera, used to leave the poster design to the artists’ discretion.
He would say that they were the experts in the field. In effect, the designed posters were of the highest artistic quality. Lenica’s poster promoted Alban Berg’s avant-garde and violent opera, whose performance was eventually banned by the censorship. Nevertheless, the poster was exhibited at the 1 st edition of International Poster Biennale in Warsaw in 1966, where it won the golden medal. The poster wasn’t put up all over town until 1984 when the opera was finally staged. Lenica’s posters disappeared from the city streets at an astonishing rate. The inhabitants of Warsaw, who longed for colour, would take the posters down only to display them at their own homes.
“The success of the Polish poster was brought by its difference and distinctiveness. We enjoyed absolute artistic freedom. We could design posters like no other created in Europe.”
Lenica had an artistic background. Both his grandfather, Piotr Kubowicz, and his father, Alfred Lenica, were painters. His early musical education influenced his artistic expression. The graphic artist used to say that “The poster must sing!” When designing an opera poster, he listened to the opera music while libretto wasn’t as important. “There is nothing more than music in the opera and I’m doing my best to visualize it.” Beginning with 1963 Jan Lenica worked and lived mostly in France and Germany. He was a lecturer at the Harvard University in Cambridge, Hochschule der Kunste in Berlin. He also headed the animated film department at the university in Kassel. As a stage designer, Lenica cooperated with opera houses in Wiesbaden and Cologne. He also made a name for himself a pioneering filmmaker of animations. The term “The Polish School of Poster Art” is attributed to Lenica. This was an artistic movement that the graphic artist co-created along with Tomaszewski, Młodożeniec, Świerzy and Cieślewicz. The Polish poster art was widely recognized for its distinctiveness and spontaneity. The posters were more like paintings. Rather than selling and advertising, the Polish artists shared their artistic vision. They did not have to win the clients or adapt their art to satisfy their needs.
a poster, 82x59 cm
Cieślewicz used a well-known photo of a Cuban revolutionist Ernesto Che Guevara, which was taken by Alberto Korda in Havana in 1960.
Che is 31 years old in the photograph. The slogan: Che Si! (Che Yes!) is a direct reference to songs sung by Cuban revolutionists Cuba Si, Yanquis No! (‘Cuba yes! Yankees no!’). The photograph of the revolutionary fighter with the appearance of a Hollywood star has become an icon of pop culture, a symbol of revolution, combat, youth, and rebellion. The constantly multiplied and transformed face of Che has been recognized as a graphic symbol rather than a visualization of the communist ideas.
“I believe that talent is mostly about luck, but persistence is fundamental.”
For Cieślewicz the role of a graphic artist was to confront the present day reality. In 1967 he actively engaged in creating a new cultural magazine for left-wing intellectuals Opus International. The third issue was devoted to visual arts and Cuban revolution. The magazine was published in early October 1967. Guevara died a few days later. Copies of Cieślewicz’s poster and Korda’s photography were displayed throughout Paris. Cieślewicz was born in Lviv. He earned a degree in graphic design at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków. After his graduation, he moved to Warsaw, where he designed posters, exhibition catalogues, and books. At the same time, he achieved a spectacular success as an artistic director of a newly created monthly magazine Ty i Ja. In 1963 Cieślewicz and his wife Alina Szapocznikow moved to Paris. Even though Cieślewicz didn’t know French, his art was known well enough in Paris to secure him a post at the Elle magazine. He was soon appointed the magazine’s artistic director, which opened up the gates to his spectacular career in the west. He was a much sought-after designer of posters and advertising campaigns. The graphic artist created the Vogue layout and headed advertising agencies. Cieślewicz and Szapocznikow were considered as one of the most attractive couples on the artistic scene of Paris. They represented the worlds of fashion and art. Cieślewicz has been internationally recognized for his considerable artistic achievements, which include a wide variety of themes, motives, and techniques.
British Steel cover art for Judas Priest album
One of the most distinguished album covers in the history of heavy metal was the outcome of the fourth project carried out in cooperation between the band and Rosław Szaybo, who also designed their logo.
The cover art was meant to represent the power and sharp nature of the music. It also served as a tribute to the British workers on strike in the early 1980s. When the Polish artist heard the album, he had a sudden mental image of British steel razor blades, more durable and solid than their Polish counterparts, which were smuggled to Poland and sold at open- air markets. Szaybo commissioned the production of a large-scale steel razor with the engraved band’s name and the album’s title. He grabbed the razor with his own hand and asked his assistant to take a photograph.
“It’s crucial who you work with. If you design covers for musicians that have made history, you become part of that myth as well.”
Szaybo’s artistic roots can be traced back to the Polish School of Poster Art. The artist creatively combined its painterly aesthetics, collage techniques and cool minimalism. He quickly found himself among jazz musicians, which resulted in numerous friendships and commissions. On the Polish scene of album cover art, Szaybo’s most significant achievement was the graphic art created for the first series of “Polish Jazz” albums, which brought Polish musicians to international spotlight. The artist was praised for accurately representing the qualities of various music genres through visual elements. He would often base his artwork on a single photograph that undergone extensive graphic transformations. In 1966 Szaybo emigrated to Great Britain, where he took the post of an artistic director at the CBS Records in London thanks to a recommendation of his college friend and a renowned graphic artist himself, Stanisław Zagórski. He worked for the company for fifteen years earning an absolute trust of his employers, which gave him a total control over the aesthetics of the covers published by the record company. While in London in the 1960s, Szaybo witnessed the birth of counter-culture. He created cover art for over 500 albums of such renowned musicians as Leonard Cohen, Janis Joplin, and The Clash.
Illustrations: Marta Tomiak
The photographic series
Blurry, hazy, out-of-focus shots make it difficult to tell whether they are photographs or paintings. Such images make the most painterly photography series by Edward Hartwig.
Willow trees and the landscape are the main motifs of his art. He used to say that willows were photographed by many but no one made an effort to show them in their complexity. For the artist, photography was not a documentary but a painting. Hartwig’s willows went down in the history for one more reason. They turned into a nightmare for a jury of a photography contest in Lublin. Hartwig won one of its editions with a photograph featuring two boys walking along a path among willow trees. A year later, several similar photos were submitted. Everybody decided to take a picture of the same tree.
“Colour in the impressionist paintings was the main inspiration for me. I tried to adopt a similar approach in photography, in black-and-white photography, which seems literally
Hartwig specializes in landscape, theatre, architecture, and sports photography. He experimented in each field with photography and editing techniques. Hartwig’s art escapes any classifications balancing on the edge of graphic art and painting. Initially, the artist wanted to go into painting, however, encouraged by his father, also a photographer, he changed his mind. Edward Hartwig is one of a few Polish artistic photographers who have won wide international acclaim. His works can be found in museums around the world, including Great Britain, the USA, Israel, and many private collections. In 1960 Hartwig won the gold medal for sports photography at the Olympic Games in Rome. He was a deeply Polish artist but a global thinker.
The photographic series
13 years of work, 20 thousand photographs, countless trips around Poland and abroad, visits in houses and apartments, candid photographs and carefully posed shots, focus on people, but also décor or home accessories – this is what makes Zofia Rydet’s Record.
Her two lifelong passions, people and photography, were brought together in her Sociological Record. Initially, the photographer meant to focus on home décor, objects, and the surroundings rather than a person, who was supposed to be merely sitting motionlessly looking straight at the camera. And yet, the photographer quickly noticed that the person is the main focal point in the picture. Rydet liked the idea of playing with the traditional portrait photography. The photographer changed her style several times. She took photographs of the subject on the threshold of a house, inside their home, with a photo of the pope, against souvenirs and trinkets. As Rydet did not have a car, she was often driven for her photo shoots by her friends. Apparently, they would often spend the night at the photographed houses.
“Home is (…) a reflection of the society, civilization, and culture where it has been created; no two people are alike as no two homes are alike.”
Rydet graduated from the University of Life Science in Snopków, near Lviv. It wasn’t until a mature age that Rydet took a serious interest in photography. Not much is known about her personal life as the photographer did not like to talk about herself. She believed that photography mattered the most. Rydet hated wasting her time. At the end of her life she used to work constantly to take as many photographs as possible. Rydet’s photographs are to be found in the most important collections in the world, including that of the Modern Art Museum in New York. It’s not commonly known that some photographs making Record were also taken in France, Vilnius, Opava, and New York. It’s not difficult to spot the differences between them. In the foreign photographs there are more empty streets and impersonal facades of buildings while Polish photographs are filled with people and vibrant life.
December of 1981 was a particularly difficult period in the history of Poland. The atmosphere of Warsaw was charged with political tensions, declared state of emergency, uncertain future and hopelessness.
Chris Niedenthal captured the complexity of the situation in one photography. The moment the photographer saw the scene with an armoured military vehicle and the Moscow cinema screening Apocalypse Now in the background, he realized it was a perfect news story. All he needed to do was to find a safe place to take the photograph. Taking photos on the streets, particularly taking photos of the military during the state of emergency, meant putting yourself at the risk of detention, to say the least. However, it quickly became apparent that taking a photograph was a minor task in comparison with the act of sending the film to the Newsweek’s editorial office in Berlin. It was made possible with the help of a German student who agreed to smuggle the package.
“The essence is was matters most to me; the essential flavour of whatever I’m cooking. For me the same applies to photography: simple, free from innovations or special effects but capturing the essence.”
Niedenthal had a great feeling for capturing the right moment. He was always present when significant events happened. He was the first to photograph the town of Wadowice soon after Karol Wojtyła was elected the pope. He was also the first foreign reporter to document the strikes at the Gdańsk Shipyard. Although his first name is British, Niedenthal is the son of Polish immigrants. He spent his early years in London, where he earned a degree in photography. It wasn’t until 1998 that he was awarded the Polish citizenship. Niedenthal photographed leading politicians of the 20 th century including Margaret Thatcher, Helmut Kohl, Boris Yeltsin, Lech Wałęsa. He received international acclaim for his photographs documenting the everyday life of the People’s Republic of Poland, which often made the “Newsweek’s” covers. The photographer also documented the socialist reality of other communist countries. In 1986 he was awarded the World Press Photo award for the portrait of János Kádár, the General Secretary of the Hungarian Communist Party.
The First Lesson of Killing
A black and white photograph featuring two young cheetahs looking slightly frightened or astonished.
They are twisting their heads observing a gazelle standing between them. The gazelle is looking straight at the camera with fear in the eyes. It’s clearly trapped. There is nowhere to escape. The first lesson of killing has gained such wide recognition that it has been included in many photography textbooks around the world. The photo won Gudzowaty The World Press Photo award in 1999 in the nature category as well as international fame and recognizability. As one of a very few photographers representing Eastern Europe who have been awarded the prize, Gudzowaty confirmed his mastery only a year later when he won two more awards in the same contest.
“Vision is born from life experiences, your own and others’; it’s not about putting it into practice but rather verifying and finding its equivalent in the given reality.”
Most of Gudzowaty’s photography projects are black and white with each picture being perfected aesthetically. Each project makes a complete whole, a one-of-its-kind essay usually consisting of 12 photographs. The photographer’s career started quite unexpectedly as he was initially planning to pursue a career in the field of law. However, his first trip to Africa and subsequent success of his photography projects totally changed his plans. His artistic development has been influenced by many renowned artists, among them a Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado. To list all contests that the photographer has taken part in and all prizes and distinctions that he has received would be a challenging task. The sole fact that Gudzowaty won the World Press Photo nine times makes him one of the most acclaimed photographers in the world. For the last few years, the artist has been involved in projects related to sports photography, which as he says “combines subtle metaphysical experiences and unusual social awareness.” He has continued working on wildlife photography and social problems. In 1999 the Polish Postal Services issued a series of stamps titled “Wildlife in Africa” featuring Gudzowaty’s photographs.
Illustrations: Łukasz Zbieranowski / Fajne Chłopaki
The Woman in the Green Bugatti
oil on wooden board, 35x27 cm
The painting was created on commission of the German fashion magazine Die Dame.
When the magazine’s publisher saw the extraordinary beauty near a casino in Monte Carlo, he asked Łempicka to pose for the magazine’s cover. Łempicka offered to paint her self-portrait instead. The exceptionally elegant artist created her own image. She allowed to be photographed only from one profile, the one shown in the self-portrait. Art historians see Łempicka’s Self-portrait as a representative symbol of art deco aesthetics. In her easily recognizable style, the artist brought together the classical (renaissance) aesthetics and modern cubistic forms. The painted surfaces produce a metallic sheen and look as if they were polished.
“Among hundreds of paintings, you could easily recognize mine.”
Tamara Gurwik-Górska was born in 1898 most probably in Moscow although she used to name Warsaw as her birthplace. Her mother was Polish while her father a Russian entrepreneur of Jewish origins. In 1916 she married Tadeusz Łempicki. In 1918 to escape the revolution the couple left for Paris. There, the artist took up painting lessons and had her first exhibition. Soon, a craze for Łempicka’s works swept among affluent aristocracy and bourgeoisie. The artist used to portray them as sensual deities transferred to the times of jazz and foxtrot. Before her 28th birthday, Łempicka earned million dollars from her paintings. She was called la belle Polonaise (‘the Polish beauty’). Her career cut short by the outbreak of World War II. She escaped to the USA, where her art did not catch on. Her works were associated with banality. Łempicka was still popular but more for her exclusive and extravagant lifestyle rather than her art. In 1978 she moved to Mexico, where she died in 1980. Łempicka’s art was recognized again in the 1970s. Today her paintings reach exorbitant prices, much higher than any other Polish artist’s. Łempicka’s paintings are to be found among collections of such Hollywood celebrities as Barbra Streisand, Jack Nicholson and Madonna.
Afterimage of Light: Redhead
oil on canvas, 55x82 cm
Władysław Strzemiński was a painter and art theoretician, who analysed the mechanisms behind vision and perception.
An afterimage is an optical phenomenon produced by the anatomy of the retina. The light leaves a trace – an afterimage – inside the eye. It is easy to experience it when gazing at a source of light, the sun or a light bulb, for a few seconds and closing your eyes. The redhead from the painting is said to be Hanka Orzechowska, one of Strzemiński’s students, who the painter had an affair with. Afterimage is also the title of Andrzej Wajda’s film about the final years of Strzemiński’s life. The artist was portrayed by Bogusław Linda. Although he lost an arm and a leg, Strzemiński enjoyed popularity among women. His disability is not to be seen on photographs. He is usually sitting or standing behind someone hiding his crutches or masking the missing arm with a loose sleeve tucked into a pocket.
“Looking is not the same as seeing. Facing the same view, medieval peasants and the 19th century proletarians would look at the same thing but see something different.”
Strzemiński was born into a Polish family in Mińsk (a territory occupied by the Russians). As his father was an officer in the Tzar’s army, it was apparent that Władysław would serve in the military as well. During the war, he lost one arm, a leg, and vision in one eye. It was in a hospital where he met a young volunteer and his future wife, Katarzyna Kobro. They escaped Russia in 1922 and settled down in the Polish city of Łódź. They both made a living mostly as teachers. After the war Strzemiński participated in the creation of the Academy of Fine Arts in Łódź, where he worked until 1950. In that year, he was expelled from the institution being accused of disrespecting the standards of the social realism doctrine. Deprived of a source of income, the artist worked as a window display designer. As he was getting weaker with hunger, his health started deteriorating. He died of tuberculosis in a hospital. Strzemiński and his wife belonged to the world’s elite of avant-garde artists, which allowed the painter to create an international collection of modern art. His collection provided a foundation for the Art Museum in Łódź – the second institution with this type of collection in the world following the MOMA in New York.
Execution VIII Surreal
oil on canvas, 130x199 cm
The painting belongs to a series of eight paintings addressing the same theme of Execution.
They were numbered by the artist’s mother while preparing the painter’s posthumous exhibition. She misarranged their chronological order, though. While painting Executions, Wróblewski used authentic Nazi propaganda photographs of mass street executions from
1939. Blue is the colour of death for Wróblewski as it evokes the temperature of a decaying body. When asked by his friend, Andrzej Wajda, why he painted all of the dead bodies blue, the artists ironically answered that he had a large and highly efficient tube of Prussian blue. Wróblewski did not enjoy engaging in conversations about his own art, making confessions or sharing personal stories.
“A painting is a voice that talks about the important, terrifying, and depressing issues. The painting wants to portray what can’t be portrayed, and to comprehend death, which is beyond comprehension.”
Andrzej Wróblewski inherited his artistic talent after his mother, an artist herself, and his first teacher. He was a witness to his father’s death of, most probably, heart attack during a search by Nazi soldiers in 1941. It came as a tremendous shock for a fourteen-year-old boy. Throughout his life, the artist was looking for a way to express his trauma and horrors of the war. In his youth Wróblewski developed a fascination for the communism, which he believed would be a cure for injustice and fascism. Even though he was willing to follow the
aesthetics of social realism, the artist did not gain the acceptance of the ruling party. He, his wife and three children lived in poverty. The painter died suddenly during an excursion to the Tatra mountains, at the age of nearly 30. Most probably he suffered from an attack of epilepsy. He found was sitting under a tree on a trail to Morskie Oko Lake. His skull was shattered, his hand was bitten, and he had pyjama bottoms over his ski pants. Wróblewski has had a considerable impact on subsequent generations of Polish artists. However, it took a long time before his art won international acclaim. The painter’s first individual exhibition aboard was organized no earlier than fifty years after his death. Following several international events, Wróblewski’s name is now listed along such giants of the 20th century painting as Pollock or Rothko.
The Forest (Shoah)
painting, oil on canvas, 45x45 cm
A small square covered in a whirl of green and white paint. It takes a closer look at the painting to recognize what it represents.
In his art, Sasnal never employs fiction and rarely turns to abstract representations. Depicting a real scene, The Forest is a painting with a key. In his early career following the graduation from the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków, Sasnal was completely obsessed with the Holocaust. As a result, he created a series of paintings exploring this theme. His work often resembles film scenes. The same is true about The Forest, which is a direct reference to Claude Lanzmann’s film Shoah. The painting shows the moment when the director, an interpreter and the Shoah witness are discussing the war experiences walking in the forest near the former death camp in Treblinka.
“My mind is unable to create fiction. My art is always grounded in reality.”
Wilhelm Sasnal has been developing his art projects in the field of painting and for over a decade film. When as a student Sasnal belonged to a group of artists called Grupa Ładnie, the Polish critics nicknamed him a “pop-banalist.” For Sansal, anything could provide the impulse behind the creation of a painting be it an overheard conversation, a historic event, or his own life experience. The artist is often inspired by photography, media, and press. One of the artists that have had a significant impact on his art is a painter, Andrzej Wróblewski. The year of 2002 marks the start of the artist’s international recognition. The breakthrough came when the Warsaw-based art gallery, Foksal Gallery Foundation, displayed the artist’s works during the most renowned art fair in the world, Art Basel, in Switzerland. There, the artist achieved an unprecedented success. All his paintings were sold out and all major art magazines featured articles about the painter. Since then, Sasnal’s art has been exhibited all over the world and his paintings are included in the collections of the most significant art institutions.