Contemporary Polish Graphic Art

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Contemporary Polish Graphic Art Powered By Docstoc
					Magdalena Rabizo-Birek

Contemporary Polish Graphic Art. Gielniak, Panek, graphic artists of Cracow and
Podkarpacie region.

          Contemporary Polish graphic art started to develop dynamically after 1956, when
Polish artists freed themselves from the fetters of aesthetic doctrine of socialist realism. The
turn of fifties and sixties stood out with the rich and diverse searching for forms which would
extend the means of expression characteristic for traditional graphic techniques. The Polish
graphic art of the time in a way resembled painting. Particularly monotyping was very
popular. The color was introduced intensively and the format was enlarged to such an extent
that the works could reach power of expression typical for a canvas. In the Polish graphic art
popular trends of international visual arts were reflected. Those were for example: infromel
and op art, whose visual, optical, light effects enriched common and permanent trend of
Polish art- the geometrical abstraction. Its eminent representatives among others are: Ryszard
Otręba, Zofia Artymowska, Antoni Starczewski, Jan Pamuła.
          In the Polish graphic art both then and now what attracts the viewer’s attention is a
strong inspiration from surrealism, the freedom of creative imagination, opening to accidental
and unpredictable visual effects so distinctive for this particular field of art. Moreover the
references to the tradition of art: pastiche, quotes, paraphrases, variation on the themes of
well-known works, allusions to the great masters and graphic classics: Dürer, Rembrandt,
Piranesi, Goya are present in this trend. Such a set of references may be found in the famous
cycle of linocuts Improvisations by Józef Gielniak- the most outstanding representative of the
visionary current in the Polish visual arts. He was one of the few representatives of workshop
graphic art who enjoyed widespread renown as a master. Gielniak, who died young, became
a legend, an epitome of cursed artist; he inspired writers who dedicated to him many of their
works .
          Since his childhood Gielniak had tuberculosis and he died of it. He spent his whole
life-short but filled with art- in Bukowiec tuberculosis sanatorium situated in the Karkonosze-
picturesque mountain range in the Sudetes-mountains of Lower Silesia. He was born in 1932
in France, where he studied at Fine Arts Academy in Valenciennes. From 1950 he stayed in
Poland, since 1953 he didn’t leave his sanatorium in Kowary where he worked at the archive
and where he died in 1972. Because of his illness he took individual graphical studies from
Stanisław Dawski, an eminent graphic artist and a professor at the Wroclaw Fine Arts

Academy. He especially went in for the linocut. He won many important international graphic
competitions. He was awarded: the first prize in Lubljana, the main prizes at International
Print Biennale in Cracow and Vancouver, and posthumously a Gold Medal of International
Biennale in Fredrikstad in 1972. An All-Poland Competition for Young Graphic Artist, held
cyclically in Jelenia Góra- near which he lived, worked and died, was named after Gielniak.
       The phenomenon of his works doesn't consist in experimenting, but in perfect using of
the capabilities contained in the technique he followed and above all else in diversity of his
imagination. His work method was special. He didn’t prepare any sketches, he worked on the
plate straight away being guided by an inside, intuitive vision, which he actually had
laboriously, gradually and for a long time specified. He was inspired by personal experience
and surroundings: fantastic architecture of the health resorts from 19th century (the cycle
Sanatoriums) and wonders of nature from which his favorites were: the flora and the sky.
From these elements he built the composition with an extraordinary power of expression,
which makes us think of the romantic concept of sublime Nature. His Improvisations not
only refer to famous masterpieces, but are also cosmic imaginations and ambitious attempts
to depict the secret of the Being.
       Graphic art, including workshop printing, is such field of art in which, perhaps due to
the significant role of used tools and coincidence, it is hard for the artist to express his
personality and individuality. And even when the artist doesn’t want to conceal them, the very
laborious, gradual and conceptual technique of graphic work triggers off the objectivity of the
message and depersonalizes previous concept. Even if the artist want to express intimate
personal details, after all those laborious sketches, etching and printing, he can get a “cold”,
objective, depersonalized artefact. Perhaps being aware of this particular effect of the graphic
art makes it more attractive for artists who are fascinated with the word, gifted community
workers: moralists, missionaries, those who want to put the world to rights, also visionaries
and declared realists. The phenomenon of Gielniak and partly of Jerzy Panek- another master
of the Polish graphic art- lies in their works- not only being outstanding prints bus also
suffused with the intimate power of expression and their personalities. In Gielniak’s prints we
can find motifs connected to his illness . In the work Against Illnesses he paraphrased old folk
woodcuts on the subject of exorcism. For the linocut Travel around Patient’s Card suffused
with black humor, his inspiration was characteristic graph of the hospital card. Title Grażynka
to whom he dedicated his masterpiece Improvisation was his nurse and beloved wife.
       Jerzy Panek, older than Gielniak, was born in 1918. He studied graphic art at the
Cracow Fine Arts Academy and for a short time was its lecturer. He was also awarded with

many prestigious prizes on international competitions, among others he won a Gold Medal of
International Art Triennale in New Dheli in 1971. Panek is recognized as a master of the
woodcut , he was a member of XYLON- International Association of Woodcutters in
Switzerland. He lived long and he changed the style and the subject matter of his works many
times but he remained faithful to few axioms: figuration and pureness of the graphic art. His
works- solemn woodcuts - are usually compositions in black and white. In the last years of
the artistic work he specialized in portraits- brilliant syntheses of perception and vivid
transcription. Gielniak was fascinated with disciplined diversity of expression whereas Panek
consistently aimed at extreme starkness. He was inspired by pureness, naivety, accuracy and
simplicity characteristic for chlidren’s artistic works, folk culture and naïve artists. At the
same time it is possible to decipher in his works the inspiration for the sophisticated
elementarinnes of the concept introduced by cubists, especially by Picasso in some of the
drawing series, for example: in the famous study of a bull. Panek loved expressive, feeling,
living beings: people and animal; their simple, subtle images fill up his graphic works.
         Since the end of 19th century Cracow and the artistic circle gathered around the local
Fine Arts Academy have become the important centre of the artistic graphic activity. Also one
of the most important graphic art events - once Biennale and since the end of the nineties -
International Print Trennial is held in Cracow. At the Grodzki street a Fejkel Gallery owned
by Jan Fejkel specializing in the promotion and selling graphic works of Polish artists is
open. Everybody who is interested in the contemporary Polish graphic art should visit this
         I would like to discuss the contemporary graphic art on the example of artists of our
region- South-West Poland, since few eminent artists, successful at various worldwide
exhibitions, live and work here. They present different styles and techniques. Their works
rather well render the eclectic character of the contemporary Polish print. I have chosen those
artists for whom the graphic art is important and sometimes the only mean of expression.
Usually they have graduated from graphic department at Fine Arts Academy in Cracow
therefore they continue styles, tradition and means of expression which they developed there.
The Gallery of Modern Art in Przemyśl, previously ran by graphic artists: Tadeusz
Nuckowski and Janusz Cywicki, has been for many years an important place, where Polish as
well as world graphic prints are promoted. Its cosy interior creates favorable conditions for
exhibiting this form of art. Often foreign artists’ works are presented there, lately as a part of
“Paper no Limits” presentation. On regular basis also the graphic art students or graduates
appear there, individually or in small groups they present their works during the cycle called

“Now us! Young print!”. The artistic department of University at Rzeszów, where from the
very beginning few graphic ateliers are active, has been open since the mid nineties The
graphic atelier has been an independent, separate department for a year now. Among
graduates of this department we can find quite interesting personalities. I put my hope on
Grzegorz Frydryk, Marcin Jachym, Grzegorz Bińczycki who are employed as assistants at the
University of Rzeszow.
       I would like to begin my concise elaboration on the graphic art of Podkarpacie with a
doyenne - Krzysztofa Lachtara. She practices very traditional and refined forms of print in
metal: aquatint, etching and mezzotint. She is a highly regarded author of stunning
bookplates, which are her speciality. Her works decorate many museums and private
collections. The means of expression and artist’s technique based on realistic reflection full of
reverence, elaborate details of nature: plants, trees, insects, fruits and everyday items
harmonize with the traditional form. From this rudiments of visual forms following the
example of north Austrian- German school of printing from 15th and 16th centuries, Lachtara
creates romantic compositions which combine reality and subtle, fable-like fantasy. Their
artistic values are upgraded by a subtle color scheme with a dominance of sepia, delicate
elements of deep blues, toned down green and crimson.
       Tadeusz Nuckowski from Przemyśl is inspired by the nature quite differently. His
specialities are: the linocut and the shaping of graphic objects built from elements of nature
and everyday items; he presses his compositions into stones, leaves, used tee bags, wraps
them around axes. Frequent motifs of his composition are: various, real, paraphrased and
shaped forms of writing and systems of signs. Old maps, photo albums, manuscripts, antique
books, magnified details of nature photography- ale these are his inspirations.
       Nature is also an inspiration for Łukasz Cywicki- the representative of younger
generation. From the formal point of view the impact of his huge, stunning works results from
the interesting juxtaposition of black-and-white photography of wonders of nature, unreal
negative effects and from the idea of the duplication of the same works combined together not
according to the rules of symmetry, but turned around over 180 degrees. Linocuts made on
big plates can be combined endlessly. We can see that in the monumental cycle First Day,
Second Day as well as in complementary to it lyric miniatures The Touch of Time, in which
fingerprints from his own palms are the central theme. The artist has recently worked with a
computer and awarded, stunning cycle Interior is the effect of this “collaboration”. In this
work he put his own image through a vivisection. From magnified and duplicated facial
details: eyes, lips, nostrils, forehead and hair he created forms resembling the kaleidoscope or

the mandala, which disturb with naturalistic effects. They seem to illustrate the thesis on
duality of the human nature- its beauty and atrocity.
       The geometrical abstraction is also an important trend in the Polish art. It’s practiced
by a Cracow-Rzeszow artist - Tadeusz Wiktor, a professor at the Department of Fine Arts at
University of Rzeszow, only recently also a professor at Fine Arts Academy in Cracow. He is
a philosopher- artist, a creator of his own art concept named by him the “perpetual
iconosophy”. He thinks of his artistic work as a bridge joining this world with eternity.
Monumental signs and symbols of the profane brought to an ideal form fill up his prints,
paintings and drawings. He often returns to the arch theme especially in the shape of a
window, a gate, a dome, an icon. Lights are equally important elements in his works. They
are not illusions of natural light but inner light resulting from the nature of artistic materials.
The artist creates vivid equivalents of the mystical world without materialistic nature.
        Print works of Janusz Cywicki (father of Łukasz Cywicki) present different style,
which refers to the geometrical abstraction trend, experiment of op art and to the idea of
contructivism. In Poland the cradle of this trend was prewar Łódź and the great artists of
Polish and global avant-garde: Władysław Strzemiński, Katarzyna Kobro, Henryk Stażewski
and Henryk Berlewi. After the war this trend in fine arts was practiced by: Ryszard Winiarski,
Adam Marczyński, Zbigniew Gostomski, Jan Ziemski and Jerzy Kałucki. The fact that
Cywicki adds space into the graphic art, breaking at the same time one of its constitutive rules
since such work cannot be duplicated, is a novelty in his artistic creations. Repeated,
sometimes regular using of the same print usually made in linocut technique or the screen-
printing is a kind of the substitute for duplication. In compositions the artist uses his own
previous prints, which are processed and then reused as materials for collages and
installations. We can recognize this technique as an artistic version of the popular reusage
action of recyclable materials and call it a graphic recycling. He limits the color scheme to the
minimum. He creates in black, grey, sometimes introduces elements of blue, red and green.
This starkness of color is essential to make the effects of whirling, bending space and its
chiaroscuro transition clear. Artist’s spatial works can be examined from different
perspectives and angles. Collages and graphic objects are funnily named, usually by adverbial
or adjectival titles as : Calmly, Precisely, Double, Hidden, Triple. In his manifesto the artist
from Przemyśl says that he is especially interested in space, movement, light and that his
artistic work is a kind of an intellectual game with truth, message and mystery being at stake.
These terms relate above all to the domain of art, because in the secrets of visual form-

maximally lucid, organized and aiming at harmony and in the elements set into motion the
artist is searching for his truth.
         T he graphic atelier at the University of Rzeszów is ran by Marek Olszyński, who is
inspired by German neo-expressionism, Art Brut and Neue Wilde (named in Poland - The
New Wild Ones). He is the artist with temperament and flair for social work, who
passionately speaks about the condition of modern man and criticizes the direction which the
Western civilization follows. He jeers at politics’ hypocrisy, he exposes human flaws and
vices. His means of expression are extensive; willingly and for the purpose of expression he
works with diverse, used, unconventional materials appositely making a good use of their
imperfections: discoloration, abrasion, rust, corrosion. He uses expressive figurative
deformation of expressionist origin and often he puts orthographically incorrect inscriptions
based on spontaneous artistic expression of vulgar notes and on obscene graffiti by hooligans
and vandals into his works.
         What may astonish is that young interesting Rzeszów artists, students of the big
names I have mentioned before, seem to be more conservative. For example they create
peaceful studies of still lifes, realistic genre scenes in classical techniques. The return to opt
art may be noticed in their works. The point of reference to the iconosphere of modern
civilization: popular iconography, music, graffiti, comic books (practiced professionally by
many authors in Rzeszów), commercial photography, digital pictures seem to be essential for
these artists. In times when many claim that art is over, they are searching for the reason of its
existence and its clear characteristics. In my opinion, contemporary Polish graphic art lacks
distinctive national features, it is rather a representative example of an eclectic international
                                                       Magdalena Rabizo-Birek
                                                       translated by Sylwia Pakos