The Art Behind Poland Part II

by Adam Strobejko

As promised, here comes the second part of my guide to the brilliant strangeness of Polish culture. Hereby I present you another artist, Witkacy. This time we are dealing with a truly universal persona: a writer, painter, photographer and philosopher.

Hipster before it was cool

Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz ‘Witkacy’ (1885-1939)

Don’t be misled by this vintage-looking picture of what seems to be an amateur time traveller. Witkacy was a genius. This man single-handedly predicted the dawn of totalitarian systems and pushed Polish art to its highest levels.

Needless to say, Witkiewicz was also a freak. He loved to manifest his eccentricity. His life was immersed in the ambience of mystery and scandal. For example, Witkacy had an agreement with his doctors-friends to provide him with drugs. Then, he used them to stimulate his mind when painting, indicating the type of substance used in the bottom corner of each piece. These “experiments” included the usage of cocaine, peyote, mescaline, ether and alcohol and were done under supervision of the same doctors. On one of his works we can even find “asphalt” as a signature, whatever the hell that means. He even took orders for painting portraits, with the price adjusted to the level of psychedelic state involved. Moreover, Witkacy wrote a book called (surprise, surprise) Drugs in which he described the effect the narcotic substances have on human brain.

Just having a cup of tea
Just having a cup of tea

He simply loved shocking people. Once, when he was about to perform yet another “gig”, his friends decided to conspire. So, when Witkacy entered the café dressed only in pyjamas, a hat and a bow-tie, they stayed completely calm and did not pay any attention to his unusual look. The artist ended up leaving the room with resignation and the feeling of failure. A curious fact to note, Witkacy had a list with the names of all his friends. When he argued with any of them, he simply crossed the name out.

Faces of Witkacy
Faces of Witkacy

Although taken for immature and obscene, Witkiewicz and his avant-garde quickly became famous and fashionable. The story of his life was not that cheerful, though. He complained on the quality and seriousness of the reception of his works. The suicide of his wife marked a personal tragedy for the artist, for which he blamed himself. Witkacy committed suicide when Soviet troops entered Poland, transforming the nightmare he predicted into reality. The theory of faking his own death and living in the shadows emerged.

Witkacy is certainly the embodiment of Polish culture at its best. When I read any of his works, I have a feeling of contacting a higher being familiar with every thought known to humankind. The artistry and avant-garde spirit could go no further.

Pictures: –


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