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Szukalski: Visionary Artist
images collected from the web
by J.D. Callaghan
(Laguna Art Museum, Orange County)
"The work of Stanislav Szukalski is dramatic and eccentric
in the extreme. Marked by excellent technical skill as a draftsman
and a strange vision which is at once mythological, humanistic,
propagandistic, and futuristic.
interpret the work, one must know something of the artist’s
tumultuous personal history. He died in 1987 in relative obscurity
in Los Angeles.
Born in Poland, he was acclaimed as among that country’s
elite artists during the decades between the two World Wars. Most
of that early work was destroyed by the Nazi invasion, and Szukalski
fled to the U.S., ultimately settling in Los Angeles.
volatile, obsessive, and confrontational personality effectively
barred entry into the art world here, and he responded by immersion
in a highly personal vision and a steadfast refusal to acknowledge
the work of his contemporaries, While work done before World
War II was symbolic, detailed and quasi-avant garde, after the
war highly egomaniacal obsessions shaped it. The work here details
the mix of political, anthropological, and futuristic ideas
as they are embodied through a universe of tortured and heroic
figures drawn from popular to primitive culture. Szukalski was
largely a self-taught artist.
His solipsistic vision allowed for him to regard himself as
locked in monumental conflict with a world that was not just
wrong but brutally so. Thus he sought to visually recast the
world the way he thought it should be. The result as seen here
is a combination of obscure delusion and a gifted paranoid’s
PAINTINGS and DRAWINGS
Stanislav Szukalski was born in Gidle, Poland, about 1893.(from
When he was only six years old, a teacher sent him to
the headmaster's office for whittling a pencil. The headmaster
examined the pencil more closely and discovered that young
Stanislav had carved a tiny, near-perfect figure. Instead
of punishing him he called the local newspaper which did
a feature on the art prodigy.
As a teenager Szukalski studied art at the Fine Arts Academy
in Krakow and won two gold medals. He moved to Chicago
in 1913 and learned English from reading National Geographic
magazines. He was soon welcomed as one of the Chicago
Renaissance luminaries along with Ben Hecht, Carl Sandburg,
and Clarence Darrow. Szukalski achieved recognition as
an art genius, and a major monograph on his work was published
by the time he was thirty. He returned to Poland in 1927
to work on his sculpture but was stopped by the Siege
of Warsaw in 1939.
Though he lost all his early work in the German invasion,
he somehow managed to escape back to the United States
and moved to California to live with his American wife.
By then forgotten, he lived in obscurity, spending the
rest of his life obsessively making art meant to prove
a theory that all human culture derived from a single
origin on Easter Island after the biblical Deluge of Noah.
He illustrated thirty volumes of text devoted to a pseudoscience
he invented and called "Zermatism," which purported
to show that all languages derive from a single ancient
language and that all art could be distilled down to a
single series of universal symbols. According to his theory,
differences in races and cultures were due primarily to
inter-species breeding between near-perfect ancestral
beings and the "Yetinsyn" (humanoid creatures
reputed to live in remote Himalayan valleys which some
people call "Abominable Snowmen")
Szukalski died in 1987. A year later his ashes, along
with those of his wife,
were scattered at Rano Raraku, the sculptor's quarry on
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