Death of an Artist
25 July 1999

One of Poland's leading lights has passed away, but his in sights into modern culture remain.

Władysław Hasior, one of this century's greatest Polish artists, died at the age of 71 in Cracow's Neurosurgical Clinic on Wednesday, July 13. His final months were spent between his studio in Zakopane and Cracow hospitals.

I met with Hasior in February at his studio-cum-gallery/apartment in Zakopane. Thanks to an earlier phone conversation, I was aware that he was not in the best of health. He spoke slowly, almost in a whisper, asking me to phone back later. Two days later he agreed to meet. "You can come," he whispered slowly and almost inaudibly. Overjoyed, I asked when. "What do you mean when? At this moment!" Those working at Hasior's gallery did not believe that he had agreed to meet with anyone. I was allowed to enter only after a further intercom confirmation: "Sir, a man has arrived saying that he has arranged to meet with you. Should I send him up?"

His personality shocked me, his penetrating gaze was paralyzing. From the gallery came the sound of unnerving psychedelic music. He did not say a word, shuffling very slowly into the kitchen. Chaos reigned throughout the fairly substantial living space, although it seemed as if every object was in its rightful place. On the walls was a collection of dozens of unexhibited works, new and old. Under the windows were rows of small shelves, carefully lit for the display of hundreds of framed slides.

Five minutes later he arrived with cold tea, half of which was already in the saucer. At this point I asked my first question. I was interested in how he viewed the future of art and culture in the computer age. Hasior laughed, "Come over here," he whispered, walking toward a pyramid of slides. He showed me them without a word, smiling the whole time. The pictures were old. I figured they were his work. Many pictures had been pasted together from two different photographs-creating a contrast between two seemingly distinct images. The photographs were an accumulation of disorderly placed objects, geometric concrete forms, landscapes and propaganda slogans clashing with the actual appearance of cities, roads and buildings.

I did not expect it to be so difficult to understand Hasior. It was hard to talk to him. His replies to questions were long, whispered and seemed to wander from the point. For an hour he moved around the whole studio, showing me many of his new comparative works. "Look at this," he whispered, offering two illustrations. One was an advert for a water pump-a scantily clad woman with conspicuous bosom; behind her an angel was rising in flight. The second picture, a reproduction of a Renaissance work, showed a woman in an identical pose. "This is dishonest," he said, distinctly irritated. "They are not allowed to do this to us." At the end of the meeting I realized he had finally answered my original question.

He didn't allow me to photograph him. As I took photos of his studio, he left, looking tired. I decided to leave. He left with the words, "Please come and visit me again sometime when you are in Zakopane-next time privately." A few weeks later, he left his studio for the hospital in Cracow, never to return.

Dominik Skurzak

Władysław Hasior Gallery, 18b Jagiellońska St., Zakopane, tel. (+48-18) 206-68-71.


Władysław Hasior was born in 1928 in Nowy Sącz to a family of Polish highlanders. In 1952 he graduated from the prestigious Zakopane High School of Fine Arts. After studying at Warsaw's Academy of Fine Arts, Hasior returned to Zakopane in 1957. Here he lectured for 10 years at the Kenara High School. At the beginning of the 1970s, he taught at the Fine Arts College (PWSSP) in Wrocław. He also designed sets for Wrocław's Polski Theater. He completed many works abroad working in Paris, Montevideo and Copenhagen. His work is generally classed together with dadaism, surrealism and pop art, but it is an original concept rooted in the Podhale region's art and culture. His style is highly expressive: metaphorical compositions made with fragments of a shocking range of materials-mirrors, old forks and mannequins, animal fur or dolls found in the trash. His work shows the uneasiness and emotion of a man who has lived through the war. He was the author of monumental works. His most famous include: Golgotha (Golgota, Montevideo 1972), Burning Pietş (Płonąca Pieta, Copenhagen 1972) and Scandinavian Chariot (Rydwan Skandynawski, Sšdertalje 1972-3). In 1984, he opened his own gallery in Zakopane, which is still there today.

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