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Painting


Tadeusz Kantor was renowned as a man of the theatre. However, in the lights of the stage we tend to forget about his first passion - about painting. He was a versatile artist and it would be risky to try and divide his work into separate "disciplines". Still, today, when all that has been left of his exceptional performances is memories and records - it is good to look carefully at his paintings, as they explain the successive stages of his artistic development. In those paintings Kantor sometimes reveals more of himself than on the stage. When still alive, he was once called "the most worldly of Polish artists and the most Polish of the worldly artists". In the context of Polish art Kantor became an important symbol, an emblem of the twentieth century. The successive stages of his artistic biography provide excellent material for a student of the history of contemporary art with its discoveries and illusions, explorations and ambitions. [Czerni, Krystyna. Tadeusz Kantor. Przewodnik po twórczości artysty. Bydgoszcz: Biuro Wystaw Artystycznych in Bydgoszcz, Cricoteka, 2002, p. 4]

The main tendencies In the development of Tadeusz Kantor's creative activity which are presented in this section reflect not only his artistic activity as a painter, but also - and perhaps first of all - his attitude towards his own paintings and towards art in general. The artist himself as if suggests here how to present his work in the field of fine arts. The text included in the section "Painting" was written by Kantor himself - it was prepared by him to be included in the first collection of his paintings. Tadeusz Kantor divided the development of his artistic work as a painter into 13 stages and wrote suitable texts for all of them. He also selected from a large number of his paintings 269 pictures which he found the most representative and significant. The collection was titled "Intimate Comments" and was published in two versions in foreign languages - originally in Italian: Kantor, Tadeusz. La mia opera, il mio viaggio. Commento intimo. Milan: Federico Motta Editore S.p.A., 1991; in the same year a French version was published: Kantor, Tadeusz. Ma création, mon voyage. Commentaries intimes. Paris: Éditions Plume, 1991. The collection was never published in its original version - in Polish. The text alone was printed in: Pleśniarowicz, Krzysztof (sel. and ed. by). Metamorfozy. Teksty o latach 1938-1974. [Metamorphosis. Texts about the years 1928 - 1974]. Kraków: Ośrodek Dokumentacji Sztuki Tadeusza Kantora Cricoteka, Księgarnia Akademicka, 2000.

Intimate Comments by Tadeusz Kantor are an unusual record. They give us insight into his creative activity as a painter, but they are also a source of comments on its origins and on the mechanisms underlying the evaluation of creative processes. If time allows, I would like to write my own history of art. The sources are irrelevant . . . It does not matter how the average art historian writes; it is not the influence, but the reason, that matters. [Czerni, Krystyna. Tadeusz Kantor. Przewodnik po twórczości artysty. Bydgoszcz: Biuro Wystaw Artystycznych in Bydgoszcz, Cricoteka, 2002, p. 5][...]


— Cricoteka




Tadeusz Kantor, autoportrait.

Dans le cadre d'Europalia Pologne, l'Hôtel de Ville de Bruxelles présente l'oeuvre de Tadeusz Kantor (Wielepole, 1915-1990). Metteur en scène, scénographe, peintre, dramaturge, créateur de happenings, cet artiste polonais a développé son discours à travers différent médium. L'exposition aborde deux aspects principaux de son art : la peinture et le théâtre qui se rejoignent dans une oeuvre homogène.

Le contexte politique de la Pologne ainsi que le vécu même de l’artiste sont importants pour une meilleure compréhension de l’art de Kantor. Il a vécu à Wielepole, petit village de Pologne où cohabitent juifs et catholiques. Pendant l’Occupation, il voit son père ainsi que d’autres habitants du village déportés à Auschwitz. Ces expériences de guerre l’ont profondément marqué et font de son village natal, de l’enfance et de la mort des sujets récurrents dans son art. Ses créations, bien que centrées sur son propre vécu, trouvent un écho auprès d’un large public car il aborde des thématiques encore très actuelles comme le pouvoir et ses abus, la violence, et la permanence des souvenirs. La vie et l’œuvre de Kantor sont profondément marqués par l’histoire du XXè siècle et ses grandes tragédies.

Son art est centré sur l'homme et sur lui-même de façon plus globale, son histoire, son vécu. Ses tableaux et ses pièces de théâtre le mettent en scène. A partir de 1987, il est au centre de son art tant théâtral que pictural. Son propos est basé sur ses expériences personnelles. Il réalise de nombreux autoportraits et investit véritablement ses œuvres.

Son village de Wielopole est souvent présent dans ses tableaux comme la série Je chute comme l'enfer où nu, il tombe du ciel sur son village avec sa petite chapelle. Cette série parle du retour, de la vie après les catastrophes quelles qu'elles soient, comment vivre après le nazisme, après le communisme, comment vivre en Pologne après tant de bouleversements. Sa maison prend aussi une valeur symbolique avec cette série Ma maison qui représente une cheminée bancale et fragile d’où sort de la fumée. Il l’associe aux cheminées des fours crématoires où ont péri de nombreux juifs pendant la guerre.

Deux aspects induisent une théâtralité, une narration dans ses œuvres : ses cycles de peintures et ses personnages qui tentent toujours de sortir du tableau. Des mains, des jambes en silicone s'ajoutent à l'extérieur du tableau et en poursuivent le motif : Je porte le tableau qui me montre portant le tableau ou Je dois rester dans ce tableau (je ne sortirai plus de ce tableau). Kantor donne la parole à ses personnages, il joue sur une ambiguïté entre ce qui est représenté et par qui il est représenté. Plusieurs de ses tableaux fonctionnent par cycle comme Plus loin rien, Je chute comme l'enfer ou encore On ne lorgne pas impunément par la fenêtre.

Goya et Vélasquez sont cités dans plusieurs tableaux de Kantor. Le soldat napoléonien du premier ou l’infante du second sont deux personnages que s'est approprié l'artiste polonais (Une fois de plus le soldat napoléonien de Goya me barre la route, 1990 ; L’Infante de Vélasquez a pénétré dans ma chambre pour la seconde fois, visiblement irritée en l’occurrence, 1990).

Homme de théâtre, il crée en 1942 un théâtre underground indépendant et clandestin. En 1955, naît le Théâtre Cricot 2 (anagramme de To cyrk, c'est du cirque), celui-ci rejette les pratiques traditionnelles. En 1975, il crée sa première pièce La classe morte et la met en scène. Son théâtre tente de ressusciter le monde de l’enfance et les souvenirs qui y sont attachés. Une grande partie de l’exposition est consacrée à cette œuvre. On peut voir les croquis pour la scénographie de la pièce et des reconstitutions.

Kantor rejette l’idée que l'art est le reflet de la vie, l'art est pour lui une réponse à la réalité. La mort est très présente dans son travail, elle est pour lui un fabuleux moteur qui le pousse dans ses créations. Par des traits vibrants et des tons sombres, ses peintures ou dessins sont empreints de fragilité, d’incertitude et de douleur.

Françoise Bernardi



Kantor Tadeusz pittore, scenografo e regista polacco.

Inventore di una personalissima forma di linguaggio espressivo a metà fra il teatro e le arti visive che, unita alla potente percezione poetica di motivi come quello dell'ossessivo permanere della memoria, dell'intervento uniformante della morte, dello smarrirsi e ricomporsi dell'identità dell'individuo, e all'invenzione di un particolare tipo di rapporto fra gli attori e gli oggetti - le estrose macchine sceniche che caratterizzano i suoi spettacoli - ne fa uno dei talenti creativi più originali e incisivi dell'intera nostra epoca.

Seguendo una tradizione tipicamente polacca di artisti poliedrici come Wyspiański, Witkiewicz, Bruno Schulz, mai rinnegati punti di riferimento, Kantor inizia il suo denso tragitto teatrale da studente dell'Accademia di belle arti di Cracovia, allestendo nel 1937 un vecchio testo simbolista, La morte di Tintagiles di Maurice Maeterlinck, con sagome e marionette ispirate al mondo figurativo del Bauhaus, allo stile di Walter Gropius, di Moholy-Nagy, di Oskar Schlemmer.

Ma è con la guerra e con l'occupazione nazista della Polonia che l'attività teatrale di Kantor prende una piega più determinata, quando, col suo Teatro Clandestino, mette in scena nel 1943 Balladyna di Juliusz Slowacki e soprattutto, nel 1944, Il ritorno di Ulisse di Wyspiański, quest'ultimo realizzato in una stanza di un palazzo semidiroccato dai bombardamenti, fra vecchie assi, ruote di carro e cavalletti da muratore come sfondo scenografico, col protagonista che appare in mezzo alle macerie indossando una divisa lisa e infangata come quella dei tanti soldati dispersi o sbandati che si aggirano in quei giorni per il Paese.

Risalgono proprio a questo sorprendente sconfinamento della finzione nell'inferno quotidiano una serie di intuizioni che influenzeranno il suo percorso artistico per tutti gli anni a venire: il senso della morte onnipresente, la concezione del teatro come il luogo di un pericolo che accomuna attori e spettatori, l'idea più o meno metaforica dello spettacolo come atto clandestino, come espressione dell'unità del gruppo degli interpreti contro ogni intrusione dell'ufficialità istituzionale. Soprattutto, è da quella esperienza che Kantor mette a fuoco l'obiettivo di far sì che frammenti sempre più cospicui di realtà penetrino nella sfera dell'illusione, violandone le manieristiche convenzioni formali.

Questi procedimenti, mutuati sostanzialmente dal dadaismo e dal cubismo, ereditati dai principi dei creatori di collage, improntano in gran parte anche l'avventura del "Cricot 2", il gruppo di giovani attori, pittori, poeti d'avanguardia fondato nel 1955, che attraverso la rappresentazione di sei testi di Witkiewicz ( La piovra , Nelpiccolo maniero , Il pazzo e la monaca , Gallinella acquatica , I calzolai , Le bellocce e i cercopitechi ) sperimenta i legami fra teatro e arte, provando alla ribalta i presupposti di alcuni grandi movimenti di ricerca del tempo, dall'informale all'happening e all' environment.

Nei primi anni Settanta, ormai saturo di un itinerario avanguardistico che, privilegiando l' hicet nunc, il puro divenire dell'azione nello spazio, trascura la profondità drammaturgica e un'autentica prospettiva temporale, Kantor riporta nei suoi spettacoli la dialettica fra presente e passato, con esiti a dir poco sconvolgenti: primo risultato, il memorabile valzer macabro della Classe morta, che traendo spunto da un racconto di Bruno Schulz, Il pensionato, e assemblando brani di una pièce di Witkiewicz, Tumore cervicale, sviluppa tuttavia con straordinaria libertà inventiva l'atroce parata da incubo di un gruppo di vecchi moribondi, che tentano di tornare sui banchi della loro antica scuola portandosi sulle spalle gli struggenti manichini di cera dei bambini che una volta sono stati.

Anche Wielopole Wielopole (1980), allestito a Firenze con un gruppo misto di attori italiani e polacchi, affronta con rara intensità emotiva le ricorrenti tracce di un passato dolorosamente famigliare, intrecciando una sorta di incalzante visualizzazione dei meccanismi e degli effetti torturanti della memoria personale con immagini di strazio e di violenza della prima guerra mondiale. InCrepino gli artisti (Norimberga 1985) la definitività della creazione, personificata dallo scultore cinquecentesco Veit Stoss, è contrapposta al lancinante frantumarsi dell'identità nelle diverse fasi della vita, concretizzata nell'allucinante coesistenza di un `io in persona', di un `io quando avevo sei anni' e di un `io morente'. In Qui non ci torno più (Berlino Ovest 1988) l'orrore dell'Olocausto è evocato fra i tavoli di una sordida bettola, tipico esempio del concetto kantoriano di "luogo del rango più basso", in una specie di impietoso confronto pirandelliano tra il regista che interpreta se stesso alla ribalta e i personaggi dei suoi vecchi spettacoli.

Kantor muore nel dicembre del 1990, proprio alla vigilia del debutto del suo ultimo lavoro, Oggi è il mio compleanno (Tolosa 1991) che, attraverso le figure emblematiche di Mejerchol'd e di altri artisti d'avanguardia traditi dalla Rivoluzione e perseguitati dal Potere, compie una sorta di livido bilancio delle utopie e delle mostruose brutalità del nostro secolo. Ma tutto il suo teatro, rivisto in prospettiva, sembra assai più vicino a una sorta di commosso e commovente affresco collettivo dell'Europa del "Novecento" che non a quella serie di visionarie sedute spiritiche che molti di volta in volta avevano creduto di cogliervi.



Tadeusz Kantor´s Painting

Immediately after World War II, Kantor found himself among those who created the YOUNG VISUAL ARTISTS' GROUP (1945), and once again demonstrated his penchant for organization following the "thaw" of the mid 1950s by contributing to the reactivation of the pre-war KRAKOW GROUP (1957). He provided the impulse for the creation of the Krzysztofory Gallery, one of the country's first post-war galleries to present contemporary art, and was involved in organizing the 1ST MODERN ART EXHIBITION (Krakow, 1948). He was an animator of artistic life, an art theoretician and practitioner, a painter (including an impassioned promoter of Tashism), and one of Poland's first creators of happenings. Above all, however, he was a man of the theatre, a playwright, director, scenery designer, and actor.

Assessments of the artist's output in areas other than theatre, including his achievements as a painter, vary widely. His vision of art derived primarily from his search for means of artistic expression that would meet the challenges of contemporary times. Kantor expressed this as early as 1945, joining with Mieczyslaw Porebski to publish a manifesto on "exponential realism." In this document Kantor encouraged artists to take risks in the name of creative freedom, underlined the importance of experimentation, and accented the need for artists to remain independent from ideological and political pressures (himself following this lesson by not leading a cultural life in public throughout the Socialist Realist period).

Kantor himself strived to live by these principles in his own way, namely, by absorbing any and all novelties, skillfully assimilating that which was useful to him, and transforming and modifying it if necessary. For a relatively long period, Kantor the painter was a medium, processing the artistic impulses that came to Poland from Western Europe (in 1947 he visited Paris). As a result, his output in this area was not independent. For a brief time immediately after the war he created figurative paintings filled with grotesquely simplified figures. The gloomy mood of these images was underlined by dark colors and rough textures (KOMPOZYCJA / COMPOSITION, 1944-45). This was followed by a period during which he produced dynamic metaphorical compositions characterized by economic use of cool colors. These works resembled those that Maria Jarema and Jonasz Stern were created at approximately the same time (PONAD-RUCHY / SUPRA-MOVEMENTS, 1948).

In the second half of the 1950s, Kantor mainly produced the vigorously painted Tashist canvasses discussed previously. These paintings are mesmerizing in their own way for their visual qualities, generated with vibrating spots of paint, lines, and colors. At the same time they convey the impression that the artist treated painting in a "utilitarian" manner (OAHU, 1957), though at the same time Kantor described these works in his writings as "secretions" of his inner self. Their originality did not go unnoticed by foreign critics, including the French, who constituted the most significant critical milieu at the time (towards the end of the 1950s Kantor exhibited his paintings in western cities, Paris among them, with a measure of success).

Somewhat later the artist turned his attention to creating numerous assemblages and emballages - half-spatial compositions in which used, oftentimes destroyed objects (envelopes, bags, umbrellas) were applied to the canvas and transformed the paintings into reliefs (MR. V PRADO - INFANTKA / MR. V PRADO - THE INFANTA, 1965; EMBALLAGE, 1967). Figures reappeared in these same paintings - though they were deformed, depicted in sketch-form, "hidden" under umbrellas in dynamic and symbolic gestures of self-defense (AMBALAZ - PRZEDMIOTY, POSTACIE / EMBALLAGE - OBJECTS, FIGURES, 1967). Thus the umbrella, this degraded object so highly esteemed by Kantor ("a manifestation of a reality of lower rank"), unable to fulfill its original and real function, surprisingly regains its use in the world of art. Kantor's many painting series dating from the 1970s and 80s exhibit clear links to his theatrical activities, which he continued to pursue at the same time. For example, while working on UMARLA KLASA / THE DEAD CLASS, which premiered in 1975, Kantor created a series of paintings of the same title. Later the artist would devote himself primarily to theatre, resuming painting in the last years of his life. These last works depict a solitary human figure, shown - as in new figural art - in a single "stage" gesture. Characterized by cool colors, they refer to the artist's personal experiences (see the series DALEJ JUZ NIC / NOTHING BEYOND THIS, 1987-88).

Kantor's credits also include the organization of a series of para-theatrical actions that anticipated many of the phenomena that would eventually constitute the polyphonic art of the 1960s and 70s. Among these were his environments (the "anti-exhibition" titled WYSTAWA POPULARNA / POPULAR EXHIBITION at Krakow's Krzysztofory Gallery, 1963) and numerous happenings (LINIA PODZIALU / DIVIDING LINE, Krzysztofory Gallery, 1966; PANORAMICZNY HAPPENING MORSKI / PANORAMIC SEASIDE HAPPENING, PLENER KOSZALINSKI W OSIEKACH / THE KOSZALIN PLEIN-AIR MEETING IN OSIEKI, 1967; LIST / THE LETTER, Foksal Gallery, Warsaw, 1968; LEKCJA ANATOMII WG REMBRANDTA / AN ANATOMY LESSON ACCORDING TO REMBRANDT, Nuremberg Kunsthalle, 1968, Foksal Gallery, 1969). Kantor also went through a fascination for Conceptualism (see WIELKIE KRZESLO / THE GREAT CHAIR designed for the 1970 Wroclaw Symposium).

An abundance of literature has been devoted to Kantor the artist. Noteworthy titles include Wieslaw Borowski's book "Tadeusz Kantor" (1982), Mieczyslaw Porebski's "Deska" / "Wooden Board" (1997), a volume of studies by various authors titled "W cieniu krzesla" / "In the Shadow of the Chair" (1997), as well as documentation of the painter's collaborative projects with Warsaw's Foksal Gallery (1999).




— Cricoteka
— house of life and death
— obra plástica T.Kantor
— artysta
— art-memoires