BRZESKI, Janusz Maria (1907-1957)
Woodcut, 150 x 150 mm (image), 230 x 210 mm (sheet), signed and dated in the image lower right ‘Janusz Maria Brzeski / Paris 1929’; on fine tissue paper; out of series (artist’s proof?), but other examples indicate an edition of 100; some scattered foxing (the spots so tiny as to be insignificant), else very good condition; unframed.
An expressionist-inspired work by the major Polish artist Janusz Maria Brzeski, produced in Paris early in his career.
‘Janusz Maria Brzeski was a graphic designer, draughtsman and photographer associated with the modernists, as well as an avant-garde filmmaker, art critic, and journalist. Brzeski was born in 1907 in Warsaw, and died in 1957 in Kraków.
He graduated from the School of Decorative Arts in Poznań (now the University of Arts) in 1928. In 1925, he went on study trips to Italy and France. He produced his first expressionist-like typographic and graphic works in 1926. Between 1929-30, he lived in Paris, where he worked at graphic design agencies, as well as for the famed Vu magazine. He worked as a film set assistant at Paramount Productions. In Paris, he became acquainted with surrealist art; a lot of his photographs were created during his stay there.
In 1930, he made a unique collection of collages and photo collages, titled Seks (Sex), and inspired by Sigmund Freud’s writings, or more precisely, expressing an ironic and grotesque reading of excerpts from psychoanalytical theory. By combining images with text in these pieces, he hinted at the typical characteristics of the French surrealists.
In the same year, Brzeski returned to Poland and started living in Kraków. He began working with weekly magazines released by the Illustrated Daily Courier publishing house (IKC): As (Ace) and Tajny Detektyw (Secret Detective). Whilst in Kraków, he produced a series of abstract photograms inspired by Man Ray. He also created modern photographs influenced by the “new photography”: predominantly in the style of constructivism and the New Objectivity. He often employed the method of negative photomontage.
In 1931, Brzeski, together with Kazimierz Podsadecki (with whom he collaborated for several years), organized the first exhibition of modernist photography in Kraków. The show, possibly a reference to the famous Film und Foto exhibition that took place in Stuttgart in 1929 (featuring, among others, Man Ray and László Moholy-Nagy), was the prime manifestation of the film and photographic avant-garde in Poland.
In 1932, Brzeski founded the Polish Avant-Garde Film Studio (SPAF), but this only lasted until 1934. He realized two films (which haven’t survived) Przekroje (Cross-sections, 1931) and Beton (Concrete, 1933), starring Nela Nelińska and Kazimierz Podsadecki. They constituted, next to Stefan Themerson’s Europa, Europa (1931-32), some of the first Polish films manifesting avant-garde, or at least experimental, tendencies. These were apparent in some typical avant-garde solutions, like filming photomontages, or in references to the famous Berlin: Symphony of a Great City by Walter Ruttmann and Umbo’s (Otto Umbehr’s) collages promoting the film, as well as to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Nevertheless, Brzeski’s films should rather be interpreted in the context of his Polish contemporaries: Eugeniusz Cękalski or Aleksander Ford, who focused on social themes. Their films dealt with the myth of the proletarian city as a site of social conflict.
Brzeski’s series of photomontages Narodziny Robota (Birth of a Robot), published in 1934 in the Kurier Literacko-Naukowy (Literary and Scientific Courier – an extra to the Illustrated Daily Courier) had a partly apocalyptic meaning, although parts of it could be read as an expression of a juvenile and sensationalist journalistic approach. What is nevertheless significant in the series is the combination of eroticism with modern grotesque, tinted with constructivist aesthetics – together, they ask questions about the durability of the classical art traditions stemming from Ancient Greece. In an article accompanying the cycle, the artist wrote:
A man who operates a machine tool or another mechanism, has become a part of it long time ago – individuality is superfluous.
From 1933, he was the member of the colourist group Jednoróg. He continued to practice modern-style photography: photomontages resembling those by Moholy-Nagy (Biegacz/Runner, 1935), photographs which could be described as “staged” (Na plaży/On the Beach), until 1939. In 1935, he lived in Belgium and the Netherlands.
In the output of Brzeski and Podsadecki, one can find traces of both modernism and postmodernism. According to the French critic Édouard Jaguer, their works bore a strong resemblance to that of the Czech surrealists – Jindřch Štyrský and František Vobecký. After the Second World War, Brzeski worked at Kraków-based periodicals (e.g. Przekrój) and publishing houses, as a graphic designer. His legacy is a great example of the application of avant-garde methods to commercial press, oriented toward sensational coverage of the contemporary world. He was capable of blending high and low arts, thus already announcing the international postmodern breakthrough of the 1980s and ’90s…
Author: Krzysztof Jurecki, the Art Museum in Łódź, May 2004, transl. Ania Micińska September 2014′.