Scenic designer, graphic artist, illustrator; born on 23th February 1923 in Lviv, died on 25th June 2016 in Warsaw.
From 1944-1948 he studied architecture at the College of Arts and Crafts in Nottingham, Great Britain. He then returned to Poland and from 1948 to 1951 was the managing director and stage designer of the Niebieskie Migdały (Idle Dreams Theatre), a puppet troupe his mother, Janina Kilian-Stanisławska, had founded in 1944 in Samarkand. In 1951 the institution was renamed the Teatr Lalka (Puppet Theatre), and Kilian has been associated with this Warsaw stage for over half a century. He continued to design scenery there and became the theatre's visual director in 1951. Since 1988 he has been a visual consultant. In addition, Kilian has worked with numerous other puppet and dramatic theatres, as well as opera houses.
His puppet theatre debut came in 1949 when he designed the scenery for Janina Kilian-Stanisławska's staging of Kopciuszek (Cinderella) at the Idle Dreams Theatre in Warsaw. In the 1950s he worked with puppet theatre director Jan Wilkowski on a number of important productions, including Hans Christian Andersen's Krzesiwo (The Tinderbox, 1955), Leon Moszczyński and Wilkowski's Guignol w tarapatach (Guignol in a Tangle, 1956) and Wilkowski's O Zwyrtale muzykancie (Zwirtal the Musician, 1958). For Guignol... Kilian combined photographs with live action and puppets, while in Zwirtal he drew on folk designs of the Podhale region, mainly paintings on glass. Kilian's collaborations with Wilkowski resulted in a number of outstanding productions throughout the 1980s. Together they mounted humorous and moving productions of Jedrzej Wowro's Żywoty świętych ( Lives of the Saints) and Wilkowski's Spowiedź w drewnie (A Confession in Wood) at Szczecin's Pleciuga Puppet Theatre (Teatr Lalek Pleciuga) (1983). Later, they staged Giovanni Boccaccio's The Decameron at the Białostocki Teatr Lalek (Puppet Theatre in Białystok (1986) with scenery that incorporated a tapestry, a Renaissance interior and props resembling Renaissance era objects.
Kilian is fascinated by color. He emerged from the family home with an interest in folk art. His mother, Janina Kilian-Stanisławska, exhibited interest in naive art as an art historian, critic and theatre director, while his aunt Zofia Stanisławska-Howurkowa was a wood engraver and scenery designer. Kilian started,
Naive and children's art became a recurring source for my own prints and theatrical designs. My mother and aunt salvaged the qualities of childhood from oblivion. They taught me what was most important in art (...): frankness, joy and making choices. (Quoted in: Teatr Lalek 1995, no. 2)
The designer proved capable of creatively using folk art, especially Polish folk art, in the theatre. He discovered the value of wooden sculptures, paintings on glass and wicker objects. Inspired by folk, primitive and plebeian art, he also began using joyous, bright colors. Kilian said that even if he were to design Macbeth, he would show its cruel criminality in bright light, rather than hiding it in dark corners. In the productions Kilian designed, comedy mixed with farce and tragedy, while deliberate awkwardness, cheerfulness and frequent visual references blended to constitute a theatrical convention, creating a distance between viewers and the imagined stage world, a world that nevertheless remained thoroughly authentic.
The designer has a special admiration for the Polish creche, which he sees as nourishing the roots of Polish puppet theatre. The creche has often inspired his own designs.The artist explained,
The spirit of the creche, its artistic and logical division into the zones of hell, heaven and earth evokes monumental theatre, as paradoxical as that might sound. (...) The creche incorporates the essence of mystical theatre and all that inspired Romanticism and Neo-Romanticism - i.e. the possibility of mixing genres, metamorphosing reality into fantasy, transforming fantasy into the quotidian. All this is embodied in the creche and I find that fascinating. So much so that I consider the creche a symbol of Polish theatre.
Kilian got his first job with a dramatic theatre in 1959 when the famed Studencki Teatr Satyryków (Student Theatre of Satirists) invited him to work on a production. He created the settings for Wieża malowana (The Painted Tower) directed by Jerzy Markuszewski, a one-man drama written and performed by Wojciech Siemion and composed of Polish folk poetry. In creating the settings, Kilian drew on his experiences in puppet theatre. An on otherwise empty stage, Siemion was surrounded by giant puppets resembling short, stocky women, which Kilian referred to as variations on Craig's 'uber-marionettes.' In the 1960s Kilian also worked with Józef Gruda on several Polish classics at the Contemporary Theatre (Teatr Współczesny) in Szczecin, designing the scenery for Gruda's stagings of plays like Aleksander Fredro's Zemsta / The Revenge (1960) and Damy i huzary (Ladies and Hussars, 1962) and Stanisław Wyspiański's Wesele (The Wedding, 1963). He would get two more opportunities to design productions of the latter play. Both resulted from Kilian's collaboration with director Adam Hanuszkiewicz, initially at Warsaw's Popular Theatre (Teatr Powszechny) (1964) and later at the National Theatre (Teatr Narodowy) (1974). In the first of these stagings the scenery centered on a vast creche with characters riding out onto the stage on small platforms as figures might in a miniaturized nativity scene. For the second premiere the scenery derived directly from the author's stage directions describing a simple peasant hut.
Kilian also had multiple opportunities to design Wojciech Bogusławski's Krakovians and Highlanders, mounting productions of this play with director Bronisław Dąbrowski at the Słowacki Theatre (Teatr Słowackiego) in Kraków (1963) and with Jan Skotnicki at the Kochanowski Theatre (Teatr im. Jana Kochanowskiego) in Opole (1983). He also designed Ernest Bryll's Na szkle malowane (Painted on Glass) on more than once occasion, with Jan Skotnicki at the Silesian Operetta in Wrocław (1970) and at the New Theatre (Teatr Nowy) in Łódź (1970). For Wojciech Bogusławski's sung play Lodoiska directed by Jan Kulczynski at Warsaw's Classical (Teatr Klasyczny) Theatre (1962), Kilian created folk-styled sets that resembled illustrations from children's books. Leon Schiller's Pastorałka (The Pastoral) is another play that has followed him throughout his life. He first designed a production under field conditions, i.e. in the Iraqi desert as a soldier of the Polish II Corps during World War II. He would go on to design scenery for eight different stagings of Schiller's work, including the productions directed by Jan Wilkowski at Warsaw's Popular Theatre (1964) and the Puppet Theatre in Białystok (1979), and that staged by Jarosław Kilian at the Polish Theatre (Teatr Polski) in Warsaw (1996).
Since the 1990s Adam Kilian has focused on designing scenery for productions directed by his son Jarosław. Within this duo, he produced plebeian and rural culture inspired scenery for Juliusz Słowacki's Balladyna at the Polish Theatre (Teatr Polski) in Szczecin (1991), as well as the sets for Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors at the Kochanowski Theatre in Opole (1991), and the same author's A Midsummer Night's Dream (1998) and The Tempest (2003) at the Polish Theatre in Warsaw. Working as a team, the Kilians also mounted Bolesław Leśmian's Przygody Sindbada żeglarza (The Adventures of Sinbad the Sailor) at the Municipal Theatre (Teatr Miejski) in Gdynia (1992), staging the play once more in 2002 at the Polish Theatre in Warsaw, as well as Stanisław Grochowiak's Bestia i piekna (The Beast and Beauty) at the Puppet Theatre (Teatr Lalka) in Warsaw (1994). Most recently the duo revisited Balladyna, staging it in 2004 at Warsaw's Polish Theatre. Young designer Dorota Kołodyńska said of Adam Kilian,
I am incapable of defining his art. It combines the sophistication of an exceptional artist with the nobly naive sensitivity of a child. Adults savor its artistic excellence, while its magical colors and forms enchant children. And yet, his art is hardly superficial. Instead of offering routine forms, it stimulates viewers' sensitivities through intentional ambiguities. It operates like theatre of the imagination. (Gazeta Wyborcza - Stołeczna, 13 February 2003)
Kilian has also produced scenery for television shows, as well as poster and postcard designs. He devised the visual concepts of a number of drawn- and puppet-animation films, including Niespodzianki (Surprises, 1970), Niebezpieczeństwa (Dangers, 1972), Kosmiczny western (A Space Western, 1976), Mrozik malarz (Frosty the Painter, 1980) and Miotła i ptak (The Broom and the Bird, 1988). He has also illustrated books, including O Smoku Wawelskim (The Wawel Dragon, 1954) by Hanna Januszewska, Kwiatki Świetego Franciszka (St. Francis's Flowers, 1959) and Dawna Polska w anegdocie (Anecdotes About Old Poland by M. and W. Tomkiewicz (1961), and Soria Moria Castle by P.C. Asbjornsen and J. Moe (1975). Kilian's other credits include designing a number of stage design exhibitions, including Myśl i kształt teatru (Theatrical Thought and Form, 1979), and serving as the curator and designer of the 1979 edition of the Prague Quadrennial International Exhibition of Scenography.
Awards and distinctions:
1960 - Graphic Arts Gold Medal at the Triennial of Decorative Art in Milan
1961 - 3rd Festival of Northern Polish Theatres in Toruń - honorable mention for scenery design for Aleksander Fredro's Zemsta / The Revenge directed by Józef Gruda at the Contemporary Theatre in Szczecin
1963 - Award of the Minister of Culture and Art 2nd class for stage design achievements at the Puppet Theatre in Warsaw, in particular for Jan Wilkowski's staging of his own play titled O Zwyrtale muzykancie / Zwirtal the Musician at the Puppet Theatre and for Stanisław Wyspiański's Wesele / The Wedding directed by Józef Gruda at the Contemporary Theatre in Szczecin; Award of the Minister of Culture and Art 3rd class on the occasion of the exhibition Polish Visual Art on the 15th Anniversary of the Polish People's Republic
1964 - 4th Kalisz Theatre Meetings - Scenery Design Award for Stanisław Wyspiański's Wesele / The Wedding directed by Adam Hanuszkiewicz at the Popular Theatre in Warsaw; 2nd Polish National Puppet Theatre Festival in Opole - 2nd prize for scenery for Lodoiska at the Chochlik Theatre in Wrocław; National Education Committee Medal
1969 - 2nd International Triennial of Theatrical Scenery and Costume Design in Novy Sad - award for an array of costumes
1973 - Award of the Prime Minister of Poland for work to benefit children and youth - lifetime achievement award for puppet theatre, dramatic theatre and animated film designs and achievements in book illustration
1974 - Award of the Capital City of Warsaw; Order of the Smile
1976 - 18th Festival of Northern Polish Theatres in Torun - Scenery Design Award for Ernest Bryll's Na szkle malowane / Painted on Glass directed by Jan Skotnicki at the Contemporary Theatre in Szczecin
1977 - Warsaw Seal of Merit; Cavalier's Cross of the Order of the Restitution of Poland
1979 - 4th Prague Quadrennial International Exhibition of Scenography - Gold Medal
1981 - group award bestowed by the Prime Minister of Poland on the creators of the fairy tale opera Jaś i Małgosia / Hansel and Gretel
1983 - 9th Opole Theatre Confrontations - Scenery Design Award for Wojciech Bogusławski's Cud mniemany czyli krakowiacy i górale / The Presumed Miracle, or Krakovians and Highlanders directed by Jan Skotnicki at the Kochanowski Theatre in Opole
1987 - 12th Opole Puppet Theatre Festival - Visual Merit Award for Maria Kownacka's O strasznym smoku i dzielnym Szewczyku / The Terrible Dragon and the Brave Cobbler at the Puppet Theatre in Warsaw
1993 - Voivode of Gdansk Scenery Design Award for productions directed by Jarosław Kilian: Bolesław Leśmian's Przygody Sindbada zeglarza / The Adventures of Sinbad the Sailor and Leon Schiller's Pastorałka / The Pastoral at the Municipal Theatre in Gdynia
1994 - Commander's Cross of the Order of the Restitution of Poland
1996 - Silesian Golden Mask for design of Stanisław Grochowiak's Bestia i piękna / The Beast and Beauty directed by Jarosław Kilian at the Mickiewicz Theatre (Teatr im. Adama Mickiewicza) in Częstochowa
1999 - Coryphaeus of Polish Scenery Design Award
2002 - Minister of Culture Scenery Design Award for 2001
2003 - Art for Youth Award of the President of the Republic of Poland (2002) for artistic achievements targeted towards children and youth
Author: Monika Mokrzycka-Pokora, September 2005.
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