Graphic artist, draughtsman, poster designer. Born on 14th May, 1942 in Ashmyany near Vlinius. Died on 10th April, 2011 in Wrocław.
In 1945-1960, he lived in Wschowa, where he attended schools and the Society of Amateur Visual Artists. In 1961-1966, he studied architecture at the Wrocław University of Science and Technology, and in 1966-1972, graphic design at State Higher School of Visual Arts in the same city, in the workshops of Stanisław Dawski and Maciej Urbaniec. In the 1970s, he was an art director of the Ossolineum publishing house. In 1982-1985, he led the printmaking workshop at the Wrocław State Higher School of Visual Arts. He was associated with Wrocław throughout most of his life, becoming one of the artistic emblems of the city. He lived in the Jaś (Hansel) tenement house on the corner of Św. Mikołaja and Odrzańska Streets.
Get-Stankiewicz’s début between the 60s and 70s was connected to Wrocław student life, which was very lively at the time, and another breakthrough in Polish poster, which, following a modernist wave, saw a return to ‘painting’, and especially to ‘new figuration’. The new impulse came from Wrocław, the town of the so-called ‘Wrocław Four’: Jan Jaromir Aleksiun, Jerzy Czerniawski, Jan Sawka, and Eugeniusz Get-Stankiewicz. These artists (event though they never, and not at the time, limited their practice to poster design) revisited and stressed the role of personal expression and manual work. However, unlike the former Polish school of poster, they demonstrated a different approach to their subjects – irony, paradox, and humour took lead.
Get-Stankiewicz’s diverse output, very unique, easily recognisable, consistent in its own way, and also aligned with the new wave. He used traditional methods and techniques in creating his graphic works – from ex libris to posters, but he was also involved in designing stage sets, theatre puppets, and typography. He also made medals, small-scale sculptures, and signboards.
After defending his degree piece – a layout design for Villiers de l'Isle-Adam’s book The Toledo's Lovers (1972), Get-Stankiewicz launched his studio, a small ‘manufacture’, where he worked on commission works using traditional techniques and serigraphy. In this way, he achieved a unique position within the system of the Polish People’s Republic. He remained financially independent and didn’t have to seek pot boiler jobs or apply for scholarships, but at the same time supported himself by accepting commissions. He always emphasised the handmade character of his work, claimed that he professes in applied graphic design, and didn’t refer to his work as ‘art’ or to himself as an ‘artist’. Mirosław Ratajczak, who wrote a lot about Get-Stankiewicz’s works, saw the artist’s mode of work as a harbinger of a free art market:
Nonetheless he still had to provide his pieces with a sufficient artistic standard and level of attractiveness to be able to sell them easily.
Even though Get Stankiewicz’s professional practice was based on commissions, he was able to add a very personal touch and character to it (an auteur work hidden within conventional forms) and create an exceptionally coherent work, not just in terms of style.
As you see, the necessity to fulfill the commissions did not quench his creative temperament. On the contrary, he owes that remarkable wealth of his art – the mad eclecticism and technical virtuosity – to it – Ratajczak wrote.
On one hand, Get-Stankiewicz’s practice is characterised by typical poster attributes, like aphorism, visual shortcuts, condensed language, clarity and conciseness of message, and on the other, it is exceptional and unmistakable thanks to how it breaks with this formula through pure ornament, hand-drawn spontaneity and fantasy, colour abundance, and finally – truly baroque lettering of the texts inserted on graphic works and posters. In his works, Get-Stankiewicz combined modern forms with ones drawn from history and different cultural orders, less or more common (postmodernism is often mentioned in the context of his works), at the same time introducing paradox, mockery, and self-mythologisation. At a certain point, grotesque portraiture became a permanent element of his works, a type of signature and trademark. Particularly significant was the context in which the works operated – socio-political, customary, artistic.
Rooted in historical form, concentrated on a living and mythological man, he pins together past and present in his hand. – Danuta Wróblewska wrote – It seems as though he exists above the details. As if a line made in a 17th century copperplate was more important to him than many contemporary matters. But this is completely untrue. A certain fundamental stance (…) does not eliminate his alertness to the surrounding matters. His mocking yet sensitive eye does not overlook the events. However this is precisely how Get-Stankiewicz somewhat steps away from the temporary. From the gesture. From the void.
Humour and irony remained a constant element of Get-Stankiewicz’s practice – he placed the Latin sentence extra iocum ioci causa (for the sake joke, jokes aside) on the Jaś building which he inhabited in Wrocław, next to the text ‘Muzeum Krasnoludków’ (Dwarf Museum), which misled the tourists. He often combined that irreverent characteristic with a crude and schoolboy eroticism. On the 1975 poster to Romeo and Juliet, the ampersand sign between the lovers’ names on one end was finished by a synthetically drawn female breast, and on the other it resembled a penis. When in 1974 Get-Stankiewicz was commissioned by the Wrocław Opera to design a poster to Madame Butterfly, he drew genitalia on an old fashioned photograph of a woman and a man. In other projects, he created synthetic symbols referencing female sex organs – in the poster to Kobieta, która patrzy (Woman Who Looks) (1974), that symbol became ambiguous, as it played on the similarity between a synthetical drawing of an eye and a vagina-shaped figure.
Get-Stankiewicz’s works, especially those with ‘frayed’ drawings, filled with muddled lines (plants or hair), are also inhabited by various fantasy creatures and characters, nonexistent animals, fused from parts of real ones (e.g. poster to Oedipus Rex, created for the Jan Kochanowski Theatre in Opole, 1979). The artist for instance combined his own self-portrait with rooster legs (Na kogucich nogach (On Rooster Legs), 1993).
The artist is mainly known for his self-portrait pastiche works. He uses the motif of his own face or silhouette and talks about the ‘narrative about his own head’. That ‘head’ resembles studies of the old physiognomists and may play all kinds of roles. It appears on posters for the 8th Stage Song Review in Wrocław (1986), the performances of Adam Mickiewicz’s Forefather’s Eve at the Polski Theatre in Poznań (1987), Verdi’s Othello (1988), and the Nutcracker (1993) on the Wrocław Opera stage. Mirosław Ratajczak noted that:
Eugeniusz Get-Stankiewicz is not only a prominent artist, but also a person, who, as long as I can remember, was a legend on the town. This legend reaches back to the golden sixties and student’s counterculture. A lot could be said about this, but first and foremost the source of that legend ought to be stressed. It was in fact Get’s certain way of being, which I would describe as Socratesian and Rabelaisian. We can find that feature in a lot of his works, which are surprising in their independent way of seeing and intellectual reflection. This independence can be seen as one of the most typical traits of his personality and art.
Polish national motifs, treated very ironically or ridiculing contemporary residues of the Sarmatian mindset, played an important role in Get-Stankiewicz’s practice almost from the outset. This is especially apparent in his use of the national colours – white and red. The poster to Sennik polski (Polish Dream-book) at the STU Theatre in Kraków (1973) shows a white pegasus with a red circle in the background. On a serigraph from 1977, a white fingerprint emerges on a red sheet of fabric. These motifs gained significance especially in the late 70s. Get-Stankiewicz anticipated and sensed the atmosphere of the upcoming decade, when Polish art was dominated by national themes, especially in the martyrological context of the martial law, however at the same time mocked it. Just like in his self-portraits, in which he decorated his nose with a red carrot.
One of the best known works by Get-Stankiewicz became an object made out of found items titled Zrób to sam (Do It Yourself) (1977), currently held in the collection of the National Museum in Wrocław. The artist mounted a simple wooden cross on the canvas, along with a figure of a crucifix, and three nails, adding the text ‘do it yourself’. Marmurowa tablica ku czci prostych działań 1+1=2 (Marble Plaque in the Memory of Simple Equations 1+1=2) also lampooned the Polish absurdities. On 20th December, 1978, Get-Stankiewicz unveiled a plaque with the equation ‘1+1=2’ in the Jatki Street in Wrocław, under the patronage of the local ‘X’ ZPAP (Association of the Polish Visual Artists) Gallery. Over the following years, he repeated that ritual (including a speech read from a paper) on the same date, until the plaque became almost entirely destroyed. In 1986, its remains were deposited at the National Museum in Wrocław. The plaque reappeared in 1984, but this time with a golden protective grid. Thanks to these and other activities, in the 80s Get-Stankiewicz became one of the sharpest observers of the reality of the falling Polish People’s Republic. At the same time, he managed to resist the widespread inclination for drama and self-analysis. This was appreciated by Solidarity’s Committee of Independent Culture, which awarded him in 1982. That period saw a creation of an important series of graphic works Ośrodek doskonalenia kadr (Professional Development Centre), with the lead motif of a red star and generally colour red, universally associated with communism. Get-Stankiewicz dedicated one of the works from the series to ‘Pavlik Morozov, patron of whistleblowers’ (1982/1983), the symbol of the Soviet Komsomol who denounced his own parents. Even the Baskerville dog, the protagonist of Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel about Sherlock Holmes, wears a red star on the back (Psom Baskerville'ów (To the Baskerville Dogs), 1982). Other works from the series juxtaposed different red elements (e.g. Czerwonym poświęcam (I Dedicate to the Reds), 1983).
In the series Rebusy (Puzzles) from the same period, Get-Stankiewicz made a typical, ironic analysis of the symbolic language found in the Romantic 19th century clichés of national liberation, which domniated conversation about the reality of the martial law, especially in the visual arts.
The cycle Złote obrazki (Golden Pictures) from 1984, comprising 19 images on glass showing silhouette self-portraits of the artist with written annotations, was an announcement of that which dominated Get-Stankiewicz’s activity from the late 1980s on. Between the 80s and 90s, the artist developed an auteur technique which he dubbed ‘Ashmyany school of passe-partout’. He made multi-layered works, somewhat functioning as a collage or palimpsest, in which he used fragments of his own pieces, scraps and remains, as well as, so to say, workshop by-products, such as pieces of graphic prints (mainly copperplates), paintings and drawings. He combined them with coloured paper, paperboard, cardboard, and tissue paper. The whole was bound by a passe-partout of sorts – not necessarily evenly trimmed, but sometimes also ripped and irregular. Motifs and themes remained the same – predominantly self-portraiture and bawdy erotica. That auteur method also exhibited the artist’s approach to his own works. In the interview he mentioned such an event for instance:
I was scolded in the Wrocław Museum, from which I borrowed my works for reproductions, and, well, I changed them a little. It turned out that they had been described in inventories and it became a problem. I am more and more tempted to ‘correct’, make changes, and at the same time I long for something constant.
Elsewhere he said:
I am fascinated by the fact that it is possible to take away a title of an artwork and give it a new one, or for instance give it a new one while retaining the old one. In my experience this is how it goes: I have paintings that pile up, and then one, two, three layers emerge on top. Sometimes, one version is recorded only because it was photographed at a given point – only to be further modified. There are so many options – I don’t see a reason why one should be deemed incorrect. What does an incorrect painting mean?
Eugeniusz Get-Stankiewicz was close friends with the poet Tadeusz Różewicz and from mid 90s they also collaborated artistically. In 2009, they donated their shared lyrical and graphic works to the National Museum in Wrocław.
Author: Karol Sienkiewicz, April 2011, transl. AM, October 2017
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