Stage designer, actress, professor of the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków; born 16 May 1930 in Warsaw.
During Germany's World War II occupation of Poland, she was a member of the Gray Ranks (Szare Szeregi), an armed outfit of the Polish Scouting Association. She participated in the Warsaw Uprising as a medic and messenger. After the war, in 1949, she graduated from Warsaw's High School of Visual Arts. She initially enrolled at Warsaw University and went on to complete her studies in art history at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, graduating in 1952. That same year she gained entrance to the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow. In 1954 she began studying scenery design in the studio of professor Karol Frycz. After receiving her diploma in 1958, she was hired by the Aleksander Fredro Theatre in Gniezno.
Her theatre debut came in 1958 in Gniezno, when she designed the scenery for a production titled Cyd (El Cid) directed by Eugeniusz Aniszczenko and based on motifs drawn from Stanislaw Wyspianski's plays titled Cyd, Zygmunt August (Sigismund Augustus) and Kazimierz Wielki (Casimir the Great). At around the same time, she designed the visuals for Marin Držić's Rzymska kurtyzana (A Roman Courtesan) directed by Tadeusz Przystawski at the Theatre of the Silesian Basin (Teatr Zagłębia) in Sosnowiec, an institution with which she was associated from 1958 to 1960. In 1961 she also worked with the Nowy Theatre in Zabrze. It was in Silesia that she designed one of her most famous sets: in 1960 Jerzy Jarocki staged the Polish premiere of Witold Gombrowicz's Ślub (The Wedding) at the Gliwice Student Theatre at Gliwice Polytechnic; in creating the scenery for this production, Zachwatowicz made use of mangled metal waste dating from the war – this was in line with the letter of the text as Jarocki set the drama on the front lines.
Barrels, barrels, a crushed taxicab, a piece of a many-pronged harvester, the cab of a truck. Ochre, brown, black, bloody rust and ash,wrote Bogdan Wojdowski. When metal waste is subjected to the play of light and begins to live some kind of a spectral life in the sharp glare and shadows of spotlights, the resulting impression is incredible. (Dialog, 1974, no. 3)
Zachwatowicz went on to work at many Polish theatres. She was on staff at the Polish Theatre (Teatr Polski) in Warsaw (1962-1964), the Polish Theatre (Teatr Polski) in Wroclaw (1965-1969, 1972-1974), the Słowacki Theatre (Teatr im. Juliusza Slowackiego) in Krakow (1970-1971), and the Jaracz Theatre (Teatr im. Stefana Jaracza) in Lodz (1971-1974). From 1970-1999 she was also a scenery designer at the Stary Theatre (Narodowy Stary Teatr) in Krakow, additionally designing productions at the People's Theatre (Teatr Ludowy) in Nowa Huta, the Athenaeum (Teatr Ateneum), Dramatic (Teatr Dramatyczny) and Popular (Teatr Powszechny) Theatres in Warsaw, and at the Coastal Theatre (Teatr Wybrzeże) in Gdansk. Throughout her career she worked with exceptional directors like Konrad Swinarski, Jerzy Jarocki, Jerzy Krasowski, Krystyna Skuszanka and Andrzej Wajda, and designed sets for many foreign theatres, traveling to Paris, Buenos Aires, Moscow, Krefeld, Zurich, Ljubljana, New Haven, Connecticut, Munich, Sofia, Trieste, West Berlin, Tel Aviv and Tokyo. Today, her credits include over 150 scenery and costume designs.
Krystyna Zachwatowicz underlines that in theatre a stage designer always plays a subordinate role to the text and the production concept, always beginning by reading the play and examining the director's annotated copy.
Professor Karol Frycz, recalled the designer, taught us to work independently and individually on plays, instructing us to create our own 'director's copies' of the text. He taught us to think about a play as a whole. (Gazeta Wyborcza. Gazeta w Krakowie, 9 September 1999)
The artist more often draws inspiration from the concept of a drama and from the world of theatre than from the visual arts. Even when her sets reflect fascination with a certain painting style, this fascination is always processed. Rather than employing painterly citations directly, Zachwatowicz uses them as inspiration for her own stage compositions. Conversely, she effectively employs sometimes mischievous, sometimes metaphorical visual abbreviations deriving very much from the spirit of the text. The minutest scenery and costume details match the fundamental production concept. Far from representing empty decorativeness and pure ornamentation, her designs acquire full expression in performance. They range from realist to surrealist in spirit, and some might seem Dadaist, yet they are never an illustration or 'lecture' on any of these artistic trends. Fundamentally, Zachwatowicz accurately and intelligently highlights the basic motif of a work. She designs with dramatic spunk, as Gombrowicz wrote of her first set for his play The Wedding.
She refrains from imposing a single interpretation on the play, from determining its interpretation, noted Joanna Walaszek. (...) Zachwatowicz presents viewers with a play of meanings, she energizes the imagination, deepens viewers' knowledge and sensitivity, dazzles them with a multiplicity of meanings, emotions and moods. She neither attempts to trump the play of actors nor obscure the work of the director, engaging them and harmonizing so well that ultimately one cannot separate the scenery from the production as a whole. (Krystyna Zachwatowicz, Warsaw, 1991)
In the 1960s Zachwatowicz worked frequently with Jerzy Krasowski. At the People's Theatre in Nowa Huta she devised the scenery for Burzliwe zycie Lejzorka Rojtszwanca (The Stormy Life of Lasik Roitschwantz) based on the writings of Ilya Ehrenburg (1961), drawing inspiration from Chagall's paintings and photomontages from the 1920s. At Warsaw's Polish Theatre she designed The Brothers Karamazov based on Fyodor Dostoyevsky's novel (1963), and in Wroclaw she and Krasowski mounted productions of plays like Michel de Ghelderode's Wędrowka Mistrza Kościeja (La farce de la mort qui faillit Trepasser) Kameralny Theatre 1966, Stanisława Przybyszewska's Sprawa Dantona (The Danton Case, Polski Theatre, 1967) and Aleksander Fredro's Zemsta (The Revenge) Polski Theatre, 1968. She also contributed to the successes of Krystyna Skuszanka, working with this director at Wrocław's Polish Theatre on Juliusz Słowacki's Sen Srebrny Salomei (The Silver Dream of Salome, 1967) and Fantazy (1969), as well as Calderon's Life is a Dream (1968). It was on this Wroclaw stage that Zachwatowicz also created her legendary settings for Shakespeare's As You Like it (1966), also directed by Skuszanka. Her original, theatrically charming set centered on a vast bouquet of golden mistletoe that was suspended over the stage and slowly revolved above the heads of the play's protagonists as they wandered around the Ardenne forest. This visual abbreviation proved both functional and highly poetic.
Around this time she also designed two other important productions, Shakespeare's King Lear directed by Zygmunt Hubner (1962) at Warsaw's Polski Theatre and Giacomo Puccini's Madame Butterfly as staged by Kazimierz Kord (1969) at the Kraków Opera and Operetta.
Zachwatowicz worked with Jerzy Jarocki on a number of the director's productions. She designed the scenery for his next two stagings of Gombrowicz's The Wedding - at the Schauspielhaus in Zurich (1972) and at the Dramatyczny Theatre in Warsaw (1974) - and also devised the sets and costumes for his productions of a number of Witkacy's dramas - Matka (The Mother, 1964, second version 1972) and Szewcy (The Shoemakers, 1971), both staged at the Stary Theatre in Krakow, and for his production of The Mother at the Kammerspiele in Munich (1975).
She collaborated with Konrad Swinarski on some of his most famous stagings, including Zygmunt Krasinski's Nie-boska Komedia / The Un-Divine Comedy (1965) and Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream (1970) at Krakow's Stary Theatre. For his production of Adam Mickiewicz's Dziady (Forefathers' Eve, 1973) at this same theatre, she designed a set of high original costumes that conveyed meaning through color.
Her credits also include designing scenery and costumes for almost all of Andrzej Wajda's theatre productions. She worked on a number of Wajda's stage adaptations of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's prose at the Stary Theatre in Kraków, designing the costumes for Biesy (The Devils, 1971) and scenery for Nastasja Filipowna (Nastasya Filippovna), based on The Idiot (1977), and for Crime and Punishment (1984). The director-designer duo of Wajda and Zachwatowicz mounted many other productions on this same Kraków stage, with Zachwatowicz providing the costumes for Stanislaw Wyspianski's Noc listopadowa (November Night, 1974) and scenery for Sławomir Mrożek's Emigranci (The Emigrants, 1976), Sophocles' Antigone (1984), Aleksander Fredro's Zemsta (The Revenge, 1986), Shloime Ansky's Dybuk (The Dybbuk, 1988), Wyspiański's Wesele (The Wedding, 1991) and Klątwa (The Curse, 1997) and Yukio Mishima's Mishima (1994). She also worked with Wajda on Stanisława Przybyszewska's The Danton Case staged in 1975 at Warsaw's Popular Theatre, providing both the scenery and costumes. The duo would revisit Przybyszewska's text in 1980, mounting a production at the Coastal Theatre in Gdansk.
While still a student in Krakow, Zachwatowicz debuted as an actress at Tadeusz Kantor's Cricot-2 Theatre, playing the Bride in Kazimierz Mikulski's Studnia czyli głębia mysśi (The Well, or Depths of Thought, 1956). She was also a cabaret performer, appearing intermittently, from 1958 until the 1970s, at the Cellar Under the Rams (Piwnica Pod Baranami) where she created the unforgettable image of the 'naive initiate' among other characters, and she acted in a number of Andrzej Wajda's films, playing Hanka in Człowiek z marmuru / Man of Marble (1976) and Człowiek z żelaza (Man of Iron, 1981), Kazia in Panny z Wilka (The Maids of Wilko, 1979) and Witek's mother in Kronika wypadkow miłosnych (Chronicle of Amorous Accidents, 1985). Additionally, Zachwatowicz produced the costumes for a number of Wajda's films, among them The Wedding (1972), Smuga Cienia (The Shadow Line, 1976), Z biegiem lat, z biegiem dni... (As Years Go by, as Days Go by..., 1980), the German-French co-production Eine Liebe in Deutschland (1983), an adaptation of Dostoyevsky's The Possessed made in France and titled Les Possedes (1988), and The Revenge (2002).
Most recently, working once again at the StaryTheatre in Kraków, Zachwatowicz designed the scenery for Shakespeare's Macbeth directed by Wajda (2004) and for a review directed by Krzysztof Materna and titled W Piwnicy Pod Baranami. Krakowskie kabarety XX wieku (At the Cellar under the Rams - Krakow's Cabarets of the 20th Century, 2004). Around the same time she devised the sets for Dostoyevsky's The Possessed staged by Wajda at Moscow's Sovremennik Theatre.
Krystyna Zachwatowicz has also been socially and politically active throughout much of her lifetime. From 1980 until the imposition of Martial Law in Poland, she took part in the work of the Task Force for Culture of the Mazowsze Branch of the 'Solidarity' Independent Trade Union and was a staff member of the Secretariat of the 'Solidarity' Social Fund. During Martial Law she was an active member of the Committee for Assisting the Imprisoned established by the Primate of Poland. After Poland's 1989 transformation, she and Andrzej Wajda founded the Manggha Center for Japanese Art and Technology in Kraków.
Awards and distinctions:
Author: Monika Mokrzycka-Pokora, September 2005
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