Painter, creator of typography designs, photomontages, and architectural, scenographic and abstract experimental film projects; representative of Polish constructivism and productivism. Born in 1897 in Warsaw, died in 1927, in the Tatras.
Mieczysław Szczuka did art studies in the years 1915-20 at the Warsaw School of Fine Arts under the direction of Miłosz Kotarbiński. There he met his future life companion and colleague, Teresa Żarnower. Szczuka’s artistic identity was initially influenced by Cubism, Futurism and Expressionism. In 1920 his dramatic religious paintings were shown in the Polish Arts Club in Warsaw. A year later he presented there his multidimensional compositions made of wood and papier-mâché in a joint exhibition with Henryk Stażewski and Edmund Miller. The works were the result of experiments with textural effects and colour intensity.
In 1923 Szczuka’s three-dimensional, typography and theatre designs (Spatial Construction – Portrait of a Revolutionary, 1922) were displayed at the New Art Exhibition in Vilnius, which marked the beginning of Polish inter-war avant-garde art. In the same year, the artist presented projects for monuments and abstract films in the gallery Der Sturm in Berlin together with Żarnowerówna. In addition, he made an overview of his early expressionist works on religious topics at the Warsaw Society for the Encouragement of Fine Arts under the pseudonym Józef Rekuć. In 1924 he co-founded the avant-garde Blok Group of Cubists, Constructivists, and Suprematists. He published articles in the Blok journal which he edited with Żarnowerówna, Stażewski and Miller. Szczuka participated in the exhibition Blok at the Laurin & Clement Automobile Salon in Warsaw, and the International Art Exhibition in Bucharest along with Żarnowerówna. In 1924, he became a member of the Polish Communist Party and started working with the Nowa Kultura (New Culture) magazine, designing constructivist typographic layouts. He fought a duel with Antoni Słonimski in defence of avant-garde ideas.
Russian constructivism played a key role in the painter’s artistic evolution. In accordance with its ideological doctrine, Szczuka was in favour of the supremacy of utilitarianism in the realm of art. Together with Żarnowerówna he developed a manifesto based on the idea of the social utility of art in opposition to Władysław Strzemiński’s experimental principles; he preached the complete merging of art and social reality in line with the related productivist doctrine. He gave art an instrumental function and identified it with productive work. He associated the search for new forms with industrial design, interior design, and typography. Inspired by the Futurists and Dadaists, the artist made experiments with film and theatre productions. He was one of the pioneers of photomontage and the author of compositions surprisingly rich in semantic associations, which he described as ‘poetry art’. His designs for the covers of Land on the Left by Bruno Jasieński and Anatol Stern (1924) and Smoke Over the City by Władysław Broniewski (1927) hold an important place in the history of this discipline. Szczuka abandoned easel painting in favour of formes mobiles and applied graphics. From 1925 he worked mainly on building designs and was one of the initiators and participants of the International Exhibition of Modern Architecture held in Warsaw in 1926. In 1927 he took part in the Modern Architecture Exhibition in Moscow. In the same year he founded the left-wing periodical Dźwignia in the pages of which he proclaimed his beliefs. In accordance with the ideology of productivism, Szczuka criticised the artistic principles of Kazimir Malevich (No. 2/3), among others.
Author: Irena Kossowska, Institute of Art of the Polish Academy of Sciences, June 2002, transl. Bozhana Nikolova, March 2015