A beautifully designed and produced book presents the moving record of two incredible artists, Franciszka and Stefan Themerson, during the two years of their war-time separation. It's launch forms part of an exhibition of her works, Why Is the Mind in the Head?, in London.
Franciszka and Stefan in their studio in Paris, 1938
Jasia Reichardt's introduction essay reveals that when the couple met in 1930 then married in 1931, Franciszka was an outstanding graduate of the Department of Painting at Warsaw’s Academy of Fine Arts, winning highest honours for her diploma piece, and Stefan - three years her junior - was already deep into experimental film and photography. Throughout that decade, in an intimate collaboration, the Themersons became leading figures in Warsaw’s vital avant-garde film scene.
They were founding members of a now-legendary film-makers' co-op and creators of its journal (SAF). They made five short films together, and established contact with fellow artists in London and Paris, introducting their work in Poland. In order to make a living and fund their artistic endevours, they also created an array of remarkable children’s books, with Stefan’s texts and Franciszka’s drawings.
Franciszka's letter to Stefan on the cover of the book
The introduction goes on to tell the beginning of their wartime story, which starts in August 1939, in Paris, where they had been for over a year. Stefan was repeatedly asked the reason of their journey. Did they emigrate? Did they leave Poland to escape anti-Semitism? Neither was the case. Themerson explained:
At the time, Paris was the world's centre of the arts and one need not search for any other motives. If one wrote, painted or made films, one had to be in Paris. So in the end, we went to Paris, and there the war found us.
In the words of Reinhardt,
When the war breaks out, Franciszka wants to return to Warsaw to be with her family. Stefan refuses to go, and so they stay. Two days after the declaration of war, the Themersons volunteer for the Polish Army in France. Franciszka is assigned to the Polish Government-in-Exile as cartographer and illustrator, and eventually ends up in England. Stefan becomes a soldier and stays in France.
150 of their letters survive, as do 150 telegrams, Stefan's nine diaries, 70 official documents and Franciszka's many drawings. [...] the story has a beginning, a middle and an end. We can read it because Stefan and Franciszka were unable to talk to each other and so wrote down their thoughts and experiences instead. [...]The story is called Unposted Letters because that is what Franciszka called her drawings. They are never sent and end up in her drawer. Some of her letters, long soliloquies like Stefan's diaries, meet the same fate.
Why Is the Mind in the Head, Franciszka Themerson, oil on canvas, 1954
The exhibition entitled Why Is the Mind in the Head? takes a question that Franciszka used for her painting of a pensive man surrounded by lines and geometrical forms that constitute his puzzling environment. We are still asking this question. Franciszka didn't invent the words - she borrowed them from Warren S. McCullogh, an American neurophysiologist, who first posed it in a paper of 1951.
Franciszka made highly original designs for the theatre, illustrated books and when she married Stefan, she became a film-maker. Yet, essentially - or originally - she was a painter for whom line became an autograph language.
Nick Wadley, the curator of the exhibition will give a talk about Franciszka Themerson at the gallery on Thursday the 17th of October, at 7 pm. The exhibition was launched on the 11th and runs through the 20th of October.
Franciszka Themerson (née Weinles), born in Warsaw 1907, was a painter, illustrator and graphic artist. She graduated from the Warsaw Art Academy in 1931 with a gold medal and the highest distinction awarded for the year. She was the daughter of Jakub Weinles, a painter of traditional, often highly expressive scenes from Jewish life, and Łucja Weinles (née Kaufman), a pianist.
Stefan Themerson, born in Płock in 1910, was a writer, film-maker and experimental photographer. He was the son of Mieczysław Themerson, a doctor who was also a published writer, and Salomea Smulewicz.
The books they created to earn a living are unlike other books for children. Lacking the typical fairies and wizards, the magic of their stories is found in the reality of the surrounding world, conjured out of bricks and mortar, electricity, the alphabet and the post office. The Themersons left Warsaw to continue their work in Paris, and later London, in 1938.
By Franciszka Themerson and Stefan Themerson
Edited by Jasia Reichardt and Nick Wadley
Published by Gaberbocchus & De Harmonie, 2013
TUESDAY 15 October, 6 pm
With introductions by Neal Ascherson and Nick Wadley
GV Art Gallery
49 Chiltern Street, Marylebone,
London W1U 6LY
Part of Franciszka Themerson's exhibition Why Is the Mind in the Head
Admission to the exhibit is FREE but RSVP is essential: info(at)gvart.co.uk
Editor: Paulina Schlosser, source: http://www.polishculture.org.uk, press release