Andrzej Klimowski is a painter, graphic artist, and creator of visual novels and animated films. He designs posters, book covers and illustrations for the press. He was born in 1949 in London, where he also lives and works, into a family of Polish immigrants.
Painter, graphic artist, author of visual novels and animated films. He designs posters, book covers and illustrations for the press.
Andrzej Klimowski has spent most of his life in the UK. His parents, Polish immigrants, ran an archive of the Polish Underground State, among other things (Klimowski’s father was a Home Army officer).
Klimowski visited Poland for the first time when he was eleven years old. The difference between the pursuit of work and wealth which he observed in Great Britain and Poland’s safe stability and slow pace of life struck him. It was also his first visit to the theatre and the opera.
‘These experiences were decisive in forming my imagination’, he later said.
The term ‘Polish artist’ is applied to him inconsequently and he himself undermines the idea:
As a matter of fact, I’m a British artist. I think that emphasising the Polishness in my art derives from the fact that it departs from the British style and way of thinking. (…) When I lived in Warsaw, it was said that my graphics are characterised by British frigidness. In turn, in England they describe me as a Baroque surrealist, which I associate with Poland. I’m simply myself and I don’t give much thought to how I can be classified. Still, I’m aware of the fact that the iconography of Central or Eastern Europe is coded somewhere in my sensibility and influences my work.
Between 1968 and 1972, he studied sculpture and painting at the St. Martin School of Art in London. Afterwards, between 1973 and 1980, he lived and worked in Warsaw. He studied poster art under Professor Henryk Tomaszewski (1973/74) and animation under Kazimierz Urbański (1974/75) at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. There he met Danuta Schejbal, who was also born in London – his future wife and collaborator.
He returned to London in 1980 and immediately began work at an art school. He is a very committed lecturer and admits that didactic work absorbs him. He taught printmaking and graphic design at the College of Art in Canterbury (1981-1989) and College of Art and Design in West Surrey (1982-1984). Since 1984, he has been teaching graphic design and illustration at London’s Royal College of Art. He became a professor in 1997. Currently, he manages RCA’s Visual Communication Programme.
Klimowski deals with broadly defined graphic design. He reaches for techniques used in fine arts such as drawing, printmaking (especially lino carving) and moves freely between various disciplines of art. In Poland, he is known primarily as the author of dark, collage posters (for theatre, cinema, opera and publishing) that are undoubtedly inspired by the photomontage of the Polish and Russian Interwar Period and the surrealist visions of de Chirico and Magritte. The work of Roman Cieślewicz is also a crucial source of inspiration and influence.
The authors of the catalogue of the 2004 Topor i Spółka: Polscy Współcześni Artyści Panicznej Wyobraźni (editor’s translation: Topor and Co.: Contemporary Polish Artists of Panic Imagination) exhibition wrote:
Andrzej Klimowski’s art stems from a fantasy world similar to that of silent cinema, noir cinema, paintings by Magritte and de Chirico and David Lynch’s films. In the emptiness of the suburban jungle, ambiguous, eroticism-infused metamorphoses of people play out. A bizarre light which is neither that of a sunny day nor of a lunar night, figures suspended motionless between dreams and consciousness, the atmosphere of festive mystery and anticipation (of a crime?) and the disturbing presence of camera obscura which registers this state of affairs – this is the world that we’ve seen before in a dream, before we recognised it in Klimowski’s lithography.
Klimowski’s posters most often depict a human figure, combined into hybrids (Omen, 1977), with duplicated faces (Down by Law, 1991), attached wings (Before the Flight, 1980), turned into insects (Alberto Ménde: Ballets, 1979), arranged into disturbing poses (Time and Peace, 1993). Suggestive, coloured photography, rasters, rescaling, diffusion of layers – these are Klimowski’s means of expression. The artist’s works depict a dark world which we are all part of, a sphere of anxieties and instincts locked away in every human being.
The authors of the exhibition Topor i Spółka wrote:
His disturbing, poetic drawings were part of the phenomenon of the new Polish drawing for the press of the 1970s: his colour photomontages and posters (for the National Theatre in Warsaw and Royal Shakespeare Company among others) are a continuation of the finest tradition of the Polish poster art.
Designing for publishing and press is a big part of Klimowski’s artistic activity. He has collaborated with publishing houses (Czytelnik, Nasza Księgarnia, Penguin, Faber&Faber, Everyman Library, Oberon Books), magazines (Szpilki, The Guardian) and with Polish Television. He is the author of covers, illustrations, adverts, and theatre programme designs. He contributes to the graphic novel genre which uses illustration as the principal or only narrative tool.
His books, such as Depository (1994) and The Secret (2002), are novels without words. The Secret is composed of approximately 300 illustrations carried out using various contrasting techniques. These works combine ink painting, disciplined drawing and photography collage. The camera introduced in the story – a camera obscura – gives the reader a feeling of the existence of different worlds which coexist on rules that are not clearly defined. The protagonist experiences a constant feeling of danger, he is peeked at while being a voyeur himself.
‘In my story, what was captured by the apparatus, disappeared’, the author explains.
Because of the novel’s disturbing ambience, The Secret is sometimes read as a dark interpretation of the events that transpired during the communist regime in Poland.
Another graphic novel, 2007 Horace Dorlan, combines text with illustrations made using the time-consuming and exhausting – as Klimowski recalls – linocut technique.
In turn, the graphic version of Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita (Master and Margarita: A Graphic Novel, 2008) is a collaboration between Klimowski and Danuta Szejbal. They worked on the book together but in separate rooms. Then they met to talk about the drawings. This way, two stylistically different themes were created: Danuta’s colourful one (Jerusalem and theatre scenes) and Andrzej’s black and white Moscow. Klimowski designed an original linocut font, especially for the novel.
Such a depiction of Master and Margarita divided readers. Amongst the praise, critical voices were also present: its illustrations were rated as low-quality, especially the coloured ones. Also, the work was dependent on the reader’s knowledge of Bulgakov’s original and there were issues with the narrative’s rhythm. Furthermore, the story was accused of imitating the 2005 film version by Vladimir Bortko in terms of separating different parts of the storyline.
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde: A Graphic Novel (2009) is the duo’s second collaboration – a graphic novel based on Robert L. Stevenson’s work. The authors chose grease pencils as their drawing tools because they deemed them appropriate for illustrating scenes taking place in foggy London. Quill and ink were used for drawing speech bubbles and all the text was written by hand.
Andrzej Klimowski took part in many group exhibitions, such as International Theatre Poster Biennale in Rzeszów, International Poster Biennale in Warsaw, International Graphic Design Biennale in Brno and Moscow International Book Festival.
He also did many solo exhibitions: in Villa Bottini (Lucca, Italy, 2000), Royal National Theatre (London, 2001), The National Museum of Photography, Film and TV (Bradford, 2003) and in the Arsenal Gallery (Poznań, 2006), to name just a few.
The artist’s works are part of the collections of institutions such as the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the National Museums in Warsaw and Poznań and Library of Congress in Washington.
Andrzej Klimowski’s graphic novels:
- 2009 – Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: A Graphic Novel (with Danutą Szejbal) – an adaptation of Robert L. Stevenson’s novel
- 2008 – Master and Margarita: A Graphic Novel (with Danutą Szejbal), SelfMadeHero – an adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel
- 2007 – Horace Dorlan, Faber&Faber
- 2002 – The Secret, Faber&Faber
- 1994 – Depository, Faber&Faber
Animated films on which Andrzej Klimowski worked:
- 2004 – The Secret (directing: Andrzej Klimowski, based on his own novel); The Sphinx (directing: Andrzej Klimowski, screenplay: Andrzej Klimowski and Danuta Schejbal)
- 2003 – The Depository (based on Andrzej Klimowski’s novel, directing: Andrew Kanavagh)
- 1980 – Martwy cień (editor’s translation: Dead shadows, Studio Małych Form Filmowych Se-Ma-For; scenario and directing: Andrzej Klimowski; scenography: Andrzej Klimowski, Danuta Schejbal)
- 1979 – W Tym Szaleństwie... (editor’s translation: There’s a Method to This Madness, Wytwórnia Filmów Dokumentalnych, Warsaw; graphics: Andrzej Klimowski)
- (University work) 19 Bis Dreamstrasse
Written in Polish by Sylwia Giżka, Nov 2010, translated by Patryk Grabowski, May 2018