Antoni Buszek was one of the outstanding creators of a program for new Polish decorative arts and an innovator of widely practiced teaching and work methods. He was among those modernist artists who brought back the unity of art and crafts through their work.
Creator of a program for new Polish decorative arts and an innovator of widely practiced teaching and work methods.
In 1901 he began studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow, under Józef Unierzyski, Józef Mehoffer, Jan Stanisławski, and Stanisław Wyspiański. Recalling his years of study at the Academy, he stated:
Nobody back then was teaching you to fit an ornament in a circle, a square, a triangle, etc. Nobody taught you how to make the simplest forms in material, wood, tin, stone, or fired clay; nobody knew the difference between a drawing for a kilim or a mosaic and a drawing on paper. All of that started with Wyspiański, [...] not through a system, nor a method, but on live examples, into which you had to put your own blood to get results that would please the professors.(1)
In 1904 he went to Paris, where he continued his studies in painting at the museums and the Bibliothèque de Métiers. The years 1908–1911 were spent in Italy. Buszek's interest in Byzantine and Russian Byzantine art was significant. To use the traditional techniques of Byzantine painting, he studied old icon technologies from Mount Athos. During a subsequent trip to Paris in the years 1911–1913, Antoni Buszek came across something that was to have a powerful bearing on his future career – the innovative program of Paul Poiret's École Martine .
In 1910 Poiret, one of France's most outstanding fashion designers, journeyed to Brussels, Vienna, and Berlin, encountering the work of Wiener Werkstätte and Deutsche Werkbund. As a result, a year later in Paris he founded the École Martine, which produced applied objects in the 'art for all' vein (fabrics, carpets, wallpapers, small furniture, and whole interior decorations) for moderately wealthy consumers. These were produced and ornamented by teenaged girls with no background in the arts, but gifted with talent and supervised by workers from an arts school. Among them was the Fauvist Raoul Dufy, who designed patterns for Poiret with primitive flower motifs styled after folk woodcuts.
After returning to Poland, Buszek applied the École Martine method in the Krakow Workshops, which came about in 1913 at the Technical and Industrial Museum in Krakow.
And here - Wojciech Jastrzębowski recalled - Buszek proposed an experiment, the organization of a batik workshop with a group of six to eight young women, who began normal production after some quick training.(2)
The association that was developed needed effective teaching and work methods, ones that could be applied to running these crafts workshops. Antoni Buszek organized a team of girls from the villages around Krakow and hired them as batik artists and painters. Following the notion of spontaneous creativity, he directed the team by using their inborn decorative abilities and inspiring their visual imaginations.
Batik is a method of decorating fabrics, leather, parchment, or paper, in which a pattern is made with a hot-wax pen, and the decorated material is then immersed in a dye bath. The places with wax do not soak up the dye, and so the process can be repeated to create multicolored patterns on a darker and darker background. 'As a decorative technique [batik] is nothing new for our people, as we decorate eggs the same way', noted Marian Wisz.(3) At any rate, the first Polish attempts at batik decoration, from the beginning of the 20th century, were described as being made with 'the Easter egg method.'
The very term batik comes from the Malaysian word tik, which means to 'bathe' or 'immerse'. The original fabrics were brought from Java by the East India Trading Company, operative in Batavia (present-day Jakarta) from the beginning of the 17th century onward. The oldest Javanese batiks in Polish collections are among those donated in 1887 to the Technical and Industrial Museum in Krakow by Jarosław Waszak after his return from a journey in Sumatra, Java, and the Philippines. Two of the surviving fabrics from this collection illustrate the process of the batik's creation. Javanese batiks were also found in the Krakow collections of Marian Raciborski, Michał Siedlecki, and Feliks 'Manggha' Jasieński, all completed somewhat later. Batiks were first produced in Europe at the end of the 17th century, but the technique gained particular popularity in the early 20th century as a result of the Dutch batik show at the World Exposition in Paris in 1900.
In the experimental batik workshop the Buszek method was used in the years 1913–1926 to make silk decorative/applied fabrics, such as scarves, kerchiefs, wall hangings, and cushions in the 'Javanese-Cracovian' style at the Kraków Workshops. Stickers, paper, and book-bindings were also batiked, as were various wood products. They were done on the horror vacui principle, filling every inch of the background with ornament. They used a wealth of decorative folk motifs from the Krakow vicinity, in particular the Krakow embroidery, the tradition of ornamental Sarmatian fabrics and sashes, and motifs from oriental art, all of which decidedly set their products apart from the contemporaneous European batiks. The fabrics enjoyed great success, while the technique itself swiftly became popular among Polish women.
In the early 1920s, Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz polemicized with the practical activities of the artist and his theoretical premises. In a sketch entitled A Theory by Antoni Buszek and Certain Doubts It Raises vis-a-vis the Rebirth of Pure Art, he wrote:
These arts [pure and ornamental] were long ago joined and have since parted ways. Their artificial combination cannot produce the same old results, because the living conditions have fundamentally changed. A 'return to nature' (but in life, not in art) is but a fiction. Nothing can stop humanity in this development that is often misleading in many essential ways.(4)
Antoni Buszek performed educational experiments with children and young people at the Workshops from 1919–1922, and continued them in Warsaw, in 1922 at his own school, and, from 1923–1925, at applied art courses at the Association in Support of the Folk Industry. His greatest and most spectacular success was achieved at the International Exhibition of Decorative Art in Paris in 1925, where he received the Grand Prix and a gold medal for his teaching methods. In 1926 Buszek began running the 'An-bu', a chemical agents and paints factory, which he founded in Warsaw. In his Parisian period he had already gained some renown as a producer of paint, which he made by delving into old painting technologies and techniques.
Buszek used the experience he gained during his work with batik artists in the Krakow Workshops after the war, running courses for workers in the faience factories in Włocławek and Koło. The decorators working there were taught beforehand to multiply ready-made patterns 'automatically'. They often achieved significant proficiency in painting, but they never tried to paint independently. The aim of the Włocławek courses for outstanding painters, organized by Buszek in 1949 through BNEP, was to 'raise the aesthetic level of production without reducing the work output, and to inspire visual creativity (by acquainting the participants with the principles of constructing ornament composition and color schemes)'.(5) One of the course participants, the painter Salomea Zajkowska, recalled years later:
He only started decorating the plates and bowls more richly after the war. When Professor Buszek and the Grześkiewiczes came to us, the decorations we made became much richer. Professor Buszek told us to paint what we could. Some I liked more than others, but mainly his work was ‘Buszekesque,' densely packed and with very varied designs.(6)
Antoni Buszek also designed 'ceramic stencils,' which were used in the porcelain factories in Ćmielów, Bogucice, Jaworzyna Śląska, Tułowice, and Wałbrzych. From 1951–1952 he lectured in ceramics at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw.
The enormous popularity enjoyed by the hand-painted 'folk' faience in the 1970s and 1980s meant that it quickly became a 'deficit good', which did not favor the development of the individual talents of the painter/decorators. To keep up with the market demand, tried and tested designs were mass produced. 'Włocławeks' came to be the standard decor for the social modernist apartment, becoming part of the 'folk' iconosphere of that period.
Antoni Buszek (1883–1954), painter, teacher and technologist, was known for introducing the 'Buszek method'. From 1901–1904 he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow. Following his studies he left for Paris, where he came across the program of Paul Poiret's École Martine. After his return, he joined up with the Krakow Workshops, where he ran a batik workshop he had organized in Paris. He then applied it to his own school in Warsaw in 1922, and again at his courses for the Association in Support of the Folk Industry in Warsaw from 1923–1925. At the International Exhibition of Decorative Art in Paris (1925) he received the Grand Prix and the gold medal for his teaching methods. In 1926 he founded the 'An-bu', a chemical agents and paints factory in Warsaw. After 1946 he organized courses for folk artists and decorators of faience products at factories in Włocławek and Koło. From 1951–1952 he lectured on ceramics at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw.
Author: Janusz Antos
Text originally published in Out of the Ordinary. Polish Designers of the 20th Century, edited by Czesława Frejlich and published by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute (Warsaw, 2011) in cooperation with the Karakter publishing house. Translation by Søren Gauger, edited for the purposes of Culture.pl by Agnieszka Le Nart.
For more information on the book, see: www.karakter.pl
(1) A. Buszek, Ze wspomnień szkolnych o St. Wyspiańskim, 'Sztuki Piękne', VII, 1932, p. 296.
(2) W. Jastrzębowski, Geneza, program i wyniki działalności 'Warsztatów Krakowskich' i 'Ładu', 'Polska Sztuka Ludowa' 1952, no. 1, p. 18.
(3) M. Wisz [K. Witkiewicz and T. Szafran], Batik, pisanki na tkaninach. Wskazówki praktyczne, Krakow 1928, p. 7.
(4) S.I. Witkiewicz, Teoria Antoniego Buszka i pewne wątpliwości co do niej w kwestii odrodzenia sztuki czystej [in:] ibid., Nowe formy w malarstwie i inne pisma estetyczne, Warsaw 1959, pp. 243.
(5) R. Hankowska, Fajans włocławski, Wrocław 1991, p. 49.
(6) Quoted from: R. Hankowska, op.cit., p. 50.