Bronisław Wojciech Linke was a painter, draughtsman, and graphic designer. He was born on 23rd April, 1906 in Tartu (Estonia), died on 6th October, 1962 in Warsaw.
Painter, draughtsman, and graphic designer. Born on 23rd April, 1906 in Tartu (Estonia), died on 6th October, 1962 in Warsaw.
Hs father was Juliusz Ferdynand Linke, a solicitor who played an important role in the Polish community in Estonia, while his mother Maria, née Starorypińska, came from a landed gentry family from Eastern Prussia. He was orphaned when he was eight years old.
As a child, Linke witnessed some major political and historical events. He observed and documented, in notes and drawings, the terrifying scenes which played out in the streets of Tartu during the February Revolution, the German invasion, and later during the Estonian struggle for the independence. It is possibly those dramatic experiences that shaped his artistic imagination and discourse. He had a consistent interest in engaged, highly moralistic art, creating visually ghoulish compositions pertaining to political and social issues.
In 1919, Bronisław Wojciech Linke was repatriated, together with his family, to Poland. He settled in Kalisz, where he attended secondary school, continuing the education he commenced in Riga. In the same year, due to the financial situation in his family, he found employment in Toruń's Polameryka factory, then in Teuffel's sawmill, and later in Toruń Printing House 'Sztuka.' Between 1922 and 1923, while still working, he studied drawing at the State School of Arts Industry in Bydgoszcz. In the following years, he took further art studies at the School of Arts Industry in Kraków (1924-1926) and School of Fine Arts in Warsaw, in the workshops of Tadeusz Pruszkowski and Mieczysław Kotarbiński (1926-1931).
He was a member of Loża Wolnomalarska (Freepainters's Lodge), a group founded in 1932 by graduates of the Warsaw School of Fine Arts – Pruszkowski's students who focused their practice on explorations of colour. In 1933, he received a scholarship to go to Paris, however he was unable to go due to his first wife's, Halina Maria's née Skarżyńska, illness.
He debuted as a graphic designer in 1936 in Szpilki; he also created illustrations for Dziennik Ludowy, Nowe Życie, Sygnały, Tygodnik Robotnika, and after the war for Polityka and Trybuna Ludu. His works revolved around political, social, and cultural issues, and often related to the bourgeois morality laced with hypocrisy, deceitfulness, false compassion and feigned love. His drawings presented superficially smiling engaged couples in bourgeois salons, the unemployed, and handicapped beggars.
Linke was associated with the Warsaw Artist Group 'Czapka Frygijska,' which between 1934-1938 gathered artists representing radical social ideas and communist beliefs. The group's members were advocates of engaged and agitprop art, and at the same time practitioners of realism in art, which largely coincided with Linke's beliefs at the time. They represented the poverty of the proletariat, the unemployed, strikes, and heavy physical labour.
Linke was an enthusiast of grouping his drawings in larger thematic sets. The earliest one, from 1931-1932, was titled Wojna (War). The next one – Miasto (City, 1931-1935) – depicted the cruel and horrifying aspects of the surrounding reality. The majority of the represented scenes are nocturnal, emphasising the mystery and horror permeating the urban space. The titular city seems to come alive and becomes hostile to its inhabitants. The walls and streets almost have agency, while people appear to be objectified mannequins, completely incapable of taking action. The city is not only active, but can also suffer and be touched by diseases, which manifest themselves in the damaged facades, scratched plastering, and lichens on walls. Linke continued to pursue his contemplations on the city, personifying it in his post-war works.
In 1936, soon after the death of his first wife, he went to Silesia with his friend Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz. Their trip fell under the general trend of visual and literary artists' and journalists' visits to industrial regions, which were the apple of the government's eye. Projects such as the Silesian mines or the construction of the Centre of Non-Governmetal Organizations in Katowice were supposed to support the economic growth and modernization of the nation. Thus, a propaganda action was carefully designed, incorporating paintings, by, for instance, Rafał Malczewski, or works from writers and journalists, such as Melchior Wańkowicz. Linke's private trip, during which he and Witkacy stayed at the Krahelski family's house, resulted in a series of thirty piece-long series titled Śląsk (Silesia). Only six plates from it have been preserved, one of which only partially. The vision of industrial plants and mines represented in it was drastic and harsh, and clearly far from the desired official image. In May 1938, the exhibition of the series organized at the Institute of Art Propaganda, was closed down due to the potential social damage. Similar accusations were later repeatedly aimed at Linke's art, which was perceived by the post-war authorities as misrepresenting the arduous life of workers and miners.
In 1939, Linke got married again, this time to Anna Maria née Zajdenmann. Soon after the war broke out, he left Warsaw with his wife and her parents, for fear of Nazi persecution, inspired by his press caricatures of Hitler from the second half of the 1930s. They first moved to Lviv, and later further East, to the depths of the Soviet Union. From 1942, they lived in Orsk (Ural), and returned to Poland in 1946. That period of his output is less widely known, due to the broad spectrum of the works he created during the war. The surviving notes and sketchbooks include, among others, his graphic designs: slogans, posters, and signboards. He also drew portraits, both for private and official purposes. He moreover produced a cycle titled Wszy (Lice) and had a novel in the planning stages. His sketches from the East show various of landscapes, often painted on small scraps of paper. Some of them illustrate the terrifying poverty and deterioration of the provincial Russians.
After the war, the artist and his wife lived for a while in Maria Dąbrowska's guest house. Soon afterwards, they moved to their own apartment in Warsaw's district of Żoliborz, while in 1954 they moved to the Old Town. Between 1946-1956, Linke painted his most famous series Kamienie krzyczą (Screaming Stones) – a horrifying vision of the ruins of Warsaw. In 1959, its reproductions were published in an album featuring an introduction by Maria Dąbrowska. Prior to creating the series, the artist went on walks around the destroyed capital, with a sketchbook and a camera in his hand. His conversations with Varsovians who had survived the war also significantly shaped the series. These testimonies and experiences inspired his metaphorical vision of the death of the city. People appearing in the pictures serve mainly as a complementation to the meaning behind the catastrophic landscape. A couple in a shelter, a girl looking up to the sky, or a kneeling person were not the core of these representations. The paintings instead focused on the animated, monumental ruins, which empathised, but also cooperated with people.
Towards the end of the 1950s, Linke painted a cycle titled Atom, distinguished by its modest means of artistic expression. Its form, nearly monochromatic, extremely refined in its asceticism, further intensified its dramatic tone. The iconography in Atom is eerie. Apart from the moment of explosion, represented by the mushroom cloud, it also shows people's fear, the astonishment of children on the seats of a destroyed merry-go-round, as they circle the cloud of dust. One will also see images of earth: burnt, cracked, contaminated by radioactivity – a scary vision of the degenerate, terrifying aspect of atom (Atomium).
In 1952, Linke painted Morze krwi (The Sea of Blood), a painting which was preceded by numerous studies drawn during holidays in Ustka and Międzyzdroje. It was most likely created under the influence of The Other Side by Alfred Kubin – a fantasy story about the demise of the fictional dream kingdom. Amongst numerous frightening scenes, it also features a vision of the ocean of blood, which transforms into a disgusting, stinking liquid.
One of the artist's most famous works is Autobus (The Bus), which according to some bears parallels with Stanisław Wyspiański's The Wedding. Just like the play's protagonists, the characters in Linke's painting are still and lethargic, like passive marionettes. They become slaves, obstructing their own liberation. In 1981, Jacek Kaczmarski dedicated a song to this painting. Having been inspired by another painting by Linke, he also wrote the poem Kanapka z człowiekiem (Sandwich with a Man).
Linke always used an expressive style in his works, usually brutally revealing the most drastic aspects of the surrounding reality. His works were in general anti-aesthetic, or even morbid. They were to provoke shock and disgust in a way that would inspire a reflection. Human figures transform into nightmarish ghosts, while the elements of their surrounding reality, such as houses or machines, often come alive and become stalkers or a source of threat to human life.
In his frightening visions, Linke combined a direct, precise observation of reality with elements of metaphor, while bluntness and crudeness of representations – with a certain kind of lyricism. These features have often tempted researchers to investigate his connections to Surrealism, which seems incorrect, as the painter was far from the basic premises of that current. Some also sought the genesis of Linke's art forms in the Neue Sachlichkeit or German Expressionism art currents. Attempts would be made to describe it in the categories of metaphorical realism, indicating the symbolical meaning of objects or people, removed from their surroundings and represented in a crude way. His oeuvre is also close to selected premises of magical realism, in their uncanniness and unearthliness of the seemingly realistic imagery.
After the war, Bronisław Wojciech Linke belonged to the Powiśle art group, however, he rarely exhibited his works during that period, while his art inspired hostility and controversy. The pessimism in Linke's paintings did not fit into the vision of reality favoured by the propaganda at the time.
In 1960, he managed to fulfil his childhood dream and went for a two-month trip to Paris together with his wife. Between 1961-62, he made two trips to the Swiss Bern for medical purposes. He died of a tumour on 6th October, 1962.
One year after Linke's death, the National Museum in Warsaw opened a monographic exhibition of his art, curated by Irena Jakimowicz. Linke's works were also presented at group exhibitions, such as Ekspresjonizm w grafice polskiej (Expressionism in Polish Graphic Arts, National Museum in Kraków, 1976) and Malarze z kręgu Tadeusza Pruszkowskiego (Circle of Tadeusz Pruszkowski, National Museum in Warsaw, 1978). In 1991, Grzegorz Dubowski directed the documentary Bronisława Linkego opisywanie świata (Bronisław Linke Describes the World).
Author: Magdalena Wróblewska, December 2010, transl. AM, June 2016.