Stanisław Fijałkowski was a painter and graphic designer. He was born 4 November 1922 in Zbolduniv and died 4 November 2020.
It was during Poland’s occupation, a particularly difficult time in Fijałkowski’s life, that he undertook his first creative explorations as an artist. These efforts were entirely independent, unguided by anyone. He did not find time for systematic study in painting until after the war. Between 1946 and 1951 he attended the State Higher School of the Fine Arts in Łódź, where he was a student of Władysław Strzemiński and Stefan Wegner, though he had Ludwik Tyrowicz as his thesis promoter.
Amongst his teachers, Fijałkowski most readily names Strzemiński as an influence, perhaps because he later worked under him as an assistant (the artist taught at his alma mater from 1947 to 1993, becoming a full professor in 1983). He was an important presence within the group of educators who shaped the school in Łódź (known today as the Academy of Fine Arts). He also guest-lectured for brief periods at a series of foreign art schools, among them the schools in Mons (1978, 1982) and Marburg (1990). He taught classes at Geissen University throughout the 1989/90 academic year.
Fijałkowski began his career as an independent artist by rebelling against his master, creating works that possess a clear link to those of the Impressionists. He made an effort to delineate his own, individual creative path by taking a clear position towards tradition and the achievements of the masters, particularly Strzemiński. Towards the end of the 1950s, he proceeded along a course typical of Polish painters fascinated with Informel, taking an interest in the symbolic meanings inherent in abstract expressive means. He believed that ‘unreal’ shapes are justified in paintings when they are saturated with meaning. Years later, in writing a brief curriculum vitae, the artist added that it was approximately at this time that:
...apart from interpreting reality within an esoteric dimension, there appeared [in his paintings] the need to organize the esoteric meanings inherent in form.
Fijałkowski admits that the shape of his art was to a significant degree determined by the writings of Kandinsky (whose Über das Geistige in der Kunst Fijalkowski translated and published in Poland) and Mondrian, and by his interest in Surrealism. These two branches of 20th-century art unexpectedly combined in Fijałkowski’s art to produce surprising results. At the turn of the 1950s and 60s, Fijałkowski continued to search and experiment, using the canvas as a plane on which to juxtapose the essentials of Strzemiński’s ordering principles with something within the realm of Surrealism that was stripped of direct metaphorical meanings and allusions.
The change that occurred in his paintings consisted primarily of a gradual abandonment of pure, literally allusive form. In the painter’s own words, during this time of reflection:
I attempted more boldly to create forms that did not impose a single meaning, leaving viewers fully free to access the ingredients of their personalities, that may be unconscious or repressed but are absolutely truthful. I sought, and continue to strive, to create form that is only the beginning of the work as generated by the viewer, each time in a new shape...
In Fijalkowski’s works, ‘form’ is more open the more it is modest, efficient, insinuated. Most of his compositions are constructed based on a simple set of principles whereby an almost uniformly coloured background is filled in with elements that resemble geometric figures but have rounded corners and soft edges, generating a poetic mood. The decisive hues used for the backgrounds of these canvasses, however, decidedly modify their function and meaning – at times, the background dominates the entirety of the image, becoming an abyss, a void that draws into its interior large, spinning wheels, ellipsoidal forms, or diagonal lines that cut across the painting. One could expect this repetition of forms to render both Fijałkowski’s painted works and his graphic art pieces tiring (the artist has been equally active in both areas, working in cycles, though the subjects undertaken often appeared in compositions created in various techniques).
This impression is only reinforced by the artist’s palette, which was restricted; he willingly used ‘undecided colours’ that were muted, cool and only at times broken up with ribbons of categorical black. But Fijałkowski was able to extract a tension out of this monotony and uniformity, in a manner that usually remains unfathomable to the viewer. Likewise, the meanings the artist assigns to these puzzling arrangements remain largely a mystery. In the end, it is the erudition of viewers, their rooting in culture and awareness of contemporary art, finally, their intuition that determines their ability to enter into a dialogue with the artist and his work. This dialogue is easier to establish in the case of pieces that contain ‘objective’ suggestions and clear references, for instance to Christian iconography. It is more difficult in the case of abstract compositions like Wąwozy / Ravines, Wariacje na temat liczby cztery / Variations on the Number Four, Studia talmudyczne / Talmudic Studies, or works like Autostrady / Highways that derive from the artist’s personal experiences. Nevertheless, Fijałkowski’s paintings are charming, even to the uninitiated viewer, for the ascetic painting techniques used, for a compactness deriving from the skilful balancing of emotions and intellect, intuition and conscious thought, individual expression and universal meanings – something very much in line with the artist’s own expectations. The parallel existence and synthesis of the concrete forms of the works with the mystery of their message – a synthesis of that which is external to the works with that which is internal – prevents his oeuvre from being perceived as over-aestheticized. In the end, his work seems to be the result of a search for harmony, for a principle that would impose order on the lack of direction felt by contemporary man. The artist achieves this aim through a distinct painterly language that sets his art apart from that of other artists, rendering it exceptional and original, not only, it seems, when compared to the work of other Polish artists.
Stanisław Fijałkowski was chairman of the Polish section of the Xylon International Association of Wood-Engravers and was vice president of this body’s International Board since 1990. Between 1974 and 1979, he was the vice president of the Polish AIAP Committee (Association Internationale des Arts Plastiques). He was a member of the European Academy of Arts and Sciences in Salzburg and the Royal Belgian Academy of Sciences, Literature, and Fine Arts in Brussels.
The artist represented Poland at the biennales in Sao Paulo (1969) and Venice (1972). In 1977, he received the Cyprian Kamil Norwid Art Criticism Prize and was awarded the prestigious Jan Cybis Prize in 1990. He has also received numerous domestic and international awards at a number of exhibitions, including the Graphic Art Biennale in Krakow (1968 and 1970), the Bianco e Nero Exhibition in Lugano (1972), and the Graphic Art Biennale in Lubliana (1977). In celebration of the artist’s 70th birthday, the National Museum in Poznań planned a retrospective of Fijałkowski’s work for the year 2002.
In 2002, Stanisław Fijałkowski received the Lech Siuda Award for ‘lifetime achievements in painting and graphic art’ bestowed by art collectors. In 2013, he was awarded the Commander’s Cross with Star of Polonia Restituta ‘for outstanding contributions to Polish and world culture, for achievements in creative work and artistic activity’ (previously he was awarded the Commander’s Cross and Officer’s Cross of Polonia Restituta, and in 2005 – the Gold Medal for Merit to Culture – Gloria Artis).
Stanisław Fijałkowski’s works were shown at over 500 national and international exhibitions, and were frequently awarded. His works are in numerous private and public collections in Poland as well as abroad, such as the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, the Pushkin Museum in Moscow, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Mc Grew Hill Collection in New York, the Tate Gallery in London, the Print Collection in Zagreb, the Graphische Sammlung Albertina in Vienna, and in museums in Bochum, Carpi, Dresden, Erlangen, Hamburg, Hanover, Lübeck, Lugano, Marburg, Oldenburg, Prague, Skopje, Winterthur.
Author: Małgorzata Kitowska-Łysiak, Art History Institute of the Catholic University of Lublin, Faculty of Art Theory and the History of Artistic Doctrines, December 2001, updated: July 2015
- 2002 – Malarstwo / Painting, EGO Gallery, Poznań
- 2003 – Retrospective: National Museum in Poznań, National Museum in Wrocłąw and Zachęta – National Gallery of Art
- 2006 – Nowe Prace / New Works, EGO Gallery, Poznań
- 2009 – Prace na Papierze / Works on Paper, part 1, Galeria Arsenał, Poznań
- 2010 – Prace na papierze / Works on Paper, part 2, EGO Gallery, Poznań; retrospective, Atlas Sztuki, Łódź
- 2012 – Prace na papierze, Marchand Exhibit Gallery, Warsaw