Władysław Hasior was a sculptor, painter, set designer, and teacher. He was born in Nowy Sącz on 14th May, 1928, and died in Kraków on 14th July, 1999. He was buried at Pęksowy Brzyzek cemetery in Zakopane.
Hasior started his artistic education at the State College of Fine Arts in Zakopane under Antoni Kenar. After graduating, he was admitted to the Sculpture Faculty of the Fine Arts Academy in Warsaw, where he studied under Marian Wnuk from 1952 to 1958. After completing his studies, he donated his graduation work – a ceramic Stations of the Cross – to the church in Nowy Sącz and returned to Zakopane, where he worked as teacher at the same college he graduated from. At the beginning of the 70s, he taught at the State Higher School of Fine Arts in Wrocław. In 1959, he received a scholarship from the French Ministry of Culture which allowed him to travel to West Germany, Belgium, Holland, France and Italy. He also had a placement at the Parisian studio of acclaimed sculptor Osip Zadkin. In 1961, he became a member of Phases, an international group of visual artists and writers, and was involved in editing their self-titled magazine. In 1984, Władysław Hasior’s Gallery opened in the Tatra Museum in Zakopane.
The European Rauschenberg
Władysław Hasior was one of the most prolific contemporary Polish artists. He was an extraordinary personality, and a very colourful and magnetic individual. In the West, he was hailed as "the most talented student of Rauschenberg and Warhol". In Poland, his work is considered as a precursor to pop art and assemblage, despite the artist's obstinate insistence that he had "never suffered from modernity". Hasior regarded artistic activity as an intellectual and creative provocation, and he perceived modernity as rooted in a culture whose language was universal.
He entered the art world in a manner that immediately drew the attention of the general public, and soon after became a "cult" artist for the 60s and 70s generations. His work shocked and delighted, aroused extreme emotions and judgement, and his controversial attitude compelled audiences to ask questions about the nature of art, and the artistic license of choosing the language of expression. As one of the few such artists of the time, he gained a level of popularity typically enjoyed by celebrities of film and stage.
He was a sculptor, although many of his works are difficult to be categorized precisely in terms just sculpture. He became famous as a total artist, working on the borders between many artistic genres: painting, sculpture, architecture, arts and crafts. In 1958, he abandoned classical sculpture in favour of "something" which his contemporaries could not yet fully define. In his art practice, he employed a collage technique to create assemblages, namely, semantically rich three-dimensional compositions incorporating various found objects and finished works.
Hasior used degraded elements of technological civilization as art materials. He built structures out of everyday objects or fragments thereof, thus restoring their significance. In this fashion, he engaged in a continuous dialogue with Polish reality and mythology, a dialogue leavened with poetry, but also with mockery and irony. The relevance of Hasior’s artistic attitude lies in his authenticity, and in his acute powers of observation which encompassed sociology and culture, combining tradition and modernity, high and low culture.
Art of Five Elements
In his most interesting monumental realizations, Hasior used such unconventional materials as fire, air, and water. In the last interview before his death he said:
The contrast for water is fire, earth and air. This classification was established terribly long ago – when people did not know how to count all the elements, because – strangely enough – there is one more. The fifth element is the human ability to fantasize.
Hasior incorporated all five elements into his art and made them the basic material of his artistic practice. His creatively-developed assemblages, arrangements, and "banners" (works combining sculpture and tapestry, having great potential of meanings) as well as his huge spatial projects devised as mysteries, introduced a total, synthetic vision, and therefore, a new artistic language to Polish art. His exhibitions provoked heated debates and polemics.
Shortly after the war, the young Hasior befriended Maria Butscherowa-Długopolska, who supported him financially and materially as much as possible, enabling him to start his artistic career. In the biography Sądecki rodowód Hasiora, written by Irena Styczyńska and Antoni Kroh, the authors state:
Without constant help from Maria, Władek’s life probably would have taken a completely different turn. Life had not spoiled him: he soon lost his father and his step-father banished him from the house. Yet he really loved his mother and his half-brothers. Thus, at Maria's instigation, he went to school in Zakopane, which became the country's most famous art school in later years thanks to Antoni Kenar. It was Professor Kenar who shaped Hasior and somehow tied his future life with Zakopane.
Wire, soap and broken mirror
His first works made of found objects – discarded "garbage" items dating from his education at the academy – Wdowa, Czarnoksiężnik, Męka Pańska (Widow, The Wizard, The Passion of the Lord, 1957).
While still a student at the academy in Warsaw, I decided that the classical way of self-expression through the media of pure sculpture, realized in a single material, regardless of whether in naturalistic, realistic or purely formal and abstract style, was not a strong enough way for me to deliver the content I had in mind. There are problems, subjects that cannot be expressed in whichever material, hence there is a need to seek other formal means to convey intentions.
The need to obtain the most appropriate expression in his works resulted in Hasior turning to old, found, and damaged objects. He built human-shaped images out of wire, soap, broken mirrors, and rusty pipes, while anthropomorphizing the objects and making them poignant metaphors of human existence As early as 1964, prominent art critic Ksawey Piwocki came up with the idea of showing Hasior’s work in the Polish pavilion at the Venice Biennale. The proposal was rejected due to the deep controversy surrounding his work. In the same year, the Grand Prix in Venice was bestowed to Robert Rauschenberg for his assemblages (Rauschenberg created his first assemblage Bed in 1955, Hasior made works very similar in form in 1957, and in 1961 the famous Art of Assemblage exhibition opened at the Museum Of Modern Art in New York).
Hasior believed that objects have the power to convey messages; some even emanate an aura of some kind of disaster, for instance, a broken glass. They are carriers of metaphors and poetic suggestions.
I use materials that mean something. Each object has its meaning, and when put together they create an aphorism. An aphorism is very similar to the truth, but it is not truth itself. I consider artistic practice as an intellectual and creative provocation.
Hasior created expressive and emotional art. He referred to timeless themes, symbols and archetypal figures, brought from ancient mythology, which he endowed with contemporary content and meaning. One such character was Niobe. The artist felt that the modern Niobe was more tragic and painful.
This is not a myth, it is a cruel reality. Marble is not enough for me; I would not sanctify the subject by making it from Carrara marble. Without any scruples, I built this Niobe with soap, because in my opinion soap convincingly suggests the materiality of the human body, and in such close proximity to such a visualized and implied body that it would set a fire. The collision of these two concepts, I believe, will create some pain to the imagination, and some kind of intersection with this sum of meanings which resides in the sign of Niobe. The subject is most important and it determines the choice of material.
Another example of Hasior’s combining specific chains of associations is Przesłuchanie anioła (Hearing of an Angel). The artist hung the sculpture of an angel head down in order to emphasize the cruelty of the theme; and he lit a fire underneath to make its hair move. The traditions most relevant to Hasior’s art are Surrealism, the poetics of dreams, futuristic enthusiasm for machines, cubist collages, the art of Max Ernst, Calder’s mobiles, pop art, and French New Realism. Secondary sources of inspiration are folklore, naive art, primitivism, and folk religiosity and its magical character. The artist himself, however, repeatedly stressed:
I have no patron in any artist. My DIY had its source in the skills of Janko the Musician.
Hasior is a relative of the late medieval artist-poets – wrote Marek Rostworowski about the artist. –He evokes a beautiful and terrible world that combines reality with metaphor and the afterworld, delighting a man harassed by reality and longing for transcendence – the era of Hieronymus Bosch, Bruegel, witches and Spanish zealots of martyrdom. [...] Not one of Hasior’s objects is just as it seems, but it is what can be seen by an uncontrolled imagination. This is a fairy tale, because in Hasior’s sentences the words put together mean something different than each individually.
The first twenty years of Hasior’s artistic practice was the most interesting. In this period, until about 1965, the artist used simple, primitive materials in his sculptural structures: rusty wires, scraps of metal sheets, rotten pieces of wood, broken glass. The theme of the artist's work often referred to his experiences of war. He undertook such topics as cruelty, despair, torture, death, and defeat: Niobe (1961), Przesłuchanie anioła (Hearing of the Angel, 1962), Św. Łotr (St Rogue, 1962), Ikar (Icarus, 1962).
In this period, Hasior mastered the unique technique of making casts of cement figures in the ground, which he started to employ in 1960. He used reinforced concrete and holes dug in the ground to serve as moulds. The surface of the sculptures copied the recesses and furrows of the soil, preserving their imprint, and giving them an additional symbolic meaning. In 1960, Hasior made Święty Sebastian (St. Sebastian) in this way, followed by Pomnik rozstrzelanym (Monument for Executed by Firing Squad) in Nowy Sącz (1966-1968), a fragment of which is currently in Wrocław; Golgota (Golgotha, 1969) in Montevideo; Płonąca Pieta (Burning Pieta, 1972) in Copenhagen; and Rydwan Skandynawski (Scandinavian Chariot, 1972-1973) in Södertälje. An integral part of all these compositions is fire.
The idea was born when I visited a cemetery in Aix-en-Provence which I was very impressed with. I saw empty anthropomorphic tombs, traces of the resurrection. I wanted to repeat this act. In 1960, I pulled the first cast out of the ground. I washed the soil off the sculpture, I saw in it a tortured Sebastian, and I lit a flame in his chest.
In 1965, Hasior made the first draft of the "glass monument" Tym, co na morzu (To Those at Sea) – a giant aquarium standing on glass pillars. A ship was to be placed in the middle of the container with a blazing fire surrounding a cross on the surface. In 1968, the artist created another monument – Tym, co czwórkami do nieba szli (To Those Who Went to Heaven in Fours). However, the idea of glass monuments had appeared earlier, probably in the composition of Ofelia (Ophelia, 1962), a statue sunk in a large glass demijohn. In 1970, Hasior designed Zwycięstwo Żołnierza Polskiego (The Victory of the Polish Soldier) monument for the Art Symposium in Wrocław. It was to be constructed from glass cubes, vertically arranged one above the other, in which metal figures of soldiers were placed. The several-metre-high tower was planned to be set on the bottom of the Odra River between Wyspa Słodowa and Tamka. The chance to realize the idea appeared in 1974, when the municipal authorities of Wrocław commissioned the artist to make a new version of this monument to be set on Plac Wolności – although it has not been realized despite work having started.
Other of Hasior’s monuments and sculptural compositions which featured integral parts made of natural elements were more fortunate and have constructed. The epitaph for anti-Hitler militants, Prometeusz rozstrzelany (Prometheus Executed by Firing Squad, 1964), was set on the road from Zakopane to Kuźnice. A stream flows through the monument, making it a part of the landscape. At the Snozka Pass near Czorsztyn rises Żelazne Organy (Iron Organs, 1966). Inside the iron construction were hidden organ pipes, gongs, flutes and bells, and the wind composed music for them. Unfortunately, soon after its inauguration, the playing parts were removed on the pretext of concern for the preservation of peace in the pastoral area. Fascinated by the symbolism of fire, Hasior repeatedly used it in his works, in his sculptures as well as in monumental memorials and outdoor projects. At the turn of the 70s and the 80s, he made Płomienne Ptaki (Flaming Birds) in Szczecin and the monument Tym, co walczyli o polskość i wolność Ziem Pomorza (In Memory of Those Who Fought for the Free Polish Lands of Pomorze) in Koszalin, and in 1992, Płonące sztandary (Blazing Banner) in Nowy Sącz.
Hasior created many other provocative and unconventional memorials and outdoor sculptures in Poland and abroad. These include: Ratownikom górskim (To Mountain Rescuers), together with students from Kenar’s school, Zakopane, 1959; Pamięci Rozstrzelanych Partyzantów, or Prometeusz rozstrzelany (In Remembrance of Partisans Executed by Firing Squad, or Prometheus Executed by Firing Squad), Kuźnice, 1964; Poległym w walce o utrwalenie władzy ludowej na Podhalu, or Żelazne Organy (In Memory of the Fallen in the Struggle to Consolidate the People's Power in Podhale, or Iron Organs), Snozka, 1966; Golgota (Golgotha), Montevideo, 1969; Stary motyl (Old Butterfly), Oslo, 1969; Ekshumowany (Exhumed), Buenos Aires, 1969; Płonąca Pieta (Burning Pieta), Louisiana Museum near Copenhagen, 1972; Słoneczny rydwan (Sunny Chariot (Sodertalje, Sweden, from 1972 to 1973); project for Rozstrzelanym zakładnikom (In Memory of Hostages Executed by Firing Squad) in Nowy Sacz, 1974; Ogniste Ptaki (Fire Birds), Szczecin, sculpture in 1975, and monument in 1980; Płomienne Ptaki (Flaming Birds), Koszalin, 1977 turned into the Tym co walczyli o polskość i wolność ziem Pomorza monument (In Memory of Those Who Fought for the Free Polish Lands of Pomorze), 1980.
Hasior worked on his famous banners from 1965, drawing inspiration from church processional banners, military flags, tapestries and ancestral emblems. The first referred to church feretories, whose dignified wealth had an impact on the work of the artist. Through them, he revealed his passion for aesthetics, his sense of humour, and his tendency for burlesque and ridicule. Images of ancient and modern idols (Romeo and Juliet, 1969, Yma Sumac, 1970) appear on the banners, as well as witty portraits of the characters typical of society (Sztandar św. Emeryta / Banner St. Pensioner, 1971).
As acknowledged by the artist himself, his initial intention was to sneer at the pomposity and festivity of the banners in order to emphasize the gap between what is written on them and the reality. However, it was their beauty that eventually counted the most.
In 1973, the artist organized the feast of the blossoming apple tree in the village of Łącko, during which a branch of the fire brigade and a crowd of residents paraded around the surrounding orchards and hills with Hasior’s banners. This event referred to the Japanese tradition of festivals for blossoming cherry trees and the typical Polish form of Catholic rituals – the procession for the feast of Corpus Christi.
He was the initiator and author of many unusual ephemeral artistic activities such as the aforementioned outdoor banner show (Łącko, 1973) or the Burning Banners performance in Drawsko Pomorskie (1979) and Nowy Sącz (1988 and 1992).
Portraits of stars and collections of views
In the late 70s and early 80s, Hasior’s art became more subtle, aesthetic, and colourful. In its own way, it absorbed and utilized religious and secular kitsch. It incorporated everything that had shaped the collective imagination through the mass media, and showed in caricature form the clash of trendy patterns with the traditional rural and small-town culture. Hasior’s works from this period feature pompous dignitaries, directors, resort celebrities, conference delegates – Delegaci na konferencję na szczycie, Portret pana kierownika, Portret dostojnika, Portret zjazdowca prostolinijnego, Gwiazda kurortu (Delegates to the Summit Conference, Portrait of Mrs Manager, Portrait of a Dignitary, Portrait of a Straightforward Congress Member, The Star of the Resort).
Hasior was a keen photographer who documented and collected Polish regional landscapes. Regional Art is a collection of 16,000 slides documenting the houses in the Polish provinces of the 60s and 70s, and the fragments of the provincial environment – rubbish bins, tires adorning gardens, chapels, cemetery tombstones, shop window displays, gnomes in gardens, etc. The collected slides show people’s inherent need for embellishment in their lives. They feature art, or rather pseudo-art, which he found at the squares of cities and towns, and at the same time they present the level of artistic consciousness in the People’s Republic of Poland. Hasior ran an artistic salon in his gallery, which he ironically called the "common room of the county". He showed his guests the collections of slides, lectured on art, and sparked their artistic awareness.
Hasior also collaborated with the theatre - in the early 70s he designed scenography for the Polish Theatre in Wrocław (including Molière, Don Juan, 1970).
In the 90s, there were attempts to discredit Hasior’s art on the grounds of the subjects of his monuments. These were said to perpetuate the legend of the People's Republic's government, and there were claims that his position as an artist was a result of privileges granted tohim by the communist authorities. Hasior died in the shadows of the Polish artistic scene.
Hasior donated his entire artistic legacy – consisting of works of art, documents, a set of slides, books and photographs – to the Tatra Museum.
Works by Hasior can be found in the collections of Moderna Museet in Stockholm; Museo de Arte Moderna in Sao Paulo; Alexander Pushkin Museum in Moscow; Stadt Museum in Bohum; Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam; National Museums in Krakow, Poznań, Warsaw, and Wrocław; Art Museum in Łódź; and the Tatra Museum in Zakopane.
Selected films about Hasior: Rozmowa (Conversation), dir. Maria Kwiatkowska (1963, WFO); Władysław Hasior, dir. Konstanty Gordon (1964, WFO); Portret Władysława Hasiora, (Portrait of Władysław Hasior), dir. Grzegorz Dubowski, 1968, Warsaw TV; Homo-Hasior, 1976, Finnish TV; Cztery żywioły Hasiora (Four Elements of Hasior), dir. Grzegorz Dubowski, 1976, Warsaw TV; Hasior, dir. Jerzy Passendorfer, 1982, Polish TV.
Selected books about Hasior: Andrzej Banach, Hasior, Wydawnictwo Literackie, Kraków 1964; Anna Micińska, Władysław Hasior, Arkady, Warsaw1983; Władysław Hasior (intruduction by Anda Rottenberg), Bosz, Warsaw 2004.
Selected solo exhibitions:
1962 - BWA, Zakopane;
1963 - Krzysztofory, Kraków;
1964 - Silesia Museum, Wrocław;
1966 - Galeria Współczesna, Warsaw;
1968 - Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden
1970 - 35. Biennale in Venice, Polish Pavilion (together with Józef Szajna
1972 - Louisiana Museum, Kopenhagen, Denmark
1973 - Ośrodek Propagandy Sztuki (The Center for Art Propaganda), Łódź;
1975 - Zamek Książąt Pomorskich (Ducal Castle), Szczecin;
1976 - Kunsthall, Malmo, Sweden;
1977 - CoventryCathedral;
1978 - Kunstlerhaus, Vienna;
1982 - Tatra Museum, Zakopane;
1985 - Inauguration of permanent exhibition of Hasior's work at BWA, Gorzów Wielkopolski;
1988 - Trietiakowska Museum, Moscow;
1989 - Atelier 340, Brussels;
1991 - Palace of Exhibition, Budapest;
1991 - Pushkin Museum, Moscow;
2014 - Władysław Hasior. European Rauschenberg, MOCAK Contemporary Art Museum in Kraków
Selected group exhibitions:
1960 - Kenar i jego uczniowie (Kenar and his Students), Zachęta Gallery, Warsaw
1962 - Metafory (Metaphores), Sopot, Warsaw
1965 - 8. Biennale in São Paulo, Brasil
1967 - Peinture polonaise contemporaine, La Chaux-de-Fonds, France
1969 - 1. International Biennale of Outdoor Sculpture,Montevideo;
1970 - 100 Years Art in Poland, Royal Academy of Arts, London;
1971 - 10. Biennale in Sao Paulo, Brasil
1974 - 10. International Art Biennale in Ville de Menton, France;
1975 - Romantyzm i Romantyczność (Romanticism), Zachęta Gallery, Warsaw;
1975 - W kręgu nadrealizmu (Surrealist movements), National Museum, Wrocław;
1977 - Le romantisme et l'esprit romantique dans l'art. Polonais des XIX et XX siecle, Grand Palais, Paris;
1978 - Marian Wnuk i jego uczniowie (Marian Wnuk and his Students), Zachęta Gallery, Warsaw;
1983 - Presences Polonaises, Centre Pompidou, Paris;
1984 - Rzeźba polska 1944-1984 (Polish Sculpture 1944-1984), BWA, Poznań;
1994 - Awangarda XX wieku (The Avant-Garde of XX century), Kunsthalle, Bonn.
1963 - Distinction at international competition for F.D. Rooseveld mausoleum
1971 - First degree award from Ministry of Culture and The Arts for artistic achievements, in particular for monument In Memory of Hostages Executed by Firing Squad in
Nowy Sącz and Polish Banners
1974 - Order of the Rebirth of Poland
1975 - I place (together with Tadeusz Brzozowski
) in the ranking of art critics (AICA) for the best Polish artists
1976 - Diploma from Ministry of Foreign Affairs of People's Republic of Poland for accomplishments in promoting Polish culture abroad
1978 - Award from New York Alfred Jurzykowski's Fundation for accomplishments in the arts and promotion of Polish culture
1999 - Honoris Causa Degree from Academy of Fine Arts in Gdańsk (post- mortem).
Author: Ewa Gorządek, Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle in Warsaw, September, 2007, tranls. GS, 09.09.2014