The painting by Marek Włodarski (Henryk Streng) depicts the title hairdresser and a woman whose hair he is doing. The striking similarity to Fernand Léger’s works is not circumstantial. Włodarski studied at the atelier of this outstanding educator in Paris between 1925 and 1926.
Both figures, the hairdresser and the woman, are situated in the centre of the painting – he stands on the right, while she sits on the left at a dressing table in front of a mirror. She holds a vase in her hands, and a jar stands next to her feet. Flat background of the painting is filled with various abstract forms in shades of yellow, red, light blue and green. The paining forms are very concrete, but at the same time simplified. The cubic and quite massive figures seem to be made of assembled metal parts. Such impression is reinforced by chiaroscuro moulding, which highlights the cylindrical form of the painting’s elements. The entire composition reminds of a jigsaw puzzle, at times put together in an awkward manner, e.g. in case of each figure’s body parts. Since space is only schematically outlined and hardly noticeable, at the first sight the painting makes an impression of a chaotic image filled with colourful forms.
In its form, The Hairdresser is strikingly similar to Fernand Léger’s works. Marek Włodarski (Henryk Streng) studied at the atelier of this outstanding educator at the Parisian Académie de l'Art Moderne from 1925 to 1926. Those days the French painter explored the problems of modernity, which are evident in the form of his works, e.g. Breakfast, as well as their subject, e.g. The Mechanic. The most significant features of Léger’s painting style of that period were: synthetic and cubic forms; solid geometry of shapes clearly outlined by black contour and distinct chiaroscuro; as well as using clear colours and limiting the palette to primary colours. This trend manifests itself not only in easel and mural painting, on which he focused at that time, but also in his stage and costume design for Swedish Ballets Skating Rink and La Création du Monde.
The atelier of Léger, tireless experimentalist and exceptionally influential artist, was a meeting point of artists who exchanged ideas about art. Surrealists, fascinated by the artist’s famous film Le Ballet mécanique of 1924 made without a screenplay and based on visual contrasts of images and rhythms, were frequent visitors there.
Although Marek Włodarski had a chance to meet André Breton and André Masson, leading representatives of the Surrealist movement, in Léger’s atelier, their ideas did not leave a significant stamp on the art of this Lviv painter. Włodarski was not interested in subjects depicted on the Surrealists’ paintings, which seemed too literary and poetic in their metaphors. Also, the manner of object representation did not gain his recognition as too real and concrete.
Yet, Włodarski’s paintings include some elements that bring to mind the Surrealist art. One of them is violating the established order of presented reality. In the composition of The Hairdresser it is achieved through a symbolic definition of space and shifting of form sets (e.g. body parts of figures), as well as through the painting’s subject. The work depicts a clash of characters from different realities: a small-town hairdresser and a woman, who does not seem to be his customer, but rather a nude model transferred from a cubist painter’s work. This juxtaposition can be seen as the artist’s ironic joke and, simultaneously, a self-referential element in the painting. In such case, the female figure would correspond with a painting tradition, in particular, a depiction of nudity and a naked model in an atelier, as well as with modern art, including the Cubism. The woman from Włodarski’s painting seems to be part of a different reality than the hairdresser. Such thesis is supported by the composition of the painting itself, where the chair’s leg and back, as well as shifting lines of the hairdresser’s arms divide the painting’s surface in two distinct halves.
Primitivism, prevalent in the art of his times, also appears in Marek Włodarski’s paintings. In their search for new forms of representation, the artists turned to sources so far unexploited by culture, such as children and African art, or, in case of Poland, folk art. Since the Formist movement, the references to folk art have been observed not only in works’ content but also in their form. The folk subjects needed an accurate manner of representation, therefore glass painting, paper cutouts, or folk woodcarving became the new aesthetic models. Still before leaving for Paris, Włodarski was interested in naive and folk art. He willingly depicted the subject of small-town traditions, which is apparent in The Hairdresser. This fascination also accounts for the above-mentioned elements of the composition, which make the impression of awkward or naive painting style. What is more, the touch of irony or grotesque from the painter’s works should be associated with his fondness for small-town subjects, rather than the Surrealist art.
- Marek Włodarski (Henryk Streng)
Fryzjer / The Hairdresser
oil on canvas, size: 97.5 x 88 cm
The Art Museum in Łodź
Originally written in Polish by Magdalena Wróblewska, September 2010
Sources: Piotr Łukaszewicz, "Zrzeszenie artystów plastyków Artes 1929-1935" / “Association of Visual Artists Artes 1929 – 1935”, Wrocław 1975; Iwona Luba, "Dialog nowoczesności z tradycją. Malarstwo polskie dwudziestolecia międzywojennego" / “Dialogue Between Modernity and Tradition. Polish Painting of the Inter-war Period”, Warsaw 2004.