A feature film by Krzysztof Krauze, 2004. The film tells a story of the amazing talent of Nikifor, a primitivist painter who spent his whole life in Krynica Górska. The role of Nikifor was masterly enacted by Krystyna Feldman.
The setting is the mountain resort of Krynica, the year is 1960. We are in the studio of Marian Włosiński, which is located along the main pedestrian walk. Nikifor enters and unpacks his painting tools. Włosiński's life, thus far a calm, regulated one planned to the minutest detail, is suddenly disrupted. Włosiński tries to rid himself of his intrusive guest. He decides to find Nikifor's family. It turns out that Nikifor lives entirely on his own. Various people have given him shelter, he has no birth certificate. From a legal point of view he simply does not exist. Włosiński is able to establish only that his mother was mute and his father was unknown (though local rumor as it that he was the painter Gierymski).
Marian Włosiński is hardly a folk art enthusiast, however, as he comes to know Nikifor he begins to appreciate his art. He notices both Nikifor's deep faith and his spiritual freedom. He discovers that this translates in Nikifor's paintings into an independence from all external opinions, while in his life it denotes a lack of attachment to the temporal and a deep humility. Włosiński realizes how deeply he himself is a slave of his art education - how addicted he is to painting tradition, how dependent on the evaluation and judgment of others, on dreams of success and material security.
Sadly, it turns out that Nikifor has open tuberculosis. In sharing a studio with him, Włosiński risks not only his own life but also that of his family. Nikifor does not want to be hospitalized, he perceives it as a waste of time, he wants only to paint. To have him hospitalized, Włosiński must become his legal guardian. When Włosiński's wife learns of this, she moves to Kraków taking their children with her. Włosiński's explanations that Nikifor is dying and that his guardianship can only last a few months prove fruitless.
It is 1967. Seven years have passed since Nikifor first entered Włosiński's studio and his life. It is the year of Nikifor's greatest Polish triumph - a grand retrospective at Warsaw's "Zachęta" Gallery (which is late in coming anyway, because by this time Nikifor is already considered one of the world's top five "naive" painters). During these seven years, Wlosinski's life has changed drastically - he has abandoned his ambitions as a painter. The new focus of his life is to care for the genius painter Nikifor, even at the cost of severing ties with his family.
Several months pass, Włosiński remains at the bedside of the dying Nikifor. Włosiński's wife returns, a reconciliation might be in store...
Who was Nikifor? First and foremost he was a fascinating figure of 20th century European art, an illiterate street painter who gained fame of the magnitude enjoyed by the most outstanding of Poland's contemporaneous artists. He produced art in the most adverse conditions, as he lived most his life in acute poverty, homeless, solitary, misunderstood. In spite of adversity, he decided to become a painter and attained this goal. Throughout his life, Nikifor remained a son of Krynica, where he lived and created. He was a colorful figure, setting up his "portable studio" everyday at various places throughout the resort. He was a familiar sight to all the resort's residents and most visitors. Nevertheless, Nikifor remains a mysterious figure to this day, his life and work a source of many legends. Nikifor (1895-1968) was a Lemko, his real surname was probably Drowniak, however, all of Poland knew him as Nikifor Krynicki and he was granted this name by a court of law in 1962. In 2003, that verdict was overturned. Nikifor himself signed his paintings "Nikifor malarz - Nikifor artysta" ("Nikifor the painter, Nikifor the artist"). And it is as Nikifor that he made a name for himself forever in the history of Polish and world art. He was also referred to, somewhat jokingly, as "Nikifor Matejko," but given that he himself vastly valued his own work the fact that the last name of a great painter was added to his own suited him. He spoke very unclearly because of a speech impairment inherited from his mother, making normal communication with others very difficult. Painting became Nikifor's way of remaining in touch with those around him. He expressed himself through his work.
Nikifor felt that he was a "professional" painter from his early youth. He was self-taught, painting experts speak of his phenomenal painterly intuition. During the world wars, Nikifor painted and tried to sell his canvasses as "souvenirs of Krynica" on the streets on his native town.
However, for years he found it difficult to interest anyone in his art. Professional painters who visited Krynica during the 1930s were the first to show interest in his work. The Lviv-based painter Roman Turyn began collecting Nikifor's paintings and showed them as early as 1932 in an exhibition in Paris. Painters of the Capist (Committee of Paris) group, including Jan and Hanna Cybis, Zygmunt Waliszewski and Artur Nacht-Samborski, also demonstrated enthusiasm for Nikifor's art. Jerzy Wolff even wrote an extensive article about him, which appeared in the periodical "Arkady" in 1938.
Toward the end of the 1940s, Nikifor gained the support of the Krakow-based art patrons Ella and Andrzej Banach, who began a campaign to popularize his art. Through a series of exhibitions, press publications, books and documentary films, Nikifor became a well-known figure in Poland by the end of the 1950s. An international breakthrough in the artist's career came with his first solo exhibition at the Diny Vierny Gallery in Paris in April of 1959. This was the starting point for a string of many other exhibitions of his paintings throughout the world. The most important presentation of Nikifor's paintings in Poland took the form of a vast retrospective at Warsaw's "Zacheta" Contemporary Art Gallery in 1967.
During the final years of his life, Nikifor became famous. He had a legal guardian and dear friend in the Krynica-based artist Marian Włosiński, he was an honorary member of the Zwiazek Polskich Artystow Plastykow (Association of Polis Visual Artists). Visitors to Krynica eagerly bought his paintings and his material situation improved as a result. The popularity he enjoyed at that time in no way affected is lifestyle. As long as he was able, Nikifor traversed Krynica daily on his way "to work," just as he had done throughout his life. He passed away on October 10, 1968, while at a sanatorium in the town of Folusz near Jaslo. He was buried in the cemetery in Krynica. A museum devoted to his art opened in Krynica in 1995.
The vast majority of Nikifor's paintings are watercolors, and it was in this technique that he produced the inter-war period works that are considered the best of his achievements. In later years, Nikifor also produced work in gouache and wax crayons. His remaining pencil drawings are sketches from the last years of his life, sketches which the artist never got around to coloring.
His oldest paintings depict military scenes and are considered among his most exceptional. Probably dating from the years of World War I, they depict soldiers of the Austro-Hungarian and Russian armies reporting to their superiors. His paintings of the 1920s and 1930s are also highly valued in artistic terms. They include images of fantastic architectural structures and church interiors. However, his "Beskid landscapes with little stations" are probably the achievements that crown Nikifor's oeuvre. No other painter succeeded in depicting the Beskid Mountains so beautifully and with such passion. His pictures of rural train stations link into his passion for his favorite mode of travel. Other exceptional series of the inter-war period include his images of public edifices and dollar factories. These compositions simply reflect Nikifor's love for painting architecture. He also produced interesting depictions of kitchen interiors, meticulously detailed paintings of Krynica's villas and pensions, portraits of friends and visitors to the resort, church banners. The self-portrait is something that appears in all of Nikifor's creative period. The painter eagerly produced representations of himself as he would have wished himself to be. In these works, he appears as many important figures, including a painter at work, often under a colorful umbrella, an elegant and distinguished man in a black suit, a bishop in his chasuble or even a saint.
Nikifor, who lived for many years at the fringes of the Krynica community, lived to see his paintings exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris alongside the works of the "Customs Agent" Rousseau. Among Polish painters even such acknowledged greats as Jerzy Nowosielski, Jan Lebenstein and Tadeusz Brzozowski did not hesitate to exhibit with him. There is no doubt that Nikifor became Krynica's most famous ambassador to the world. (Text about Nikifor Krynicki by Zbigniew Wolanin).
Mój Nikifor / My Nikifor is a film:
"(...) about genius and sacrifice, about the meaning of sacrifice. When we first meet Marian Włosiński, he is a frustrated artist in a mountain resort, an artist who produces banners, an artist deep in the midst of a creative crisis. He has just been offered a promotion to a responsible position in the cultural department of Krakow's city administration. The fate of painters would be in his hands. He would decide who is an artist and who is not. He would have the opportunity to organize an exhibition of his own works. To the frustrated artist, all this seems very enticing, a Faustian situation. And it was then that Nikifor accidentally entered his life. He walked into Wlosinski's studio for an instant and stayed for seven years. When it turned out that he had open tuberculosis, all in Krynica closed their doors to him, many burned his paintings. Wlosinski remained faithful to the suffering Nikifor, though in those years one placed oneself at great risk by working under the same roof with a consumptive. There was even greater risk involved for Włosiński, who could communicate the disease to his family. Wlosinski's devotion proved detrimental to his personal life; however, in spite of this, caring for Nikifor transformed Wlosinski, proved the affirming experience in his life. He found his inner peace. He began painting, and painting well. We say that what is given is preserved, while what is kept is ultimately lost. That is the meaning of devotion, sacrifice" (Krzysztof Krauze, director, excerpt from an interview titled "Nikifor niosący zwycięstwo" / "Nikifor bringing victory").
In "My Nikifor," we see the artist through the eyes of Włosiński, through his experience, through his personal dramas and spiritual transformation, also as an artist. Though he never graduated from any school, when Nikifor entered Włosiński's studio he did so as a master painter. He taught his guardian art, above all the art of observing life. Wlosinski's subsequent path was rough - from wounded ambition through envy to the attainment of inner peace. Toward the end of his life, Nikifor finally judged that Włosiński had become a painter, that he had achieved enlightenment.
Nikifor is portrayed in the film by Krystyna Feldman. This is the first leading role for this actress who is often perceived as the "queen of the bit parts" in Polish cinema. A significant physical similarity between Feldman and the painter "translated into mental similarities. Because Krystyna has her own, very consistent vision of people and the world, a crystallized hierarchy of values - she is at once uncompromising and modest" (Krzysztof Krauze, film director, excerpt from an interview entitled "Nikifor niosący zwycięstwo").
- Mój Nikifor / My Nikifor. Poland, 2004. Screenplay by Joanna Kos-Krauze and Krzysztof Krauze, directed by Krzysztof Krauze, cinematography by Krzysztof Ptak, production design by Magdalena Dipont and Anna Wunderlich, make-up by Maria Dziewulska, music by Bartlomiej Gliniak. Featuring: Krystyna Feldman (Nikifor), Roman Gancarczyk (Marian Wlosinski), Lucyna Malec (Hanka Włosińska), Jerzy Gudejko (Nowak), Artur Steranko (Dr Rosen), Jowita Miondlikowska (Kowalska), Marian Dziędziel (Budnik), Ewa Wencel (Director of the "Zachęta" Gallery), Magda Celowna (Nikifor's housekeeper), Katarzyna and Karolina Paczyńska (Wlosinski's daughters). Produced by Studio Filmowe "Zebra", Telewizja Polska S.A., co-produced by BEST FILM CO., duration 97 min. Cinema premiere on September 24, 2004.