In Poland, Wladyslaw Hasior is regarded as one of the pioneers of pop-art and assemblage, while abroad he is often called 'the most talented student of Rauschenberg and Warhol'. He was one of the most important and original Polish artists of the second half of the twentieth century who formed his own vision of art, rejecting the established aesthetic principles and the traditional forms of expression.
He became globally recognized and his works were displayed in such prestigious institutions as Moderna Museet in Stockholm and Pushkin's Museum in Moscow. Anda Rottenberg, a renowned curator and author of the book entitled 'Art in Poland 1945-2005', distinguished the three most influential debuts that appeared in Poland in the 1960s in opposition to the Communist aesthetics: Magdalena Abakanowicz, Roman Opalka and Wladyslaw Hasior.
'I don't have a patron in any artist. My tinkering has origins in the talents of Janko Muzykant (the protagonist of a novel by famous Polish writer Henryk Sienkiewicz),' said the artist about himself.
Hasior was a sculptor, painter and pedagogue born in 1928 in Nowy Sącz, a town in the Southern region of Poland. He received a degree in 1958 at the Department of Sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw under the supervision of Marian Wnuk. After graduating, he moved to Zakopane (a mountain resort in the Tatra mountains) where he taught at 'Kenarowka', a school that educated many generations of Polish artists. In 1959, the French Ministry of Culture awarded him a scholarship which enabled him to conduct an artistic trip to the Federal Republic of Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, France and Italy. He also had the opportunity to complete a two-month apprenticeship at the famous studio of Bella-Russian artist Ossip Zadkine in Paris. He became a member of the influential artistic group gathered around the famous magazine entitled 'Phases'. That experience and relationships with the contemporary surrealists motivated Hasior to overcome formal and generic limits.
'When I was a student at the Academy in Warsaw, I realized that traditional expression in the form of pure sculpture, implemented in one material, regardless of whether it was done in the naturalistic, realistic, purely formal or abstract manner, is a poor way of expressing the content. There are problems and matters that are impossible to be expressed in a material; thus, there is the need to search for new formal means in order to convey intentions,' he said.
The late 50s was the time when Hasior started creating his first assemblages often inspired by exotic totems and African masks (e.g. 'Widow' and 'Wizard'). The works made of 'found objects' marked the beginning of the path that the artist would follow throughout his whole life. Hasior's works were always difficult for critics to define as they maneuvered between pop art, dadaism, surrealism and symbolism. He always tried to avoid being categorized, saying: 'they have tried to name me as the Polish specialist of pop-art. That has never satisfied me. My works do not originate from pop-art, but folk art, magic totems of various cultures, for example Christian culture, as well as some specified, common and justified fears and obsessions of the present day.'
In his works, Hasior usually derived inspiration from natural elements, like fire, earth, water and wind, and he also underlined the importance of the fifth element that is human imagination. The artists combined the 'garbage' character with the seriousness of a message and expression. He forced the receiver to ask questions about the essence of art and freedom to choose the artistic language.
In a way, he may be called the successor of Marcel Duchamp, who also used ready-made objects giving them a new, surrealistic meaning and appearance. In order to obtain the most appropriate expression, Hasior used old, damaged objects, build manlike figures of wood, soap, crashed mirrors and rusted pipes aiming at the anthropomorphisation of the objects by creating a metaphor of human existence. As early as in 1964, Ksawery Piwocki suggested presenting Hasior's works at the Venice Biennale; however, the idea was rejected due to their extremely controversial character.
Hasior's works may be characterized by indescribable cruelty inflicted on the receiver, for example the work entitled 'In the Memory of the Children from the Zamosc Region' that presents a pushchair filled with earth with crosses and candles stuck into it. The grave of anonymous children personally involves the receiver who, having bent down to watch the elements dug in the earth, sees his reflection in a mirror hidden under the lid of the pushchair.
The artist also played with structures and objects associated with particular functions. He formed combinations and gave them ironic titles using common phrases, which formed terrifying and surprising impressions. These characteristics may be found in 'Sewing the Character' that literally presents the process of socialization, and the work entitled 'Barmaid' that is a satire on the Polish society fascinated by Western standards. 'I use materials that have meaning, that suggest. Every object has its sense and presents aphorisms,' said the author.
Wladyslaw Hasior always believed that art should be an intellectual and creative provocation, and he strongly underlined that he had 'never come down with modernity'. Instead, he focused on cultural inspirations as the means to express universalism. Some found him shocking, others amazing; however, his works always stirred strong emotions. They combined universalism with the Polish character related to the Podhale (a region in the Tatra mountains), its culture, faith, history, nature, tradition and the contemporary character of the landscape. Folk tradition and motives were characteristic of Hasior's banners created in the 60s as a response to the old customs of the Podhale region. The artist created sheets of soft cloth reminiscent of military or church flags and organized happenings in the form of marches. They were carried by highlanders or firemen, which was a reflection of the changing cultural approach towards religion.
An important point in the artist's career was the founding of his Gallery in 1984 in an old sanatorium in Zakopane. The place was adapted into a multi-level wooden exhibition space where visitors can still admire the biggest collection of his famous banners, compositions and sculptures. The gallery was the place where Hasior lived, created and organized numerous meetings and discussions on art.
Hasior was the master at outdoor monuments and sculptures, as he believed that they give the artist the possibility of the fullest expression. Similarly to human emotions, he would play with natural elements by erecting huge sculptures often accompanied by happenings, like 'Burning Birds' that used wind or 'Burning Angels' in which the artist put up fire on different levels of tall, metal sculptures. Other examples of Hasior's monuments were raised in Montevideo ('Golgotha'), Danish Louisiana ('Burning Pieta') and Sodertajle in Sweden ('Sun Chariot'). The artist planned to erect other monuments of that type; however, his ideas were often met with harsh reactions of the authorities opposing their realization. One of Hasior's most (in)famous works are the 'Iron Organs' erected in the memory of 'Those Who Lost their Lives in Consolidating the Authority of the People in the Podhale Region', situated on Snozka hill near Czorsztyn in the Tatra mountains. The artist created it at the peak of his popularity in 1966, on commission of the Communist authorities of Poland. The monument is one of the reasons why Hasior became criticized as a collaborator of the oppressive regime. The monument comprises a concrete panel that protrudes from the hill and huge, vertical organs that create perfect harmony with the landscape of the mountains. On the top of the structure, there are sharp horizontal spikes that imitate organ pipes. At first, the artist planned to assemble real pipes that would produce sound using the wind. Although the monument has an extraordinary shape and form, people still remember that it was erected to commemorate the members of the Security Office, Civic Militia and the Internal Security Corps. Therefore, after the collapse of the regime, the structure rusted, became decrepit and turned into a ruin. In 1993, the very artist asked the authorities of Czorsztyn to remove the embarrassing inscription; furthermore, there were strong suggestions to put down the whole structure. The 'Iron Organs' are undoubtedly a perfect example of the aesthetic genius of Hasior who was strongly related to the Podhale throughout his whole life. In order to judge the work properly, one should separate their political views from the structure's aesthetic aspects.
After the collapse of the totalitarian regime in Poland, the artist became an uncomfortable figure associated with his Communist past. However, he kept creating his own world made of shreds of materials, garbage and unneeded objects. Moreover, the reception of his works changed after 1989 due to the activity of the contemporary artists who started pushing the borders of creativity even further. As the audience became accustomed to provocation, Hasior's works ceased to stir such intense emotions and controversies. The artist died after a long illness on 14 July 1999. In 2000, by the initiative of young avant-garde artists, the 1st Festival of Alternative Art was organized. His works may be found in the collections of Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Museo de Arte Moderna in Sao Paulo, Alexander Pushkin's Museum in Moscow, Stadt Museum in Bohum, Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam as well as in the National Museums in Cracow, Poznan, Warsaw, Wroclaw and the Museum of Art in Lodz.
The artist may be perfectly characterized in the words of art historian Marek Rostowski: 'Hasior is the successor of great medieval painters-poets who evoked the beautiful and terrible world, combined reality with metaphor and mystery, and enchanted men who faced reality and desires in order to overcome them. That is reminiscent of the epoch of Hieronymus Bosch, Breugel, witches and the Spanish martyrdom aficionados. […] In his art, everything is not what it seems to be, but what it is comes as result of uncontrolled imagination.'
Author: Grzegorz Zawora / pr-controlled.com ©
Photos: Muzeum Tatrzanskie / 'Plomienne ptaki' WIkipedia