Artists of Kalisz
Polski

Kulisiewicz Tadeusz

A graphic designer and illustrator.

1899 - 1988

In both techniques he developed his own, unique style. Even though it was the practice of graphic design that brought him recognition, the artist had genuine affection for drawing – the trace of line on a white sheet of paper, frugal and reduced to a minimum, delineating shapes by a few precise strokes of the pen.

He was born on November 13, 1899 in Kalisz and was the son of blacksmith Walenty and Maria formerly Popielińska. He graduated from the Tadeusz Kościuszko high school in Kalisz. It was there, on Josephine Avenue that the first exhibition of his early watercolours took place. He began his artistic education at the School of Decorative Arts in Poznań (1922-1923) and later continued in the School of Fine Arts in in Warsaw (1923-1927) under Miłosz and Mieczysław Kotarbiński. He developed his graphic skills at the studio of the renowned wood engraver, Wladysław Skoczylas. He made his debut in 1926 at the Association of Graphic Artists exhibition "Rite" in Warsaw and he participated in numerous events organized by the group. In the same year, 1926, for the first time he spent his holidays in Szlembark, a place which turned out to be extremely important for his oeuvre.

In 1930 the first solo exhibition of the artist’s works was held at the Salon of Czesław Garliński. In the same year Kulisiewicz went on an artistic journey to France and Belgium which resulted in woodcuts and drawings inspired by Romanesque and Gothic sculpture. Between 1933-1939 he ran drawing classes at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw at the studio of M. Kotarbiński.

On January 14, 1933 Kulisiewicz married Maria Suder from Cracow (called Basia by Kulis). A series of travels to Italy, France and England took place in 1937 and at that time he also participated in major exhibitions of Polish art in Poland and abroad.

Since the beginning Kulisiewicz expressed his individuality in art. Before the war several woodcut series were published: "Szlembark"1928-30, "Bacówka" ["Shepherd’s Hut"] 1932-1933, "Methods" 1934 and "Village in Gorce"1935-36 in which he presented a unique and realistic picture of the lives of the inhabitants of a small mountain village – Szlembark. From 1940 to 1944 he lived in Cracow and Szlembark. At the time he made a great deal of drawings, copies from albums of drawings by the Old Masters – Rembrandt, Dürer, Holbein, Giotto, Masaccio and Brueghel. Fascinated by the art of Cézanne in turn, he painted a series of watercolour still lifes. Sketches from Italy were processed and drawn with goose quills in sepia. The monumental heads of women from Szlembark, executed in sanguine, bistre and chalk, display a clear longing for the autonomy of drawing. During the Warsaw Uprising the artist’s studio burned down with all his woodcut blocks. Since then the artist abandoned graphic art for drawing which gave him even greater artistic flexibility and soon became his only means of artistic expression.

In 1946 Kulisiewicz settled back in Warsaw and took the post of a Professor at the Academy of Fine Arts. His first postwar cycle "Warsaw 1945" was formed by highly emotional sketches presenting a terrifying image of the city in ruins. The artist returned to the theme once again at the end of his life, in an abstract black-and-white series "Burnt Landscapes" (1979-1981). At first Kulisiewicz was heavily involved in creating the new face of socialist art which resulted in an award-winning series: "Soldiers of the Revolution and Peace" – 1950 and "Fighters for Fredom and Democracy" – 1951. However the postwar period was primarly a time of numerous artistic travels, initially around Europe (drawings from France and the Netherlands in 1949 and sketches from Czechoslovakia in 1951) and then on to more distant parts of the world – China (1952), India (1956), Mexico (1957, 1959), Brasil (1962) and Cuba (1977). Travelling practically became his addiction, a source of creative inspiration, caused by his curiosity for the world and especially for people. Even though he paid a lot of attention in his drawings to the changing landscape and historic buildings, the live meetings with people were always the most important for him. These were the people, frequently met by accident, that became models for his works. Sketched faces often bear only names. Their age was not important. The faces of a young, beautiful girl or of a child are equally as interesting as the portraits of old people, wrinkled and marked by wisdom. The artist was interested in everything associated with the human being – cultural differences, beliefs, and accompanying customs. While drawing he did not register everything that he saw around him but chose fragments of the surrounding reality. He perceived reality in details – the faces of people, their silhouettes and objects. Sometimes, he focused on a particular movement, the rhythm of moving figures. Frequently creating a new reality, he deprived the represented object of its background, clearing away everything that was redundant, focusing all attention on the volume and the traces of lines.

All his impressions were immediately saved in his sketchbooks which he later eagerly referred to. These were processed after his homecoming and the series of drawings formed a unique, very personal record of his memories. With subsequent experiences his drawing technique changed. The works from China were still filled with painting references of black, washed line. In the series from India, the line is granted full autonomy, a perfection and precision in describing shapes and movement. Whereas in Mexico, the intensity of experiences and shades was so high that the artist introduced colour into his works. He began experiments with drawing technique by making imprinted watercolours created by placing a delicate texture of pressed gauze on top of the drawing. From time to time, he included wax which together with colour formed a kind of suspended mosaic. The colour, although softer, appeared as well in his Brasilian series with dominant reds, ochres, and browns.

Another significant inspiration in Kulisiewicz’s artistic practice came from his friendship with Bertold Brecht which resulted in drawings for the three shows - Caucasian Chalk Circle (1955), Mother Courage (1963) and Galileo (1966-1967).

One of the artists’s favourite themes was the element of water and everything connected with it; his favourite motifs were barges and boats encountered in nearly every drawing from his travels. A separate series dedicated to the theme was entitled „Venetian Lagoon” (1958 - 1961).

Undoubtedly, the most beautiful of his drawings were the ones dedicated to the woman – the themes of female charm, the beauty of the female body and motherhood were depicted in "Woman" (1967-68) as well as "Woman"1973-74, "Motherhood" and "Mother" (1974). Especially noteworthy were the nudes. With their liquid line describing the shapes of the female body with great sensitivity, he reached an unequalled precision and his highest sophistication. Looking at the works it seems as if the shape was delineated by a single stroke of the hand. The drawing is not flat but perfectly renders the volume. Among the artists’ many pieces we find a whole gallery of female portraits.

A constant fascination with the art was his main inspiration for the 1970s series "My history of art". Then Kulisiewicz turned again to his library. This time as an adult artist, he did not copy the works as he used to during the war but, typically of his style, he simplified and eliminated everything that was unnecessary. This series included as well representations of objects very close to the artist, from his studio, such as fired clay figurines from Mexican tombs. His unique gift of observation through the synthesis of phenomena and things and a mastery of line, gave his works a timeless character. Universal themes, deep humanism and modern drawing is today, many years after his death, the greatest asset of his art.

"My entire activity was always about man and his environment. Whether these were the pre-war series of people from the mountains or drawings from my travels to Italy, Mexico, Brasil or the beautiful and enchanting theatre of Brecht – I always saw the human being. There is one truth of nature and the other truth of the artist. It is the touch of the earth and then seeing everything that does not surround us. It is then that the imagination in contact with the surrounding non world creates my new world – the world of my drawings."

Other series by the artist are: "Drawings from Szlembark" (1948-49), series of drypoints on various topics (1948), illustrations for "The Mediterranean Hour" by J. Parandowski (1969), "Mountain Landscapes" (1968-73), "Memories from Travel" (1970 Mexico and Brasil), the People from India” (1971), "Birds of Steel" (1965, 1973), "China" (1982), "Cuban Memories" (1977).

Kulisiewicz received numerous artistic awards and state honors. He was a corresponding member of The Fine Arts Academy in Berlin (1955), an Honorary Citizen of Kalisz (1960) and an honorary member of The Fine Arts Academy in Florence (1965).
At the end of his life in 1986 Kulisiewicz established the Tadeusz Kulisiewicz Foundation for Scholarships and Prizes, promoting young artists. He bequeathed his Warsaw studio equipment, including works, sketchbooks and documents to the District Museum in Kalisz. After his death in 1988 in accordance with the last will of the artist, The Tadeusz Kulisiewicz Centre for Drawing and Graphic Art was opened in 1994 in Kalisz. This is a gallery that features a permanent exhibition of his Warsaw studio and presents temporary exhibitions of mostly drawing and graphic art – the techniques closest to the artist.

Hanna Jaworowicz

Sources

Wallis Mieczysław, „Wiadomości Literackie”, r.14,1937, nr 1.
Dobrowolski Tadeusz, ”Odrodzenie”, 1946, nr 48, 5-6.
Jakimowicz Irena, W kręgu sztuki „Tadeusz Kulisiewicz”, Wydawnictwo Arkady, Warszawa 1976.
Centrum Rysunku i Grafiki im. Tadeusza Kulisiewicza – the archive of the artist.
Tadeusz Kulisiewicz, The head of a girl
Tadeusz Kulisiiewicz, "Walking women"
Tadeusz Kulisiewicz, Nude
Tadeusz Kulisiewicz, Jaguar
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