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FRANCISZKA THEMERSON.

Flashes from daily reality 

'Franciszka Themerson. Lifelines" exhibition, Centre of Contemporary Art Łaźnia in Gdańsk, photo: Bogna Kociumbas

‘Franciszka Themerson. Lifelines” exhibition, Centre of Contemporary Art Łaźnia in Gdańsk, photo: Bogna Kociumbas

 

Since Franciszka Themerson died over three decades ago, we should wind back the clock to the early 20th century in order to gain a deeper understanding of “Lifelines,” her current show in the Centre of Contemporary Art Łaźnia in Gdańsk.

Who was she? A polish painter and illustrator of the Jewish heritage, Stefan Themerson’s wife. The couple was hailed as the pioneers of the avant-garde cinema in Poland, France and the Great Britain. What kind of works were they producing at the turn of the 20th century? Why have they somehow slipped into obscurity?

Born in 1907, Franciszka Themerson used to study at the Music Academy in Warsaw. Ultimately, she graduated with distinction from the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, where she majored in painting. She meets her future husband as an art student. Soon, they embark on a joint creative journey that takes them from Warsaw, to Paris and London (where they settle down for good). Perhaps the history books have in fact failed to preserve the Themersons’ legacy owing to their ill-defined nationality. Meanwhile the memory of their groundbreaking practice is fading away with each passing year.

Franciszka and Stefan Themerson received most accolades for their collaborative pieces. Together, they made experimental films, worked with the image, dabbled in editing and publishing. Franciszka dealt with all things visual – graphics, pictures, stage design etc. Whereas her husband’s specialty was the written work – essays, film scripts and more.

An investigation into the solo practice and figure of Franciszka Themerson would require us to pore over the general course of fine arts development around that period of time. The lines were crossed, former conventions toppled. In the early 20th century, certain art disciplines were taking shape due to the clear departure from standards. Transgression fueled experimentation with the boundaries of an image.

 

'Franciszka Themerson. Lifelines" exhibition, Centre of Contemporary Art Łaźnia in Gdańsk, photo: Bogna Kociumbas

‘Franciszka Themerson. Lifelines” exhibition, Centre of Contemporary Art Łaźnia in Gdańsk, photo: Bogna Kociumbas

 

The exhibition at the Centre of Contemporary Art Łaźnia features oil paintings and drawings. The audiences tend to associate Themerson’s independent art practice with drawings and illustrations to children’s books and stories (written mainly by her husband, but also Brzechwa and Świrszczyńska). However, “Lifelines” presents a different side of her story.

Themerson’s medium of choice was drawing. While studying her oeuvre, we study the line which pierces through the edges of perspective, breaching any rules of spatial composition imaginable – division, continuity and structures seeping into another dimension at random. Her paintings depict figures merging with the space. They either emerge from it while creating new planes or remain inextricably linked together. Themerson’s signature style (reminiscent somehow of Paul Klee) shies away from the familiar order in favor of an exploration and pursuit of novel solutions.

Figures’ multiplication is a fascinating strategy not only in terms of a theoretic scrutiny into then abiding paradigm of drawing, but also a possibly deeper insight into Themerson’s own complex psyche. By means of portraying and giving titles to the scenes, she expands and deconstructs her characters almost as if the man was indeed the sum of consciousness, ego, psyche and the self. In her paintings, each of these components assumes an autonomous form.

 

'Franciszka Themerson. Lifelines" exhibition, Centre of Contemporary Art Łaźnia in Gdańsk, photo: Bogna Kociumbas

‘Franciszka Themerson. Lifelines” exhibition, Centre of Contemporary Art Łaźnia in Gdańsk, photo: Bogna Kociumbas

 

Her intellectual prowess allowed her to engage in mind games with the spectators. Seeking a direct connection between the language and image, Themerson gives poetic and philosophic titles to her works that capture scenes from everyday life in an incredibly sincere and authentic manner. We see social gatherings, satirical affairs and internal struggles. The decisively cerebral and analytical approach of the artist is evident from the titles such as “Party games” (“Gry na przyjęciu”), “Why is the mind inside the head?” (“Dlaczego umysł znajduje się w głowie?”), “Topography of loneliness” (“Topografia samotności”) and “The weight of fructification” („Ciężar owocowania”).

Themerson’s “Lifelines” exhibition incorporates flashes from a daily reality, as well as human trials and tribulations, fears, anxieties, mental quandaries and lack of propriety among adults. Although her works are placed in art collections of both national and international museums, the current show is only the third largest presentation of her solo pieces in Poland. The majority of works on display was sourced from the London-based Themerson Estate and derives from the most prolific period in the artist’s career (1950s and 1960s). These unadorned drawings in a subdued color palette are permeated with intricacies of convoluted lines and forms. The show offers an excellent opportunity for viewing some of the previously unseen prices, familiarizing oneself with the Themersons’ art practice and catching up on the backlog of the Polish and global history of the avant-garde. Most notably, the exhibition at Łaźnia pays homage to the exceptional figure of Franciszka Themerson. Your time will not be wasted.

Written by Daga Ochendowska

Translated by Karolina Jasińska

 


FRANCISZKA THEMERSON – LIFELINES

Centre of Contemporary Art Łaźnia

12.07 – 13.10.2019

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'Franciszka Themerson. Lifelines" exhibition, Centre of Contemporary Art Łaźnia in Gdańsk, photo: Bogna Kociumbas

‘Franciszka Themerson. Lifelines” exhibition, Centre of Contemporary Art Łaźnia in Gdańsk, photo: Bogna Kociumbas

'Franciszka Themerson. Lifelines" exhibition, Centre of Contemporary Art Łaźnia in Gdańsk, photo: Bogna Kociumbas

‘Franciszka Themerson. Lifelines” exhibition, Centre of Contemporary Art Łaźnia in Gdańsk, photo: Bogna Kociumbas

'Franciszka Themerson. Lifelines" exhibition, Centre of Contemporary Art Łaźnia in Gdańsk, photo: Bogna Kociumbas

‘Franciszka Themerson. Lifelines” exhibition, Centre of Contemporary Art Łaźnia in Gdańsk, photo: Bogna Kociumbas