Stealing an idea from an excellent political blog here’s the first of a new feature of this blog:
The Friday treat
Jan Lenica: A graphic artist, film director, set and theatre costume designer, children book illustrator, post-stamp designer. A major artist of the Polish poster school, experimental animator, and art critic.
One of his most famous pieces is the animation from 1963 (Labarint) you can watch above. It is a Kafka-esque, surrealist, bleak view of a man struggling for existence and eventual annihilation in a totalitarian state. A bird-man encounters dinosaur skeletons, giant insects, a crocodile-headed monster with an apparent penchant for roses, animal-headed people and a walrus in a top hat in a city that looks part satanic Monty Python’s Flying Circus (Lenica was an influence on Terry Gilliam, though the latter animator saw comedy and farce where Lenica saw a nightmare) and part Matrix (what is reality and who can be trusted in this claustrophobic place?)
Lenica actually benefited from the period of the process of De-Stalinisation which started in 1956, a period that allowed for heavy state funding for the arts (freeing filmmakers from concerns of commercial viability) to combine with outspoken political conversation and avant-garde theory. This period in the Warsaw Pact countries lasted until 1968 when the tanks rolled into Prague to brutally repress reforms (the military which entered Czechoslovakia included Polish soldiers).
He was to leave Poland in 1961 and later lived in France and Germany, where he continued to produce art and do lectures. If you liked Labyrinth you may also like ‘New Jacob the musician’ (Nowy Janko Muzykan.) Of course, Lenica was famous for his posters. Posters that have been created in Poland deserve an article all of their own, so watch this space.