Sacrum and Profanum

15 January 2023

In 2023, we are marking the centenary of the birth of Jerzy Nowosielski – one of the greatest creators of contemporary Polish culture who spent most of his life in Kraków.

Painting, theoretical thought, theology, art pedagogy and art promotion were just some fields in which Jerzy Nowosielski exceeded. After the Second World War, he studied at the Faculty of Painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków, later returning as a lecturer (1967–1993). He was a member of the Young Artists’ Group between 1945 and 1949, and in 1957 he became one of the founder members of the acclaimed 2nd Kraków Group. He wrote extensively about art and faith, and created polychromes for numerous sacral buildings of various Christian denominations. His secular writings explored the achievements of avantgarde art and Byzantine painting traditions. He frequently reached for geometric abstractions, female nudes and landscapes. His art is widely regarded as unique, intertwining the sacrum and profanum spheres in his own way.

On the initiative of the Starmach Gallery, the Sejm of the Republic of Poland hailed 2023 as Year of Jerzy Nowosielski. The official celebrations kick off on 17 January with the exhibition Jerzy Nowosielski’s Studio prepared by the gallery. It recalls the interiors he occupied in Łódź and Kraków, and explores his way of thinking about creative work and the distinctive interior arrangement of his living space to fit around the artistic studio. Nowosielski worked from several locations: his family home at 9 Podmiejska Street in Kraków where he lived during the war, Jonasz Stern’s studio at Krasińskiego Avenue he rented briefly after the war, his atelier at Batorego Street, workshops at high-rise flats in Łódź where he lived with his wife between 1950 and 1962, and his final workplace at his home studio at 19 Narzymskiego Street back in Kraków.

19 Narzymskiego
Nowosielski lived and work at this address for close to fifty years. His studio workshop was cluttered with everything but the kitchen sink and the artist hated buying new things or furniture. Instead, he decorated cupboards and cabinets, chests, stools and mirrors, adorning them with abstract triangles and rectangles and adding handmade model ships.

“I’ve always loved visiting the Nowosielskis’ family flat,” admits Krystyna Zwolińska, artist and art historian and Nowosielski’s friend. “Architectural journals show fancifully-designed interiors, but Nowosielskis’ place was always light years ahead. There were simple wooden stools bought at a market, solid, modest, old-fashioned cabinets, and they were all covered in abstract paintings by Jurek and Zosia. […] It was really personal, made by people who lived there” (K. Czerni, Biography of Jerzy Nowosielski, Znak Publishing House, Kraków 2011).

Still, the most important objects at Nowosielski’s flat were his paintings. We will see a selection he made between 1950 and 1998 at the Starmach Gallery alongside original furnishings and items from the artist’s studio.

L'uomo universale
The creator of his own unique artistic language was also an inimitable pedagogue and legendary maestro for generations of students at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków who developed their own personal styles under his guidance. “Jerzy Nowosielski was a true Renaissance man of his epoch, admired in many personal and artistic spheres. As an artist, he evaded classification, pigeonholing and even being assigned to a given period. One of the most fascinating personalities of the 20th century, he spent many years inspiring and encouraging younger generations of artists through his work, teaching and philosophy,” says Andrzej Szczepaniak, curator of the exhibition at the Starmach Gallery. “Dogmatically, the process applied to other artists as well as audiences, and it continues until today. Always swimming against the tide of the avantgarde and various artistic styles, he created his own unique language of expression which we can admire on hundreds of canvasses and explore his vast body of commentary as writings, interviews, theological musings, readings, lectures and subversive attempts to analyse our existence.” The Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków has already celebrated the professor with an exhibition of his paintings from the Starmach Gallery, and his Alma Mater has more events in store.

Beyond the workshops
Celebrations of the Year of Jerzy Nowosielski will be marked by numerous organisations and institutions, including the National Museum in Krakow which owns over forty of his works. Some of theme are presented at permanent exhibitions, in particular at the 20th and 21st century art gallery at the Main Building, displaying Nowosielski’s oil paintings from the 1970s. In spring 2023, the National Museum wants to present its entire collection of Nowosielski’s artworks which includes many drawings. Anna Budzałek, curator of the exhibition, explains that many of the artworks have never been shown before and they have been undergoing conservation work especially for the occasion. “Our collections cover a wide range of Nowosielski’s works, from the 1940s all the way to the 1980s. For the purposes of the exhibition, I arranged them into three groups: landscape, human body and geometry.”

In spring, MOCAK also presents Nowosielski’s works as part of the exhibition Artists from Kraków. 2nd Kraków Group. The Bunkier Sztuki gallery joins forces with MOCAK and the Starmach Gallery to prepare a special surprise: the marquee at the Szczepański Square will present copies of the artist’s works, which will then be given away to the public! In the meantime, the cellar of the Potocki Palace hosts Beata Stankiewicz’s exhibition Natural Born Artists prepared by Bunkier Sztuki, with one room dedicated to Jerzy Nowosielski. He is also an important artist explored by the project “Fraternity. Reconciliation” of the AKEDA Foundation, supporting iconography by the San Damiano community inspired by his works. Every year on Nowosielski’s birthday (7 January) the foundation holds a gathering at his grave at the Rakowicki Cemetery; in 2023 the event will be attended by Dr. Krystyna Czerni, expert on the professor’s sacral works. And that’s just the start of the series of events planned by the foundation.

Nowosielski’s memory will also be celebrated by the Kraków Library (walks, workshops and podcasts), Kraków Cultural Forum (cycle of walks), Villa Decius Institute for Culture (meetings dedicated to the artist’s heritage) and Sinfonietta Cracovia (cycle of concerts at the National Museum in Krakow) – it’s impossible to list all the initiatives planned for the coming year!

Dorota Dziunikowska
The article published in the 4/2022 issue of “Kraków Culture” quarterly.

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