Few Words About the Past

For over 60 years APA –Association of Polish Artists in Great Britain has been presenting rich and various art created by Polish compatriots living on the British Islands.  The group was founded in London in mid 1950s continuing activities of similar but smaller groups set up during the Second World War and soon after it, when large group of Polish soldiers and their families settled in Great Britain. Naturally there were some individual Polish artist living and contributing through their work to British art scene even before.  In 1897 Stanisława de Karłowska (1876- 1952) a painter trained in Cracow Fine Art Academy and in Parisian Academie Julien settled in London after she married in Warsaw a leading member of Camden Group, British artist, Robert Bevan. She was exhibiting under her own name with Women International Art Club, New English Art Club,  and in 1908 in the first exhibition of Allied Artist Association. In 1914 she became  a member of The London Group. In the year 1935 when she had her own solo show at the Adams Gallery another, forty years younger Polish artist, Feliks Topolski RA (1907-1989) came to London to practice his art. He had come from Warsaw on a special mission of artist-reporter commissioned by Polish newspaper to draw on the spot, in London, the celebrations of the Silver Jubilee of King George V.   He liked London and finding that lively spontaneous line of his drawings was highly appreciated here (G. B. Show asked the artist to illustrate his collected works) Topolski extended his stay in England, eventually remaining   in London for the rest of his life. He was not the only one. Two Polish painters, both after spending few years on artistictravels in France and Italy  settled in Britain  before the War  - Marek Żuławski (1908-1985) arrived in 1937 when he had also his first London exhibition at Leger Gallery, while Henryk Gotlib (1896-1966) moved from France to Cornwall in summer 1939 with his newly married Scottish wife. After the fall of France many more Polish artists crossed the Chanel arriving to Britain with Polish government and Polish forces eager to continue the fight. Most  of them like painters Jankiel Adler(1895-1945), Aleksander Żyw (1905-95), Józef Natanson (1909-2003), Marian Kratochwil (1906-97), Zygmunt Haupt (1907-75), Zdzisław Ruszkowski (1907-91) and  sculptors - Tadeusz Koper (1912-95), Marek Szwarc (1892-1958) and Tadeusz Lipski (1905-1987)  were at first active in Scotland were Polish Forces (in which  they served as soldiers) were  stationed. They were joined by others like painter Tadeusz Piotr Potworowski (1898-1962), who arrived from Sweden in 1943. Towards the end of war most of them moved south to London where few artists were already active workingfor Polish Ministry of Propaganda and Information (among them survivor of Soviet gulags painter, later known for his ceramic religious murals and reliefs Adam Kossowski (1905-1986), graphic artist Janina Konarska (1900-75), and Franciszka (1907-88) and Stefan Themerson (1910-88) at that time active in the propaganda film unit of Polish Government.  

In 1944 Mieczysław Poznański collaborating withTadeusz Piotr Potworowski and Marek Żuławski published a small brochure “Polish Artists in Great Britain”  while in January 1945 art magazine “The Studio” ( instigated by their contributor Polish painter Józef Natanson) published  “Special Polish Issue”, which included articles on various aspects of Polish art, past and contemporary. It informed also about the existence ofthe Society of Polish Artists in Great Britain. In a short text  written by its chairman Tadeusz Potworowski author enlist several Polish artists among the Society  members and  remarked that “in spite of the fact that its membership is unavoidably restricted it is the chief centre for ideological discussions” and that “they are all longing to an integrated artistic life in post-war Poland”. Political developments of Cold War and falsified elections in Poland which led to communist takeover did not allow to fulfil these sincere wishes. Most of Polish artist already living in Britain decided to remain here (Gotlib who soon after the war went to Kraków to teach at the Fine Arts Academy there, after experiencing  ideological pressures and indoctrination returned to Britain).

At the end of 1946 Polish artist remaining in Great Britain were reinforced by large group of younger artists-soldiers and artists ex-prisoners of war arriving from Italy. They were part of Polish II Corps (created in 1943 from Poles deported in 1940 by Stalin into Soviet Kazakhstan and released from Siberian Gulags) who after military campaign in Italy and battle of Monte Cassino stayedin Italy  immediately after the war.

As early as in 1942 command in chief of II Corps general Anders decided to create The Centre of Culture and Education attached to its military forces. This unique  organisationalunitamong its variousactivities tried to help artists counted among Polish soldiers (Józef Jarema, Tadeusz Wąs, Zygmunt Turkiewicz and others)  and organised,  at first in the Near East and then in Italy, special exhibitions of their works. After the war, in Italy their group had grown joined by artists  ex-prisoners of war (both of 1939 campaign and those captured by Germans after the fall of Warsaw Uprising) and Polish Silesians who were forced to fight on German side.  Commanding  staff of Polish II Corpsconcerned about uncertain future decided to help  soldiers with their education.  In autumn 1945thirty six of Polish soldiers and officers-artists  (who formed in ItalyII CorpsSection ofArtists and Art Students)  were accepted to study art at Accademia di Belle Arti in Rome (among them were artists later active in UK : Ryszard Demel, Leon Piesowocki, Alexander Werner). Others were able to attend school of painting in Cecchignola near Rome organized and run by ex-POW, prof. Marian Bohusz- Szyszko (1901-1995) a painter educated in Vilnius and Kraków  with experience of teaching art before the war as well as later in POW camp). In 1946 all of them, with the rest of Polish II Corps were asked to leave Italy and in November 1946  they arrived to Scotland.  In early 1947 Polish student artists were moved to Polish Resettlement Camp in Waldingfield near Sudbury . Here in July 1947 prof.Bohusz-Szyszko with help of graphic designer prof. Wojciech Jastrzębowski(before the war a rector of Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts ) and architect Romuald Nowicki was able to recreate his school of painting  now officially open under  the new name of Studium Malarstwa i Grafiki Użytkowej (School of Painting and Graphic Design). Among its first  23 students were artists who arrived with Bohusz-Szyszko from Italy (among them were R.Delmel(1921), L.Piesowocki (1925)and A.Werner (1920-2011), Tadeusz Beutlich (1922-2011) , Andrzej Bobrowski (192-5-2002) Antoni Dobrowolski (1910-1987), Kazimierz Dźwig (1923-94), Jan Marian Kościałkowski (1914-77) and Tadeusz Znicz-Muszyński 1921-1988). At the end of the year the school moved to Kingwood Common, near Reading and then to London.  Many Polish art students were searching at the same time for possibility of receiving scholarship for studying in British art schools. With help of special funds from British Interim Treasury Committee for Resettlement of Poles some eventually had received it. Large group of artists began to study at Sir John Cass Technical College, School of Art and Crafts (amning them R.Demel, K.Dźwig, Stanisław Frenkiel, Danuta Głuchowska, J.M. Kościałkowski, A.Werner, T.Znicz-Muszyński). Others studied at Borough Polytechnic (Janina Baranowska, Danuta Gierc, Danuta Piesakowska), Slade School of Art (Andrzej Bobrowski, Stefan Knapp, Jan Lubelski i Jan Wieliczko) and the Central school of Art (Wanda Garland).

At that time new organisational initiatives begun to occur amongthe and year 1948 brought short lived Związek Młodych Plastyków (Young Artists Association).  Ex-pilot Stefan Knapp became its chairman  while  members  consisted of both artists who studied in Rome Academy, as well as students at Bohusz-Szyszko’s school of painting.  Due to internal divisions and differences of opinions the group ceased to exist after organizing just one  exhibition atthe Kingly Gallery on Regent St,  but in spring 1949  its leading 14 artists,  interested in more modern approachand concerned with maintaining high quality of artistic work founded  a new, smaller group from the year of its creation called “Group 49“. Among its members were artist like Tadeusz Beutlich, Ryszard Demel, Kazimierz Dźwig, Stanislaw Frenkiel, Marian Kościałkowski,  Leon Piesowocki, Aleksander Werner and others.  During following  ten years of its existence it presented works of 20 artists exhibiting in various locations from Polish YMCA Club where the first exhibition took its place  to the last one (held from 10 December 1959 to January 1960) in a new place - Grabowski Gallery in South Kensington. Catalogue of this last exhibition celebrating 10th anniversary of the group listed names of 14 artists  most of whom in followingyears continued torepresent  the maincore of Polish art in Great Britain. Among them were painters Janina Baranowska, M.Bohusz -Szyszko, Mieczysław Chojko, R. Demel, A. Dobrowolski, K. Dźwig, Marian (Kościałkowski), Piotr Mleczko,T. Znicz-Muszyński, L. Piesowocki, Stefan Starzyński, T.Beutlich who later developed his own style of sculptural textiles, and  sculptors Andrzej Bobrowskiand  A.Werner who has also shown his woodcuts.  Some of these artist were founder members  of the group, other joined later, most of them  at that time representing  expressionistictendency  ofabstract art.  A note in the catalogue informed that the booklet  was published by the Polish Associations of Painters , thus announcing  incorporation of the artists of the “Group 49”into a new,  wider and more accommodating  group of  artists . Under the name The Association of Polish Artists in Great Britain - Zrzeszenie Polskich Artystów Plastyków w Wielkiej Brytanii ),it had its  first exhibition few months before  in spring 1959 (5 February -3 March 1959) inaugurated newly foundedGrabowski Gallery  in London Kensington.

The idea of this new association came from the need for a wider group which could represent variety  of contemporary  tendencies and stylesand include newartists,  among them graduatesof Polish School of Paintingrun by prof. Bohusz-Szyszko (with artists like Halina Sukiennicka, Halima Nałęcz, Karolina Borchardt, Irena Fusek, Kinga Kozerski, Zofia Pierzchało-Piasecka, Wojciech Falkowski, Andrzej Dawidowski) and others, not represented in the old “Group 49” (like Danuta Piesakowska, Danuta Gierc, Wanda Garland).  Emphasizing the idea of continuity, in 1958, in theearly phase of forming APA Tadeusz Koper (1912-95) – a sculptor of the older generation and a member of the original wartime Society of Polish Artists in Great Britain- was elected for the post of  a chairman of the new APA, with  Halina Sukiennicka (1906-1997) as its secretary .  After one year Koper resignedwhile Sukiennickaand later Janina Baranowskafor many years played important organisationalrolein thegroupas its secretaries. Later on suggestion ofStanisław Frenkiel(chairman of APA for a oneyear 1979) prof. Bohusz-Szyszko had received a titleofthehonorarychairman of APA for life.

The first exhibition of APA at the Grabowski Gallery with sale of 20 painting to English clients was unquestionablesuccess andthe group was invited to present his second show in the same gallery known for promoting new art in Great Britain. Under the title  “Black and Red” it run from 14 December 1960 to 28 January 1961). Apart from already mentioned main group of artists  (exhibiting earlier with Group 49)  it presented works  of some older artists like Zygmunt Turkiewicz (1912-1973) and Tadeusz Wąs (1912-2005), as well as  the best  pupils ofBohusz-Szyszko school -Halima Nałęcz (1917-2008), Helena Wawrzkiewicz and Halina Sukiennicka (1906-1997).  Among other artists exhibiting  during this second show were O.Karczewska , M.Łączyński, M.Sawicka.  The third show of APAat Grabowski Gallery-titled “Tension & Contrast” ( 8 Novemberto 30 December 1961) added some other artists (D.Głuchowska, T.Black,T.Zieliński ).

   Later important large show of the group in London (with participation of senior of Polish artist from France Konstanty Brandel 1880-1970) took place in November 1968 at the Drian Gallery, run by a painter and APA member Halima Nałęcz, who organized there also some individual showsof Polish artists living in Britain (Zygmunt Turkiewicz, Marian Bohusz-Szyszko, Halina Sukiennicka, sculptor Jerzy Stocki, Marek Żuławski, Tadeusz Ilnicki, Franciszka Themerson and Kajt Kapolka). Her own work gradually evolved from lyrical abstraction to representation (flower bouquets) inspired by charm of naive and folk art.

 Other annually hold APA exhibitions  were presented in various spaces connected with Polish community in London ( Polish YMCA Club,  the Polish Library at 9 Princes Garden, Kensigton, Polish Airmen’s Club at Earl’s Court) and then in the gallery of POSK in Hammersmith which since 1977 became the main venue for APA shows. The space offered by POSK Gallery was relatively small and on four occasion larger annual presentation of APA (in 1975, 1989,1993 and 1996) took place in The Centaur Gallery , another exhibition space run by a Polish painter, ex-RAF pilot and member of APA Jan Wieliczkoandhis English wife Dinah. At first located at Portobello Road, later in Highgate Village it was also the place of several individual exhibitions of APA members, artists like Stanisław Frenkiel , Marian Kościałkowski, Ryszard Demel andnewly co-opted to APAgraduate of Chelsea School of Art painterand ex-sailor, creator of unique world of strange characters and fables - Andrzej Kuhn).

For many  years APA members were Polish soldier-artists who came to Britain during the War or immediately after  but with passing time growing role in the group was also played  by pupils of Bohusz-Szyszko school, majority of them  women. APA exhibitions (commented by London based Polish press) as well as lectures and meetings (organized by artist and graphic designer Władysław Szomański) were important in life of not only artists, but also wider community of Polish exiles in London.

In 1980 Janina Baranowska was electedas a chairman of APA (she hold the post for the next eleven years) and in 1983 at the time of growing interest in Polish matters (due to the creation of “Solidarity” – first independent trade union in communist countries,  followed byMartial Law in Poland) -APA (financiallysupported by Grabowski Foundation) publishedan album “Contemporary Polish Artists in Great Britain”. It  presentedreproductions of works by 46 artists with short biographical notes, general introduction by Marek Żuławski and brief history of the group written by Stanisław Frenkiel.  In 1980s the association presented also works of its artists  to wider English audience by openingtwo of its annual exhibitions in the centre of London ( in the Crypt of St. Martin in the Fields andin Smith Gallery in Covent Garden).  A Large group of APA artistsexhibited  alsoin Germany as a part of  exhibition of contemporary sacral art in Landau and Stuttgart in 1983.

With passing years younger artists begun to express their interest in joiningthe group. Some of them were Poles of second generation, born in Britain to Polish parents (like a painter, daughter of  a Polish pilot andsquadron leader,  Krysia Michna-Nowak, Halina Klecka, daughter of an architectAlexander Klecki or photographer Ryszard Szydło); others like accomplish sculptor in stone Marysia Jaczyńska, painters Ewa Wnęk-Webb and Leszek Dąbrowski came here as children and studied art in Great Britain. Their decision of exhibiting with APAmanifestedtheir Polish roots and still important links with Polish culture and community. There were also artistsIike Sławomir Blaton , Mańka Dowling, Andrzej Pass, Marek Nowicki or Lechoslawa Chmielewska -Amit who after studying art in Poland found their way to Britain and settled here in 1970s and 1980s.  APA gradually begun to change but it was not always the first choice for everyone. Some artists of Polish origin (like Dawid Mach RA, Andrzej Jackowski, Henry Kondracki, Adrian Wiszniewski, Edward Lipski, Andrzej Klimowski, Antoni Malinowski, Marysia Lewandowska, Marta Kozarzewska and others ) successfully pursued their own artistic carriers unable to  find an extra time for APA activities and exhibitions. In August 1986 in Brixton Galleryin London group of otherartists, partly Poles from second generation, not all of them even speaking Polish (Stefan Szczelkun, Simon Lewandowski, Jola Sicińska,  Ruth Jacobson, Louise Kosinska, Jamoula Mckean, Karen Streng, Maria Pacan, Maria Chevska, Krystyna Shackleton-Dzieszko, Sylvia Ziranek and some others ), partly Polish artists who came from Poland (Kasia Januszko, Andrzej Maria Borkowski, Krystyna Borkowska, Ewa Mann, Mietek Dymny, Margaret Białokoz-Smith and others)  with two artists who came to UK as children (Leszek Dąbrowski and Lidia Bauman) presented their works at the first exhibition of“Bigos - Group of Artists of Polish Origins” . In the followingten years the group (enlarged be new members received Art Council grantandpresented several showsin various galleries in England (as well as one exhibition in Sandomierz, Poland). Initially sceptical attitude of Bigos members to more traditional art presented in APA shows began to change in 1990s as older group became more open to new art and artists of younger generation.

In 1989 celebrating the year of the free election and fall of communism in PolandAPAannual exhibitionin the large space of Centaur Gallery presented 100 various works of art by wider range ofPolish artists active in Great Britain, not limitingitself to APA members only.  In 1992 Janina Baranowska resigned and Marek Krzysztof Nowicki painter born in 1947 and educated partly in Poland, partly in UK, was elected for the post of APA chairman (other members of the elected committee: Elżbieta  Lewandowska- seceretary, Maria Hutton – treasurer and Lechoslawa Amit – were also painters who recently joined APA).   

In the same year 1992 APA presented its  first exhibitions in Poland: one at Gallery Art-Nova2 at Katowice, another in the Galeria Stowarzyszenia Wspólnota Polska in Krakówexhibiting worksof 15 members:  Lechosława Amit, Tadeusz Czerwinke, Kazimierz Dźwig, Irena Fusek-Forosiewicz, Maria Hutton, Zofia Kobylińska, Elżbieta Lewandowska, Piotr Mleczko, Halina Nałęcz, Andrzej Pass, Władysław Rogowski, Jerzy Stocki, Władysław Szomański, Jan Wieliczko, Ewa Wnęk-Webb).  Among the 48 artists exhibiting in POSK in 1995show “Form & Colour” on the occasion of Congress of Polish Culture Abroad apart from late works of well know Polish artists of the old guard (paintings of Zdzisław Ruszkowski, Leszek Muszyński, Frenkiel, Dźwig,  Baranowska, Sukiennicka and sculptures of Kosciałkowski, Werner,  Bobrowski and  Stocki) were also works by new APA members like Raya Herzig – idiosyncratic painter in surrealist tradition, Elżbieta Chojak-Myśko artist with experience of set design in Polish theatre and Andrzej M.Borkowski, member of “Bigos”, who after Stefania ZahorskaAlicja Drwęska, Marek Żuławski and Stanisław Frenkiel became a new Polish art criticin London).  In years following tragic death of Marek Nowicki (in 1995) APA tried to experiment with even younger team of artists electing recent graduate of Royal Academy School of Art sculptor Antoni Przechrzta as APA chairman (Andrzej M.Borkowski as a deputy) and accepting large group of new artists like Monika Wheeler, Wojciech Sobczyński, Agata Hamilton, Olga Sienko, Monika Duda and some members of “Bigos”: Louise Kosinska, Basia Janowska-Lautman, Krystyna Shackleton-Dzieszko, A.M.Borkowski, Danuta Sołowiej.  The Bold attempt to propose something lighter and new was controversial exhibition “Cuckoo na Muniu” (in November 1998 curated by M.Wheeler and A.M. Borkowski) which emphasisedstrange  and visionary in art  of APA members (Andrzej Kuhn’s lyrical fables,  mysterious collages and paintings by Danuta Gierc, dreams like visions of Raya Herzig, delicate drawings ofOlga Sienko, humorous comic picture stories by Basia Janowska or bouquets and pictures  made from sea shells by Stanisława Hopko). Another  exhibition of that time which tried to encourage artists to expand and create art works not only for the walls of the gallery by to experiment with  ideas of site specific art in the POSK building,  was not well received nor understood by administration and various institutions located in the POSK. Inconsequence it did not produced sufficiently interesting or memorable results and  APA members elected a new committee (without a chairman)  returning to more comfortable form of annual shows presented twice a year –  a spring show with submission of  recent work of artist choice, and one in the autumn witha common theme (chosen at the annual APA meeting) freely interpreted by all participants. 

Janina Baranowska who for many years has run POSK Gallery supervising its all exhibitions is helped now by younger APA artist Joanna Ciechanowska. Apart of annual APA exhibitions the gallery became an important venue for individual shows of younger Polish artists including new generation of talented young APA painters (from Agata Pęksa who was also active in a one of APA committees, Jolanta Gawlik, Alicja Mazur, Mariusz Kałdowski to more recent members like Paweł Kordaczka, Agnieszka Handzel-Kordaczka, Paweł  Wąsek, Maciej Hoffman, GosiaLapsa-Malawska and others). Spirit of experimentation has not died – in 2009 thanks to initiative of newmember of APA Kasia Kałdowski group of APA artists commemoratedPolish writer, philosopher and painter Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz with large collective artwork –multi part painting inspired by Witkacy work “Creation of the World”.  

At first photography (represented in APA by works of Christopher Malski, Ryszard Szydło,  Andrzej Pass, Monika Schodowska, Marek Jakubowski and others), then digital prints (Maria Kaleta, Joanna Ciechanowska, Gosia Łapsa-Malawska, Maryla Podarewska-Jakubowski) and video areseen now more often on shows of APAand recent initiative of organizing additional annual exhibition of new media and experimental work (“A Little Experiment” curated by sculptor Wojciech Sobczynski in 2013 and 2014) creates a special platform for such art and new artists. All this does not stop other APA artists to explore and search for new expressive possibilities in more traditional techniques and crafts - work in glassfor years fascinated Alexander Werner and now it returns in sculptures and reliefs casted in glass by Teresa Chłapowska; Anna Keen and Andrzej Pacak propose variety of forms and themes in contemporary jewellery,  Halina Nekanda-Trepka and Piotr Kirkiłło master graphic techniques of dry point and etching not forgetting variety of styles and approaches to painting represented among APA painters in oil, acrylic and watercolour. 

Andrzej Maria Borkowski

(University of Brighton)