alking on Common Ground.
Beatrice Colin investigates the themes to be found in a major new exhibition of paintings by artists of Polish origin.
They say there is not an inch of Polish soil that is not soaked with blood or tears. Poland. invaded countless times by neighbouring Russia and Germany, has had one of the most turbulent recent histories in the Western world. Hundreds of thousands perished in the First and Second World Wars and in Stalin‘s purges, but some managed to escape to the West and many came to Scotland.
The City Art Centre's brand new show. Polish Roots — British Soil, has brought together eleven painters, some second generation, who all share the experience of Polish descent: of being uprooted from their country and placed in a different culture.
The exhibition was put together by Paulina Kolczynska. a research student from Warsaw. She worked with Richard Demarco in l99l, when she organised a season of ﬁlms by the Polish ﬁlm and theatre director, Andrej Wajda. Her research into arts promotion in Europe led her back to Edinburgh where she successfully proposed the idea for this show.
The work spans four decades and stretches right across several major art movements. It could be seen as an attempt to put into perpsective the effect of the isolation of communism. ‘I was trying to ﬁsh out the most interesting representatives of Polish art abroad. We as a country are looking for our heritage which has been spread all over the world. It‘s like trying to pick up all the threads which have been lost for over 30 years.’
The exhibition includes work by well-known painters like Jankel Adler and Joseph Herman. who both lived in Glasgow during the War, a number of younger Polish exiles, such as Janina Baronowska who was shown in Demarco's gallery in I968. and a few Scottish artists of Polish descent like Adrian Wiszniewski and Henry Kondracki.
Much of the work is ﬁgurative and many of the painters make use of the expressive nature of colour. While painters in Poland were reacting to the oppression of the state which condoned only social realism. Paulina points out that an infusion of two very different cultures was taking place in the work of Polish painters based in Britain. ‘Some of the artists were very influenced by the l960s where they had access to the ideas of abstract art. But as we can see in Josef Herman’s paintings of workers in Wales. the British influence was very strong.’
The calibre of the older artists' work is exceptional. It has an emotive. expressive quality which almost shimmers. ‘You must remember that these artists were and are very interesting people.' points out
Paulina. ‘They were forced to leave their country and :
so maybe they felt the urge to make some sort of mark. You cannot change who you are or where you‘ve been born. but the nature of being an artist is about crossing borders.’
Jankel Adler, Husband and wife havlng a meal (detall)
A study at workers In Wales by Joseph Hem, 1953.
For llenri Kondracki. whose father was sent to Siberia by Stalin and then escaped to Edinburgh after ﬁghting in the Free Polish Army in the Second World War. the influence of his heritage is obvious. ‘It does distance you. make you an outsider and stop you being overtly Seottish,‘ he points out. ‘I suppose I'm very influenced by my parents. by grief or pretending to overcome grief. and the ideas of authority and vulnerablity.’ Charged and vibrant, his work is fused
with melancholy and huge child-like ﬁgures
dominate the scenes. Yet he often uses Edinburgh‘s
- Union Street as his setting.
But is there a link between the artists apart from a common history"? ‘All the work is quite expressionist.‘ according to Kondracki. ‘They're feeding off the same things that interest me:
Beckmann. Bacon, that sort of Northern expressionist
thing which uses colour and slightly crazy mad images and distortion.‘ Paulina also claims that there is a strong Polish element in all the work. ‘As a nation we have a certain sensitivity to certain things. Maybe we are more philosophical and more sentimental at the same time. There is more discussion about the soul. Polish people would spot this immediately in this show. It‘s something in the atmosphere. but it‘s not something you can put your finger on and name.‘
Demarco has shown dozens of Polish painters in his gallery over the years when they could not be shown in their own country. Now there is a chance that this show can travel to Poland. ‘Maybe after all the recent changes the opportunity has arisen for trafﬁc to move
: both ways. not only one.’ says Paulina. 'This show is
ON FOLLOWING PAGES: DAILY-PLANET O IN THE FRAME
about the plaiting oftwo cultures and it may not get to the nucleus. but it does get closer to the truth about the nature of a shared. traumatic heritage. and put it into context.‘
Polls/I Runls‘ British Soil. (II the City Art Centre until 22 May.
The List 9—22 April I993 49