Władysław Strzemiński

21.12.1893 – 26.12.1952

Władysław Strzemiński, artist and theoretician, was the leading representative of the interwar Avant-garde in Poland. He was born to a Polish family in the city of Minsk, which was part of the Russian partition at the time. He studied at the elite Tsar Nicholas School of Military Engineering in Saint Petersburg. During the First World War he was severely wounded and lost a hand, a leg, and sight in one eye. In 1917 he took a closer interest in art. It was also then – or possibly a year later – that he met his future wife, Katarzyna Kobro. In 1918, he became an active member of the community of Russian Constructivists. He participated in the meetings of the Sub-Division of Art and Artistic Industry within IZO Narkompros. A year later he co-headed (together with Antoine Pevsner) the Central Exhibitions Bureau. At that time he also started working in Smolensk, where he was involved with the Governorate Department of People’s Education, as well as UNOVIS, the Champions of New Art, and ROSTA, the Russian Telegraph Agency. During the Soviet period he collaborated with such artists as Vladimir Tatlin, Alexander Rodchenko, and, first and foremost, Kazimir Malevich. At the turn of 1921/1922 he fled to Poland with his wife, Katarzyna Kobro. In 1923 he co-organized the first exhibition of New Art in Vilnius. A year later he joined the group and the magazine Blok. He was a co-founder and member of the artists’ groups Praesens and “a.r.”. Working with the latter group, he contributed to the International Collection of Modern Art, which was donated to the Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź. In the interwar era, his works were featured at numerous exhibitions, including foreign exhibitions important for the development of avant-garde art, such as the International Theatre Exposition (1926) and Machine Age (1927), both held in New York. In 1927, he co-organized Kazimir Malevich’s visit to Poland. He was affiliated with Abstraction-Création, an international group of artists creating abstract art. He exchanged letters with almost all major representatives of the European avant-garde scene. Until 1931, the Strzemiński family lived in various small towns in Poland – Szczekociny, Brzeziny, Koluszki, and Żakowice – before finally settling in Łódź. The couple made a living mainly by teaching. In the 1930s Strzemiński was head of the No. 10 Vocational School of Further Education, where he introduced innovative methods of teaching graphic design in the spirit of modern printing. During the Second World War he stayed in Wilejka and Łódź. After the war, he co-founded the State Higher School of Fine Arts in Łódź, where he worked until 1950, when he was expelled from the institution for political reasons. He died in poverty two years later. His greatest achievements include the theory of Unism (Unism in Painting, 1928), the theory of composition of space with his wife Katarzyna Kobro (Composition of Space: Calculations of Space-Time Rhythm, 1931), as well as the concept of functional printing (Functional Printing, 1933) and an original theory of art history, described in the book Theory of Vision (published posthumously, 1958). Strzemiński’s most important works are the series of Unistic Compositions, Architectural Compositions and Afterimages. Recently, series of his wartime drawings have also been analysed in detail. The artist inspired generations of students and was one of the main apostles of the Avant-garde in Poland, an uncompromising animator and promoter of modern art. To this day, his work continues to inspire artists, especially in the field of applied arts.