Saturday, 7 December 2013

D is for... Daumier

In 1999, the late, great Polish poster artist Franciszek Starowieyski (1930 - 2009) recalled a poem recited by Borowczyk’s jealous peers at the Krakow Academy of Fine Arts:

Following Daumier like a sheep,
Wherever Daumier goes, there will be Borowczyk.
Following Daumier like a sheep,
Daumier is here, but where is Borowczyk?

The poem concerned what they saw as Borowczyk’s debt to the nineteenth century French caricaturist Honoré Daumier (1808 - 1879):

The Daumier influence is most evident in the satirical drawings Borowczyk produced during the early 1950s for journals like Szpilki (Pins), edited by the caricaturist Eryk Lipiński (1808 - 1991):

The influence of Daumier on Borowczyk is interesting for a number of reasons. First, it undermines the notion that the artists like Borowczyk were the product of an exclusively ‘Polish’ artistic-cultural tradition. Second, Daumier also exerted a strong influence on another artist turned filmmaker, Sergei Eisenstein (1898 - 1948). (Eisenstein, incidentally, was one of only a handful of filmmakers who Borowczyk cited as an inspiration).

Borowczyk’s produced these satirical drawings during the socialist realist (socrealizm) period. In the Soviet Union, Socialist Realism had been effect since Karl Radek’s speech at the Writer’s Congress of 1934. In Poland it was implemented in 1949, by the then Minister of Culture, Włodzimierz Sokorski (1908 - 1999), under the auspices of the Party’s ideologue, Jakub Birman (1901 - 1984), and lasted until about 1955, a few years after Stalin’s death. In his memoirs, Borowczyk looked back on these drawings without shame, claiming that he had always been anti-capitalist:

In 1953, Borowczyk was awarded the National Prize for his lithographic work, particularly a cycle of images depicting the construction of the Nowa Huta district in Krakow: 

However, more often than not Borowczyk’s satirical drawings and lithographic cycles tend to be excluded from retrospectives of socrealizm. Unlike some his colleagues, Borowczyk did not adopt a ‘persona’ during this five or six year period when aesthetic freedom was limited. Indeed, there is a grotesqueness and perversity that makes a number of these satirical drawings stand out, in particular those involving President Harry S. Truman. One of these drawings, which features Truman wearing a what looks like a cardinal gown, over complete with hooves and a goat like tail:

While the image is designed to poke fun at Truman’s moral hypocrisy, it also prefigures the climactic image of La Bête (The Beast, 1975), whereby (spoiler) a character is revealed as having both a tail and a wolf-like hand.

One could say this is yet further proof of the ‘painterly’ aspect of Borowczyk’s approach to filmmaking, although I suspect the artist would (much like Eisenstein), argue that Daumier’s approach to graphics was essentially ‘cinematic’ in terms of both his dynamic approach towards composition and the inherent montage used to give imagery meaning.


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