“Reality is intangible. Drawing helps grasp, record, and control it.” – Wojciech Fangor
Wojciech Fangor was a Polish graphic artist and painter that is known for his brightly colored blurred circles, clouds, and biomorphic shapes. He is also known for co-creating the Polish School of Posters. His work is often associated with Op Art artists such as Bridget Riley.
Wojciech’s legacy includes being called the great romantic of Op Art as he worked by a combination of intuition and experiment instead of rule. He is a colorist that extended the limits of the simplest optical laws. Fangor was one of the most distinctive painters to emerge from postwar Poland.
An American art critic and curator, Magdalena Dabrowski, accurately described Fangor’s varied works, saying “Exploring colour, space and their manifold relationships as his fundamental means of expression, the artist evolved a unique visual language reflecting his artistic interests, discoveries and innovations. His very personal approach to form and the manner in which it was intended to affect viewers resembled much more closely the three-dimensional perception of sculptors or architects, than that of painters with their emphasis on the two-dimensional and the mimetic.”
The Life of Wojciech Fangor
Wojciech Fangor was born in Warsaw, Poland on November 15, 1922. Fangor studied art at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw where he was trained in Socialist realism. After the outbreak of World War II, he joined his mother and sister at a family home in Klarysew, and took private art lessons with Tadeusz Pruszkowski and Felicjan Kowarski.
After the war, he was granted a diploma in absentia from the Academy of Fine Arts where he later taught and painted in a figurative style that reflected his interest in Cubism, French Impressionism, and German Expressionism.
Fangor turned out paintings with a more political message after Socialist Realism became Poland’s official style in 1949. Most notably of these was Korean Mother. Fangor became a founding member of the Polish Poster School, known for bold, modernist design and he created hundreds of film posters. In this period of artistic freedom, Mr. Fangor began experimenting with abstraction, using oil on primed canvas to give a denser concentration of color.
Fangor achieved national fame with a 1958 installation at the New Culture Salon in Warsaw called Study of Space. This was the world’s first environmental art and put 20 of his optical paintings on display. These resulted from an accidental discovery with Fangor intending to paint two-dimensional pictures, but noted the strange effect on the space in front of the image after painting the background. This created an illusion of space, developing the image toward the viewer.
An even more ambitious version called Color in Space was shown the following year in Amsterdam at the Stedelijk Museum. Fangor also expanded his oeuvre with architectural projects such as the design of the Central Department Store in Warsaw, the Polish Pavilion at the World Exhibition in Brussels, and the interiors of the Central Train Station in Warsaw.
In 1965, Fangor was included with 98 other artists in “The Responsive Eye,” a comprehensive survey of Op Art that traveled around the United States. He emigrated to the States in 1966 and began showing at the Galerie Chalette on the Upper East Side. He was also a professor at the painting department at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, N.J.
In 1970, Fangor had a one-man show at the Guggenheim Museum. His work dazzled critics including John Canaday of The New York Times, who reviewed the work in rapturous tones. Throughout the 1970s, Fangor began incorporating images from television into his work. He later included fragments of scenes, characters, and objects from famous paintings or popular magazines as well. After 1975, he returned to figurative painting.
In 1999, Mr. Fangor returned to Poland, where he set up a studio in an old mill near Warsaw, and enjoyed a resurgence in his career. The artist created graphic design for the new metro line in Warsaw.
The distinctive artist died on October 25, 2015 in Warsaw at the age of 92.
Fangor’s popular work in Socialist Realism, “Korean Mother”, depicts a small Korean boy grieving over the body of his mother, killed by American bombs. The work called “Figures” included two proletarian workers next a glamorous Western woman with manicured nails, oversize sunglasses, and a chic dress emblazoned with the words “London,” “Wall Street,” “Miami” and “Coca-Cola.”
Major Exhibitions & Awards
A major exhibition of Wojciech Fangor’s works was held at the Centre for Contemporary Art in Warsaw in 2003. In 2012, Fangor was the subject of a retrospective exhibition at the National Museum in Krakow. A survey show of his installations and sculptures opened at the Center for Polish Sculpture in Oronsko. Selected solo exhibitions of Wojciech Fangors work includes the following:
- 1949 – Young Artists and Scientists Club, Warsaw, Poland (former IPS)
- 1962 – Institute of Contemporary Art, Washington, DC
- 1963 – Lambert Gallery, Paris, France
- 1964 – Morsbroich Castle Museum, Leverkusen, Germany
- 1965 – Springer Gallery, Berlin, Germany
- 1966 – Kunstverein, Stuttgart, Germany
- 1971 – University Art Museum, Berkeley, California, USA
- 1974 – Hokin Gallery, Chicago, Illinois, USA
- 1994 – The Museum of Art, Radom, Poland
- 2000, 2003 – Stefan Szydłowski Gallery, Warsaw, Poland
Fangor received the Alfred Jurzykowski Foundation Award in 1978 and The Minister of Culture of the Republic of Poland Award in 2003.
The Value of the Artist’s Works at Auction
A painting by the artist broke Polish records for auction prices when it was sold for PLN 4.72 million. The painting, called M39, was painted in 1969 and is one of the few canvases by Fangor on which he used the motif of a rosette. This work is one of the most famous pieces of contemporary Polish art.
Christie’s auction house estimated the work entitled M9 at 200,000 USD – 300,000 USD. It sold for 567,000 USD.
Add the Works of Wojciech Fangor to Your Own Collection
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Selling the Works of Wojciech Fangor
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