Many of the surviving drawings by Stanivslav Szukalski, a Chicago Renaissance artist, are being showcased on campus, some of which have never been seen publicly.
Szukalski, born in Poland in 1893, is praised for his imaginative theories that translated in his sculptures and paintings.
In 1934, Szukalski was proclaimed as the “Greatest Living Artist” by the Polish government.
The artist built the Szukalski National Museum to house his works.
In the chaos of WWII, the museum was bombed by the Nazi Siege of Warsaw in 1939, destroying his life’s work.
Szukalski, who was trapped in the museum during the bombing, clawed his way out of the rubble and managed to escape to Austria.
Since then, Szukalski continued his craft in Chicago until his death in 1987.
The Begovich Gallery, in the Visual Arts Building at Cal State Fullerton, is now presenting several surviving pieces of work from Szukalski’s collection.
Presenting the artist’s collection and also responsible for rediscovering and publishing his work is Glenn Bray and Lena Zwalve, Szukalski’s past patron and estates.
The gallery is open through March 7 and there is no charge for admission.
Every piece displayed is unique while also complementing each other thanks to the imaginative worlds he created in his mind, along with painted ideas of monumental sculptures that represented hope, nationality and unity.
“He doesn’t fit in the fine arts, that’s the problem,” said Zwalve. “It’s hard to compare Szukalski’s work to any other artist because his work was always so unique from other movements.”
Szukalski created surreal artwork before Salvador Dali and other artists within the movement first dipped their toes into the unparalleled style.
“The key was that he didn’t think of himself as pushing boundaries. He thought of everything out of his own mind,” said Bray.
Szukalski can be described as an individualistic artist, concentrating solely on his work, rather than the fame that comes along with it. Szukalski wasn’t rediscovered after the bombing of his museum until the 1970s.
“His idea was it was not what you use, it’s … it’s what it is. It’s the thought. He (Szukalski) said, ‘If I was a painter who drew something in gold, would it mean more than in pencil scratch?’” Bray said.
Szukalski became a beloved artist during and after his lifetime.
Well-known artists visited the Begovich Gallery during its opening reception Feb. 2 to share stories of times spent with Szukalski.
The gallery was filled with high praise and enthusiasm from guests for Szukalski’s work.
“He was so driven. He just never gave up. He kept going, and going and going,” said Mike McGee, curator of the gallery.
Visiting artists included Robert Williams, a Zap cartoonist and founder of Juxtapose Art & Culture Magazine, and George DiCaprio, a comic book writer, editor and underground distributor (yup, he’s the father of Leonardo DiCaprio).
“He had his own dictionary with his own illustrations of things,” said DiCaprio.
Szukalski was known for being a universal creator, theorizing new ideas to inspire his imaginative artwork such as his story, Rege Rege, the tale of a frog, titled after the chirping sound frogs make.
“He had a theory about everything, everything you could think of,” DiCaprio said. “He would say that he could go into a museum and look at pieces of ancient stone, and there was a language that went through all of them that was common to all of them.”
DiCaprio said his favorite work of art was the “Rooster of Gaul.” Szukalski had planned to have it built in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral.
“Stanislav would say after a certain point you have to stop believing everything you read in books, start formulating your own ideas. Everyone has innate ideas on beauty that they’re kind of one with. But he would say to me that the discovery was that those innate ideas—not one is more important than the other one. What’s powerful to one person is not the same for the other one,” DiCaprio said.
Szukalski was also well remembered for his rebellious personality and strength.
Even after his artwork was destroyed, used as target practice or melted for ammunition for the Nazis, Szukalski continued to draw constantly.
“They (Nazis) tried to get him to do a sculpture or drawing of Hitler. He ended up drawing a picture of Hitler as a ballerina and he sent it off when they asked for drawings,” Bray said.
Szukalski was an innovative artist that pushed boundaries to no end.
Students now have the opportunity to view many of his unseen artwork on campus at the Begovich Gallery.