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Józef Gielniak (1932-1972)

Gielniak Józef

Was born on 18th February 1932 in Denain, France.
He died on 28th May at Sanatorium “Bukowiec” in Kowary, Poland.

His parents were Polish immigrants who came to France looking for a job. His mother, nee Tejsar, born in a family of farm labourers from Galicia left for France in 1922 to work on a farm. She met Stanisław Gielniak, who came from Great Poland (Wielkopolska). They got married and lived in Denian (in the north of France). They had two sons Kazimierz, born in 1924, and younger Józef. Their father left them in 1933 and their mother got married for the second time to Jakub Dziedzic, who eventually created a real home for his stepchildren.

In the years 1945 –1948 Józef Gielniak studied at the secondary school in Anzin. Having artistic talent, he also attended classes at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Vallenciennes, but, regrettably, he had to give it up due to financial reasons. The family could not afford that. In 1948 he got the first prize for drawing and watercolour, granted by UFOLEA (Union Française des Oeuvres
Laiques d’Education Artistique). Having graduated from school he was proposed, by the mayor of Anzin, the scholarschip for education at The Academy of Fine Arts in Paris. He refused, but he accepted the proposal of the Polish diaspora in France to study diplomacy in Poland, assuming he would learn Polish language. In order to do that he left for Paris, to Polish Grammar School in the autumn 1947. He studied there three months only. In 1949 he fell ill with tuberculosis and was treated at the sanatorium in Neufmoutiers-en-Brie. Despite that he managed to pass his GCE exams. In 1950 the whole family came back to Poland. They settled in Grudziądz, at Forteczna Street.
Józef was not able to undertake his studies due to his poor health. He was treated at the hospital in Grudziądz, then in Bydgoszcz and eventually was sent to sanatorium “Bukowiec” in Kowary.
On 2nd of May 1956 he stopped being formally a patient of the sanatorium. Yet, he could not leave the place because of his disease. He got a company flat at “Bukowiec” and was employed as a medical statistician. In 1956 he got married to Daniela (he called her Grażynka) nee Mańke, a former patient and worker of the sanatorium “Bukowiec”. Their only son Józef was born 10th January 1957.
Despite his disease Gielniak applied to the Ministry of Culture to unable him individual studies. In the beginning of 1956 Professor Stanisław Dawski, the rector of the Academy of Fine Arts in Wrocław, contacted Gielniak and started to care for his artistic education. He suggested dealing with graphic art – with linocut. After a few months he started to create mature works. He needed just two years for his individual style to be refined.

In 1956 he made his debut, in 1958 he was accepted as a member of ZPAP (the Society of Polish Visual Artists). He started to participate in all the most important exhibitions of graphic art in Poland and abroad since that time. The most important individual exhibitions: Wrocław (1961, 1968), Jelenia Góra (1962), Vienna (1963), Gdańsk (1970). In 1959 he won the first prize at the National Exhibition of Graphic Art and Drawing in Warsaw. Since that he used to gain distinctions and awards every year at competitions for visual artists.
In 1964 he obtained the State Award and in 1968 he was honoured with the order Polonia Restituta.
Seriously ill he did not leave the sanatorium. The only visit to Wrocław, lasting a few hours only, when his big individual retrospective exhibition was opened, created an event in his life. The exhibition was prepared by the Silesian Museum (now the National Museum) of Wrocław.
He contacted his friends and acquaintances by letters. They were a form of conversation with friends and are now a precious source of knowledge concerning the artist, as well as passionate reading matter, for he turned to be a talented man of letters.
The circle of his close friends consisted of: Professor Stanisław Dawski, Henryk Płóciennik, Jgnacy Witz, Jerzy Panek, Wojciech Siemion, Jacek Gaj, Irena and Andrzej Jakimowicz – to mention some of them.
Gielniak’s graphic works are a kind of letters, they express very personal experiences and feelings of the artist, so they are very original. Quite often they are addressed to particular people – as we can see in dedications. In his letter to W. Śmigielski he wrote: (…) treat my scratches as a kind of letter, without words, addressed to my close Friend (…).
And to I. Witz: For the print is that essential “message” designed for the closest people. Such “message” I am sending you – “Improvisation for Grażynka VII”. It may express better than my awkward words, what good and comforting things I wanted to tell you. (…)
Delicately cut, composed of tiny lines and points, the linocuts of J. Gielniak resemble the metal techniques. Linocut turned to be the only technique, he could practice, taking to consideration his poor health. I would like to explain, that linocut it is not exactly my choice. The reason is very simple, I do not have other possibilities. Sometimes, I dream about practicing a noble technique, an etching … but, it is going to be only a dream. I do not paint, for the results are rather poor, so I do not want to waist my time. Eventually the linocut is the only possibility left for me, a very despised technique, the one that is sentenced to failure. He wrote such words in one of his first letters to Ignacy Witz in 1959.
During just fifteen years of his professional career he created 53 graphic works. Most of them belong to the cycles: “Sanatoria” – graphic works from years 1958 – 1967; “Improvisations” from 1958 – 1959; and “Improvisations for Grażynka” from 1965 – 1971. He also created 16 ex libris plates.
He died on 28th May 1972 of heart attack.
He was buried at the old cemetery in Kowary.
His art was quite soon carefully examined and described. After enthusiastic notice of Igncy Witz at the II Exhibition of Polish Graphic Art and Drawing at the “Zachęta” Gallery, Warsaw in 1959, every presentation of Gielniak’s works turned to be meaningful. In 1963 a monograph on Gielniak was published by the Wydawnicto Artystyczno Graficzne in the series: “Polish Contemporary Printmaking”. The author was Andrzej Jakimowicz. Another precious work for those, who are intereted in Gielniak’s art, is a book by M. Hermansdorfer from the series “Artistic Monographs” published by the Gallery EM of MPiK Club in Wrocław, in 1975. Apart from the analysis of the authors works it also includes utterances of the most important art critics.
There are also three films about Gielniak: “Asylum” directed by Grzegorz Lasota in 1965 filmed for the Polish TV, directed by Jean-Marie Drot for the French TV and another one, directed by Elżbieta Sitek, also for the Polish TV.
Gielniak’s works can be found in collections of: the Karkonoskie Museum in Jelenia Góra (a set of works, most plates, collection of his books, calendars, memorabilia), The National Museum of Wrocław, Warsaw, Cracow, the National Library in Warsaw, The Ossolineum in Wrocław.

Katarzyna Kułakowska

Choosen literature:


[1] H. Szymczak. Sztuka moje życie Józefa Gielniaka listy do przyjaciół. Page 89-90
[2] ibidem, page 86
[3] ibidem, page 15

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