Tuesday, September 25, 2012

TRIBUTE: Jan Sawka (1946-2012)

   Artist, printmaker, designer and architect Jan Sawka suffered a fatal heart attack in his studio and home in High Falls, New York recently. One of the premier artists of the famed Polish Poster School and a leading artist of the Polish and American counter-cultures, Sawka designed art sets for playwright Samuel Beckett, The Grateful Dead band and Steve Winwood among others as part of his theater projects. At the time of his death, he had just completed a multimedia spectacle titled “The Voyage” that will tour with Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart’s ensemble in 2013. 
   His paintings, posters and prints are in over 60 museums around the world and he has had over 70 solo shows at international museums and galleries.
   Sawka’s oppositionist activities lead to his forced exile from Poland in 1976. In 1981, when martial law was imposed in Poland, the AFL-CIO led a bipartisan fundraiser that sold Sawka’s Solidarity poster in the millions to provide immediate support to the besieged Solidarity Movement. The image of a button with the Solidarity-logo as a sun above a landscape of crowd-like trees became an icon of the rebellion.
   He was born in the Zabrze in the Śląsk region to an architect father and linguist mother. His childhood was overshadowed by his father’s Stalin-era political imprisonment. Sawka completed two Masters Degrees: in painting and print-making and in architectural engineering and became a star of the Polish Poster School.
   He moved to New York City in 1977 and quickly became part of the American art scene. He produced numerous editorial page commentary drawings for The New York Times; exhibited his paintings in galleries in New York, Los Angeles and abroad; and designed for theaters.  Sawka’s prints and posters comprise the largest collection of works on paper in the collection of the Library of Congress.
   A memorial exhibition at ACA Galleries in New York City is being planned.