January 03, 2009

Jean Smilowski, Frescoes

Life and works

Jean Smilowski (1927-1989) was the son of immigrants, who in 1923 migrated from Poland to France  and settled in Lille, a city in northern France.

Because of financial problems the family became homeless, so from 1943 on they went to live in kind of a cabin in the outskirts of the city in the area of the fortresses of Vauban.

In 1960 because of an accident at his job Smilowski became invalid. He had to stop working and to have something to do, he began making paintings.

Living alone in the cabin after his parents had died, he gradually transformed it into his own imaginary environment by decorating it's walls with frescoes and adding objects he constructed himself, such as warplanes.

Smilowski used simple materials, like Ripolin, to make his paintings.

In creating his own world  he had a variety of themes, like scenes from western movies (with Sitting Bull), love stories (Ramona), the military, heaven and paradise ....

this picture and the next two courtesy of 
Sophie Lepetit, from her weblog

Smilowski lived a solitary life and probably no one knew about his creative activities.

The local authorities by surprise learned about his artworks when in 1985 urban renewal of the area where Smilowski lived, implied that the cabin had to be removed.

It is good to note that the authorities showed respect for the works. With Smilowski's assistance the walls with the frescoes were removed and put into safety before the house was broken down.

The oeuvre and the decorated walls are under the care of the Association la Poterne in Lille, formed in 1993.

Smilowski moved to a house elsewhere in the city, where he lived for another four years. He died in 1989.

* In 2012 an interesting study (for a large part available on Google Books) was published in France, which describes the way Smilowski's creation was discovered and how various actors in the public domain dealt with the artist and the artworks, comparing these developments with those around the discovery of the artworks created by Rémy Callot who lived in the city of Carvin, also located in northern FranceVéronique Moulinié, Comment naissent les œuvres des singuliers? (How is the artwork of singular artists born?). A propos de quelques sites dans le Nord-Pas-de-Calais et ailleurs, in Heinich, Nathalie et Shapiro, R. (Eds), De l’artification. Enquêtes sur le passage à l’art, Paris (Eds de l’école des hautes études en sciences sociales, EHESS, Collection Cas de figure), 2012. pp 63-79.
* Article in Wikiwand (in french)
Movie l´Ampleur de Smiloswki (1984) byYahan Laffort and Jean Michel Compiègne
Patrick Lepetit, "Jean Smilowski. Pour l'amour de Ramona". in Nouvelle Revue Moderne (summer 2009, nr 24). Translated into english this article was republished in OEE texts.

* In 2009 it was 20 years ago that Jean Smilowski died. In his honour La Poterne organised an exposition in the Palais Rihour, Lille, 9 - 24 october 2009.

the exposition  in the Palais Rihour
* Also organised by La Poterne, in 2010 (17/1 - 16/3) an exposition showed a reconstruction of the interior of the cabin and a selection of Smilowski's works (Ferme d'en Haut, a community center in Villeneuve d'Asq, near Lille).
* Exposition Infiniment Jean Smilowski, 2014, Béthune (northern France), 18/1 - 8/6

first published jan 2009, revised jan, nov 2014

Jean Smilowski
Lille, France
site removed, but creations have been saved

1 comment:

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