Jean Smilowski (1927-1989) was the son of immigrants, who in 1923 came from Poland to France, to settle in Lille, a city in northern France.
Because of financial problems the family became homeless, and 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 an accident at his job made Smilowski an invalid. He had to stop working and to have something to do, he began making paintings.
After his parents had passed away, he lived alone in the cabin, which he gradually transformed it into his own imaginary environment by decorating the walls of the cabin with frescoes and constructing objects, some of these with a military character like warplanes.
Smilowski used simple materials, like Ripolin, to make his paintings, and 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 ....
All these paintings and constructs were located in the small cabin.
picture website Revue Moderne
Smilowski lived a solitary life, and probably not many people knew about his creative activities.
courtesy of Sophie Lepetit weblog les grigris de Sophie
They became known however (at least to the Lille housing authorities), when in 1985 urban renewal reached the area where Smilowski had his cabin. To their surprise the authorities learned about the creations in and on the walls of the cabin, that had to be removed because of planned renovation of the area.
courtesy of Sophie Lepetit of weblog les grisgris de Sophie
It is good to note, that the authorities showed respect for the works. With Smilowski's assistance the walls with the frescoes have been removed and put into safety before the house was broken down.
The oeuvre and the decorated walls are being cared for by the Association la Poterne in Lille, formed in 1993.
Smiloswki moved to another house, elsewhere in the city, where he lived for another four years. He died in 1989.
* Article on Quickwiki (in french)
* A 2.28" video on INA France, made by local TV in july 1985 about the removal of the cabin
* Movie l´Ampleur de Smiloswki (1984) byYahan Laffort and Jean Michel Compiègne
* In the Nouvelle Revue Moderne (summer 2009, nr 24) mr Patrick Lepetit has published an article "Jean Smilowski. Pour l'amour de Ramona" This article has been translated into english is republished in my collection of outsider environments 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.
picture of the expo in the Palais Rihour
courtesy of Sophie Lepetit (weblog les grisgris de Sophie)
* 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, nearby the city of Lille).
* Exposition Infiniment Jean Smilowski, 2014, Béthune (northern France), 18/1 - 8/6
first published jan 2009, revised jan, nov 2014
site removed, but creations have been saved