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 found shelter 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, using simple materials such as Ripolin.
After his parents had died Smilowski lived alone in the cabin, which he gradually transformed into his own imaginary environment by decorating it's walls with frescoes and adding objects he constructed himself, such as models of warplanes.
In creating his own world Smilowski 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.
Smilowski moved to a house elsewhere in the city, where he lived for another four years. He died in 1989.
The paintings, models and the decorated walls are preserved by the Association la Poterne in Lille, formed in 1993.
* 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 France: Véronique 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.
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, last revised april 2018
Lille, dept Nord, region Hauts-de-France, France
site removed, but creations have been saved