Ha-Ga Exhibition in Warsaw, May 12th 2008

 

On Sunday afternoon my girlfriend Julia and I went to Warsaw to see the first retrospective exhibition of polish cartoonist Ha-Ga . For the full story on Ha-Ga see my first post from February.

After a six and a half hour trip Szmon from Kultura Gniewu picked us up from Warszawa Centralna and took us to his nice new apartment. When I visited him last year with fellow Berlin cartoonist Mawil he was living together with his girlfriend in a crammed but incredibly organized 30 square meter apartment. Now they have a much bigger beautifully renovated and neatly decorated place in a old building from the 1930s overlooking the city.

We spend the next day in a park and went to the old part of town. It was the only place were we saw a lot of foreigners: tourists. The beautiful old Warsaw from before the war is only to be seen in this small picturesque area and it was sad to see how much damage the war (or rather Nazi-Germany) had brought to the city.

We went to a small restaurant and I had some delicious pirogie ( stuffed dumplings, a traditional polish dish) .

In the same area we found the Muzeum of Caricature and took these photos in the daylight.

In the evening we returned and met Kasia and Szymon who had come there directly from work.

The director of the museum Wojciech Chmurzynski had already started with his opening speech and Szymon explained that standing next to him was Zuzanna Lipinski, the woman who had invited us.

In the garden outside around 200 people had gathered. As was to be expected most of them grey haired. Just like in Germany the “Cartoon Scene” doesn`t seem to mix with the “Comics Scene”. If this had been a Comics exhibition the crowd would have been a lot younger. Ignorance on both parts is separating two genres that are actually so closely tied together.

The older “Cartoon” fans regard comics as too vulgar and the “Comics” fans think old cartoons are boring.

It was very nice outside in the garden and we sat at one of the many tables were Szymon introduced us to cartoonist Tomasz Niewiadomski. He loves cats and draws comics about them.

The exhibition was very well put together with a lot of original Ha-Ga drawings (mostly black and white line drawings but also some coloured with gouache) spanning from the 30s to the late 60s. Also shown were originals of her book illustrations and her posters, book and magazine covers were displayed.

The whole idea of a caricature museum made me wish for something like that in Berlin. Eryk Lipinski who founded the museum started by collecting cartoons from his colleagues.

It seems unlikely that something like that could happen today when most cartoonist care very little for original cartoon artwork let alone that of past decades.

After waiting out the first big rush to the buffet I finally got up the nerve to introduce myself to Zuzanna. She was happy to see me and apologized for being so busy. Her two daughters who grew up in England had met some members of her family for the first time, so it was also a family get together of sorts. I gave her the two German books and one of the 45s with the Ha-Ga cartoons that I had. Zuzanna gave me a catalogue of the exhibition and told us to come to the party afterwards.

Szymon and Kasia were tired from working all day and went home so Tomasz took us the party. It was held at a old actors cafe (decorated with hundreds of photos of actors) were cartoonists also used to meet. After we had a couple of beers Zuzanna introduced me to her brother, famous polish rock musician Tomek Lipinski and to director Chmurzynski who was quite drunk at that point and insisted I give him my private phone number. When the crowd got smaller we said goodbye to Zuzanna and Tomasz took us for a walk and later called us a taxi.

On Tuesday we didn`t feel like doing much so we spent half the day in a park. In the afternoon Szymon and Kasia took us to the university library. A impressive modern building that has a very huge playful and inventive garden on top of it. In the evening Kasia cooked pasta for us and Szymon showed us how to play “Guitar Hero III”on his X-Box. He was very good on that one Santana song.

On wednesday morning Szymon took us to the train station again and we said goodbye to Warsaw.

Thank you so much for your hospitality Kasia and Szymon . We had a great time.

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SKALDOWIE, Dwa-Jeden-Zero-Start, 1971

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Szymon from Warsaw has stayed at our place for the past days, so I think it`s a good opportunity to post some Polish records. I first met Szymon last year in Warsaw, where I accompanied fellow cartoonist Mawil to a small Comics Festival. Now Szymon is in Berlin for the Berlinale and watches an average of four films a day because he works for a Polish distributor of Art Films. He is also the publisher of Kultura Gniewu, the best Polish publishing house for alternative comics. The Polish version of Fantagraphics, L`Associacion or Reprodukt, if you will.

In the 60s Skaldowie was a popular Polish beat band. In the 70s they progressed into progressive rock. After that, like most of the old cats from the early days , they progressed some more into various directions.

This song from 1971 is REALLY funky. AMAZING! And just a little bit progressive…

I had always admired the sweet and simple, “Sergeant Pepper”-like style of the cover drawing but never knew who did it. When I showed the cover to Szymon, he immediately recognised the artist: Butenko.

BOHDAN BUTENKO

Born 8. II 1931 in Bydgoszcz. Graduated from Warsaw’s ASP in 1955. Cartoonist, poster artist, illustrator, film and stage designer. Individual exhibitions in Paris, Bratislava and Budapest. Awarded Silver Medal at the poster competition in Rimini. Many Polish prizes and awards for best book cover designs.

A couple of minutes later, after Szymon had checked a polish comic forum, he said: “What a coincidence! It´s Butenkos birthday today! He is turning 77 today. ”

I have none of Butenkos books but I will look for them in the future.

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Skaldowie still plays. You can find their discography and some old photos on their website.

SKALDOWIE, Dwa-Jeden-Zero-Start, 1971