Tadeusz Kantor was born in 1915 in Wielopole, a small town in southern Poland. His father, a teacher, was killed in World War I, and therefore, Kantor grew up in the house of his great-uncle, a priest. He took an early interest in the theater but decided instead to become a painter, learning drawing and painting under the influence of the Polish Symbolists: Stanisaw Wyspiaski , Witold Wojtkiewicz, and Jacek Malczewski. From 1934 to 1939, he attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow, where he studied scene design with Karol Frycz, who was himself a highly innovative stage designer as well as a painter, theatrical director, theater manager, and follower of the ideas of Gordon Craig and Wyspiaski. Frycz’s and Kantor’s careers are in keeping with the twentieth century traditions of Krakow, a Polish center for the avant-garde both in the visual arts and in stage design, where visual artists often became theater directors and managers.
In 1942, Kantor and a group of young painters formed the underground, experimental Independent Theatre during the German occupation. In 1946, Kantor began his career as a scene designer, creating sets and costumes for theaters throughout Poland until he went to study in France in 1947. He returned in 1948 to organize the first postwar exhibition of modern Polish art in Krakow and was appointed to the faculty of the Krakow Academy of Fine Arts.
Poland fell under the control of Joseph Stalin in 1949, and the authorities officially imposed Socialist Realism on the arts and artists. Kantor’s professorship was revoked, and he began to collaborate with Maria Jarema, a widely recognized painter and sculptor who had done scene design for Cricot 1 , an important Krakow avant-garde theater between the world wars. Kantor continued designing in this manner until the collapse of Stalinism under Nikita Khrushchev in 1956. With the increased independence of Poland,...
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