Maria Jarema

1908Stary Sambir, Ukraine | 1958Kraków, Poland

Polish sculptor, painter, stage designer, and costume designer.

Maria Jarema studied from 1929 to 1935 at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków with sculptor Xawery Dunikowski. She was a member of the first Kraków Group (1932-1937), founded by the Academy’s leftist students to promote modern art in the challenging interwar environment. In 1957, together with Tadeusz Kantor, she co-founded the second Kraków Group, a seminal hub of the avant-garde in Poland under communism. Between 1934 and 1939, she designed costumes and sets for the avant-garde Cricot Theater of Artists, founded by her brother Józef Jarema. She made several trips to Paris (in 1937, 1947, and 1957) and visited Italy in 1958. She was one of only a few artists who refused to participate in the official, state-sponsored art scene during the period of Socialist Realism.
M. Jarema’s extraordinary inventiveness, combined with her creative take on the classical avant-garde, constituted one of the most interesting phenomena in Polish modern art. In the early 1930s, she ventured into sculpture, initially exploring a figurative idiom animated by expressive deformation (Head of Henryk Wiciński, 1935). Later in the decade, she created abstract, organic forms subscribing to the concerns of the Abstraction-Creation circle. She was analytical in her approach to the challenge of representing motion and rhythm, and accentuated the interpenetration and fluidity of forms, thus departing from the notion of sculpture as a static volumetric object (Nude, 1935). During the same period she also painted small, intimate gouaches.

After World War II, M. Jarema focused almost exclusively on painting, with only sporadic returns to sculpture (Dance, 1955). Her brilliant grasp of the relations among volumes and space, and her ability to integrate movement, light, and sound – an ability rooted in her experience in theatre – helped her develop a highly original approach to painting. Her encounter with Surrealism, which was already apparent in her works from the interwar period, encouraged Jarema to study relations between abstract forms and figurative elements, to combine referential and imagined shapes. In the early 1950s, she introduced the technique of monotype, which is connected to watercolour and gouache, to her painting, achieving a highly original aesthetic expression. Over time, her initial legible allusions to the human figure integrated with abstract shapes gave way to purely abstract compositions. Her proclivity for dance motifs and sensitivity to music, fine-tuned by her earlier collaboration with the Cricot Theater of Artists, infused her paintings and sculptures with a rhythmic and musical quality. Her works from the 1950s, such as the Expressions, Penetrations, and Filters series, are her most sublime achievements. They feature transparent monotype shapes and geometrical-cum-organic forms painted in gouache to create colorful mosaics suggesting the movement of forms in space.
In 1958, she represented Poland at the Venice Biennale. Her works are held in many collections: those of the Muzeum Narodowe in Kraków; in Warsaw, Wrocław, and Poznań; and the Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź. In 2018, the Cricoteka Kraków and the Muzeum Śląskie Katowice held a retrospective exhibition entitled Jaremianka. “I’m staying in this theatre. I like it here”.

Barbara Ilkosz

Publication made in partnership with the Institut Polonais de Paris.

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