Izaak Celnikier

The work of Izaak Celnikier is a testimony and an attempt to work through the nightmare of war. The artist painted masses of bodies bound with fear and love at the very last moment before transforming into ashes. His paintings and graphic works are populated by spirits of the past, people not yet dehumanized by the horror of war, and Jews with whom Celnikier shared the tragedy of everyday existence in the ghetto. He rejected the notion of the impossibility of expressing the cruelty of war, to avoid condemning the victims of war atrocities to eternal silence. As he said, “I present only what I’ve seen. I’ve seen everything. I will forgive nothing.” In the painting Korea, the artist evokes his own war experience and uses scenes remembered from the ghetto as a model to present a scene of mourning a person who perished during the Korean War, waged between the communist Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea, supported by the United States and UN forces. Celnikier builds tension in the painting by referring to the Biblical scene of the lamentation of Christ. The canvas is painted with powerful dark patches of paint and clearly marked, rough brushwork, as well as austere outlines. The only source of light is the white shirt of the murdered figure.

Izaak Celnikier (b. 1923 in Warsaw, d. 2011 in Paris) – Polish Jewish painter, graphic artist and draughtsman. Imprisoned in the ghetto in Białystok during the war and later sent to camps several times. Between 1946 and 1951, Celnikier studied at the Higher School of Applied Arts in Prague. He returned to Warsaw after graduation. In 1957 he was awarded a ministerial scholarship to travel to Paris, where he settled permanently. The violence and distress witnessed by Celnikier during World War II defined his entire artistic practice. Until the end of his life he returned in his expressive paintings and graphic works to the Holocaust and Biblical scenes.

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