FRANCISZKA THEMERSON & UBU
21 July – 15 September 2017
Private View 20 July 6-8pm
Richard Saltoun Gallery
111 Great Titchfield Street
London W1W 6RY
Franciszka Themerson, Bordure, 1951, Paint on Papier Mâché, 50 x 107 x 23.5 cm. Copyright the Artist. Courtesy Richard Saltoun Gallery, London
Richard Saltoun Gallery is pleased to present Franciszka Themerson & Ubu, an extraordinary solo exhibition of Polish artist Franciszka Themerson (1907-1988), and her first with the gallery.
On 10th December 1896 the Theatre de l’Oeuvre in Paris staged the debut performance of a play that stunned and outraged the audience but kicked down the door to Modernism, the movement that transformed 20th Century culture.
Ubu Roi by playwright Alfred Jarry was banned immediately after that first performance. The language was foul, the costumes ridiculous, the gestures violent, and its story, a farcical parody of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Ubu was the first play in history to draw attention to the artificiality of theatre conventions and reject 19th century methods for creating the illusion of the real.
Franciska Themerson spent most of her artistic mid-life immersed in an obsession with Ubu. In 1948, impassioned by the seminal cultural importance of Jarry’s play, she and her husband and lifelong collaborator Stefan, published the first ever English translation of Ubu Roi on Gaberbocchus Press.
Jarry’s slapstick, clown-like imagery marked an affinity with Themerson, whose paintings and drawings were similarly crude and comic, often mocking social stereotypes and classes. The published translation was a phenomenal success. In 1951 London’s ICA held a groundbreaking performance where actors sat at a long table and recited the script, whilst wearing elaborately grotesque theatrical papier-mâché masks made by Themerson. A decade later she designed a puppet production of the play at Marionetteatern, Stockholm, where the characters morphed into disturbing life sized puppets carrying wooden flat cut-out ‘body-masks’, reminiscent of Dadaist costume. The play toured globally for 20 years and was made into a film.
These 13 bizarre and fabulous original papier-mâché masks together with film, historical images and documentation will be on full display in the exhibition together with comic strip drawings, works on paper, collages, photographs and theatre posters.
A catalogue will be published in conjunction with the exhibition and available to purchase.