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Stefan and Franciszka Themerson

'Nature gave us vocal chords but neglected to give us a light-producing organ. We had to build it ourselves: The projective luminiferous eye.' Stefan Themerson, The Urge to Create Visions.

Stefan and Franciszka Themerson

Biographical details:

Stefan and Franciszka Themerson met in Warsaw in the late 1920s. Franciszka had graduated in painting at Warsaw Fine Art Academy and Stefan had studied physics and architecture. They married in 1931, and apart from a break in 1940-42, the remainder of their lives involved a succession of remarkable collaborations.

Around 1930 they started to collaborate in experiments in photography and film, and became pioneer members of the Polish cinematic avant-garde. Their early works, many of which are now lost, combined an innovative use of photograms, photography and photo-collage techniques. In addition to their five experimental films (only one of which survives), Stefan and Franciszka were party to much of the debate around film and art during their time in Warsaw. They co-founded the Film Authors' Co-operative (SAF) to provide workshops, screenings and discussions for like-minded artists and filmmakers. Working within SAF, the Themersons designed and published f.a. magazine, a journal of avant-garde film. Two issues were published, the second of which contained the first text of Stefan Themerson's treatise 'The Urge to Create Visions'. The 1930s also saw a succession of books for children, written by him and illustrated by her, that are still classics in Poland.

Their move to Paris in 1938 was overtaken a year later by the outbreak of the second world war. Both enlisted. Franciszka escaped the German invasion to London in 1940 with the Polish Government in exile. Stefan Themerson followed in 1942. United again, they worked for the Film Unit of the Polish Ministry of Information and Documentation, for whom they produced their first British film, Calling Mr Smith (1943). This was intended as a rallying call to open the eyes and minds of the British public to Nazi atrocities in Europe. They made one more film together, The Eye and the Ear in 1944/45, before turning their talents and energies to a wide range of other activities.

They founded the Gaberbocchus Press, a major small press publishing first English editions of Jarry, Adler, Apollinaire, Schwitters, Queneau, etc., as well as Bertrand Russell, Stevie Smith, Kenneth Tynan. Stefan published his own philosophical discourses on art, film, semantics and ethics; as well as novels, an opera and poems. Franciszka was art editor of the press, illustrated all of Stefan's titles and many others, and published two or three books of her prolific drawings. Stefan's last two novels, Mystery of the Sardine(1986) and Hobson's Island (1989) were co-published by Faber & Faber.

Alongside all this, Franciszka pursued a full career as painter, and theatre designer, most notably of the celebrated Swedish marionette production of Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi (1964), which toured worldwide. They lived and worked in London, where they died in 1988.

Among their many artistic achievements, the films of Stefan and Franciszka Themerson stand out as significant contributions in the history and development of European experimental cinema.

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