Polish textile artist. She studied at the College of Fine Arts, Sopot, and graduated in 1955 from the Academy of Fine Arts, Warsaw. At the beginning of her career she was interested in drawing, painting and sculpture, but after 1960 she concentrated on textile arts in the broad sense of the term. Breaking with tradition, she initiated bold experiments with fibre and fabric. Her work contributed to the revolutionary textile movement known as Fibre art and finally entered the domain of modern sculpture.
Abakanowicz’s début, with a composition of forms made of white fabrics, was in 1962 at the first Biennale Internationale de la Tapisserie in Lausanne. At that time she also experimented with tapestry, giving it three-dimensional relief by introducing non-woven shapes. In the late 1960s her development of three-dimensional textiles was fully realized in her ‘abakans’ . These took various forms—winged, open or round—and were red, orange or white. She also created fifteen heavy, monolithic ‘black forms’ and three large ‘black garments’. In 1971 she entwined Edinburgh Cathedral with rope, and the following year she repeated this happening with a fountain in Bordeaux. Ropes became a favourite material in various exhibition compositions. In the 1970s she experimented further with textile sculpture, using burlap, string and cotton gauze. She started with the Deviations series, followed by the Alterations series, featuring ‘faces’ and ‘schizophrenic heads’. After this period her work concentrated on fragmented human figures (heads without trunks, bodies without heads, torsos without legs) placed singly or in large groups. The human body as a structure became her chief interest, and for her research she visited scientific laboratories and dissecting rooms, consulted the most advanced scientists and studied slides of the brain. She also travelled to Arizona for discussions with Paolo Soleri and to New Guinea to see the initiation ceremonies. Between 1976 and 1980 she created the Human Backs series of 80 figures, followed by the Embryology series (1980; oval forms made of linen, rags and cord) and the Syndromes series (16 brains made of clay). She made multiple casts of real human beings and individualized each form with a particular texture and pattern. The creases, ridges and veins of the resin-hardened fibre surface imitate organic characteristics, recalling the earth’s rough surface or the cellular composition of human skin. The Androgyn series (1985) features torsos perched on low stretchers of wooden logs, which fill in for the missing legs; through such provocative images she expressed her view of the physical and spiritual condition of mankind. The Catharsis series (1986; 33 figures, each c. 3 m tall), made for the Fondazione Giuliano Gori, Florence, progressed a stage further and was cast in bronze.
Abakanowicz had more than 40 one-woman exhibitions all over the world, and her work is in many international museums, as well as in Poland (Warsaw, N. Mus.; Łódź, Cent. Mus. Textiles; Łódź, Mus. A.). In 1965 she was made a professor at the Stage College of Fine Arts, Poznań.
Zdisław Żygulski jr
From Grove Art Online
© 2009 Oxford University Press