Kantor found inspirations through what he believed to be original and also kept strong to tradition such as the movements of Constructivism, Dada, Informel art and Surrealism.
Whilst studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow, Kantor studied under Karol Frycz who was a painter and stage designer. This influenced Kantor to start work as a scenery designer whilst at the Helena Modrzejewska Old Theatre.
Tadeusz Kantor also taught at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow. Whilst visiting Paris Kantor found confidence as well as him finding his own style of painting.
Kantor’s own criticism of his work shown in his book “The Happenings” from his past work was able to help him to move on and learn from his mistakes. Evolving the way he was approaching his future pieces.
Even though many didn’t believe his work to be Polish this meant Kantor could bring in new ways of approaching art by introducing also Western styles which he morphed into his own style. Whilst staying faithful to the tradition of his heritage.
What made Tadeusz Kantor one of the greats and renowned him for his individuality was the fact he never substituted tradition over his work and stayed faithful to being an avant-garde artist.
Experimenting and abstracting geometric shapes with a very new spontaneous way of making art. Its artists created abstract pieces that were based on emotion rather than the methodological method that most people associate with the term ‘abstract’.
The idea was to create art without trying too hard and to be able to work freely allowing accidents to happen. It was about escaping the old traditional well made art and focusing on spontaneity.
An artistic and architectural movement formed in Russia in 1913. Constructivism was a different way of working within art. Many of the practitioners experimented with sculpture and assemblage.
They wanted to break away from the abstract ideas of previous movements their work was very methodical and precise they often used measuring tools for accuracy. Their work that reflected what was happening around them.
Constructivism began to take off in Russia after the great October revolution, in which the Marxist Russian democratic party gained power.
Their work was mainly three dimensional using a wide array of materials including glass, wood, wire, glue, celluloid and later they would incorporate aluminium, chrome and electronics. The main aim of the movement was to show the dominance of machinery in modern society and its victory over nature.
The dada movement was unlike any other art movement, it was a culture, a way of life, a protest against western culture and the capitalist interests they believed to be the cause of WW1.dada was an artistic and literary based movement. For people who where a part of the dada movement it was very much a state of mind, they believed that a society that was capable of creating something as monstrous as ww1should be disbanded. The Dadaists thought that no such culture should exist.
Their work was a protest against everything that art stood for, gone were the aesthetics, their work was intended to shock. Often using pieces of found materials to bring new elements to their work. Dadaism only lasted a short period of time but its ideas and they key aspect to shock were carried on into the surrealist movement which had developed from dada.
Marinelli, Luigi and Parlagreco, Silvia (trans. and ed.) La classe morta de Tadeusz Kantor . Milan: Libri Scheiwiller, 2003.
Kantor, Tadeusz. Teatr Śmierci. Teksty z lat 1975-1984 . [The Theatre of Death. Texts from the years 1975-1984], selected and edited by Krzysztof Pleśniarowicz, Vol. 2. Cracow: Ossolineum, Cricoteka, 2004.
Kantor, Tadeusz. Metamorfozy. Teksty o latach 1934-1974 . [Metamorphoses. Texts about the years 1938-1974], selected and edited by Krzysztof Pleśniarowicz, Vol. 1. Cracow: Ossolineum, Cricoteka, 2005.
Kantor, Tadeusz. Dalej już nic... Teksty z lat 1985-1990 . [Further On, Nothing... Texts from the years 1985-1990], selected and edited by Krzysztof Pleśniarowicz, Vol. 3. Cracow: Ossolineum, Cricoteka, 2005.
1981 - Award of the Minister of Culture and Art 1st class in the realm of theatre for his work as a scenery designer
1982 - Diploma of the Minister of Foreign Affairs for the propagation of Polish culture abroad
1986 - "Targa Europea" Award, granted to outstanding representatives of culture and science in Europe, Italy
1986 - New York Critic's Award for best production on Broadway (for directing and ensemble acting)
1989 - Commander of the Order of Art and Literature, France
1990 - Great Cross of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, awarded for having a significant impact on contemporary art in Europe and for contributions to enlivening cultural life in the Federal Republic of Germany.
Kantor was known as an important, central figure in the polish avant-garde theatre realm. He believed that as an artist his role was “… not to invent… but to use known elements and real objects… to question and destroy conventions and systems…” Kantor focused on bringing art and life together as one, challenging well-known standards of society despite “…their aesthetic prominence or political cast…”
It was the birth of his underground theatre Cricot 2 1955, that was to set his mark in polish theatre history. Cricot 2 was an avant-garde theatre, an experimental theatre, a theatre in which the audience’s opinions on the topics, approached in a performance, were provoked, in the case of Kantor it was often about the fact that he could hypnotise them and in his own words wanted the audience to understand as well as cry.
Kantor challenged and experimented, often with a circus spectator approach, with the audience and their relationship with the stage. A majority of performances took place in weird and wonderful environments, in an empty church, the cloak room of a theatre, to avoid the rigid structured rows of theatre chairs, vast caves, cafes and corners of rooms, transforming, increasing the spectator’s involvement.
The Cuttlefish 1956 was the first of many works to be shown as part of Critcot 2. ‘The Cuttlefish’, with its scenery resembling that of a silent movie, a style renowned by Kantor, was performed within a Café, in which the audience would observe whilst eating for example. Other performances include The Water Hen (1968), Let the Artist Die! (1985)
The Informal Theatre 1960-62, was the period in which Kantor explored and experimented with the idea of wrapping, embalming, objects and actors on stage to rid them of there nature, character and form.
“ In circus”, is one example of how Kantor approached this. The actors, on stage, were tightly wrapped in bin bags, packaging them in a silk, stiff layer, resulting in the actors being stripped of their characteristic forms.
1962-64, was the period when Kantor experimented with the idea of ‘…transpiring and stripping of events…’ which was a further and what Kantor saw, natural expansion from his informal theatre period.
It was in 1964 that Kantor felt he had pushed the limits of traditional theatre.
From 1965 - 1971 Kantor experimented with the ideas of ‘Happenings’, to Kantor Happenings was a visual, practical means of combing, art with theatre. Kantor was at times criticised for bringing western ideas across to Eastern Europe and portraying them as the new cotemporary movement in art. ‘Happenings’ was an example of this, as it was an American artist from the late 50’s early 60’s that inspired Kantor to this new improvised theatre that vastly expanded away from traditional theatre concepts.
‘ The Letter 1967’, is a well known example of one of Kantor’s staged Happenings. It involved 7 postmen carrying a 14 metre long letter, at 2 metres high, through the streets of Warsaw to the Koksal Gallery. An audience awaiting its arrival were kept informed throughout its 1 and a half hour journey. ‘The Letter ‘seemed to question reality, which contrasted to a great extent, his influences of using his own memorises which showed within his plays. Another example was the ‘Panoramic Sea Happening 1967’ that included 1600 participants, in which the audience and the actor’s became the piece.
In the early 70’s Kantor no longer felt satisfied with Happenings and their at times, unsuccessful impact and returned to traditional theatre combining successful elements from ‘Happenings.
The Theatre of Death
The Death Theatre 1975 was based around humanity and its lowest desires, such as memory, themes of death and what’s beyond existence .
‘ The Dead Class 1975’, performed originally in Krakow, in the cellar of a 15th Century Palace. The stage was set up in a corner under the light of a single bulb creating the sense of an indefinite space, emphasizing the omnipresent of death and childhood memories, in which the audience would have observed from within close proximity, separated by a single roped barrier.
The use of mannequins alongside actors was a prominent defiant feature in Dead Class, as well as in another well known play ‘Wielopole Wielopole’, 1980 and as early as in his piece, ‘The Cuttlefish’. In Dead Class the mannequin represent the “old actors” when they were children, in which they struggle against them/ their past memories, burdens. Costumes would include the mannequin’s actually being attached to actors clothing.
The mannequins were often strong symbols, in which their roles would go beyond that of a mannequin/ empty object. In using mannequins for example, Kantor pressed and questioned, what is now that fine line between the real actors and props.
Plays condemned under Kantor’s ‘Theatre of Death’ also explored the creation of history, with comical, surreal and at time frightful fragments of life.
Throughout his many years as a theatre practitioner Kantor, pushed the traditional concepts of theatre to its boundaries and beyond. He was a major character that helped to form a link between the Western and Eastern Theatre realm, A man with great passion and skill, who often sat and watched, like one of the audience, on the stage in amongst the performance, as if silently directing and pouring his own personal elements of his past into plays such as his beliefs and own childhood.
It was the use of mannequins along with experimental formation of stage, and the audience relationship with that, that questioned, played and tested standard theatre.
Kantor’s versatility towards Theatre was phenomenal as his love for Theatre made him versatile as he worked throughout as a painter, stage designer, poet, actor and director.
The inspiration he gives as he takes away the way we think physically as he tried to open up his audience’s way of thinking. His work was like a painting as he showed this throughout his pieces using the physicality with the thoughts of imagery, whilst using actors and props instead of paints.
Kantor’s use of making the production his own by using scenery that tries to remind the audience of a certain time from their own past. Including Kantor’s manipulation of the actor’s into mannequins.
It seemed venturous of Kantor to use his own personal experiences within his work, as it could have confused his audience as they might not understand it.
A short clip of one of Kantor’s piece ‘Lovelies and Dowdies (1974) was surprisingly quick to catch the attention of the viewer as they seem drawn in by the scene even as there is so much movement it seems you can see all the characters at once instead of individually which made it very powerful.
Kantor's theatrical works don’t really appeal to me,
I prefer the artistic works such as his assemblages.
I like the fact that he experimented with a wide
array of materials and techniques. Kantor had a
very eclectic style often using found materials such
as envelopes, and broken umbrellas within his work,
to give a textural surface. The marks Kantor used to
With Kantor for example, I like the fact that he didn’t hold back on anything, whether that was approaching political matters within his work that put him at danger with the Nazi rule at a particular period, or his experimental absurd but witty combinations of props and object with actors.
However the most influential thing about Kantor, his approach to theatre and something that he has helped me to see much clearer, is the boundaries at which the audience relationship with the stage and what’s happing on it can be pushed. Particularly when the space in question has characteristics to that of a studio space for example, when the audience and design of a set can be experimented and questioned to greater boundaries.
Kantor was a very talented artist in many areas. Although I personally don’t like some of his work, I prefer a more traditional theatre, I know he has done a lot of good for the theatre world. I admire the way he broke through boundaries oblivious to what others thought, never afraid to try something new even if I do not like the outcome. The way that Kantor tries, and succeed, to involve the audience with the production is the thing that I will take away from Kantor’s work an try to use in my own work.