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Paintings: Henryk Fantazos

Paintings: Henryk Fantazos

In one of his poems, Salvatore Quasimodo called the night Henryk Fantazos was born – the eighteenth of January 1944 – the darkest night of the war. The little town where he was born was in the Nazis bloody hands, then in the Russians’. The homicidal scowl of Stalin declared that his town was never to be part of Poland again. Providence agreed with Stalin, and Fantazos moved to Upper Silesia, an agglomerate of coalmines, steel works, and other heavy industries that produced unrestricted clouds of acrid, fetid smoke. Greasy soot covered every blade of grass. The artist’s father was a watchmaker and jeweler, and his mother took care of three children. Fantazos escaped trice from two kindergartens and solidified an indestructible sense of being special. He painted and drew from the time he was a small child. In 1963, he left to study painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow, Poland. Unfortunately for the artist, any sort of verisimilitude in painting was believed gone, due to the invention of photography (as if the invention of television could have killed literature), so the only available instruction was in paint dripping, happy smearing, and closing the ranks of obligatory modernism. At that time, Fantazos had just arrived at the conviction, central to his art, that modern art is a worthless, dead-end barbarism invented by dilettantes bent on obtaining the cheapest uniqueness. Horrified by the size and stature of his opponent,  he was allowed to work alone in his dorm for the remaining five years, groping and blundering through the glorious past of Western culture like a rooting warthog, nervous and unappealing. In 1969, he became a professional artist, and painted hundreds of paintings, organized many one-man shows, and participated in international exhibitions all over the art-collecting world. In 1975, he went to New York and was granted political asylum. It became clear to him that the contact sport of an artistic career demanded a 24-hour-a-day dedication to giving pleasure to the softer parts of Manhattan. However, Fantazos was too arrogant to swallow all the cheese cubes, to fork-lift the mountain of well-wishing cards, to dip his tongue in honey and lick his passage to importance. The following year, he went to live and paint on a remote farm in West Virginia. Those eight years were a time of Dionysian rejoicing: he painted, tended a garden, and looked very intimately at nature. They were the most shackle-free days imaginable. Every day stood like a portal of existence, ready to answer the question of what is worth doing in this tall cathedral of freedom. For about thirty-five years, he has lived in Hillsborough, North Carolina, dividing time and attention between painting and copper engraving.

Paintings: Hannah Agosta

Illustrations: Jana LaChance

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