Brothers in Arts: Wladyslaw & Ludwik Dutkiewicz
Nexus Gallery, 29 October – 27 November 2009
Curated by Adam Dutkiewicz
Catalogue essay by Adam Dutkiewicz
Brothers are often quite different people. In the case of the post-World War Two Polish migrant brothers Dutkiewicz, Wladyslaw was older, a patriot, and extroverted, while Ludwik was younger, physically timider, and introverted. Wlad loved people and had a huge humanitarian instinct but needed others to help him, while Ludwik was selectively generous and self-sufficient. Wlad married and had five children, while Ludwik never married but did have a son, whom he first met several years before he died.
The brothers’ relationship was often fractious and, after 1968, virtually non-existent. But during the War in Poland and immediately after, in Bavaria, they were almost inseparable, and worked together in Wlad’s theatrical company as it toured the Polish Displaced Persons’ camps. They played a comedic duo, performing Wlad’s scripts that imitated the legendary Polish comedic duo Szczepco and Tonko, but with their own spin and political subtexts: their version was known as Josko and Tonko. They received rave reviews in the Polish press in post-war Germany. Then, when they met up again in Adelaide after separate migrations, for Ludwik had arrived in Adelaide a year or so before Wlad, they held their first exhibition together, in February 1951. Later, they worked together again, in Wlad’s theatrical troupe Art Studio Players, which presented Wlad’s interpretation of The Method in a number of productions from 1959-62.
Over the decades, however, and under the increasing grip of brain injuries, Post-Traumatic Stress from activities in the War and alcohol, Wlad was inclined to erratic behaviour and exaggeration, and was often unable to distinguish his own fantasies from fact. So, as his biographer, I was required to turn to Ludwik to verify claims, check facts and ask for an objective point of view in order to gauge what was true. But both brothers were performers, and Ludwik could also be a convincing liar when in suited him. Ludwik did confirm that it was Wlad who found the V2 rocket that was shipped across to Britain during the War. Wlad told a story of how he disguised it as a person and rode it on a tandem bicycle to a rendezvous with an incoming British aircraft, and fought with other partisans against the Nazis to secure the isolated landing strip. This story has been confirmed by other partisans involved who eventually migrated to Adelaide.
Wlad had an almost supernatural bravado and confidence that helped him and his younger brother to survive the War. He rescued him from tricky situations against all odds, but eventually they were arrested and taken to Auschwitz and then moved to another camp that was relocated ahead of the Soviet push. They ended up escaping and, by a sequence of miracles, found their way to safety.
The desperate circumstances of his fellow refugees drove Wlad to form Teatr Nowy (New Theatre) in order to provide inspiration, community cohesion and comic relief. He also worked as their educator and leader. He fought against their repatriation to Stalinist Poland. He was a remarkable man and dearly loved. He operated at the highest levels of inspiration and moral action, to the point of self-sacrifice, and when he got to Adelaide the provincial people here often thought he was telling tales. But I have found almost everything he told me about those times to have some basis in truth.
In contrast, early in his career, Ludwik was admonished in the press by Max Harris for dishonest behaviour.(1) Ludwik maintains it was a matter of language difficulties as “New Australians” in filling in entry forms (which I believe), but it taught him a lesson about perceptions. Ludwik knuckled down to lead a responsible life, finding employment at the Botanic Gardens as their first fully professional botanical illustrator. He was a solid and respected citizen, but Wlad, being more experimental and risk-taking, was seen by many as unreliable and impractical, hard perceptions to counter in a small town, and difficult to contest while living in comparative poverty and being socially shunned for it. It was difficult for the family, especially my mother, but we grew up in a rewarding, richly imaginative, sustaining environment, and none of us regretted it.
Wlad lived like that because he was a totally committed, uncompromising, full-time artist throughout his life. He used the pension to support himself in old age but never stopped painting until the week he died. In those first years in Adelaide Max Harris adored Wlad, as did almost all of Adelaide’s major intellectuals and arts patrons. He praised Wlad’s early exhibitions, beginning in 1951, as if they were by Picasso; and in reality, in the context of their day, they may as well have been.
To give you an idea of what Adelaide was like and how the brothers fitted into the scene, I found a few years ago that Ludwik had submitted an abstract painting he had called Butt chunks for a Members’ exhibition in around 1953 to the Royal SA Society of Arts (RSASA), where a Selection Committee of old Fellows chose work for exhibitions. The surrealist painter and art critic Ivor Francis had already been at loggerheads for ten years with some of these characters, but the members of the Contemporary Art Society (CASSA) still needed to maintain their allegiance to the RSASA because there were (almost) no other venues in the city to show their art.
Predictably the committee rejected Ludwik’s picture and, perhaps as a response, he soon produced a couple of pictures showing a mass of figures that could have been one biological entity subdividing, titled variously Emperors or Demagogues. It is not a long shot to speculate that Ludwik was having a dig at the old fusty Fellows at the RSASA. Within a year there was a revolution and Ludwik, Wlad, and their progressive artist peers were ensconced on the Councils of both Societies.
Ludwik started as an expressionist but by 1954 he was painting abstracts. That idiom was so suited to his skills and interests that he very seldom returned to representational painting, except for commissions and personal indulgence. Wlad, however, was painting abstracts from the time he arrived in Adelaide, but he always maintained his figurative art and often combined the two streams to varying degrees, reflecting his ongoing interest in the stage. He continued to paint and design theatrical sets throughout the 1950s before setting up his own theatre at the behest of local Thespians such as Colin Ballantyne and Dr John Bray.
In working through the final parts of my uncle’s archive recently I found a hand-written transcript of a review by John Neylon of an exhibition in which all four Dutkiewiczs who were working then as practising artists (Wlad and his two sons, Michal and Adam, and Ludwik, for Ursula had not then started her professional career as a ceramist) showed together: Four by Four Dutkiewicz, at Adelaide Town Hall in 1993. Neylon wrote that within “the broad context of Post-modernist thought and practice the styles and values this family group holds dear are anachronistic …. but [they] also communicate a note of defiance, a plea for subculture…” He was right, but there was also a deeper issue about how Adelaide reacts to and deals with its own cultural history, and this neglect has motivated me since I was a young man to act as archivist and advocate of their and others’ obscured histories.
In my role as art critic and as a contributor to the scene since 1992 I have found that Adelaide’s art world has often been elitist, spiteful and hostile to difference; on the one hand it accepted conservative landscape and portraiture, but on the other struggled to accept progressive forms, such as abstraction, as legitimate, whereas in the major cities these have been seen for decades as vital aspects of Australian modernism. Perhaps this is a legacy of competitiveness in a very small market and the theoretical orientation of the art schools here; but these prejudices and provincialisms will be eroded by time and the increasingly global cultural environment. Abstraction is a valid part of the spectrum of styles and the repertoire of painting. It has expanded the scope for subject matter and provided an unlimited horizon of possibilities for an artist. The Dutkiewicz brothers were advocates of freedom of expression, imagination, and experimentation, things that should be seen as important in art.
In my view, the art of the Dutkiewicz brothers was revolutionary, profound in its difference, and an agent for change. They both achieved at high levels and were recognized as essential parts of the fabric of modernism in Adelaide and beyond. I say that without such pioneers, as they were, Adelaide would be a different place; with the general population even slower than it has been to react to the serious contributions of the early-mid 20th century avant-garde art in Europe. It is not astonishing that some of those artists lived among us, but it is astonishing that as a community we seem not to have cared. But there are signs of a renewed interest in and respect for the period and its aesthetics, and this exhibition represents another event among a number of projects that will illuminate this hitherto overlooked era in local art history.
©Adam Dutkiewicz, 2009 (edited and emended 2021)
1. This saga began with the RSASA Autumn exhibition in 1950, when Ludwik exhibited one of his brother’s works, a self-portrait, under his own name. It was photographed in the News, 21 February 1950, having been exposed by his brother’s unheralded arrival from Perth. Ludwik’s infamy was compounded in the Spring Exhibition in September when Max Harris reported that Munich Blackout, which was actually painted by his brother, was “the best painting in the show.” Ludwik said there were language difficulties and mistakes made with forms on submission, as he was submitting them on behalf of his brother, but Harris was not amused when the same outcome had been repeated. Later in life Wlad signed two of Ludwik’s early paintings – so even they themselves found some of their early works hard to differentiate. It was perhaps remarkable how different their creative work turned out to be later in their careers.
See [M. Harris], Mary’s Own Paper (MOP), 22 (September 1950), 6. and [M. Harris], “The Exhibition of Paintings by the Dutkiewicz brothers,” MOP (March 1951), 5.
You can download the full catalogue here: