This past February, the Cal State Fullerton Begovich Gallery hosted an exhibit entitled "Szukalski: Drawings," which spotlighted the mind-bending artwork of an unjustly obscure genius named Stanislav Szukalski. According to Mike McGee, the curator of the show, this was the "first extensive survey of surviving Stanislaw Szukalski drawings."
Though he was born in Poland in December of 1893, Szukalski lived and worked in Burbank, California for several decades until his death in May of 1987. His eccentric artwork, which include drawings as well as masterful sculptures, were eventually embraced by an eclectic mixture of notable Southern Californians such as Glenn Bray, Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert Williams and Jim Woodring (among many others). If you haven't seen a copy of Szukalski's book Behold!!! the Protong, available from Last Gasp, you truly don't know what you're missing. The subtitle of my first book (i.e, "Conspiracy Theory as Art Form") could easily apply to both the life and work of Stanislav Szukalski. Perhaps no one ever went quite so far to transform a theory into an art form as much as Szukalski.
Szukalaki's theory is a rather complicated and peculiar one, but Richard Chang of the Orange County Register offers a fairly accurate condensed version of it in the excerpt below:
"...Szukalski developed the pseudoscientific-historic theory of Zermatism
– the belief that after the biblical flood of Noah's time, as described
in the Book of Genesis, mankind fled to two main high-ground locations –
Easter Island and Zermatt, Switzerland (hence, 'Zermatism').
"He used pictographs to illustrate how these locations provided the origins of a single, ancient language – Protong
(his own term). He also believed that the human race had bred with a
competitive race of Yeti (Abominable Snowmen or Bigfoot, for the
uninitiated), and the result was a hybrid that polluted the purity of
homo sapiens. Szukalski argued further that the hybrids were responsible
for many of people's problems throughout history.
"While his evolutionary theories are fascinating, they're bizarre and
highly unscientific, and through the decades, no other legitimate source
has backed them up. Szukalski's drawings in the Fullerton exhibit do
encompass some of his ideas, but they merely scratch the surface of what
appears to be a labyrinthine Pandora's box of contorted conceptions.
"A significant amount of Szukalski's work is believed to have been
destroyed in Poland, particularly during World War II. But some of it
survived in a trunk left in California. A 1920s sketchbook in a glass
case, with the title 'Lest We Forget' stenciled on the cover, contains
intricate and amazing sketches. A video nearby helps disclose some of
these works, which were created on plebian, daily journal paper.
"In Poland, Szukalski wrote and illustrated a mythological tale titled 'Rege Rege.' Several illustrations from a later, longer version are in
the Begovich exhibit, and they demonstrate how detailed, wild and
cinematic his vision was."
[END OF EXCERPT]
[If you want to read the entirety of Richard Chang's article about the Szukalski exhibit, click HERE.]
A few years before the Fullerton show, on October of 2009, I attended an exhibit that featured the work of Szukalski
and--as an added bonus--the infamous Richard Shaver, an
American painter and Hollow Earth theorist whose ideas about Earth's secret history weirdly parallel Szukalski's. I was so impressed by this show that I wrote a review of it the second I returned home. This review was published about a week later (on October 24th, 2009) on paranoidsonline.blogspot.com. The curator later told me that I was the only writer
who'd actually bothered to cover the exhibit, which stunned me. But perhaps I shouldn't have been very surprised....
For your edification, here's the full text of my review:
The Mad Genius of Richard Shaver & Stanislav Szukalski
by Robert Guffey
October 16, 2009, I had the privilege of attending one of the oddest
gallery shows in recent Southern California history entitled “Mantong
and Protong: Richard Sharpe Shaver and Stanislav Szukalski.” This
exhibit was the brain child of curator Brian Tucker, director of the
Pasadena City College Art Gallery. Despite being modest in size, limited to
two rooms the size of an average studio apartment, the exhibit itself
possessed a scope that was almost cosmic in nature. Though Shaver and
Szukalski were no doubt unaware of each other’s existence, both have a
great deal in common. Tucker was perceptive enough to notice these
subtle links and build an entire show around them.
Both gentlemen, in the
end, could be considered Outsider Artists. Much of their work was
completed well outside the scrutiny of the modern art world. Indeed,
it’s doubtful that either individual perceived the bulk of their work to
be “art” in any traditional sense of that word. Their art objects were
merely adjuncts to a utilitarian goal: to prove a scientific theory
considered to be off-the-wall by mainstream society.
achieved some level of fame early in their lives. In 1943, at the age
of 36, Shaver became infamous among American science fiction fans for a
series of outlandish articles and stories he wrote for Ray Palmer,
editor of Amazing Stories Magazine. Shaver claimed he was in contact
with monstrous beings who lived beneath the Earth. Some of these beings
were called “Deros,” short for “Detrimental Robots.” These Deros had
been beaming messages into Shaver’s head for quite some time. They had
even taught him about the hidden history of the human race, including a
long lost ur-language called “Mantong,” the source of all human language
existing on Earth in the present. To the dismay of rationalist science
fiction fans the world over, hordes of readers began writing letters to
the magazine insisting that Shaver was correct—they, too, had received
messages from the subterranean Deros! What became known as “The Shaver
Mystery” continued to be a popular, though extremely controversial,
topic in science fiction fandom for a period of about ten years.
Eventually, however, Shaver drifted into obscurity and began turning his
attention to even stranger pursuits.
One of these endeavors
resulted in a series of almost surrealist paintings and photographs
based on images Shaver claimed to have discovered imprinted on the
interior of ancient rocks. Some of these pieces bear titles that would
seem right at home in an exhibit of Robert Williams paintings, e.g.:
“Action Photo of a Crazy Codfish Attacking A Lugubrious Flounder Taken
At Forty Fathoms.” Shaver claimed that the destruction of a pre-Deluge
civilization had somehow been recorded as images stored within these
rocks. Shaver painted what he saw in a valiant attempt to help the rest
of the human race witness the apocalyptic images that—he felt—should
have been plainly obvious to anyone with eyes to see.
to Tucker, in the 1960s Shaver even went so far as to mail a couple of
his rocks to President Lyndon Johnson along with a note urging the
President to assign a team of scientists to study these hidden images
before the Russians beat America to the punch. President Johnson’s
reaction to this letter is not known, but one hopes those Shaver rocks
are still sitting unobtrusively on a mantle in the Oval Office.
Shaver, Stanislav Szukalski also achieved some measure of fame in his
younger days. According to Tucker, Szukalski was “a celebrated artist
from Poland […] best known for his detailed and elaborately symbolic
sculptures that combined elements evocative of European avant-garde and
Meso-American iconography.” Like Shaver, Szukalski spent the latter
part of his life constructing a unified field theory of human
pre-history. The ultimate outcome of this theory was the 1982 book
Behold!!! the Protong in which he claimed to have discovered the root of
all language, known as “the Protong.” Like Shaver, he believed the
human race was at war with an evil group of beast-like creatures who
represented the devolution of the human race; in this case, the
creatures were the result of humans mating with Yetis millennia ago.
Like Shaver, Szukalski’s works would have been completely lost if not
for the untiring efforts of a small group of admirers who didn’t wish to
see his unique oeuvre tossed into the dumpster.
himself cut up his voluminous notes and drawings with a razor blade in
order for them to be seen more clearly on video during an interview
conducted by Glenn Bray, the man responsible for preserving much of
Szukalski’s work. Shaver’s equivalent to Glenn Bray in his own life was
the aforementioned editor, Ray Palmer. If not for Palmer, who
published many of Shaver’s paintings in his 1975 book The Secret World,
the entirety of Shaver’s work would have been completely unknown.
Indeed, some of Shaver’s paintings were turned over and used by its
creator as signs advertising his pottery business; one of them was even
used a doggie door! Tucker cleverly includes photos of these paintings’
backsides next to the original in order to demonstrate how little
regard the artist himself had for his own work.
achieved a certain measure of fame—or at least notoriety—early on,
Shaver and Szukalski ended their lives as true Outsider Artists. Like
Henry Darger (an Outsider Artist if ever there was one), both Shaver’s
and Szukalski’s major works were destined to have been lost forever if
not for the intervention of mere luck and happenstance. It makes one
wonder how many other mad geniuses have had the work of a lifetime
discarded by unsympathetic relatives or landlords annoyed by their
former tenant’s unbearable eccentricities.
Fortunately, one can
witness in person—for a short time—a slight fragment of the inner lives
of these two mad geniuses at the Pasadena City College Art Gallery, at
least until November 14, 2009, the day the exhibit closes. One hopes
that some canny publisher will see the exhibit and commission Brian
Tucker to produce a book-length version of MANTONG & PROTONG so
future generations can marvel at the eerie synchronicities linking the
intense, chimerical visions of these two unique 20th century artists.
For more information about Stanislav Szukalski's artwork, click HERE.
For more information about Richard Shaver's artwork, click HERE.