Struggle: The Life and Lost Art of Szukalski

 

“Thus, when I say about myself that I am a genius, it is not self-praise, but a statement to describe a type of mind that: whatever it does in any field, it does well. A mind that peruses in many fields will comprehend better, and many things more, than one that is absorbed in only one. It becomes a universal mind.”

—–Stanislav Szukalski

Struggle, a sculpture by Stanislav Szukalski

 

We cut the cord today. Bye Bye to cable television. Good riddance. I have watched the Boob Tube… the Idiot Box too much all my life.

I still watched too much – there is still Netflix… and Amazon Prime Video…. and Sling… and a multitude of crazy channels available through the Roku … and even the antenna. I finished off an episode of Doctor Who (I have a strange yet slight crush on the New Doctor, as long as I don’t watch too much) and an episode of The Alienist.

Then, checking the documentary section of Netflix, I chose a Netflix Original Documentary, Struggle: The Life and Lost Art of Szukalski.

Holy Moly… what a rabbit hole.

Stanislav Szukalski was a sculptural prodigy born in Poland in the late eighteen hundreds who showed great promise even though he was partially blind from staring at the sun. At 12 he moved with his family to Chicago.

This began a bifurcated life – of an eccentric artist in the United States and a fervent nationalist in Poland. He developed an unfortunate streak of racism and anti-antisemitism in Poland in the 1930’s. He became well known and successful until everything was destroyed in the German bombing of Warsaw in 1939. Other than a few small sculptures in American hands – his entire body of work, thousands of sculptures, drawings, and other artworks – was destroyed. He and his wife escaped at the last minute with only two suitcases and moved to Los Angeles.

Penniless, he survived on doing odd jobs for the film industry, and became friends with famous screenwriter Ben Hecht and the family of George DiCaprio, Leonardo DiCaprio‘s father. In 1971 Glenn Bray, a publisher and collector of oddball art, became fascinated with the story and work of Szukalski and was stunned to find out he was not only still alive but living 5 miles away from him. They became fast friends, Bray introduced him to a circle of artists, mostly underground comics illustrators, and began to film extensive, lengthy interviews with him.

And now, all this has led to Leonardo DiCaprio producing this Netflix Documentary using a lot of Bray’s interview footage. It’s a wild and woolly tale, with references all the way from the Nazis to Zap Comics to The Church of the Subgenius to DiCaprio to Easter Island.

Yeah, Szukalski thought that all  human civilization originated in Easter Island and that all evil was the result of interbreeding with the Yeti. Really.

Not a big fan of his ideas here – but I love his art. There isn’t much out there – one bronze has been recently cast, but so much of his work was destroyed in the destruction of Warsaw. He whole life, ideas, and artistic output was warped beyond recognition by the terrors of the twentieth century.

Shame really – there is real talent there… eccentric talent, to be sure… but enough artistic genius to go around. I would like to see his work. Maybe a trip to Chicago – there is some stuff at the Polish Museum of America there.

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D-Day Doll

“Now at this very moment I knew that the United States was in the war, up to the neck and in to the death. So we had won after all! … How long the war would last or in what fashion it would end no man could tell, nor did I at this moment care … We should not be wiped out. Our history would not come to an end … Hitler’s fate was sealed. Mussolini’s fate was sealed. As for the Japanese, they would be ground to a powder. All the rest was merely the proper application of overwhelming force.”
― Winston S. Churchill

C-47 Nose Art, Commemorative Air Force, Wings over Dallas

Devil Dog

“War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers

B-25 PBJ, Commemorative Air Force

 

Devil Dog Squadron

 

B-25 PBJ, Commemorative Air Force

Carbine On My Handlebar

“When shoes and clothes and food, when hope is gone we’ll all have the rifle.”
― John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

 

Vintage WWII bicycle.

I have worked a lot over the years, worked on ways to carry things on my bicycle. I have never, however, worked on how to carry a carbine on my handlebar.

Form A Constellation In His Image

“turn him into stars and form a constellation in his image. His face will make the heavens so beautiful that the world will fall in love with the night and forget about the garish sun.”

― William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Nose Art, C-47, Commemorative Air Force

I have always had a soft spot for the C-47, the military version of the DC3. At the airshow they offered semi-affordable rides in the venerable old birds. Not really worth it for me, I’ve ridden on them so many times before.

Texas Is the Obsession

“I have said that Texas is a state of mind, but I think it is more than that. It is a mystique closely approximating a religion. And this is true to the extent that people either passionately love Texas or passionately hate it and, as in other religions, few people dare to inspect it for fear of losing their bearings in mystery or paradox. But I think there will be little quarrel with my feeling that Texas is one thing. For all its enormous range of space, climate, and physical appearance, and for all the internal squabbles, contentions, and strivings, Texas has a tight cohesiveness perhaps stronger than any other section of America. Rich, poor, Panhandle, Gulf, city, country, Texas is the obsession, the proper study, and the passionate possession of all Texans.”
― John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America

B-17 Nose Art, Commemorative Air Force

You Lived And Died Alone

You lived and died alone, especially in fighters. Fighters. Somehow, despite everything, that word had not become sterile. You slipped into the hollow cockpit and strapped and plugged yourself into the machine. The canopy ground shut and sealed you off. Your oxygen, your very breath, you carried into the chilled vacuum, in a steel bottle.

— James Salter, The Hunters

Bell P-39 Airacobra, Commemorative Air Force, Wings Over Dallas

Like most guys, I was an airplane geek when I was a kid. I especially loved WWII planes.

To visit a vintage air show brings back odd memories – I remember building models of every plane there – from decades and decades ago, the smell of styrene, glue, and Testor’s paint. I had even built a Bell P-39 Airacobra and remember it after all that time. I remember it had its engine in the back and powered the prop by a shaft that ran between the pilot’s legs.

It was never very successful for the US Air Force because of poor high altitude performance, but the Russians used it to great effect. Their fighting was all along the ground.

I never thought I’d actually get to see one fly, but I did. Pretty cool.