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Remembering Urszula Szulakowska [b. 1950 – d. 2023]

It was during an oppressive climate of endless social restrictions of a Covid-19 era in the UK when my friend, colleague and educator Urszula Szulakowska was in a particularly reflective and phlegmatic frame of mind. On July 29, 2021 Urszula contributed a brief reflection prepared over many weeks to publish in the ARI Remix internet artwork titled:  Urszula Szulakowska | Bio, Books, Eyeline & Recent Works- accessed here: https://remix.org.au/urszula-szulakowska-bio-books-eyeline-recent-works.

 

It reads:

 

Urszula Szulakowska was an active participant in the art scene of Brisbane from 1982-90 when she was a lecturer in history of art at the University of Queensland. She was a founding member of the editorial committee of eyeline magazine in 1987 which was named after her own eyeliner by Brian Doherty at a Christmas party in Michael Milburn’s gallery.

 

 

Urszula worked closely with the editor of eyeline, Sarah Follent;  the co-editor, Graham Coulter-Smith, and alongside a leading figure in international avant-garde art, Nicholas Zurbrugg who was at Griffith University, and artist curator Peter Anderson (also based at Griffith). The collaboration and close friendship of these slightly older art theorists and critics (mostly in their thirties) was strongly focused on supporting artists in Queensland.

 

 

Urszula also engaged with the curatorial projects of Barbara Campbell, Ted Riggs and Brian Doherty at the IMA and at A Room, supporting Jeanelle Hurst, Zeliko Maric, Russell Lake and Adam Boyd at One Flat. In her role as a lecturer in Art History at the University of Queensland in fact, taught several of the chief movers and shakers in the Brisbane scene then enrolled as students in the art-history department, including Barbara Campbell and Ted Riggs, Michael Milburn, Paul Andrew, Sarah Follent. Michelle Helmrich, David Pestorius, Louise Martin-Chew, Jane Magon, Peter MacNeill, Lynne Seear among others.

 

 

Urszula wrote many art reviews and essays for eyeline and other Australian magazines, most notably for Art and Text. With Hiram To she curated the exhibition Belles Lettres staged in 1987 at John Mills National artist-run space at 40 Charlotte Street, Brisbane, as well as an exhibition of local art at the IMA: (I)magical Poetics.

 

 

Urszula gained her MA in history at the University of Oxford (1976) and her PhD at the University of Sydney (1988). She arrived in Australia in 1977 to work as a tutor at the Power Institute, Sydney University. She moved to Queensland in 1982 and left for the UK in 1990. In 1998 she published a book Experimental Art in Queensland 1975-1995 (Brisbane: Griffith University).

 

 

Urszula has lectured on art and cultural history at the universities of Sydney, Queensland, Leeds and Bretton Hall College, as well as at other institutions of higher education in the UK, Poland, Hungary, France, Italy and Croatia and she has also participated in conferences in those countries. Currently, she is Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Leeds. She has published extensively on the history of ideas, art and religion in Central and Western Europe during the Reformation. Her main subject has been the history of alchemical illustration and its influence on 20th and 21st century art and culture and she has produced four books and many papers on that subject.

 

 

Three other monographs have concerned the art, architecture and culture of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, as well as studies of contemporary art in Eastern Europe with which she continues to be substantially involved. In 2020 she published a scholarly analysis in a book about her own experiences as a child in a Polish refugee camp in the UK (see Amazon page for published monographs). Urszula has always sought to practice her own art. In 1972 she had a solo exhibition at Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford, and took part in a group exhibition by the Oxford University Art Group at the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford (1973). She trained in practical art at what is now Sheffield Hallam University (1973-4) and taught as an art teacher in British secondary schools (1974- 76). She was active in one of the earliest feminist art groups at the Blackie in Liverpool (1975-76).

 

 

Later, she attended the Julian Ashton school in Sydney (1979-82). Although she has been deeply involved (and still is) in the development of an experimental conceptual art practice by other artists, in her own work, however, she continues to struggle with the traditional problems of painting in oils, as well as in pastel and inks. Her interest has always been in the human figure, though she also tackles landscape and still-life.

 

 

Since 2012 she has worked with local art groups and presented her work in group shows at Rugby art gallery. Her drawings have been collected by Market Harborough Museum, while other paintings and drawings are in private collections. Current themes involve Polish culture and history in an enquiry into her own ethnic identity. Her aesthetic concern is to create a dynamic tension in her art between abstract materialism and detailed naturalistic representation.

 

 

April 29 2024:

 

By way of a brief reflection today re-reading her third person memory post almost a year after she passed, I recall how Urszula and I often spoke joyously about her curatorial, scholarly and educational work in Queensland.

 

 

Urszula recounted to me over past decades how the intentionally introductory study Experimental Art in Queensland 1975-1995, while never fully completed to the impeccable standards she experienced in other publishing experiences throughout a long and prodigious career was a challenging albeit familiar transformational process made possible through the Queensland Studies Centre, Faculty of Arts, at Griffith University in 1998.

 

 

Reflectively speaking as we remember and celebrate Urszula’s life and invaluable contribution to knowledge, I feel strongly that this work which considers the enduring interconnectedness of art, creative experimentation and life stands the test of time and has important legacy impact. It documents a way of theorising how art in Queensland was becoming increasingly pluralised in orientation, it is an archive of artists, art and diverse artistic collaborations produced in a particular cultural moment, and it is a conceptual framework for a group survey exhibition that may in time be fully realised. Specifically,  where re-uptake, reinterpretation and remix of her leading research can accommodate updated, and more nuanced perspectives.

 

 

With this exciting future-thinking potentiality in mind Urszula generously retrieved and recovered primary resource materials, personal photographs and documents into a carefully assembled community-based archive of sorts, and donated this critical resource as Urszula Szulakowska Papers 1970s -2011 to the State Library in Queensland collection located here:

 

Urszula Szulakowska Papers 1970s-2011 – SLQ One Search

 

 

Considering this assemblage-like archive along with her enduring publication(s) about transformations, the poetics of alchemy in art and Experimental Art in Queensland is perhaps, a critical starting point for a young and fierce community facilitator, researcher, academic or curator to recast and resituate towards a group survey exhibition in today’s increasingly pluralised archival multiverse.

 

Access Urszula’s July 2021 memory post here:


https://remix.org.au/urszula-szulakowska-bio-books-eyeline-recent-works

 

 

by Paul Andrew with Urszula Szulakowska in memory

Updated 29 April 2024

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