NIKIFOR (1895-1968)

Among the people who made famous area around Nowy Sącz, the most unusual is the naive painter Nikifor, Lemko from Krynica.

The real name of the artist was probably Epiphanius Drowniak, but the painter signed his paintings with the words „NIKIFOR PAINTER – NIKIFOR ARTIST” and on this nickname is known in the history of Polish and world art. Nikifor suffered from a hereditary speech defect, which since childhood, limited his contact. The better form of communication became for him painting. Before Nikifor’s paintings were hanged in famous art galleries and found in museums and private collections, for almost decades nobody in Krynica paid any attention to a street painter wandering every day around the spa with a wooden suitcase.

His „mobile workshop” spread out in places where most tourists and visitors were walking. He exhibited pictures for sale as „Krynica Memorial”. However, few people decided to buy them. There were also those who regarded him as a beggar, and on colored pictures looked at worthless scrawls. Nikifor’s „Little Homeland” was the land of Lemko. The artist presented the region in his work in a very personal way. This was noticed by  a docent Jerzy Zanoziński, writing about Nikifor’s painting in the catalog to the exhibition in Warsaw “Zachęta” in 1967:

(…) presented landscapes were painted during the occupation and during the war, they present forests or railway infrastructure of the area of Krynica. Nikifor’s paintings of this type of landscapes made the artist famous. The effect was on how he presented the beauty of Poprad’s landscape. Nikifor’s works are arranged in characteristic thematic cycles. Small stations painted by Nikifor in the 1920s and 1930s are considered the most artistically valuable. The specific works present railway stations along the Krynica-Tarnów line, and further east, towards Lviv. Other excellent photo cycles include the offices and factories of the dollars, Krynica villas and guest houses, churches and synagogues, kitchen interiors, holy people, portraits of guests and friends, military scenes. Also interesting are the self-portraits on which Nikifor present himself as an artist at work, often under a colorful umbrella, as an elegant man in a black suit or even as a saint or bishop. On the self-portraits, Nikifor is always an extraordinary person, more important than any other person because of his special role as a painter. Nikifor’s fascination was architecture. Nikifor sometimes joined places with symbols. For example, he put a smoking man on the roof of a tobacco factory. The fantastic paintings painted in the interwar period are described as the most interesting. Nikifor used school watercolors and crayons, because he had no money to buy good paint, brushes and pencils. He painted on the paper he found, sometimes literally on waste paper. The old school notebooks, posters, court papers, technical paper, wrapping paper, cardboard, and even box of cigarettes were all good for Nikifor. He began his work with a pencil sketch, then applied the paint, signed the painting, and finished the work on the reverse side of the special seal (had a few). It is estimated that the artist painted tens of thousands of paintings, most of which were destroyed. Nikifor was a self-taught painter, with innate color sensitivity, „painting intuition”. His paintings were first noticed by professional painters who appreciated the masterful coloring of paintings. The Lviv painter Roman Turyn began collecting paintings by the artist from Krynica and in 1932 he showed these works on collective exhibition in Paris. Nikifor’s works are admired by colourist (kapists) painters: Jan and Hanna Cybisowie, Zygmunt Waliszewski, Tytus Czyżewski, Artur Nacht. In 1938, the first article about Nikifor written by Jerzy Wolff appeared in “Arkady”. These signs of interest in Nikifor’s creativity until the Second World War did not have a wider response. After the war Nikifor was rediscover. Cracow art experts Ella and Andrzej Banach were decisive in promoting his work. Their artistic patronage, lasting more than twenty years, made Nikifor’s work into national and world art. Nikifor’s exhibitions have been organized since the late 1940s. The exhibition at the Diny Vierny Gallery in Paris in April 1959 proved to be very important. After the success of the exhibition, many other events took place all over the world. Jerzy Nowosielski, Tadeusz Brzozowski, Jan Lebenstein and others did not hesitate to present their paintings together with the street artist. He was also honored with an individual exhibition in Warsaw’s Zachęta in 1967. In the last ten years of his life, Nikifor has become really famous. Tens of exhibitions of his work have been organized, dozens of publications have been published in many languages, documentaries have been filmed and poems by prominent poets such as Herbert and Harasymowicz have been written. He was even admitted to the Association of Polish Artists as honorary member. His friend and patroness was the artist Marian Włosiński. Due to the interest in the paintings, the material conditions of the artist have also improved. Nikifor never changed his lifestyle, painting was a hard work for him, even a mission, he painted paintings to his last days. he artist died on October 10, 1968 at a health resort in Folusz near Jasło. He is buried in the cemetery in Krynica.