With humour, detachment and great precision: Wiesław Smętek
Wiesław Smętek was born in Łobżenica, a small town in Pomorze, in 1955. He did his final exams at the high school for art in Bydgoszcz in the graphic art class run by Stanisław Matuszczak. He then studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Gdańsk (Akademia Sztuk Pięknych w Gdańsku) and was awarded his degree in 1981. A decade later, he received an artist’s visa and travelled with his family to Bremerhaven to prepare an exhibition.
After some time, Smętek decided to stay in Germany. The most prominent weekly magazines “Der Stern” and “Der Spiegel” were interested in the Polish artist's work (in 1999, he began a permanent collaboration with “Die Zeit”). He soon found recognition with other publishers as well. In addition to the magazines previously mentioned, others like “Cicero”, “GEO” and “Handelsblatt” soon followed. During the 30 years that he worked in Germany, he created more than 1,000 cover pictures and more than 3,000 illustrations for newspapers and magazines. For “Die Zeit” alone, he created more than 600 illustrations between 2001 and 2014, 230 of which appeared on the cover.
Smętek’s works were the subject of much discussion and often provoked lively reactions. He draws with great aplomb and humour, often using historical motifs, including those from the Polish past and the Polish-German relationships. He “reworks” the works of Polish painters in his own way.
His depiction of the slaughter at Grunwald / Tannenberg, which he created in 1994 for the weekly magazine “Der Stern” to mark the first nationwide Bundestag election after German reunification, continues to make an impression many years later thanks to his choice of motif and sophisticated workmanship (Smętek replaced the Matejko figures from the original oil painting, which was created in 1875–78 and is one of the principal works of art in Poland, with leading contenders from the election campaign).
The bandwidth of the topics tackled by the artist is extremely broad. A keen eye, a talent for associations and, above all, excellent mastery of his craft and speed of execution make it possible for him to successfully realise different topics. He has often been called on to complete a project within just a few hours. Astounded at Wiesław Smętek, Giovanni di Lorenzo, the publisher of the weekly newspaper “Die Zeit”, wrote, “I don’t know anybody who can create something impressive on almost any topic from the areas of politics, the economy, knowledge, culture and society in such a short time.”
Wiesław Smętek has also been working with German-Polish newspapers for years, including the magazine “DIALOG”. He designs book covers as well and has received numerous awards. In 1996, he was awarded the gold medal of the Art Directors Club Germany. An exhibition of his selected works can currently be seen at the Mathematischer Turm at Wrocław University (organised within the framework of the fourth Congress for Polish Researchers of Germany). These works were also included in a virtual exhibition.
There is no doubt that Smętek provokes, makes people think and, in a sense, ultimately but not finally, teaches the recipients of his work....
Krzysztof Ruchniewicz, November 2022
Wiesław Smętek’s website: https://smetek.de/