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Welcome to “Przekrój”!

In case you’re wondering where you are, and especially since you probably can’t pronounce the name of this website, here’s a little help—“Przekrój” (pronounced “p-SHEH-crooy”) is the oldest society and culture magazine in Poland, now available in English.

“Przekrój” Magazine brings English-speaking readers some of the best journalism from across Central and Eastern Europe, in the fields of wellbeing, art, literature, science, ecology, philosophy, psychology, and more. Take a break from the speed and intensity of the daily news and join us!

Przekrój
The creator of “Przekrój”’s first ever cover was Janusz Maria Brzeski. He pioneered the collage ...
2022-10-25 09:00:00

Jesus, Mary, and Brzeski
A Trendsetting Graphic Designer

Jesus, Mary, and Brzeski

The cover shown here belongs to the first issue of Przekrój, which appeared on April 15, 1945––before the end of the Second World War. At the time, the future of the magazine was uncertain.

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The designer of this cover and the overall look of Przekrój was Janusz Maria Brzeski, the artist who popularized the collage technique in Poland.

Designed by Janusz Maria Brzeski
Designed by Janusz Maria Brzeski

The term “collage” was used in China as early as 200 BCE, but only appeared in Europe at the beginning of the 20th century. The cubists Georges Braque, and slightly later, Pablo Picasso, were the first to use it––one of Picasso’s famous early collages is “Still Life with Chair Caning” (1912). Later on, this technique was used by futurists, surrealists, Dadaists, and constructivists.

Collaging involves forming compositions from various materials (newspapers, fabrics, photographs, small everyday objects, etc.). The items are glued onto canvas or paper, and combined using traditional art techniques.

The collage shown on this cover is relatively toned-down compared to much of Brzeski’s work. The war was still ongoing, and the entire issue was essentially devoted to mocking the enemy and the promise of imminent victory. There is no trace of the subtlety and light-heartedness that became the hallmark of Przekrój over time.

Janusz Maria Brzeski was born in 1907 in Warsaw, and studied at the School of Decorative Arts in Poznań under the supervision of Professor Jan Jerzy Woroniecki. In 1925, as part of his scholarship, he visited Italy and France, where he met the most innovative artists from fine arts and film circles. It was also there that his fascination with experimental cinema and collage began. After spending the last two years of his foreign adventure in Paris, he returned to Poland and settled in Kraków. He started working in graphic arts, illustration, and photography, and collaborated with several magazines. He designed innovative covers and illustrations for the weeklies As (“Ace”) and Tajny Detektyw (“Secret Detective”), setting a very high bar for Polish press graphics, and revealing the beginnings of the future style of Przekrój.

In the interwar period, he co-founded the Polish Avant-Garde Film Studio (SPAF), and made his own experimental films (Przekroje––1931, Beton––1933). 

Writer and long-time Przekrój editor Ludwik Jerzy Kern described him as “a distinguished man. Ironic, snappish, racy. He was the only one in the editorial office who had lived abroad before the war and rubbed shoulders with foreign artistic circles. And, since he was a bit of a poser, he was able to sell it.” He dressed very stylishly, thus standing out from the grayness prevailing in post-war Poland—always colorful, elegant, a bit eccentric. He was very popular with the ladies, and believed his avant-garde films boosted his appeal. 

Brzeski died quite early, at just fifty years old. A few years before his death, he had begun to develop strange phobias. He was terrified of being poisoned. In restaurants, he only ordered hard-boiled eggs, carefully examining the shell for any signs of puncture.

In addition to his undeniable talent, he brought an element of madness to the Przekrój office. He was referred to as Jezus Maria (“Jesus Mary”––the Polish equivalent of the exclamation “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,” and phonetically similar to his first and second names––Trans.) and his behavior so often exceeded generally-accepted norms that the exclamation “Jesus Mary!” eventually simply replaced his name. “Przekrój had a way of bringing together brilliant barflies, and chief among them was definitely Jesus Mary,” recalled music critic Jerzy Waldorff. “You never knew what he would come up with. And it went like this: we’d come into the editorial office at ten in the morning to work on the latest issue. Around three o’clock, Brzeski would appear and sort of smack his lips appetizingly, and say, ‘Must be time for a little snack around the corner...’” 

He was referring to a pub called U Sokoła, in front of Kraków’s Sokół sports hall. As a rule, all the editors would agree to go “just for one.” That “one” usually ended in the early hours of the following day. But by 10:00 a.m., on the dot, most of the team would be back at work. Around three in the afternoon, Jesus Mary would appear in the doorway, saying, “Listen, we’re a bit tired today, let’s go take a little break. How about U Sokoła?” And the editorial staff would obediently march along behind him. Those breaks would sometimes last for up to three days. Both Kern and Waldorff remember the beginnings of Przekrój as a time of permanent sleep deprivation. It was its own composition of extraordinary personalities, adventures, and excesses, the essence of which was sometimes  expressed in collage form on the front cover—and this was the first.

 

Translated from the Polish by Kate Webster

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