Isolation and the Themerson Legacy

My friend Peter Mayer had a dual nature.  He was a poet and a hoarder. The poet championed ruthless eviction ‘if in doubt, cut it out’. The hoarder was beyond my league.  (And I’m someone who even stores the fallen petals of dead flowers - just in case…). His house was a miscellany of jewels and junk. 

One day, as I excitedly recalled discovering Gaberbocchus Press by stumbling upon a copy of Jarry’s Ubu Roi (illustrated by Franciszka Themerson), Peter dashed from the room. He returned some minutes later and thrust an old envelope into my hand. Inside were half a dozen small black and white, crudely executed, lino prints.  As I examined them, Peter explained their history. Following the collapse of the Polish army, Franciszka’s husband Stefan became a fugitive in Nazi occupied France. During an extended period on the run he found himself isolated in a disused farmhouse. He entertained himself by cutting small squares from his host’s kitchen lino and with a penknife and ink made from boot polish he created the set of prints I now held. 

As Peter’s tale unfolded these small , slightly dishevelled artworks were miraculously transformed into founding documents for a future avant-garde. When Stefan finally arrived in England in 1942, he was reunited with his wife Franciszka and over the coming years ‘the Themersons’ would play an inspirational role as conduits of European avant-garde ideas into the London cultural scene, including establishing their own extraordinary publishing house Gaberbocchus Press.

There is a wonderful website dedicated to the Themersons - www.themersonarchive.com

John Phillips


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