Jan Sawka

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Jan Sawka (December 10, 1946 – August 9, 2012) was a Polish-born American artist and architect.


In 1946, Sawka was born to an architect father and linguist mother, Jan and Maria Sawka, in the Silesian city of Zabrze. His childhood was overshadowed by his father's Stalin-era political imprisonment. Sawka completed two master's degrees; in painting and print-making from the Wrocław Fine Arts Academy and in Architectural Engineering from the Institute of Technology in Wrocław. By his late 20s, Sawka was a star of the famed Polish Poster School and a leading artist of the counter-culture. His oppositionist activities lead to his exile in 1976. After 1977, he resided in New York, becoming part of the American cultural mainstream. Early in his time in the United States, Sawka created editorial drawings for the New York Times, while developing a multi-faceted career that encompassed printmaking, painting, sculpture, and theater design. Numerous galleries have exhibited his paintings and prints, and he has designed for such theaters as the Harold Clurman, Jean Cocteau Repertory and Samuel Beckett Theater. Sawka's works are in over 60 museums around the world and he has had over 70 solo shows at international museums and galleries. His awards have included the 1975 Oscar de la Peinture in Cagnes-sur-Mer, France for painting and the Gold Medal at the 1978 Warsaw Poster Biennial. In 1981, when martial law was imposed in Poland, the AFL-CIO sponsored a bipartisan fundraiser that sold Sawka's Solidarity poster in the millions to provide immediate support to the besieged Solidarity movement. In 1989, Sawka designed a 10-story tall set for The Grateful Dead's 25th Anniversary tour. In 1993, he created his first full multi-media spectacle, "The Eyes" in Japan. This was the beginning of his collaboration with Japanese studios and corporations, which includes the creation of high-tech interactive sculptures and monumental installations, as well as designs for full-scale monumental architecture. Sawka designed "The Tower of Light Cultural Complex" for Abu Dhabi, U.A.E., presented to the Royal Family in 1996. A pilot version of "The Voyage", a full-length multimedia spectacle, won the Gold Medal in Multi-Media at the 2003 Florence Contemporary Art Biennial. He is represented ACA Galleries in New York's Chelsea arts district.

On August 9, 2012, Sawka died of a heart attack in his home in High Falls, New York.[1] He was 65. At the time of his death the artist was focused on completing the feature-length, final version of "Voyage."

Selected points from career[edit]

1975 Oscar de la Peinture award and the special prize of the President of France, 7th International Painting Festival, Cagnes-sur-Mer, France.

1986 NY Times Book of the Year for A Book of Fiction, Clarkson and Potter, New York

1989 First large-scale concert set (10 stories in height, for the Grateful Dead 25th Anniversary Tour) 1989.

1994 "The Eyes" multi-media spectacle fully conceived and executed by Jan Sawka is produced by famed theatre director Tadashi Suzuki at Mito Art Tower Center, Japan.

1994 Japanese Cultural Agency Award, Tokyo.

1996 International OSAKA Award nominee in the fields of architecture and design.

1996 Presentation to the Royal Family of Abu Dhabi, U.A.E. of the Tower of Light Cultural Complex design.

1999 Design and rendering of large-scale projections for Houston SKYPOWER 40th Anniversary of NASA celebration spectacle.

2003 Premio di Lorenzo Il Magnifico Gold Medal in Multimedia, 4th International Biennial of Contemporary Art, Florence, Italy. This award was given for the pilot of "The Voyage" multi-media spectacle. "The Voyage" is now in pre-production as a joint production of Toho Studios, Japan and Helge Joost Productions, Germany for worldwide distribution.

2004 Exhibition entitled "Into the Open: From Studio Works to Monumental Projects, and Beyond…" at landmark New York art gallery ACA Galleries, New York (on the NY Times' list of top ten most important galleries of New York City) 2004 – Development of the Tower of Light Cultural Complex, including 9 museums and 4 major cultural institutions for the city of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Major awards[edit]

  • 1973 – Award for the most outstanding young poster designer, 5th Biennial of Polish Poster Design, Katowice (Poland)
  • 1973 – Second place, 6th National Graphic Art Exhibition, Warsaw (Poland)
  • 1974 – LOT Polish Airlines Award, 5th International Poster Biennial, Warsaw (Poland)
  • 1974 – Golden Pin award, given by the editorial staff of Szpilki satirical magazine, Warsaw (Poland)
  • 1975 – Oscar de la Peinture award and the special prize of the President of France, 7th International Painting Festival, Cagnes-sur-Mer (France)
  • 1978 – 1st Prize, 7th International Poster Biennale, Warsaw (Poland)
  • 1979 – Prize of Honor, 3rd Biennial of Poster Design, Lahti (Finland)
  • 1990 – Silver Medal, XIV Biennale of Graphic Design, Brno (Czechoslovakia)
  • 1991 – Artist Laureate, 7th Colorado International Invitational Poster Exhibition, Ft. Collins, Colorado (USA)
  • 1994 – Japanese Cultural Agency Award, Tokyo (Japan)
  • 1995 – Award of Merit, 9th Colorado International Invitational Poster Exhibition, Fort Collins, Colorado (USA)
  • 2003 – Gold Medal in Multimedia, 4th International Biennial of Contemporary Art, Florence, (Italy)
  • 2011 – AIA (American Institute of Architects) New Hampshire, Excellence in Architecture Design Award for Pease Monument and Complex - Jerusalem (Award received together with Bartlomiej Sapeta), New Hampshire, USA.


  1. ^ Wetherbe, Jamie. "American artist and architect Jan Sawka dies at 65". latimes.com. Retrieved 2012-08-10. 

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