The generals sit on horseback, directing art students how to draw. A black GI makes Hitler a Negro. Hitler delivers a stein of beer to his buddies, Bismarck and Kaiser Wilhelm at a table of ancient Germanic gods. Shtetl Jews in shackles stand before the pyramids of the Pharaohs.
These images come from the imagination of one man, Arthur Szyk. Small in stature, but insatiably curious about world history and fiercely committed to fighting oppression wherever he found it, Szyk’s work has been enjoying a renaissance in popular culture and the academic world over the last decade.
He had been scarcely noticed since his death in 1951 until 2000, when numerous museums and institutions, like the Library of Congress, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the German Historical Museum in Berlin and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco began to resurrect his work with major exhibitions. The work speaks to us today, as visually exciting and emotionally relevant as ever.
Devoting his whole life to the struggle against social and political oppression, his work provides a fascinating window to the major events of the first five decades of the 20th century. Szyk appeals as much to the music and graphic novel loving teenager as to art historians and educators. He looks to us today like a crusader for human rights, not jousting at windmills like Don Quixote, but skewering the cruelty of despots and bigots with a studied intelligence and a savage wit.
A feature length documentary has been in production for several years, covering all events related to the Szyk renaissance. The producers have already created over 100 hours of digital material, shot in Washington, D.C., New York, Chicago, Vermont, Florida, Berlin and Warsaw. Relatives, friends, scholars, artists, students and museum visitors have already contributed their experience of Szyk and his work. More filming is scheduled in Toronto, London, Paris, Poland, Israel, San Francisco and New York.
The producers have been given exclusive permission by Szyk’s estate to the life story rights as well as the right to use all his art. By itself, the art is completely cinematic; the multiple narratives within most works give them a distinctly modern sensibility.
The Producers have completed three short films that demonstrate what might be possible in a feature length film. Additional funding is sought to continue production and complete a documentary that is broadcast and theatre worthy and will enjoy international distribution.
Szyk may be the most famous unknown artist of the 20th century, and that is why first time viewers embrace his work with excitement. Whether outrageous or profound, Szyk dramatizes ideas and feelings we recognize as our own. His work is delightful and challenging at the same time.
This will be the kind of film no one can anticipate, yet all who see it will find it a remarkable discovery to be shared with others. Szyk always addressed his work to a global audience, and today we feel him reaching out to people with his timeless message that the universal desire for freedom is a fundamental human value.
To discuss becoming involved in supporting the endeavor to create a feature documentary film about Arthur Szyk, his life and work, contact Irvin Ungar at 650-343-9578 or via email.