MARIAN HENEL /1926-1993/


He was raised in the countryside. His father was unknown.
According to his mother, she got pregnant after she was raped. She lived off of charity of people from the nearby villages and died when Henel was six years old. The commune authorities placed the child under the care of a family, who mistreated him. To avoid abuse, Henel ran away from his guardians when he was 13 and found a job on another farm. He completed six years of primary school. His grotesque appearance – he was short – about 150 cm tall, of disproportionate body shape, obese, with a specific grimace on his face – made him a perfect object of scorn and ridicule. Therefore, he usually spent time alone, taking every chance to peep at women taking a bath.

After the Second World War, he was enrolled in the Security Police where he was given the post of a stoker and a guard. Later on he worked in a PGR (State Agricultural Farm) as a farm labourer. He was sent to prison for setting a barn on fire and after about a year was relocated to the Psychiatric Hospital in Branice, where he stayed until his death.

The first works of Marian Henel were created in the hospital. They consisted of drawings on sheets of paper torn out of squared notebooks, sketched with a two-colour, red and blue pencil, a very popular writing instrument at the time. The drawings showed erotic, copulative and defecation scenes. These small pieces of paper were circulating among hospital rooms just like kites are passed from prisoner to prisoner in jail.

In the later period, Marian Henel became interested in photography. He became fascinated by creating self-portraits in various poses in front of a camera. Only 88 original prints have survived to this day, damaged by Henel himself and the hospital personnel. At the beginning, he used a simple „Druh” camera which he would put onto a tripod he constructed himself of wood and plywood. He would release the shutter with a thin string. He would take thousands of these 6x9 photographs showing him in different poses. The photos present Henel dressed in a nurse’s uniform and exposing his buttocks. He bought films, reagents and photographic paper with the money he earned for his work in a hospital weaving shop. Initially, he had no enlarger, so he took photographs using a specially devised apparatus made of wood and glass, with an „edge to edge” method, to produce photos in the format of a film frame. In the later period, he started to stage erotic scenes with dolls dressed in nurse’s uniforms. He used a lamp from a dental clinic found in a scrap yard and an old office lamp to light his scenes. He also bought a „Strat” twin-lens reflex camera to be able to use a self-timer. The artist used these photographs to fulfil his erotic fantasies and as references for his tapestry, which he would first sketch on millimetre paper.

The artist was fascinated by Rubenesque women, who he always loved to peer at, especially in the rain, when he could gaze at their corpulent shapes in tight-fitting raincoats. He wanted to resemble his ideal of a corpulent woman more than anything. He treated his own body as a medium of art. He would pluck out the hair from his entire body with tweezers. He ate sugar to put on weight. He would repeat the same shot all over again to get the perfect result. He would dress in outfits he made himself. Preferably, he put on a white gown resembling a ladies night gown; he wore panties of his own design to visually enlarge his buttocks, a bra, woollen stockings and a white scarf on his head. On top of that, he would often put on nurse’s uniform and conduct a „walk-around inspection” in the hospital. Due to his seductive poses and gestures he was sometimes mistaken for being a member of the hospital staff.
Apart from women, Henel loved storms, rain, books depicting violence, cruelty, torture and rape. These fascinations where the reason why his works were often interpreted in the magical frame of reference.

He actually became famous for his thirteen large-format tapestries mainly depicting erotic scenes, where nude women and Henel himself are presented as surrounded by insects, birds and symbolic animals: an owl, an eagle, a snake, a toad, a bat, a cat. It was the promise of his own workshop in the cellar, to which he owned a key and where he could keep his personal belongings, that fired his enthusiasm for weaving. He mainly worked there in the evenings and at nights.

The tapestries are now stored in Psychiatric Hospital in Branice.
Henel’s works have been displayed in the Silesian Museum in Katowice, the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, Galeria “tak” in Poznań, art)&(marges museum in Brussels, the
MOCAK Museum of Modern Art in Cracow, the State Ethnographic Museum in Warsaw and many other institutions.

Film devoted to the artsit: „Maniuś” by J. Bogucki /1993/.