Born in 1932 in the Silesian Foothills in Harbutowice, southern Poland, Karol Śliwka began his art education in 1946 at the Evening School of Painting, Sculpture and Graphics in Bielsko-Biała.
“I was 13 years old and I had been disarming mines in the field. One of them exploded. To this day I work with one eye. My dad decided that I would have to stay on the farm. But I insisted. I said I would learn, and it happened.”
Self portrait (1952)
His education continued at the State Secondary School of Art Techniques, graduating with a diploma in 1953. He would later pass entry exams for the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, graduating in 1959.
“I went to Warsaw with only a few zlotys with me, which my mother gave me for a roll, but that was not enough for food or for the train. So I admit that I was riding on a fake ticket. In the spot, I ate in a cheap bar in Mariensztat, where one meal had to be enough for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I remember it was a rhubarb soup and a thin macaroon. It was the only thing I could do.”
“The scholarship was absolutely not enough for me. I also used to smoke cigarettes. I had no choice but to earn some extra money somewhere. In the second year, thanks to a friend, we won orders in a scientific and technical publishing house for the design of book covers, and when we were in the third year, it was this publishing house that announced a nationwide competition for a graphic sign. I had no idea about this area of design, so I would go to the library and see what these characters look like, what they are. I tried and sent a few proposals for the competition. It was attended by an older generation of pre-war graphic artists who were still working and doing beautiful things. When I saw their works next to mine at the post-competition exhibition I was extremely ashamed. How could I send such scribbles?! It had nothing to do with a professionally designed sign, it was some kind of smear on a napkin in a coffee shop.”
You can read more of this time in Karol’s life, and how his energy turned from painting to design, in an insightful interview on weekend.gazeta.pl (in Polish, I used Chrome’s translate). Or if you prefer to listen and watch, there’s an interview on YouTube that’s very well pieced together, first aired (I think) during the 2018 exhibition of his work.
Karol Sliwka exhibition (2018)
After his fine art graduation (studying graphic design at night as it wasn’t an option in Warsaw at the time) he began working in the field of applied graphics, later joining the Association of Polish Artists and Designers and the Society of Authors ZAiKS.
PKO logo (1968)
The book above (photos via czytamaja.pl) can be picked up here (also reviewed on YouTube by Christophe De Pelsemaker). Patrick Hardziej is the designer behind the book (among many other interesting design ventures), and he took time out to be interviewed by Counter Print’s Jon Dowling. Worth a read.
Karol received the Award of the Minister of Culture and Art for his graphic art at the first Polish Exhibition of Graphic Marks in 1969.
Other awards and distinctions included (to name just a few):
First Degree Prize of the Prime Minister, the Golden Olympic Laurel, in the field of art. Gold medal at the Polish Poster Biennale in Katowice. Silver for a series of Olympic posters. A “Golden Chestnut” for packaging. An award for a postage stamp in the The United Nations. The Knight’s Cross of the OOP. The Golden Cross of Merit. The Golden Badge “For merits for Warsaw.” The badge “Meritorious Cultural Activist.” And the Gold Medal for Merit to Culture, GLORIA ARTIS.
He died on September 10, 2018, in Cieszyn, southern Poland.