From the outset of his career, Jan Sawka worked closely with theaters and music performances in Poland. His work included set design and creating posters for performances. Some of these posters are now part of design history, such as the “Exodus” poster (made for a theatrical performance) that is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and was one of 20 posters representing the Polish School of the Poster in an exhibition there in 2009. His posters for the “Jazz Nad Odra” jazz festival also are among the most famous design works in the world.
Jan Sawka was exiled by the totalitarian system in Poland in the late 1970’s, yet he continued his performance activities by working with off-Broadway and off-off Broadway theaters in New York, such as the Samuel Beckett Theater (where he was in direct contact with Beckett himself), the Harold Clurman Theater and the Jean Cocteau Repertory Theater.
In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, he worked with major rock-and-roll bands, which included the design of a 10-story tall theatrical-style set for the Grateful Dead’s 25th Anniversary Concert Tour in 1989.
This was Jan’s first contact with members of the Grateful Dead band. Jerry Garcia was the person primarily responsible for the idea to commission Jan to create a set and he gave Jan complete creative freedom. During Jan’s work with the band, he talked frequently with Jerry. The idea was born to take things further and to create an even more visually-enriched concert experience. Contact with the band continued and the Grateful Dead’s Rex Foundation sponsored a highly-political installation of Jan’s paintings, called “My Europe,” at the 1992 World Expo, which was held in Seville, Spain.
This exhibition was a significant expression about the recent peaceful revolution in Eastern Europe, where millions of people, starting with the Solidarity Movement in Poland, freed themselves from totalitarianism.
Jerry Garcia passed away in 1995. Jan continued to explore multimedia performance. In 1993, he designed and produced a The Eyes, a 57-minute multimedia performance based on artworks and projections at the MITO Art Tower center in Japan, which was under the artistic direction of the famous Japanese avant-garde theater director, Tadashi Suzuki. Slow-dissolving projections were used in a unified theatrical spectacle that incorporated three-dimensional artworks and one actor. The Eyes used an original jazz score by Polish jazz virtuoso, Adam Makowicz.
In 1994, Jan designed a back-projected multimedia set for the Steve Winwood/Traffic Reunion Tour, where high-resolution projections using slow-dissolves of artworks were a precursor of the aesthetics and techniques used in The Voyage.
In 1999, Jan created artworks that were projected on Houston skyscrapers during the 40th anniversary celebration of NASA called „Skypower” in 1999.
During the 1990’s, inspired by his talks with Jerry Garcia and by his work with the Grateful Dead and Steve Winwood, Jan Sawka began to develop a large-scale and full-length multimedia spectacle called The Voyage. In 1995, he created an initial, 5-minute pilot on VHS, which was followed by a 13-minute version in 1996. In 1999, he invited Polish rocker and composer Czesław Niemen to join The Voyage as musician and composer. In 2000, writer and director (and daughter of Jan Sawka) Hanna Sawka joined the team and helped to construct a screenplay. In 2002, a 17-minute DVD pilot was made in collaboration with Niemen. Jan Sawka submitted it to the 2003 International Florence Biennial of Contemporary Art in Florence, Italy, where it won a Gold Medal in the Multimedia category. Later in 2003, Jan Sawka completed the 1,212 images that make up the visuals of The Voyage.
Tragically, in 2004, Czeslaw Niemen died suddenly of cancer-related complications, despite positive prognoses for his health. Members of the project team were shocked and grieved and the project was suspended. Jan continued his work in other areas, such as painting and organizing exhibitions of his fine-art works. In 1996, Jan designed a Peace Monument for Jerusalem, which later won an „Excellence in Architecture Award” for „Unbuilt Architecture” in 2011 from the American Institute of Architects (AIA).
In 2010, Jan and his daughter Hanna returned to work on „The Voyage.” Inspired by the trans-cultural musical work of Mickey Hart, they approached this former band-member of the Grateful Dead, seeing a mutual life-and-art-philosophy that could be the right fit for „The Voyage.” In 2011, Mickey Hart joined „The Voyage” as musician and composer. By this time, Mickey had created „The Mickey Hart Band,” an 8-person rock-and-roll ensemble that is a veritable orchestra of remarkable new music, with the poetic lyrics of Robert Hunter. „The Voyage” now continues its journey together with Mickey and his creative collaborators.
All artworks/images copyright Jan Sawka
Music©The Mickey Hart Band
Web Design by Nicolas Roeper