Self portrait in miners gala uniform (1980).
Józef Torka was born in 1909 in Katowice. After a technical education, he first started working as a miner and later as technician in the Gottwald coal mine in Katowice. He was a valued worker and received several awards for his dedication and collegiality. After the war he got a job as cultural official and in 1956 as a paid member of the trade union.
Sunbathing in Suchomi (1974). Oil paint on canvas 60×75 cm.
After his retirement in 1968 he became a member of the art group ‘Filar’ which was facilitated by the coal mine to offer its employees and former employees the opportunity to develop their talents as amateur painters. For their personal skills and artistic style they were mainly dependent on mutual stimulation and advice. Torka initially started painting landscapes and family scenes. At a later stage he chose the history of Katowice in the twentieth century as his subject .
Meeting for the third Silesian uprising in 1921 (1981). Oil paint on board 60×70 cm.
Torka’s breakthrough as an artist came with a painting about the 3rd Polish uprising in Silesia in the year 1921 (*). In 1984 he was awarded the 1st prize in a national exhibition for amateur artists by the Ministry of Mining and Energy. Subsequently his winning painting was exhibited in the Palace of Fine Arts in Beijing (1985) and in Moscow.
(*) In the Middle Ages Silesia belonged to Poland and then came into the hands of resp. the kingdom of Bohemia, Austria, Prussia and Germany. After the 1st World War – during the preparatory steps to the Peace of Versailles (1919) – it was discussed that Upper Silesia with its sizeable Polish-oriented minority would be added to the newly established Polish state. The plan was met with fierce resistance from Germany, arguing that without the minerals, mines, iron and steel plants of Upper Silesia it would be impossible to meet the imposed recover payments. In order to break the deadlock, the peace treaty included a clause that a plebiscite would be held within two years to determine whether the territory would be allocated to Germany or to Poland. Until the plebiscite, the German government and police remained in office. In the period up to 1921 there was serious opposition from the German side to realize the plebiscite. This led to three Polish uprisings in which many people were killed. In 1922, the eastern part of Upper Silesia (with Katowice as the capital) was finally allocated to Poland.
Survivors of Auschwitz (1988). Oil paint on canvas 80×100 cm.
Torka has depicted the horrors of the Second World War in a painting of the Great Synagogue of Katowice burned down on September 3, 1939 by the Nazi barbarians and in the nightmarish painting “Survivors of Auschwitz”.
In the last ten years of his life Torka mainly focused on portraits, flower arrangements and still lifes with books and smoking equipment in a domestic environment. Sometimes a landscape is shown through a window. The paintings from this period have an atmosphere of calm and serenity. He passed away in 1999.
Portrait of Alina ludmila Otten (1988). Oil paint on board 55×45 cm.
Torka has received several important awards and his work has been exhibited in Poland, Germany, Italy, Russia and China. His paintings are included in the collections of the Muzeum Slaski in Katowice, the museums of Cieszyn, Oltrebusy and Zabrze and in various private collections in Poland and abroad.
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