Michel Sima (actually Michael Smajewski, *May 20, 1912 in Slonim, Poland, now Belarus, deceased in 1987 in Tauriers, Ardèche, France), was a photographer and sculptor.
Already as a child Michel Sima began to draw and create first small sculptures. In 1929 he travels to Paris with intent to become a sculptor. He studies at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. In 1933 he joins the group around the painter Francis Gruber, to which also belong Moise Kisling and Pierre Tal Coat.
From 1934 – 1935 Sima studies with Zadkine, where he gets to know Jean Cocteau. The latter introduces him to Paul Eluard and Francis Picabia. He is now one of the friends who attend the Sunday literature meetings at Picabia’s place. This is the time when he begins to work with press agencies and makes photo reportages on Paris and political events. He meets Max Ernst and gets to know Constantin Brancusi.
In 1936 he meets Pablo Picasso and Gertrud Stein. In 1931 he briefly works for Brancusi.
In 1940, when the Germans enter France, he drives to Pierre Petitjean in Aulus-les-Bains in the Pyrenees. At the end of October he drives to Picabia in Golf-Jean. He stays in the free zone until his arrest and prepares a joint exhibition with Picabia.
In 1942 he gets arrested in Golf-Juan (France) and, following imprisonment in Nice, deported to the Blechhammer concentration camp. In 1945 he returns to France as a very sick man and seeks accommodation in Cannes with his friend Dor de la Souchère, who is conservator of the palace in Antibes.
In 1946 he meets Picasso again in Golf-Juan, who immediately provides him with mental and material assistance. An activity as a sculptor is now out of the question. Picasso asks Sima to draw for him the Greek-Phoenician stone that is exhibited at Antibes Palace. This is the first artistic work that Sima attempts again. Through the offices of Sima, Pablo Picasso is given a room of the palace as a studio. On Picasso’s advice, Sima begins to photograph again. He takes photos that document Pablo Picasso’s work in progress. Sima accompanies the creative process of Pablo Picasso’s ‘La joie de vivre’ in particular, documenting not only – as he initially intended – the different stages of the artistic accomplishment, but seeing his work right from the beginning as an integral, personal representation of the artist and his oeuvre. It is the beginning of a unique photographic documentation on artists and their work.
In 1947 an article appears in the magazine ‘Aux écoutes’ entitled ‘Dernière evolution de Picasso’, which states that Sima is the only one who was able to photograph Pablo Picasso’s last paintings and that he would not sell them at any price.
In 1948 there is a single exhibition by Sima at the gallery Lambert in Paris with engraved stones from the beach. That same year, René Draoulin publishes Sima’s first book ‘Picasso in Antibes’. In 1949 Sima takes part in the group exhibition of ‘Palissy to Picasso’ in Vallauris. In 1950 joint exhibition with Picabia at gallery Colette Allendy in Paris. In 1952 single exhibition at gallery H. Niepce in Paris with new ceramic works and small enamelled sculptures.
From 1951 – 1961 he devotes himself to the photographic artist’s portrait. He portrays almost all artists of the Ecole de Paris such as Henri Matisse, François Picabia, Ossip Zadkine, Alberto Giacometti, Jean Cocteau, Tal Coat, Jean Arp, Marie Laurencin, Fernand Léger, Max Ernst, Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, André Derain, Kees van Dongen, Le Corbusier, Marc Chagall, Joan Miró, Alexander Calder. Not only the photos of Pablo Picasso, but all his artists’ portraits radiate Sima’s fundamental amicable relation with the persons portrayed, expressed by the extremely sensitive way the personality and work of each artist have been captured. This relation established with work and studio in the portrayal is skilfully used to make the portrayed artist almost speak about himself. The result is an independent style in the field of photographic (artists’) portraits and a unique documentation of the artists of the Ecole de Paris, consistent in itself and of a sensitivity that no other photographer achieved.
In 1959 Nathan publishes 21 of the portrayed artists in ’21 visages d’artistes’. However, the print did not meet Sima’s ideas of quality at all. He decided never again to publish photos.
In 1967 Sima discovers the Ardèche in France. Together with his wife Odette and his son Pierre (* 1962) he moves to Tauriers. He devotes himself to sculpture again.
Michel Sima dies in 1987.
To download a biography as PDF (currently only in French) please click here.