11.12.2008 – 15.02.2009
Me Shoot By Indians For The Second Time /
Pawel Kowalewski was the youngest member of “Gruppa.” He found recognition as an artist even before, in the year 1983, he graduated from the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts. If, however, we agree to take the year during which he was awarded his diploma as the beginning of his artistic activity, it is easy to calculate that this year, Paweł Kowalewski is celebrating a double jubilee: his fiftieth birthday and the twenty‐fifth anniversary of his work as an artist. Except that in the case of this artist, arithmetic does not explain much. Of course, he got his start as a painter. Quickly and with great ease, his paintbrush ran wild, first on canvas, then on huge sheets of paper, and later, on canvas again. He illustrated his intellectual, political, historical and personal adventures, fixed them within a painter’s frame as though under the influence of an immediate impulse, without leaving it for later. His comments were terse and strong, and his punchlines – often achieved with the help of exceedingly simple means – are so fitting that it seems that they cost him no effort, as though they stream from natural-born ability and not – as it usually happens – from arduous training. Thus, both his manner of painting and the theme of his paintings are written into the character of those times, into the reality of the downfall of socialism under the rule of a certain general and corresponded to our feelings at the time. And perhaps that is why the work of this artist so quickly ingrained itself in the consciousness of society. The paintings, along with their titles, fell into our memory and it sometimes happened that the titles stayed there longer than the appearance of the work. But those were titles equally significant and meaningful for the time and place, for that hic et nunc, and in addition, characterized by the same drastic quality, as their equivalents in painting. Zdzichu jumps every night with bottles of gasoline, Fists in pockets, or a very pissed off worker, Tales from the Katyń Wood and finally, Mon Cheri Bolsheviq – are only an example of a few paintings that have attained “cult” attention.
Obviously, the content of the paintings, like the content of the titles, is wrought with irony – characteristic for several of the other members of “Gruppa” as well – and also with a sense of the absurd, significant for all of them. In that particular moment, let us add. Because the day of victory arrived, and it was necessary to look around for new motives that would justify art. At the end of the 1980’s it was possible to notice the symptoms of these changes in the work of all of Kowalewski’s colleagues, but none changed his tactics as quickly and radically as he, himself. He must have been interested by the ambiguity of existence. Thus, at first he returned to the practices, long-before dismissed and trivialized for the banality of their medium, of modeling small sculptures out of modeling clay and later, by using objects forgotten and thrown to the margins of the new life, his childhood memories materialized (Exercises in the aesthetic in which I was raised). Even later he began to look around after values, calling into being Signs to follow when escaping madness, as though in response to the question posed earlier Where to hang the Mother of God. He did not manage to free himself from sarcasm, irony and the need to track the absurd, but he was able to recognize this I himself and even comment upon it. The cycle Fin de siécle is just such a comment: on freedom and art, but also on himself, his duties and also his own abilities.
This whole period – from Paweł Kowalewski’s bold debut in 1982, through every stage of his collaboration with five other painters and his co-existence with them as part of “Gruppa,” to his bitter reflection on the theme of the meaning of freedom ‒ lasted ten years. This accounted for an imposing body of work, but it seems that at the time, it was insufficiently appreciated even by the artist himself. Maybe he recognized that artistic success came too easily to him, just as it had been easy to first enter the academy and, after finishing it, easy to become an academic professor? This, we do not know. And he probably doesn’t know himself. The fact is that after these ten years he found himself at the threshold of artistic maturity, after he had already made a name and position for himself in the art world, he turned away from all of that and began a new life, just as though being an artist was not the result of a calling, but a learned trade which he practices just like any other activity. He challenged every opinion about the inevitability of fate and undertook work in a concrete line of work which requires similar talents to the creation of art, anyhow. And in this new field, he also reached success. But by doing this, he did not remove himself from the world of art; he disappeared for a time from the field of view marked out by the traditional frames of artistic and social life, and now he appears for a return.
This is why it is appropriate to speak not only about a birthday, but also of an anniversary which will remind us of once-held values.