Painter, drawer, and author of artistic actions and spatial installations taking place both in and out of doors.
Jan Dobkowski has been presented with the award of the Minister of Culture and Art for his popularization of artistic creativity (1970), and was also a recipient of Kościuszko Foundation scholarship in New York (1972). In 1970, he received a gold medal and an award at the symposium of Gold Recame in Zielona Góra. In 1978, he was presented with th Cyprian Norwid award of art critics, for the best exhibition of the year. In 1994, Dobkowski he was honoured with life achievement award of Jan Cybis.
The works of Dobkowski can be found in numerous collections, among them those of the Art Museum in Łódź , the National Museum in Warsaw, the National Museum in Wrocław, the National Museum in Poznań, and at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. His paintings are also in private collections in Poland, Sweden, Denmark, the USA, Switzerland, and France.
Jan Dobkowski, a student of the outstanding post-impressionist Jan Cybis, decidedly opposed the dominant way of painting practised at Polish Universities at the time in his student years. The dominating trend placed an emphasis on nuanced colouring and thick texture layers of paint. Since the year 1965, Dobkowski painted pictures of smooth, shiny surfaces, presenting flatly laid and figurative colourful spots of the shapes of people and objects. This synthetic approach to the material also influenced the limitation of his pallette to several, clean colours applied without any differentiation of tone. As he said himself, he didn’t intend to become a “more of gypsum” and put forward his own idea of a painting language. His flat pictures reffered to the aesthetics of popart. The line played a big role for Dobkowski, and it was exceptionally precise and clean. It would also dominate his drawings, which appeared from the beginning to be a complement of the paintings. In 1963 he completed, the series of 65 erotic drawings in ink, as well as the series of lino-cut illustrations for Le bestiaire by Apollinaire. In 1966, as part of the annual exhibition of students of the Academy of Fine Arts, held at the Technical University, he proposed a series of polygonal paintings; however they were rejected by the commission of the Academy's professors.
During his fourth year of studies, Dobkowski became friends with Jerzy Zieliński (Jurry), who was also rebellious against painting in a pseudo-impressionistic style. In 1967, while preparing for their exhibition at the Club of Medics, the duo officially announced the establishment of their Neo-Neo-Neo group, although their painting NEO-NEO-NEO actually appeared two years earlier. The name of the group itself suggested that in art, nothing was ever really new. At the exhibition Dobkowski presented the paintings with colours set in contrast (green, red, yellow, blue) with silhouetty compositions of the models' figures, frequently multiplied (e.g.. Modelka podwojona / Double Model, 1966). Dobkowski and Zieliński exhibited together until 1970 (in Lublin and in Katowice, among other places), when due to differences between the artists, the NEO-NEO-NEO group ceased to exist.
In 1968, Dobkowski took part in the Secesja-Secesja? show at the Współczesna (Contemporary) Gallery in Warsaw, which drew both the media's and the critics' attention. After this success, his paintings took part in the prestigious presentation Polskie malarstwo współczesne. Źródła i poszukiwania (Contemporary Polish Painting. Sources and Searches) in Paris. Soon afterwards, the Guggenheim Museum in New York purchased the first red and green painting by Dobkowski, a canvas entitled Podwójna dziewczyna / Double Girl (1968) for its collection. The whole series of paintings with such colours was done a year later, painted in a standardized format of 200 x 150 cm. Red figures of male and female characters appeared on green backgrounds. Most often these last ones having abundant shapes, expanded in a grotesque way. Women with many breasts, women in the shapes of apples or pears, having a huge load of erotism and sensuality inside. Some of the forms presented in the paintings of Dobkowski changed fluently into the other ones, a female breast became a shapely apple, a heart changed into spermatozoon and vertebral together with ribs into a limited flabby structure. The green suggested nature, energetic vitality, life. These paintings became the starting point to many spatial actions and the nest series of paintings.
A year later, the action Przedłużenie lata / A Prolongement of the Summer took place in which the artist used red and green figures cut from harl board and placed in a snowy landscape. Also in 1969, a similar action took place in the factory spaces of the Polfa pharmaceutical company, during which machines formed a background for the flat figures of Dobkowski, suspended in space.
During his staying in the USA in 1972, - made possible with the scholarship of the Kościuszko Foundation - Dobkowski presented figures cut from colourful boards of plexiglass at the Bodley Gallery. This was his following experiment of building forms in space, but this time from different material, and employing new colours, more synthetic ones. The artist didn’t return to red and green compositions; he began new considerations on colour and ways of expanding its intensity.
In around the middle of 70s the style of Dobkowski changed. At that time the artist drew with ink a series of landscape, romantic drawings without the human figures and erotism which were so characteristic to him. A drawing by Dobkowski reminds a net of delicately tangled lines, thin as a hair, which flow in a thick stream and fill in the whole surface. His fluent line develops almost in an organic way, creating on a board a unite whole from which emanates the climate built by the artist. At the time also black and white paintings are created taking their beginning ina drawing. The first picture painted in white and black was the canvas Narodziny smutku / The Birth of Sadness from 1974. Later on, chromatical paintings are created, usually conveyed only to red and blue. “Red is alive, and to me blue seems to be a distance and eternity".
The considerations over a line resulted in hundreds of drawings as well as actions in the open air, such as Rysunek wiatru / A Drawing of the Wind (1974), Płonący kwadrat / Burning Square (Osieki 1979) and Brzeg rzeki / Riverside (Łomża 1980). On top of this, there emerged paintings reduced to a mere few casual lines, among them the series of huge, green and blue canvases, Albo-albo / Either-or, from 1981. They can be interpreted as abstract or symbolic. Two dynamic forms pulsating in a space filled with lines can be either people, or pure life energy, while the relations between them may be the recording of a relationship, or the history of indefinite existence. The series was completed after the birth of Dobkowski's son, Maksymilian, and it is devoted to a conceived child – it shows an embryo gradually changing its size.
I live in linealism. I see a huge net around me, I exist inside it. What is real – due to the fact that combined from lines – becomes abstract. The line is the most important. Lines are a thought.
In 1978, the Zachęta National Art Gallery organized a first big retrospective exhibition of the works by Dobkowski, presenting paintings, drawings and spatial forms created between 1963-1978. The painter received the C.K. Norwid Art Critics' Award. At the beginning of the 1980s, Dobkowski began to introduce more colour, traces of landscape appeared, subjectivity, symbols, and even whole scenes.
The works done in the following years are usually considered a pessimistic reminiscence of the Martial Law period in Poland. There are symbols, signs, such as the V - Victoria, the Polish national flag ,and a symbol of the cross. The artist hardly exhibited, his paintings were removed by state censorship (Gallery 72 in Chełm, 1983). Between 1984-85, he completed the Treny series, in which the structures of colourful spots appeared on dark backgrounds; also a triptych in order to commemorate priest Jerzy Popiełuszko, which included the works: Złe przeczucie / A Bad Feeling, Zaduszki and Pogrzeb / The Funeral. He spent the years 1985-89 spent on travelling – to France, Spain, South America, Greece, Israel and Finland. At that time, he completed the Ikar / Icarus series of paintings and the drawing series Genesis.
Dobkowski returned to the plexiglass, from which he created colourful spatial toys for his daughter. Together with her portraits they consist to an exhibition Marianna (the daughter's name), presented in the Galeria Krytyków (Gallery of Critics) in Warsaw in 1979 .
Between 1980-1981 Dobkowski created series of paintings and drawings – Erotikon, Nadzieja i mrok / Hope and Darkness, Albo - albo / Either-Or. The last one is commented by the artist in the following way:
"This is a series in which the creation of a drawing is the process of becoming self-conscious of building of my world of art, in which the process of creating the Earth and Universe takes an important part; the creation of cultures and interpersonal emotions come as what follows. Creation is a constant birth and for me Genesis is a reflection over the existing and eternally changing World. I try to travel a lot in order to get to know the world of nature as both are an inspiration of my art."
In the 90s Dobkowski creates the following series: Dźwięki / Sounds (1994), Obrazy symultaniczne / Simultaneous Pictures (1995-96), Karnawał w Rio / The Carnival in Rio (od 1997), Nokturny / Nocturnes (1998), and the series of watercolours entitled Uniwersum, which he began in 1992. The Obrazy symultaniczne deserve special attention, being a kind of summary of the achievements of the artist, in which each painting referes to a different period of his creativity, different solutions and motives.
Dobkowski immediately worked out an artistic language, which co-operated with a mental and social revolution of the end of 60s described as counter-culture. In such context, art was supposed to help a person to overcome an infection caused by civilisation, liberate him from
a plight of prudish culture. The aim of it was to liberate spontaneity of bilogical energies, that bring people luck and establish them a part of the Universe. Dobkowski has remianed faithful to this programme until today. His youth intuitions has grown stronger within the years, in times of the development of formal mastery being able to catch crazy ideas into a plastic form. During the youth they both appeared at the source of creativity.
While his interview for "Common Review" in June 1986, Dobkowski confessed:
"To me nature is the matter of space, a certain consistence of the world – it’s Earth and air, clouds, fire and water; it’s a constant transformation of nature. A man wants to open his eyes for sun and sky, breathe in the smell of the Earth. It’s Nature which gives us the impression that we exist. I thought that within naturalism there is a resource that can make my art alive. That was why, in my paintings I tried, first of all, to present a human. A naked man; without atributes of culture or civilisation: woman and man in their eternal gestures. By erotism I wanted to show how much a human desires nature and that it is good"
Author: Ewa Gorządek, The Center of Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle in Warsaw,