Roman Owidzki was a painter, teacher, and professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. He was one of the most important Polish artists, who consistently developed new forms of expression in abstract art. He was born in 1912 in Ostrowy, and died in 2009 in Warsaw.
Painter, abstract artist and professor
From 1931 to 1934 he was a student at the University of Warsaw, and from 1935 to 1939 at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts. During WWII he was interned in Oflag VIII A in Murnau in Bavaria. His educational career was a key factor in the development of Polish abstract art. He started teaching in the Workshop of Composition of Solids and Plains for the students of Painting and Graphic Design Departments of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, and later, between 1975 and 1983 moved on to the Workshop of Visual Structures and Operations on Painting Department. Apart from painting, Owidzki was interested in drawing and graphics, and he also tried his luck at scenography and illustrating children’s books.
His time at the academy was extremely important for Owidzki’s whole career. There, he picked up the basics of applied art and artistic craftsmanship, which resulted in his art being based on his broad knowledge of materials and techniques. However, in his art and subsequent educational career he strayed away from applied art, concentrating instead on artistic language and expression. His early work was put to an abrupt end by WWII and his internment in Murnau. There, apart from a few paintings, he created many works on paper, which, as he claims, were influential for his further work. In an interview with Marta Kowalska from 2008, he mentions:
My first artistic creations which directed me towards new forms of expression were created lying on the cold floor of an internment camp, on little pieces of paper that I was barely able to hold on to. I remember one of the German officers, who was patrolling the camp, was a painter. He sometimes came by to see what I was working on. As there was a ban on any kind of deformation in Germany, while looking at my works he only sighed and shook his head, murmuring ‘expressioniusmus’. That’s how my skill started to take shape. And now I know that my choice was the right one.
These small illustrations most often depicted deformed characters competing in various sports events. There are also numerous avant-garde still life paintings, as well as some scenographic compositions made for the camp theatre in Murnau. What connects all these works is their tremendous expressiveness.
The mature period of his creative work, spanning from the early 1950s to the end of 1960s, marks an even further departure from figurative art and gradual simplification of forms and colours. At the turn of 1950s Owidzki created a series of vibrant abstract pieces showing totemic figures and shapes, which were probably inspired by cubism, expressionism and surrealism. At the time he also painted some works that relied on pure geometrical abstraction, composed of big planes of colours divided vertically and horizontally. In all these compositions, the most important thing seems to be the interplay of elements and harmony of form, which was the product of the painter’s lifelong studies and interest in form.
The later period of his works, that is, the late 1960s and 1970s, marked his emerging interest in structuralism. He began creating his paintings with the use of materials such as paper, copper, and slabs covered with canvas, which were completely monochromatic and resemble sculptures rather that paintings. His reliefs are the pinnacle of his artistic search for expression, which is at the same time reduced to an absolute minimum. Their excellence is in their inner tension and direction, as well as their texture and geometricity, undistorted by colour.
‘For Roman Owidzki, teaching was co-creating’, wrote Bogusław Mansfeld in his opening speech for Owidzki’s exhibition in Galeria Studio. The artist, whose life was strictly tied with the academia for almost 30 years, was a favourite of many generations of students, as his practical courses always incorporated examples from the history and theory of art. One of the main ideas of the departments that he was in charge of was to try and get to know the language of art as deeply as possible and the way it functions in practice. He also urged his students to discover freedom when it came to composing their works. His lecture given to protesting students in 1980 is already legendary and was mentioned in the works of Jacek Dyrzyński and Tomasz Tatarczyk, to recall just a few. His long speech about his beloved Vermeer captivated numerous listeners and ended with a standing ovation.
Owidzki authored several brilliant didactic texts, such as Considerations about Painting Education at the Academy of Fine Arts (Rocznik ASP w Warszawie 2/1971-72), Methods of Teaching Visual Structures and Acts (Zeszyty Naukowe ASP, 1985), and Painting and Form (Centralne Biuro Wystaw Artystycznych, 1973).
Selected individual exhibitions:
- 1962 – Museum of Modern Art, Miami
- 1965 – Association of Polish Musicians in Warsaw
- 1996 – 3A Gallery in Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts
- 2004 – Stefan Szydłowski Gallery
- 2005 – Galeria Studio in Warsaw
- 2007 – Association of Fine Artists in Warsaw
- 2016 – Le Guern Gallery
Selected group exhibitions:
- 1956-65 – regular participation in the series of exhibitions Konfrontacje in Krzywe Koło Gallery in Warsaw
- 1948 – 1st Modern Art Exhibition in Warsaw
- 1957 – 2nd Modern Art Exhibition in Warsaw
- 1959 – 3rd Modern Art Exhibition in Warsaw
- 1961 – Collections of Krzywe Koło Gallery
- 1964 – Two Worlds, Grabowski Gallery, London
- 1965 – Konfrontacje in Elbląg
- 1966 – Artists and scientists symposium, Puławy
- 1966 – Foksal Gallery
- 1967 – Przestrzeń, ruch, światło exhibition, Wrocław
- 1990 – Krzywe Koło Gallery, National Museum in Warsaw
Roman Owidzki received the Cyprian Kamil Norwid award in 2006 and Jan Cybis award in 2007. His works can be found in, among others, the National Museum in Warsaw and in Poznań, Fine Arts Museum in Łódź, Museum of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw and in numerous private collections, both in Poland and abroad.