Tomasz Kowalski is a painter, illustrator, and author of collages, object-machines, installations, and video art. He also composes music. He was born in 1984 in Szczebrzeszyn.
Painter, drawer, author of collages, object-machines, installations, video art. He’s also a music composer. He was born in 1984 in Szczebrzeszyn.
Tomasz Kowalski graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow (2004-2009). He’s a member of ephemeral music groups Anna Dymna Ensemble and Masters of the Universe. He works and lives in Berlin and Kraków.
Kowalski made his debut in 2006 at the Nova Gallery in Kraków while a student. After the Żak-Branicka Gallery in Berlin organised his individual exhibit in the same year, the career of this talented artist was already in full swing. A year later he took part in collective exhibitions in Germany and Italy, his work attracted attention of art critics and he was signed by the prestigious Berlin Carlier-Gebauer gallery.
Critics consider Kowalski as part of a generation of artists who are "tired with reality" and have abandoned everyday experience and turned to surrealist aesthetics, oneiric poetics and fantasy. The language of his paintings is exuberant and original, but also rooted in the artistic tradition. His paintings are complex and often frame-like with a complicated narrative which develops in the details. They show miniature worlds which have no connection to reality. They are, however, connected to each other, because Kowalski likes to use characteristic motifs which repeatedly appear in his works. One of those is a man in a hat and boots, possibly an alter-ego of the artist, who either whirls in a pirouette or walks on a rope. A theatre stage and a curtain often appear on his paintings, and the artist composes figures and props in a way that is reminiscent of a stage arrangement. The actors are people who look like puppets, doing unclear things – maybe performing rituals – but also insects, machines or even whole landscapes.
Kowalski’s oil, gouache, watercolour or even plasticine paintings on canvas, wooden boards and paper, are often filled with insects, spiders and exuberant foliage in fantastic shapes, which is reminiscent of Celnik Rousseau’s art. The artist often paints desert landscapes similar to those from 17th-century Netherlandish paintings, interiors filled with weird objects and mysterious machines. The silhouettes painted by Kowalski are like mannequins, melancholic figures in danger, which evoke a feeling of an unspecified threat. His works are inspired by the art of the American self-taught outsider Henry Drager, a painter of unreal stories which happen outside of time, a creator of his own world.
tKowalski often enters into a dialogue with the old masters, refers to renaissance painting, creates still lives with vanitative motives. He also transformed compositions by Piero della Francesca (Cud / A Miracle, 2006), and he’s attracted by majestic positions on the portraits of popes and saints. One of his untitled paintings from 2006 is a portrait of a girl created in the manner of Italian renaissance portraits with a mountain landscape in the background. The mouth of the model is covered by a giant spider, who even managed to create a spider web on her face. The echo of the works by Breughl, Watteau and Ensor can be felt in his paintings, as well as Dadaism, futuristic costumes by Oscar Schlemmer and Marcel Duchamp’s art. Sometimes on one canvas we can see different traces from the history of art, which makes them look old, like they belong to an indeterminate age. Kowalski coats them with patina, rubs the paper so it looks old and yellowed. He likes dim colours: sepias, ochres, faded greens, dirty blues. Black and red also appears in his later works.
With time Tomasz Kowalski started to transform some of the machines from his paintings into 3D and became a constructor of the objects he previously painted. Wooden sculptures – mock-machines – are created from old materials, found objects, pieces of sculptures. He places them next to the canvases during his exhibits.
In his latest works Kowalski has reduced the form and simplified the composition, sometimes reaching the abstract and the monochrome. He is also fond of other media and, apart from the sculptures mentioned above, he creates collages, makes paintings out of plasticine (Nokturn / Nocturne, 2009) and wax, he creates installations and experiments with sound (musical sculptures). In 2009, together with Norman Leto, he took part in the Nocne zwiedzanie (Night Tour) exhibition in the Centre for Contemporary Art in Toruń. He showed two almost abstract paintings in black and white, a installation made out of a relief-painting made out of plasticine, and a wooden sound sculpture. A film by Norman Leto in collaboration with Tomasz Kowalski is a continuation of what the spectators were able to see in the gallery space, filled with the works by the latter. A digital 3D animation showed a non-existent exhibition of non-existent Kowalski’s works in an non-existent gallery space, although it resembled a video recording of such an event.
Author: Ewa Gorządek, July 2010, translated by N. Mętrak-Ruda, October 2015.
- 2010 - Gabriele Senn Galerie, Vienna;
- 2010 - Tim van Laere Gallery, Antwerp;
- 2010 - "Pokaz", Kronika Gallery, Bytom;
- 2009 - carlier-gebauer, Berlin;
- 2009 - "Gniazdo", Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin;
- 2009 - "Nocne zwiedzanie", CSW Toruń (with Norman Leto)
- 2008 - "Art Kabinett", Art Basel Miami Beach, Miami;
- 2008 - carlier-gebauer, Berlin;
- 2008 - "Piosenka", Pies Gallery, Poznań;
- 2008 - BWA, Zielona Góra;
- 2007 - Galeria Żak-Branicka, Berlin;
- 2006 - Galeria Nova, Kraków.
- 2010 - "Przekleństwa wyobraźni", Bunkier Sztuki, Kraków;
- 2010 - "Small Improvisation", Stadtgalerie Kiel;
- 2009 - "Alfabet Polski", BWA Tarnów;
- 2009 - "Serce to samotny myśliwy", Europe XXI, Gare Saint-Sauver, Lille;
- 2009 - "Crotla presents", Lothringer13, Staedtische Kunsthalle Muenchen, Munich;
- 2009 - "Piekło rzeczy", Galeria Kronika, Bytom;
- 2008 - "Ballady i romanse", Raster Gallery, Warsaw;
- 2008 - "Establishment", Centre for Contemporary Art at Ujazdowski Castle, Warszawa;
- 2008 - "Wyprzedaż teatru", Arsenal Gallery, Białystok;
- 2007 - "The Ship of Fools", Studio Angeletti, Rome;
- 2007 - "Small is Beautiful", Ursula Blickle Foundation, Kraichtal-Unterowisheim;
- 2007 - "16 rzeczy, które mogłyby się nie znaleźć", Artpol, Kraków.