– Sometimes I sit in my studio and feel like a captain on a ship – says the painter, who also has a series entitled “Titanic”.
More impressive than the beautiful panorama from the window, however, is what you see on the walls. Although I visit the painter on the eve of his exhibition at the Desa Unicum auction house in Warsaw and many paintings had to leave the studio, some of the most important works are still there. The painting most popular with Dobkowski’s fans also catches my eye. A green background with red shapes painted on it and splashes of paint turning into feminine shapes, and those into abstract lines. If the image was set in motion, it could be a music video for a Beatles song, and even without movement, it looks like the cover of hippie albums released in the 60s. Moreover, Dobkowski was already hailed as a painter of flower children. time. This hippie spirit is still there, even though he is 80 years old.
In addition to the painting from Dobkowski’s most famous series, there are a number of lesser-known works. The painting hanging over the entrance shows the daughter. The baby’s face, repainted three times, floats on the red lines. Directly behind her is a portrait of Dobkowski’s mother, also painted with a fine red line. Finally a larger painting featuring the artist’s wife, Maja.
– She is extraordinary and strong – explains the painter. He calls her “muse”. They met at one of the balls at the Academy of Fine Arts, she was a teacher, he – then one of the most promising Polish painters. They are together until today. This family corner in Dobkowski’s studio completes another picture. It differs in color from the rest of the works. As usual for Dobkowski, the figure is painted sideways without unnecessary details. Man is one place, the background is a separate color. – This is the beginning of my art – says the artist shortly.
The painting was painted during his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw in the studio of Jan Cybis. The master loved the young man, although he himself practiced painting similar to Impressionism. Dobkowski was nothing like the old masters, his painting was already daring then, he was looking for a way between abstraction and the presentation of reality. – The professor came to me, looked at my works and said: “I will say, I will say, I will say nothing”, which should mean acceptance for the master – recalls Dobkowski. Another student at Cybis’ studio, who went his own way, was Jerzy Zieliński.
They loved Dobkowski so much that they lived in one room. – Two beds and that’s it – he remembers that cubicle. – If there was not enough space for the easel, it was painted on the floor – he adds. The paintings they painted have entered the history of Polish art.
Zieliński, who took the pseudonym Jury, and Dobkowski, who was called Dobson, make up the Neo-neo-neo group and although – as Dobkowski claims – the name suggested that nothing in painting is new, their work was truly new. Their painting can be associated with pop art. The paint splatters create simple, almost poster-like shapes. Everything is simplified. Blood-red lips tied with black thread, or a movie poster-like depiction of a man bathed in flames. It was in response to Ryszard Siwiec’s self-immolation in protest against the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact troops.
Dobkowski stays away from politics, although current themes will appear in his art more than once. For example, if he paints a painting dedicated to Fr. Jerzy Popiełuszko or cloths related to martial law.
However, other things are much more important to him. – I will tell you about it in a moment – he pauses to look at old paintings, – First I will tell you how I became the most famous Polish artist.
In 1972 Dobkowski is invited for a scholarship to New York. This is a great opportunity and an even greater challenge. “Everything is expensive there and everything is missing here,” she recalls.
A carpenter from his hometown of Łomża brings him 30 huge stretchers on the roof of the bus. Dobkowski takes them on a ship to the US. Adventures await him along the way. – I remember customs officers, elegant men in suits who thought I was smuggling drugs. They couldn’t believe I was carrying cans of zinc white powder from Poland. They stuck their hands in the dust. Stained with paint, they found nothing – the painter remembers.
Dobkowski takes a pencil and starts drawing. The line forms a pattern like lips, like hearts, or maybe that’s just what I think
The difficult crossing turned out to be the start of a great adventure. In the exhibition at the now-defunct Bodley Gallery, where artists such as Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol and René Magritte exhibited in the 1960s and 1970s, he showed 20 paintings. To this day, he keeps an invitation to that exhibition in his studio. Red number on a green background, date and gallery address. – I really liked this exhibition. For New Yorkers, I was fresh, I did not show what they were doing, I was not interested in the world of advertising, but what I had in mind – he recalls.
After the exhibition he organized a small party. He invited 20 people to the old post-industrial building where he had his studio. – It probably came from 200. The fun lasted until morning. The phone rang and it turned out that some guests were calling abroad – he says. Then Dobkowski got a bill for more than $1,000. Fortunately, there was someone who was willing to pay off the debts. – A message has also reached Poland that Dobkowski is the most famous Polish artist in the West – he recalls. – And that’s how I charmed the United States.
The stay at the fair was extended by a few months and Dobkowski from the US brought more than inspiration. – In America I discovered plexiglass from which I began to cut new works – he says. He made not only flat images, but also spatial works, similar to colorful puzzles in bas-relief. One of them hangs in his studio. In plastic, as in stained glass, light reflects, casting colorful reflections on the walls, as if the material itself paints a painting. Such cases are valuable in Dobkowski’s art. All it takes is a sound, a beam, or a flash of memory to start painting. Symphonic music can often be heard in Dobkowski’s studio. It is also influenced by old friendships.
During his studies Jonasz Kofta shared collections of classical music with him, nowadays symphonic music is a source of inspiration for painting abstractions. Other images are travel notes. – When I once flew over the Himalayas, a small plane hovered just a few hundred meters above Mount Everest, I remember how the light was on both sides of the slope. As if there was some energy on both sides of the rock – remembers the painter who painted the cycle “Himalaya”.
– Have you photographed the mountains? – I’m asking.
– No, I haven’t photographed for a long time, I don’t like digital cameras, I don’t use the Internet, everything I paint comes from my head – he explains.
The strangest visions are born in the head. Beside us are two huge navy blue canvases on which thin blue lines are drawn, as if the surges in a dark abyss were registered by eye. Dobkowski, looking at the painting, says: – It was a very peculiar event.
– What? – I ask because the painting does not show any objects or events.
– We went with my wife to the exhibition in Toruń. After the opening we returned to the hotel. I woke up in the morning, started my daily exercises, when I suddenly saw energy beams start to burst from my hands – he says. The event is captured in dark blue images with bright blue lines, traces of these flashes.
– Line like a trail of thought – shouts the painter, hiding behind the counter, behind which he returns with a briefcase full of drawings. He tosses them on the heavy oak table on which he keeps albums and notes. I look at bizarre creatures, women whose breasts spew long lines in endless spirals. Meanwhile, Dobkowski takes a pencil, looks into the distance and starts drawing. The hand slides across the page as if guided by an unknown force. The stylus doesn’t even let go of the page for a moment, and the line creates a pattern like lips, like hearts, or maybe that’s exactly what it seems to me. – Please, it’s a souvenir – says Dobkowski.
We’re going down. Coffee and strawberries are waiting for us in the downstairs apartment. I talk to the painter’s wife, who calls herself “first viewer”. He is a physicist by training, he tells me how he sees her husband’s art. A line is a collection of points, points are pure abstraction. Physics and art are very close here. The artist and his muse have been talking about such art for 54 years. Because – as Dobkowski himself says – the most important thing in painting is simply life.
Jan Dobkowski’s exhibition “Journey to the Universe” can be seen at the Desa Unicum gallery in Warsaw from August 2 to August 24