They rebelled against abstraction

Exhibition of works by Jan Dobkowski at the Desa Unicum Gallery. Photo: Marcin Koniak/Desa Unicum

I remember the time when Max, the second child, was to be born. Jan did not want to know what the newborn’s gender would be. He accepted both. It was then that he painted a series of abstract, almost op-art-like canvases entitled Albo-albo [Either-Or]. Wavy, red-green stripes, creating the illusion of movement. And in the center, something that looked like a sprout, curl or flame. The embryo of something that had not yet become a person but was already a seed of life.

There are artists for whom an excessive need to create, a kind of over-creativity, becomes… an obstacle. An obstacle in obtaining high prices on the art market. This is the case for Jan Dobkowski. However, this was not a problem for him personally – that is, he was not interested in what did or didn’t work marketing-wise. He is an artist by birth, not by art dealers.

He turned eighty this June. It’s nothing for him – he does not notice the passage of time. “If we believe in the soul, there is no passing away. Only matter changes. I ponder life and death. But I really think that I am immortal ”– Jan Dobkowski confessed this more than a decade ago.

He never ceases to be surprised by the world. He considers life a miracle, including his own earthly existence. Over 30 years ago, he painted his largest format painting (nearly 4 meters high and six meters wide) …a życie sobie płynie… [...and life goes by...]. So what if the years fly by? Since the line of life is so fascinating that it cannot be drawn?

Because Jan can describe everything with a line. He is a special case of a painter for whom drawing is the foundation, like for those Renaissance masters who considered disegno [drawing] to be the basis of all things invented by man.

Line of the Rebel

The end of the 1960s. In the Modern Gallery in Warsaw, at the back of the Grand Theatre, which was then run by Janusz Bogucki, you could see something different than in the official showrooms. One of the first shows there was called “Secesja –secesja?” [Art Nouveau – Art Nouveau?]

The exhibition gave a voice to young artists who opposed the already fossilized but ubiquitous abstraction known as Informalism. For these rebels, the future was a new figuration.

Classifying them under Art Nouveau was not accurate. The only thing they had in common with Art Nouveau was a penchant for a flexible, organic line. They were Polish pioneers of the direction called Pop Art, by which our compatriots were looking for their own solutions.

Besides, the realities of Communist Poland were much different in comparison to the situation in capitalist countries. Despite this, even in Poland, young people felt the winds of a generational revolution. They grew their hair out, dressed in colorful clothes, and put on handmade jewelry.

Among them were two known as Neo-neo-neo. Triple repetitions, somewhat of a joke. Dobson and Jurry, Jan Dobkowski and Jerzy Ryszard Zieliński. Two students and then graduates of Jan Cybis, the authority of the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts at the time. They had similar concepts of art. Both focused on drawing and the synthetic treatment of the form of the human body. The color was laid flat and plain. Contrary to the coloristic tradition, they did not blur the contours and they did not mix paints on the palette. On the contrary, their shapes were as sharp as a razor blade.

  It seemed as if they cut out silhouettes from colored aple [single-color planes]. Except that they did not have access to expensive Western materials. They were looking for alternatives. They mixed oil paints with poster paints to make the shades more luminous. Not only did they paint, sometimes they also cut out shapes from low quality, though commercially available, flax board.

In the Neo-neo-neo duo, Zieliński had a greater sensitivity to politics, while Dobkowski did not allude to the realities of the time. His interests were in line with his age.

During the opening of the aforementioned Art Nouveau – Art Nouveau? exhibition, he was captivated by a certain young physics teacher named Maria. And here, Dobson’s art soared into the cosmos of sex. Skeletal figures grew into bodies.

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By Monika Małkowska

Translated by Nicholas Siekierski