Karolina Jabłońska "Nature Negotiations with Painting"

The words by Piotr C. Kowalski: "I have been painting everywhere, for everybody and on everything, with no inhibitions" have been a declaration of total openness with regard to the limits of painting and its organizing terms. He painted his first pictures, without using paint or a paintbrush in the 80's. This radical gesture exceeded twofold the painting frameworks. First of all, he disregarded the rules on painting tools repeatedly quoted in painting definitions; namely the use of paint and preparation of painting prime. Secondly, this choice let Piotr C. Kowalski found painting on two, seemingly contrasting ideas: the concept and the concrete evidence.

ONE CAN SAY THAT THE OUTPUT BY PIOTR C. KOWALSKI has been dominated by plein-air painting for twenty years. The artist has been painting nature, approaching this as a subject, and as a tool. Thus, the location and surroundings, where the picture is being made, have been extremely important. These function as the artist's atelier for some time - it can be several minutes, at another occasion - several months. The picture becomes a part of nature in the course of this period, subject to all forces of nature. Further, the artists "takes" painting tools from the location. He has given up a paintbrush and synthetic dies for sake of painting by means of nature. The artist has gradually stopped imitating forms observed in nature and deluding the eye. On the contrary, he has applied elements borrowed from nature: fruits, flowers, vegetables, stones, branches. He paints with them, puts them directly on his canvas; by the same token, his pictures have been turned into the place where nature meets painting. Simultaneously, the author enters into a dialogue with numerous concepts and terms used in art.

Realism has been one of the latter. In a sense, the artist has been a realistic painter, since he has found a way for painting to present and - what is more difficult - show processes that occur in nature. The fragments of nature he has used, even though transferred onto the canvas, are subject to exactly the same transformations as in their original environment.

A change of places - from the natural to the artistic - does not disturb these processes which are continued after the picture has been painted. "Tasty pictures", painted with fruits, change their colors with the time passing, exactly as the fruits he has applied. Occasionally, they contain fruit fragments; thus the pieces are quite material and tangible. These are pictures of nature, nevertheless they consist of nature, they are nature. One of the most radical examples is the picture made in the course of several weeks; "Three Pumpkins - A Rotten Picture". The artist has used pumpkins and left them on his canvas till they got rotten. Decay is also a natural process - it requires time in natural environment, it is slow, frequently noticeably only when one puts side by side two images, distant in time, of the same object. Bringing close nature and art in his painting, Piotr C. Kowalski assumes the transformation and decay of his works following the rhythm of nature; slow, hardly perceptible.

A tangible approach to nature has naturally (!) introduced a haphazard element to his work. The way nature - "invited" by the artist onto the canvas reacts ( he often paints nature and lets it leave the trace) - cannot be predicted. "Tasty Pictures in a Circle" were made in 2010. The artist left quite large stretchers under cherry tries for the falling cherries to "paint" cherry pictures during the summer. He has chosen and controlled location, the shape and size of the canvas. The rest has been nature made. There is one more significant element controlled to a certain degree by the artist, i.e., painting time. It is the artist who determines when the canvas should not be a part of the landscape anymore. The processes taking place on the canvas, however, are still on, the nature remains, in a sense, autonomous. It surrenders neither to any rules, nor to any norms (stretcher frames being no exception), besides the laws of nature. When making some of the "Tasty Pictures", Kowalski squeezed fruits in a geometrical order - he arranged compositions of berries, cherries, plums to balance the "naturally" dripping juice, change of fruits color, unique shape of every single squeezed out form.

The mixture of geometry and chance, rules and natural freedom, illustrate well the dialogue between nature and painting. In fact, this is a sort of never ending negotiations, where the rhythm of nature does not surrender to the rhythm of art, while art does not give in to nature. These clashes between nature and art take place on the pictures by Kowalski, while the position of the artist can be defined as involved in a dialogue with nature, based on equal rights.

Piotr C. Kowalski, a painter, has been selfassured enough as an artist, and aware of the essence of painting, that he has not been afraid to lose control over his canvases in the course of the painting process.

At one occasion he carefully chooses location, with focus on such elements as light, selects the size and shape of his canvas, prepares the surface; at another time, the surface is picked up at random since the artist uses what he finds in his immediate surroundings. Next, he frequently lets nature perform on the canvas (though it is not always canvas) he has prepared. Thus, he loses control on the composition, as well as on the final result, but achieves a true picture of nature - its self portrait, so to speak. "Frosty Pictures", made with Joanna Janiak, are exposed to freezing temperatures. Frost leaves its marks on the picture surface. These resemble flowers similar to the ones visible on window panes during heavy winters. "Passable Pictures" and "Drivable Pictures" are being made in busy urban locations, usually being city landscapes, or agglomeration landscapes. Passers-by "are painting" urban landscapes when they are crossing, leaving their footstep marks, bringing in the city dust onto the canvases spread and then left by Piotr C. Kowalski in the public space. In this case, the artist does not engage nature to make the picture; its part being taken over by other people. The way of picture making has been subordinated to the rhythm and pace of the location. Participation of passers-by and inhabitants has been well justified - they are elements of the city landscape, its integral part. Occasionally, Kowalski allows others to make pictures of this series. In this case, it is not him who spreads the canvas in the street, nevertheless, he remains the author. What is interesting, there is no difference between pictures made by others and pictures by Piotr C. Kowalski.

Use of nature as the painting material and literal presence of leaves, fruits, vegetables, flowers and other natural elements make the pictures undergo a constant process. In spite of the fact that they have been completed by the painter, they are still subjected to minor changes - fruits change their color, leaves get more and more dry. All applied elements, borrowed from the location the picture was made in, are prone to the same processes as though they were in their natural environment. Yet another time one can mention the autonomy preserved by nature invited by Kowalski to his painting.

Crossing the borders of traditionally defined painting, the artist lets nature enter the territory of painting. He even lets nature paint. It seems that expanding painting with elements which originate in the areas other than art, exceeding stretcher frames, entrance into space; all these are one of more interesting paths for the contemporary painting. The concept of enlarging painting with nature, and simultaneous, literal introduction of nature into the picture have been particularly radical and daring. And well-aimed. The pictures by Piotr C. Kowalski, painted without a paintbrush (though frequently showing a quite sophisticated palette), by modest means, offer both, the power of art and the power of nature.

Relations with nature have been one of the motives of the output by the artist. With a similar bravado he has crossed the border of explicitly signed authorship, as he related to the invited artists, so as one has been faced with art of dispersed authorship, preserving every time individual features of each artist.