June 20, 2022

Closed System

Jagienka Parteka

Although Dobkowski's artistic career was marked primarily by his red and green compositions, the work presented here also has an extraordinary collector's value. "Closed System" was created as part of the Erotikon series. The collection includes only a dozen works, which testify to its extraordinary rareness and uniqueness. The work was covered with black paint and adorned with a thin red line, which, writhing on the edges of the composition, brings to mind illuminated manuscripts. The deep red brushstrokes shape the figures, which in a way eponymously "close the composition," creating an interesting link between the subject matter and the form. 

Fragment of Jan Dobkowski's exhibition at the Piotr Nowicki Gallery, Warsaw, 1980s

The writhing, rich ornaments encrypt or even conceal the characters and the main thread of the painting-a stolen kiss. Typical of Dobkowski, twisted figures, decorative contours, and ornamental elements inspired by the history of art contribute to the artist's original style. The lack of clearly identifiable male or female features in the characters is another intriguing aspect. Although the depiction is very detailed, the bodies are juxtaposed in such an unconventional way that they appear quite ambiguous, or, on the contrary, intentionally neutral. Such a solution may imply that Dobkowski addresses the issue of coexistence and sexual freedom. The creator neglects physical boundaries, which allows him to blur the social norms dominating the real world. 

The work was created in 1980 and exhibited in the PN Gallery of Piotr Nowicki, the National Museum in Gdańsk, and the Museum of Decorative, Applied and Folk Arts in Moscow as part of the Erotikon series. The exhibition was created in cooperation with the Polish Art Foundation and the Adam Mickiewicz Institute. The exhibition "Behind the Iron Curtain-Polish and Russian Art under Socialism" presented more than one hundred and twenty works by Polish and Russian artists, including the painting "Closed System" by Dobkowski. The collection featured works both by artists officially recognized by the communist authorities as well as independent creators, such as Jerzy Nowosielski, Tadeusz Kantor, Jonasz Stern, Erna Rosenstein, Katarzyna Kobro, or Władysław Strzemiński. 

“Behind the Iron Curtain. Official and Independent Art in the Soviet Union and Poland 1945-1989 ”, National Museum, Gdańsk

Dobkowski fell in love with art for the first time in high school, when he was tutored by Włodzimierz Tiunin. It was Tiunin who instilled this lifelong passion in Dobkowski. The artist studied at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts under Juliusz Studnicki's guidance from 1962 to 1968, after which he was transferred to Jan Cybis' studio. As a student, the painter gradually reduced color while concentrating on the unification of the subject matter. During his university years, the artist's depictions were somewhere between abstraction and figuration; however, a lack of affiliation to any artistic current played a role neither for the creator nor his audience. People drew attention to the striking fluidity of his forms and the constrained color palette. He found a common artistic language with Jerzy Zieliński, which resulted in the creator's first exhibition, titled "Neo-Neo-Neo," at the Klub Medyka. Dobkowski made his solo art debut at the A Gallery in Gniezno.

“Behind the Iron Curtain. Official and Independent Art in the Soviet Union and Poland 1945-1989 ", Museum of the History of Yugoslavia, Belgrade

In the late 1960s, Dobkowski created his most famous series of red-green compositions. Intriguingly, when creating his works, the artist referred to, or even focused on, the late 1960s revolution, when the voices and postulates of hippies resounded louder and louder. The protesters stood in opposition to the expansion of capitalism, the commercialization of civilization, and advocated a return to nature.

Jan Dobkowski, "Closed system", 1980

In this ferocious avant-garde atmosphere, Dobkowski developed his ideas based on the fluidity of forms and their theoretical connotations. This tendency has been apparent in the artist's work, and his distinctive use of lines and colors has come to define his style. From an early age, Dobkowski painted his lines casually. While adhering to this style, he developed an interest in intense color combinations and limiting the depictions to essential forms without the use of pointless, clogging details. In the words of the artist: 

"It's difficult to analyze; I think I just naturally knew how to do it. I removed colors from the paintings and reached the plane, the contours of the shapes, and the daubs of the silhouettes. I desired to escape from this painterly magma. I condensed and constructed the image using colors as if it were a house. A portion of the shadow was one color, while the portion of the light was another. " - 

Jan Dobkowski in an interview with Marianna Dobkowska, [ed.] Marika Kuźmicz, "Jan Dobkowski", Warsaw 2021, p. 68