We bid farewell to Sławomir Karpowicz (1952-2001)

Obituary by Stanisław Tabisz, Dziennik Polski 8 Nov. 2001

The deceased are commemorated on the first day of November, and bustling cemeteries are adorned with colourful flowers and flickering candles brought as tokens of remembrance by their friends and families. Sławomir Karpowicz, who was an excellent painter and Professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow, died before his time on 4 November 2001, defeated by a disease for which medicine has not found a cure. One hoped that by some miracle or feat of strong will the painter would overcome his illness, but that was not to be.

He was a painter in the traditional sense of the term, one with a well-developed intuition and a feeling for the metaphysical. He usually made large canvas paintings with sweeping strokes of the brush, a dynamic expression of contrast and a profound insight into chiaroscuro on objects. His paintings had advanced and mysterious shadow zones and sharpness of light streaks. They amazed the viewer with their richness of content and the naturalness with which it was achieved. The artist’s favourite and frequent motifs included still lives with fish, cones, metal trumpets and jugs; portraits and self-portraits; landscapes and almost allegorical scenes with masks, stairs and curtains. His imagination and creativity tended to move in closed spaces in the domain of darkness and night; therein we see unusual and dramatic interplay of light zones piercing impenetrable swaths of the dark. This creates a nocturnal mood in his works and a feeling of growing terror, like a premonition of the impending apocalypse.

In 1995 Sławek asked me to write a catalogue introduction for an exhibition which was to be held at Dominik Rostworowski’s gallery. I visited him in his studio. Watching paintings, we talked for a long time. He said, ‘These paintings are as grim as death, but apparently now that’s what they are meant to be like’. The exhibition consisted mostly of the Night Song series of paintings. If I remember correctly, the artist titled the exhibition The Shadow Line. Indeed, watching the paintings, I had the impression that they were possessed by some dark spirit of eschatological obsession. In both self-portraits and landscapes with slender thuya trees depicting the artist’s hometown of Szczebrzeszyn, sharp black shadows slashed the space, creating dramatic shreds of figures, at times arranged as convergent roads, tunnels or what seemed to be mine ceilings with supporting beams. I thought then that most of the reality painted, though clearly recognisable in flashes of light, is nonetheless hidden in the dark or in a deep, unpenetrated shadow which indicates something unknown and incomprehensible, a place where destructive forces lurk and fear arises together with awareness of the ultimate end. Sławek said thus, ‘My journeys into the dark are risky and emotional anticipation of an unexpected adventure, they are supine drifting in the dark of the subconscious. The unstoppable willingness to touch the image of the unknown world is a sudden and avaricious effort to apprehend something that initially exists without form or content.’

One of the greatest painters in Krakow has passed away. He left too soon, which exacerbates the grief. He could have created even more, he could cave taught more art students to improve their technique and be open to the secret inside the phenomena of nature and in the light and shadow, which he praised in his works like an apologist.

Stanisław Tabisz

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