By Katarzyna Rzehak
Pure and elaborately arranged still lives by Tomek Karabowicz evoke associations with the 17th-century Dutch painting, at first glance. This is particularly true about those recent ones, with glass vessels, harmony, and absolute unity of all elements, bringing to mind the Breakfast scenes by Willem Claesz Heda. In both cases, a transparent atmosphere makes the world of perfectly portrayed objects isolated. Its inner dramaturgy is built by luminous reflexes on flat surfaces, multiplied in their reflections.
But this is too easy and too obvious a comparison. For, even given some formal resemblance, there is something about the Dutch paintings which Karabowicz’s lack. The former masters’ still lives testify to a rapture of wealth and abundance. Somewhat nouveau-riche declarations of faith in eternal lasting of matter, ensuing from a willingness to keep and preserve on canvas the objects being symbols of affluence, of material and aesthetic satisfaction. With Karabowicz, we do not find but a trace of the Dutch abundance, of that protestant conviction that worldly possessions are the well-earned award. Instead, we meet asceticism and fear of fragility of the world, perishability of things. The Dutch painters painted precious cups, works of jeweller’s art, Chinese porcelain, frutti di mare fished out of the depths. Karabowicz selects ordinary objects, perhaps even poor ones: glass bowls, tin spoons, screwdrivers, field flowers. Earthbound in themselves – in his paintings, they gain brightness, become lighter, unnaturally fragile. As if the artist wanted to mark them with his own fear of loss. He paints them dryly, synthetically, with surgical precision.
Some see dryness and calculation in this manner. As to myself, zeal and tenderness can be seen – all the more as glass gets thinner and thinner, and the being more and more perishable. Sometimes the artist would place a small skull of some rodent between the object being portrayed. This skull is an important trail. It is a favourite motif of Spanish painters, those other masters of still life. A vanitas-related symbol whose job is to remind the viewer that anything, including things painted, comes to its end sometime. A detail calling into question the sense of chasing earthly goods. Suicidal, indeed, to the artist, for it undermines his effort of preserving such a fleeting thing as an image or a beauty. Karabowicz understands this paradox and sees his place as an artist modelled rather after Juan de Valdes Leal or Sanchez Cotan. His still lives appear thus rather mystical than sensible, more of looking for the ultimate truth – as is the case with the Spanish artists – rather than sure of themselves and satisfied like those by Dutch masters.