Jerry Kowalsky is a Dutch artist now based in Berlin. His upcoming exhibition We Are Born opens at Vriend van Bavink Gallery in Amsterdam on the 25th of September.
BM – The show title ‘We Are Born’ is fairly cryptic. At first it seems like a sentence that is cut off mid-way through, like there should be more to it. Then it appears as if it is a past tense statement. Why did you decide on such an ambiguous title, and what does it mean to you?
JK – I came up with the tittle after a conversation with a friend of mine about racism and inequality. We were discussing the question ”Is man born evil or not?” My friend said something like: ”We are born, what comes next is depends on the people around us, living circumstances, education and upbringing”.
So yes, indeed it is a sentence cut off mid-way. These three words could be the beginning to many sentences. In fact, to me they are the perfect beginning to a sentence. The beginning to a story. We are born, we develop, and soon we are responsible for our decisions.
BM – Why did you choose the two disparate themes of children and politicians?
JK –In my work perception plays an important role. How do we see others and how do we judge them? What do we fear and where is it based? The drawings and paintings show images of children with hoods, orange prisoner uniforms and masks; symbols that are related to what we call threats. How do we perceive these two contrasts? Next to that there is also a series of portraits of children that became famous or feared politicians. By doing these things I am questioning our perception. Do we see these children with different eyes because of what they became, or do we prejudge others because of our knowledge? I want to question our perception and show a different side to someone’s story.
BM – Innocence, and specifically loss of innocence seems to be an important influence in the work, why does this interest you?
JK – To me the loss of innocence is like losing a certain freedom. The freedom of fear, prejudice, and hesitation. Innocence and naivety result in an open, unspoiled mind. Later we feel the need to protect ourselves against disappointments, danger and cheats, and we stop being childish and grow up. It is a fascinating phenomenon, like an empty canvas evolving to a painting.
BM – Your portraits are somewhat aesthetically reminiscent of Marlene Dumas’s work, is she an influence?
JK – She has for sure been an influence on my work, I can’t deny it. I also count Thomas Schutte and Francisco de Goya as sources of inspiration. The first painting of Marlene Dumas’s I saw really impressed me. It was ”First People”, which consists of four life-sized portraits of babies. The painting is so large that you have to look up to the babies as if they are giants. There is a certain unpleasantness in her work, which is beautiful on one hand and frightening on the other. I like these double layers and also try to implement them in my work. It’s like a primal feeling of being aware.
BM – In painting single paintings with faces as seen from many angles, are you suggesting that these people have many personalities?
JK – Yes and no. Painting a face from multiple angles is one of my techniques to alienate and estrange the faces. I also like to smudge and distort them, add some disturbing features, or play with unexpected color combinations. Those paintings are therefor not really portraits; they are my personal interpretation of someone. A gut feeling. Sometimes I can’t even describe it in words. In my work ‘Incident at the flower shop’ I painted 140 of my Facebook friends; by distorting their features I wanted to contrast todays culture of perfect profile pictures. I felt that those Facebook profiles are only masks somehow, showing our perfect friends, our perfect holidays, and our perfect life.
BM – Your artworks are both beautiful and sinister, why have you decided that this is important?
JK – Yes, I see beauty in the dark. I draw inspiration from the evil; even from death and nightmares. I feel attracted by it, fascinated, it makes me curious, makes me want to explore. My work is a little bit like the house in the story of Hansel and Gretel; all candy and sweets on the outside but inside there is something dark.
Vriend van Bavink
1012KD Amsterdam, Netherlands
Interview by Benjamin Murphy
Photographs provided by the Artist