Tomasz Kowalski, winner of
the 2014 Drawing Prize

Daniel & Florence Guerlain Contemporary Art Foundation, Paris / France

March 28, 2014

Tomasz Kowalski, winner of
the 2014 Drawing Prize

Daniel & Florence Guerlain
Contemporary Art Foundation
5, rue de la Vallée
78490 Les Mesnuls. France

The Contemporary Drawing Prize of the Daniel & Florence Guerlain Art Foundation was awarded on the 27th of March 2014 to Tomasz Kowalski. Tomasz Kowalski was born in Szczebrzeszyn (Poland) in 1984. He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow, where he still lives and works. His first exhibitions were held in 2007 and he has already had a solo show at the Centre for Contemporary Art, Warsaw. His works can be seen in the collections of the Centre Pompidou, Paris, the FRAC Pays-de-la Loire (France), the Mumok, in Vienna, and the MOCAK in Krakow. He is represented by carlier ׀ gebauer in Berlin and Tim Van Laere Gallery in Antwerp. In 2014, Tomasz Kowalski will have his own show in the United States at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis.

The international jury was composed of Stanislas d’Alburquerque (France), Monica d’Amato (Italie), Luiz Mussnich (Brésil), Sydney Picasso (France), Jean-Edouard Van Praet (Belgique), Marc Robelin (France), Christine Zhao (Chine) and Daniel and Florence Guerlain.

The Contemporary Drawing Prize is reserved for artists, French or foreign, living in France or not, but having a strong cultural connection to France (through institutional exhibitions, studies, etc…) and for whom drawing is a significant part of their work, whatever their main mode of expression might be.

Awarded for the first time in 2007 and biennial until 2009, the prize rewards artists who make any unique work on paper and cardboard using graphic means: crayon, charcoal, red chalk, ink, wash tint, gouache, watercolour, pastel and felt tip…including collages and wall drawings but excluding any computer-driven or mechanical processes.

The award ceremony took place in Paris at the Salon du Dessin at the Palais de la Bourse. The winner received an endowment of 15,000 Euros and the two other selected artists, Martin Assig and Matt Bryans, received 5,000 Euros each. A work by the winner is offered by the Foundation to the Graphic Arts collection of the French National Museum of Modern Art – Centre Pompidou.

The candidates are selected by a committee composed of the two founders, Daniel and Florence Guerlain, and four members chosen for their competence and interest in contemporary art. After the work of meeting the artists, visits to the studios and analysis, the committee selects three artists whose work is presented to an international jury that changes every year.

Tomasz Kowalski, winner for 2014
Without actually toying with them, Tomasz Kowalski enjoys telling spectators stories until they almost lose their bearings. In his technique and the way he sets the scene for his characters or evokes art history, he flouts time and space. When questioned about his numerous references to early 20th-century artistic trends, Kowalski readily admits that he makes the present “more aesthetic.” In Poland, critics have grouped him together with a generation of artists called the “New Surrealists,” while glimpses of George Grosz and Otto Dix, members of the New Objectivity movement, or of Hieronymus Bosch and Bruegel, can also be seen in his work. Born into a family of artists, Tomasz Kowalski spent his childhood playing in his father’s studio and looking at books on art history. If the act of drawing is atavistic, his tutelary figures are openly adopted: “What’s important is that it brings back memories and recollections I have of works, for I enjoy making connections between different periods in art history and my own characters.” The latter are often drawn undiluted ink, which confers a certain instability upon them. When the shades are deliberately washed out, the scenes—also executed in gouache, paint, spray paint or collage—seem to overcome the rules of weightlessness and logic. “It’s important for me to show a certain timelessness and for my drawings to evoke the past, without people being able to date them exactly. It’s like a ghost of history, for which I will give no precise source.” For this artist who loves novels and films, the dream world is never very far away, as he places his protagonists in iconic situations that are part of the collective unconscious. “My pictures are very simple and may take place in a hospital or a bathroom, so as to be recognizable and legible.” A linear interpretation would, however, be too easy, and Kowalski likes to add incongruous secondary elements. “The drawing ultimately turns into an unknown world, in which objects and protagonists come together and tell their own stories.” That the young artist cites the Polish theatre director and performer Tadeusz Kantor or French philosopher Jacques Derrida’s work on deconstruction comes as no surprise.

The Drawing Prize is sponsored by: “Le Cercle des Amis,” Neuflize OBC, Guerlain, Artcurial, Axa Art, Loticis, Le chêne vert, the Salon du dessin, the Beaux-Arts school of Paris, Voisin Consulting Life Sciences, Château Seguin, Champagne Bruno Paillard.

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