TO BE IS TO NAME
Józef Chełmowski was already a renowned and recognized sculptor when I saw - and I mean really saw - his sculpture. It was due to my negligence that this happened so late. Obviously, I wanted to have this sculpture for myself, this and many others, realising that it is not possible to possess them all, even if they were as wonderful as the "Juliusz Słowacki" I saw in Chojnice.
This sculpture is exceptional as it does not only encompass a polychrome exterior and a purely artistic representation, but there is also a certain mystery surrounding the author. Some of the sculptures bear text inscriptions created by Chełmowski, clarifying or emphasizing the ideas that led him to create this or another figure, and only this is enough, when the text is a quote, to make us realize how contemporary the dialogue within the culture is between the past and the present. The latter may be, but does not need to be, an insignificant moment. Traceless transcendence.
Sometimes the inscription is right upfront, on a type of pedestal, and sometimes it is more hidden, only exposed to the viewer at the time of the opening of the figure. The first method of inscription can be seen in the sculpture of Wernyhora, and the more hidden ones can be observed in the sculptures of Juliusz Słowacki or Adam Mickiewicz. The statements are always significant, even symbolic. They also put emphasis on the proclamation that each creative act, and thus the creation of these sculptures as well, is a certain phenomenon naming and denouncing issues that are often difficult to express and name in discourse, but which should and could be named within the language of art.
Not all of Chełmowski's sculptures have been preserved in Jaglie near Brusy, where the artist's workshops are located: seven demanding hectares of land and a small studio near the house, where his sculptures were created. There are more sculptures in museums and private collections. In various museums we can also find his paintings on glass or instruments he devised by simply following his musical imagination.
Joseph Chełmowski is inventive and impatient in his explorations. Open to the world with a kind of trusting confidence, he does not only want to understand people and things, he wants to name them. This must be why he is one of the few folk artists who keep away from the world of traditional representations exploiting the daily activities of the bucolic world, even if this truth in everyday life was to be overwhelming and painful. By selection of "heroes" in sculptures, or the reality depicted on an amazing canvas entitled "A vision of the end of the world" the works of Chełmowski do happen to be simply visionary. Reaching back to biography, literature - and some of its greatest works, such as the Bible, he does not avoid tough words and the facts of everyday reality, concealing their real meaning.
Perhaps, it is the reason why Chełmowski often chooses, perhaps even willingly, renowned characters from literature, politics, and on a broader scale, within the humanistic cultural tradition to serve as models for his sculptures. Not just anybody then, not just any politician, creator or public persona can become the model for the vision of man represented by the artist. These are Wernyhora and Mickiewicz, as well as Goethe and Nobel, also Father Maximilian Maria Kolbe and Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Chełmowski also sculpted numerous representations of Mother Mary, and the Polish saints as well as the others, traditionally immersed in the landscape of the Kashubian countryside. The artist from Jaglie is also the creator of several roadside shrines, including one of extreme beauty - welcoming guests to the home of the host and artist at the same time.
The creativity of Chełmowski, raised on tradition, is at the same time deeply individual in its expression. He has the courage not only to follow the finest traditions of autonomous art, but to exceed its seemingly canonical limitations. It is not only depicted in terms of content representation, it is also visible in the arrangement of the form. The traditional manner of flat glass painting is enriched by Chełmowski with an additional background, which produces excellent results in his own work This manner of painting on glass endows the type of art with spatiality. His own invention is to create opened figures; the artist assured me, and I have no reason to doubt this, that he never knew the traditions of "shrine Madonnas", which come closest to his idea. The polychrome, which with the first look is certainly recognised to be Chełmowski's polychrome, even without his signature, but with his outstanding consensus of colours, is a gift with richness impossible to reproduce. And this expanse of allusions, where reality is perfectly matched with allegory, representation with imagination, the word with the message.
A great supporter and proponent of Chełmowski's art as well as an expert in folk art, Wanda Szkulmowska, rightly recalls in the catalogue of the artist's sculpture exhibition, the words – the messages are always present in his work. "Take care of great thoughts, but do not let the lesser be lost" - this truth represents an inherent part of Chełmowski's works.
The readers of "Pomerania" are already familiar with the person of Józef Chełmowski, as he was the winner of the honorary distinction "Skra Ormuzdowa" awarded by the editors. To understand the artist completely by his works, one must see his sculptures: not only those exhibited in the museums of Toruń, Oliwa, Warsaw or Krakow, but also the shrines - located at the roadside or on the roads to Kashubia, such as Przyserno Mother Mary (the Kind-hearted) in Swornegacie or Mother Mary with St. Maximilian Kolbe in Ostrowitem. One must also see his paintings created on glass, as well as the Way of the Cross in the church in Kalisz near Kościerzyna.
It would also be good just to talk to Jozef, to become even more convinced that there is so much more in the world around us to be named and recognised. There is not, after all, any other way to go through this world and life. This is what his sculptures as well as his entire works say about the artist, who immersed himself in work, talent, restlessness of imagination and a moral representation of a separate, but also significant place among outstanding folk artists.