Muzeum Historyczno-Etnograficzne im. Juliana Rydzkowskiego w Chojnicach

Might there be Madonnas that are not Madonnas?

We do not know a different world from the one which exists in communion with Man, and no other art form is needed than the one expressing the said communion: God – Nature – Man

Józef Chełmowski

Introduction or answer to the question: Might there be Madonnas that are not Madonnas?

The title of the exhibition "JÓZEF CHEŁMOWSKI'S MADONNAS" implies the obligation to explain how the artist understands the word Madonna in its relation to the official religious and lexical interpretations. The works of art selected by the author and destined for the exhibition are a convincing piece of evidence proving that he uses criteria which are only partly in accordance with tradition or religious doctrine.

(…) He does not pay attention to the fidelity of the original in detail. To give an example, when painting a well-known and worshipped image of the Mother of God of Częstochowa,  he does not try to copy it. Retaining the basic iconographic features of the original, he changes less important elements (e.g. shape of the crown, colours and robe ornaments, etc.), or introduces his own ideas, especially those regarding decorative aspects. This free attitude towards the iconographic model and the enrichment of its decorative functions, in which stylized flowers play the main role, constitute traditional features of the religious art all over the world. In Poland, however, we come across flowers whose pattern is easily recognisable as typical of the Polish folk aesthetics. Józef Chełmowski applies in an inherent way such aesthetic rules which he has inherited from his cultural background in a natural intergenerational transmission. These rules decide about the elementary features of his aesthetic needs. This innate need of decorating sculptures and religious paintings, which have always performed both religious and decorative functions in the folk culture, proves that the author is a genuine artist.

(…) The most cardinal role in arousing the artist's imagination is attributed to his reading of the Revelation of St. Peter the Divine.

(…) A special example of a folk interpretation of St. Peter's Revelation is an exceptional piece of art of Józef Chełmowski from Brusy in Kashuby. This artist spontaneously decided to paint his own vision of St. Peter's Revelation, so a few years ago he painted a picture of one hundred metres in length. Such a feat had never been done before. It turned out that the mysteriousness and characteristic poetic mood extraordinarily excite one's imagination. The tragedy of the final scenes ending  the earthly existence and being a critical review of each man's life evoke images from above this vale of tears, somewhere from space, somewhere from the universe. The Figures of angels and devils are moving lightly like astronauts in weightless conditions. The Earth and the whole material sphere become senseless. What Man has so much cared about, even ready to rob or kill, becomes worthless, does not serve any needs: there are no longer bodily needs, there is no material life. An artist believing in the victory of the good over the evil has a free hand to express his fantasy.

Absolute independence from conventional canons makes it possible for the artist to create free-style iconographic models, sometimes differing from the patterns accepted by the Church (…). Above all else, I admire Chełmowski for his unhindered freedom of thought and sense of being free which accompany the process of creating content and form of his art pieces. Józef Chełmowski's personality as an artist consists, among others, of three inclinations which I would consider the most important and typical of him, namely homo ludens, creator and faber. He enjoys creating pieces in which he fulfils himself as an artist and artisan.

In the result of his own experiences in the real world and his reflections on the supersensory world, Chełmowski has come to the conclusion that everything on the Earth is relative, changeable and passing, therefore the philosopher's stone of man's motto in life should be honesty towards each other, towards the family and the whole world. In one of the texts (1989) he writes: Indeed, everything in nature is changeable, but beyond the changeability rests eternity. All the art pieces created by Chełmowski after the year 1980 express different features of his religiousness, world view and consciousness built on the moral foundation of social sensitivity and are frequently marked with sincere and profound patriotism. Having observed his artistic path for tens of years I still cannot differentiate between the art pieces created for mercantile reasons and the ones being a simple, genuine expression of the content and form dictated by inspiration, inherent need to demonstrate his thoughts or beliefs, without caring about what people will say. The artist spares no effort to create each of his works of art precisely and solidly, regardless of theme or size. All this increases the immaterial value of his works.

The deliberations on the causative internal and external factors set in Józef Chełmowski's artistic predisposition influencing the form of his religious pieces can be concluded by quoting two of them. The natural one - unintentional observance of traditional principles of folk-type aesthetics; the other one - cognition of the iconography of religious paintings and sculptures from different ages, as well as reflections triggered by his reading of The Old and New Testament.

Józef Chełmowski, the Kashub from Brusy Jaglie, has convinced me that he has the right to create Madonnas that are not Madonnas.

Aleksander Błachowski