Chris Dobrowolski is a British artist from Essex whose sculptural practice combines storytelling, object making and performance. His current exhibition at &model gallery consists of work that draws on senses of excitement experienced during childhood in the ’60s and ’70s and wonder sparked by adult travels.
From a young age, Dobrowolski’s practice was shaped and nurtured by his father, a Polish soldier in World War II and skilled carpenter. Chris’ father engaged his interest in construction and shared stories of his travels as a soldier, enlivening the artist’s taste for narrative and adventure. Dobrowolski’s work expresses his intrigue in sculpture, engineering and construction, marrying them with stories of distant travels.
The aesthetics of &model’s building and Dobrowolski’s rustic sculptural creations are harmonious – the two appear completely at ease together, evoking a type of nostalgia relating to the construction of ‘the past’. Much of Dobrowolski’s work takes what may be considered scraps, relics – perhaps even detritus – and re-engineers it into something different.
The artist becomes like a creative child, curiously constructing imagined worlds with toy blocks. A mischievous lack of inhibition is expressed by the artist. When he began studying at art college in Hull, he built a boat from driftwood “to escape from art college in.” When in Antarctica, Chris created a performative piece in which he took a selection of rejection letters and fed them through an electric bar fire, while presenting a television that played “nothing but snow.”
Much of this exhibition celebrates construction and the process of making. The narrative innately held in the process of making is explored carefully. Dobrowolski’s creations fill the whole gallery with mechanical life. Wooden crates open to reveal tiny thumb-sized TV screens playing films; Lego-sized figurines explore self-contained landscapes; a toy helicopter takes flight on air pumped through a camera lens; a rusty box opens to reveal a tiny boat floating on dark, open waters above the ripples of a submerged record player, all the while a miniature vehicle runs along tracks through part of the gallery.
Despite the combination of wood, metal, wires, pumps and circuits, the pieces do not seem jumbled. On the contrary, Dobrowolski’s work seems extremely withheld and tactful at times, providing us with only the gentlest of clues and nudges to the narratives beneath each object. The pieces appear as though recovered artefacts, traces of the artist’s travels, feelings and actions.
These carefully-sculpted works are as much about building narratives as they are about celebrating physical form, scale and engineering. Dobrowolski’s flare for writing, having published several books on his travels and adventures, is evident here. His artworks become complex props to wider narratives. An example of this can be found in Sledge, a sculpture created in 2009 that features in his writings on an expedition to Antarctica. This project was made possible by Chris’ being selected for the British Antarctic Survey‘s Artists and Writers Programme. On a sledge built from large gold picture frames, Dobrowolski travelled across the barren Antarctic, writing and creating several pieces including a toy sledge and snowmobile.
Chris’ work gains a whole new layer of authenticity through staging – the artist melds ordinary objects with aspects of this distant environment and ultimately alters the land and our perception of it. Mundane and everyday objects become aspects of a curious broader narrative – mysterious, searching and whimsical in equal measure. Travelling is a key strand to Chris’ art – each piece meditates on the notion of journeying – be it a physical journey, the visual art of documented journeys or the psychological journey of narratives.
Throughout, the exhibition evokes and spurs the excited feeling of child-like play and of curiosity and wonder experienced during construction and creation.
Situated in the heart of Leeds city centre, &model spans three floors of a C19th building. ‘Chris Dobrowolski’ is the gallery’s second exhibition. Selection of this work highlights &model’s commitment to offering diverse and varied bodies of art in a broad spectrum of creative media.
Chris Dobrowolski’s solo exhibition at &model continues until 13th December 2014.
For further information please visit the gallery’s website: www.andmodel.com