Damon Kowarsky: En France

Above: Damon Kowarsky, Mont Saint-Michel, 2017, etching and aquatint from two copper plates, 29 x 25 cm. Right: Damon Kowarsky, Montigny-le-Bretonneux, 2017, etching and aquatint from two copper plates, 21 x 31 cm. Below: Damon Kowarsky, a sketch of the Port of Dinan. Bottom: Damon Kowarsky, Rooftops, Mont Saint-Michel, 2017, etching and aquatint from two copper plates, 25 x 22 cm.


Nicolas Rivet talks with Damon Kowarsky about work springing from some time spent in a paradise.

Melbourne-based artist Damon Kowarsky leads an extensively peripatetic life, but when considering spending a summer in northwestern France as part of the Alfred and Trafford Klots International Program for Artists in 2016, he came across an image of Léhon—the town in which the residency is based—that was unlike anything he had ever seen before.

‘It was the idyllic picture postcard landscape,’ says Damon. ‘There was a stone bridge over a small village of dinky houses with slate roofs surrounded by a forest… It looked like paradise. How could I not apply?’

The program, founded by Isabel Klots in 1989, was set up to allow a new generation of artists to follow in the footsteps of her father-in-law Alfred and husband Trafford who spent many summers painting together in the French region of Brittany.

Kowarsky, along with his partner Hyun Ju Kim, were accepted into the program where they spent eight weeks in Léhon drawing, painting and refining their craft. En France is a collection of etchings inspired by the material gathered there during this time.

As the village itself is admired for its lavish presence of nature, Kowarsky jumped at the opportunity to explore the interaction between the natural and man-made world—an interest he had started to develop during an earlier visit to Japan.

‘It was a huge change for me,’ says Kowarsky, who up until this point had mostly worked with architecture and cityscapes. ‘A lot of other landscapes like New York, Cairo or Istanbul—they have very little nature. This was different. This was lush, really lush, and there were often more trees than buildings.

‘In fact, in some of my earlier prints, I would leave blank spots where the trees were meant to be because I hadn’t yet worked out a way of drawing vegetation. France cured that.’

While the second half of his time in Léhon was spent in the studio developing work for the exhibit, Kowarsky devoted the first four weeks of the program to planning and research alone. This meant he would wake up as early as 5am some mornings and spend the entirety of the day drawing and painting en plain air. It was during this time that he was able to experiment with elements of his art that were subjectively out of the norm.

‘I became really interested in colour because the colours were so spectacular,’ says Kowarsky. ‘This part of France had the most luscious green you could ever imagine and every shade of it too… Previously, I had worked with a lot of black and white and charcoal but it seemed like such a travesty to do that.’

The entire experience was refreshing for Kowarsky in the sense that it felt especially authentic. Unlike other residencies, as little as 100 applications were received—all of which were included in a semi-blind selection process where the work submitted was mostly assessed without the name of the artists attached. In the end, only eight were invited to participate.

It’s an approach Kowarsky believes should be taken more often. ’It’s not about what your name is or what theoretical crap you can deliver. It’s about whether or not your work is interesting.’

And while he’s already established himself as an artist, Kowarsky says his time spent in Léhon left a significant mark on his work, strengthening his skillset and igniting his love for landscapes—an impact evident in the etchings themselves.

‘I went in there as a drawer of cities and walked out as a painter of landscapes. It was a complete revelation.’

En France is at Sofitel Melbourne on Collins until 29 October.