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Accounting for an Abstract Artist

by Rita Clarke

HOMES AND LIVING, Yearbook 2000

It looks like Waldemar Kolbusz, 31, will be one of our famous painters. It’s not just his talent. He’s thought seriously about it – thrown in a moneyed job – and invested emotional capital.

His sixth solo exhibition this year held at Warren de Maria Gallery, Sydney, sold out on opening – his seventh, in Pearlers Row Gallery, Broome from 2-11 June, should do the same.

It could be that his paintings have hit a millennium niche. Apparently young IT millionaires are buying abstract art – and he’s sold recently from the net to a collector in New York. But no, Waldemar’s endlessly rich work is destined to strike a chord anywhere, any time. His big canvases appear three dimensional, suffused with blocks of hypnotic, vibrant colour so exciting they seem on the verge of exploding.

A Polish bi-lingual Mt Lawley boy, Waldemar was fascinated by the things his father bought home including an ornate samovar, antique sewing machine and paintings. “I spent ages trying to copy the paintings and if finally anything resembled anything in the pictures I’d feel so good.”

Waldemar was the first of his family born in Australia. “I felt different and didn’t enjoy it much but in hindsight, wouldn’t change a thing. It was such a colourful upbringing – the food, traditions, relatives and friends. I felt secure but wished my parents could be more Australian.”

In 1994, he visited his family’s small village during a European holiday and, although connecting with relatives, realised just how un-Polish and how Australian he felt.

On return it seemed bizarre to continue accounting work on St George’s Terrace but, for security reasons, he continued with post-graduate qualifications.

Wait a minute – accountancy? What happened to that artistic little boy? Well, after TEE Art, and selling his first piece to the teachers for their common room for $150, Waldemar enrolled at UWA in Music, Fine Arts, Philosophy and Psychology. ” It was so disappointing. I loved philosophy more than fine arts and that confused me. I passionately hated doing arts there. I think at 17 it was just too much – you need to be able to have lived a bit to be able to interpret any sort of teaching within your mind.” With friends doing accountancy, he joined them.

After a couple of years spent half-time at his job, and half-time painting, he decided in 1996 to sell his house, use all of the funds, travel, and then come back and start afresh as an artist. “I knew I would have no money left at all, which sort of scared me but sort of made sure that the complete commitment was there.”

In Japan he saw a big exhibition of the New York School of artists. “It was the first time I had seen the huge Motherwells and Rothkos and Jackson Pollocks. It completely changed something in me. I remember being amazed at how emotional they made me feel. I spent all day just staring at them.”

Visiting England, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Spain and Portugal, he ended up, before returning via the USA, in an artist’s studio in a small French village. “It sounds so romantic, but I was very stressed and isolated. I didn’t speak French and felt forlorn. But it’s something artists should do – you need those bad times to fuel up that enthusiasm to make changes I guess.”

Although completely baffled by the American abstract art he saw, he knew that was what he wanted to do. “I promised myself I would go home and try to figure out how in abstract art you can do something that can turn a person on with just colour and space. It made me much more excited about painting again. I thought if I can get anywhere close to doing something interesting, that would be fantastic.”

Well, ready for Broome, and stemming from his solitude drive in the Nevada and Arizona deserts, his walls are alive with mesmeric, colour drenched, abstract paintings. More hang in hotels, restaurants, businesses, homes, and – usually for a short time only – in galleries such as Code Red Art, Claremont, and Gunyuglup Galleries, Yallingup.

They’re more than interesting. He is more than close.