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Saturation Points

by Leigh-Ann Pow

VOGUE July 2000

Fuelled by a long time fascination with painting and colour, Waldemar Kolbusz swapped his ballpoints for paintbrushes – a brilliant move that has won him plaudits. Accounting and art make strange bedfellows, but for bean-counter-turned-artist Waldemar Kolbusz, the two are not mutually exclusive.

Since trading his calculator for canvas in 1996, Kolbusz has become a critically acclaimed young artist with an innate sense of colour and space. “I am an expressive painter primarily concerned with employing challenging combinations of colour and shape,” Kolbusz explains. “My preoccupation is to paint works which generate an original awareness of colour, an element which saturates our existence.”

The son of Polish immigrant parents, he began experimenting with art as a boy, imitating the landscapes which hung on the walls of the Perth suburban home. After high school he enrolled in arts at university, but became disillusioned after a year of theory. He decided to switch to economics. “I thought it was really quite cool,” laughs Kolbusz, now 30. “I guess it was an immature decision, largely based on the fact that most of my friends were doing commerce. If I’d sat down and though about it consciously, I would have done things a lot differently, but I really have no regrets. Accounting has helped me to in terms of being disciplined as an artist, and in a vague way accounting is about is about setting goals and budgets and working towards something, and obviously art is a much more human are to do that in. I learnt a lot from accounting, although I don’t know that I could ever say I was a good accountant.”

Furtive early attempts at landscapes and representational works weren’t satisfying. A road trip through the Nevada and Arizona deserts, however, bought about a new realisation of what Kolbusz’s life – and his art – could be. “The desert was a perfect place to develop a new code about my work [and life] to do with minimising towards the fundamental.”

He abandoned traditional structure in favour of abstract art, and most significantly, colour. Hues and tones clash and collide on Kolbusz’s canvases. Lollipop shades of pink and orange bump up against moody blues and aubergines, jarring, yet simpatico; splashes of murky brown and black draw the eye in myriad different directions.

His aesthetic is bold and unabashed with a brash confidence that belies the number of years he has been in the profession and his gentle modesty. And always, his use and understanding of colour is paramount.

“Often when I paint, I think blue would look really good here, and I try purposely not to use that colour, but, instead, use something that’s completely wrong in one sense, and then sort of backtrack and make the painting still work around that. I think that’s when you get interesting combinations, because the risk that you create pretty things that people will just walk past.”

Kolbusz’s paintings stop people in their tracks, and remaining ignorant of his work is getting even harder. In addition to a slick website displaying his latest works – www.kolbusz.com.au – his creations hang in halls of power all over Perth, and fire up the walls of the ultra-hip Balthazar Bar Restaurant. His work is also featured above the bar of the recently renovated Duxton Hotel in Melbourne. And all the while his prices are rising as rapidly as his reputation.

“The decision to become an artist wasn’t based on the fact that if I gave up accounting I had to be successful,” he says. “I thought , I will never have any money, but this is what I want to do. Basically it was a lifestyle choice…and it just so happens that I have been successful.”