GALLERYSMITH Catalogue Essay

by Harry Sanderson, CAMBRIDGE
LOVE IS BACK, March 2022

Sylvia Plath wrote in her journal: ‘someone, somewhere, can you understand me a little, love me a little?’ Setting such a minimum standard for affection might be taken as desperate, though I think it’s possible Plath also understood that affection can only ever come as a consolation. After the rhapsodic romances of high modernism had been extinguished, she recognised modern love as refracted through its own mythology, only ever existing as a copy of itself.

In LOVE IS BACK Waldemar Kolbusz faces these same concerns. This exhibition presents in a climate of emotional maximalism, in which romance and joy are oversaturated and oversold to the extent that whatever original sensations might have existed, are now replaced. Relationships are mined for their honeymoon periods, then thrown away. The sensation of enjoyment begins to feel more of an appeal: I am in love. If you have ever had relatively meaningless sex with someone you appeared to be obsessed with only recently, you should recognise the husk of attachment I’m talking about. The exhibition isolates these tensions, considering which impressions might be truly our own.

Kolbusz has exhibited regularly both nationally and internationally over the last two decades, recently returning more to figurative work. In earlier shows he spoke in a language of pure abstraction, his canvasses a series of post-expressionist abracadabras in the tradition of Helen Frankenthaler and Franz Kline, marked by a palette which communicated a pervasive set of moods. That style is represented here in new works such as About and A Million, but the show also places a more direct emphasis on figuration. Positioned alongside one another, the relationship between the figurative and the abstract is starkly identifiable, as if they are all simply forms on a spectrum of feeling.

I am suspicious of abstract painters because they recognise the flaws of perception and can articulate where we are going wrong. In this show, Kolbusz’s abstract planes are translated into more approachable phenomena: scraggly trees, brushy patches of water, playful strokes forming bushes, and skies which sit as washes of white or grey- blue. When objects come to the fore, the connection to the brush is less easy to see: Kolbusz is careful, gentle, in severing the concrete expanse of a pool, or outlining the identical plastic benches which sit alongside it. In works such as Momentarily and Happen things are bright and energetic, but also stripped back. The scenes are strangely inviting, communicating a mood better felt than articulated. We identify something we should want, but the artist asks us to question whether those desires are simply scripted and rehearsed.

In After, a person floats in a hotel pool staring up at an expanse of sky, between these two states, their form an ambiguous spotting of pigments. The Artist? His legs disappear into the water, as if speaking to the absence. Above him all the lights are on, but it is daytime. I imagine it could be any of us suspended there, thinking ‘someone, somewhere, can you understand me a little, love me a little?’