The 1960s, wonder years, known as golden years … The decade which, for the last time, displays an apparent stylistic uniformity, ideal harmony and mutual complementation of music, fashion, decorative arts, broadly conceived fine arts, and particularly interior designs, which were such a delight to experts, for instance in the first James Bond films. The decade full of naivete, operating with banal, flashy slogans, now considered laughable, the decade started with a wind of social freedom, the “little black dress” in front of Tiffany’s shop, the light-heartedness which had to give way in view of Kennedy’s assassination, the bloody war in Indochina, and the failed student revolt of the spring of 1968. The years when the television screen finally became present in every house as the source of knowledge about the world, good and bad news as well as entertainment. Meanwhile came the delightful apogee, symbolised among others by swinging London, Beatles’ “Yellow submarine”, and the Monterrey and Woodstock festivals. And finally, the crème de la crème of the era, the colourful, lively signum temporis – the hippies.
Since the time she was a student, Kinga Piwowarczyk has been openly expressing her fascination with pop-culture and mass-media. Let us take a look at a series of paintings entitled “Sygnały” (Signals), which was her diploma work completed at Jan Matejko Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków under the supervision of Professor Adam Wsiołkowski. In his review of the work, Professor Adam Brincken writes:
“Ms Kinga Piekarek [the artist’s maiden name] places herself (and now perhaps us too) in front of a television screen – as if a painting itself, and “orders” us to look at whatever comes. The test screens, beginnings and endings of commercials, weather forecasts, films, celebrities, sport commentaries etc., the list is endless – it is enough to have cable TV, a satellite dish and the remote control. The simultaneity of things happening, the onslaught of information and aesthetics from across the glass screen on everyone of us.”
Even though in the young artist’s diploma work the signs of rebellion and provocation are noticeable – she was still a student then after all – her later series of paintings that represent cheerful hippie-cows are already the result of her mature reflections. We can perceive there, as Kinga Piwowarczyk admitted herself, an attempt to flee from monotony and colourlessness of the surrounding world towards a highly colourful world of the 1960s, offering a sense of stability and security. Wasn’t it such a secure space that Holy Golightly sought at Tiffany’s, saying that “nothing very bad could happen to you there”? Isn’t that parallel imaginary world, in which cows in pink glasses and headbands live and play, identical with that about which the Beatles sang in their first, so deliberately escapist song “There’s a Place”?
There is a place
Where I can go
When I feel low
When I feel blue
And it's my mind
And there's no time when I'm alone
In my mind there's no sorrow
Don't you know that it's so
There'll be no sad tomorrow
Don't you know that it's so
Piwowarczyk’s paintings resemble photographs or still frames taken off the TV screen; assuming a very bold, one could say garish, colour scheme, they bring to mind American toys of the 1960s and 70s. If not for the impressionist, or even momentarily expressionist, patch of acrylic, and the fairy-tale-like, unrealistic colours, particularly the pink of the background, the early and, even to a large extent, the later works of the artist could be associated with hyper-realism. They certainly pay a special tribute to pop-culture of those years, though.
The cow, not only in the culture of India, is the symbol of imperturbability, pacifism and serenity regardless of the circumstances. And it is cows, highly anthropomorphised, that became the subjects of a series of paintings by Kinga Piwowarczyk. Cows, contrary to people, do not need to take drugs in order to fall into a hippie-like motionless nirvana state, labelled with the term stoned, popularised at the time by a Bob Dylan’s song. “Facial” expressions do not play a crucial role in Piwowarczyk’s paintings either. What is significant is the situational context and certain attributes which make the depicted creatures similar to somewhat jaded hippies of the late 1960s.
The compositions of her paintings range from portrait takes of cow heads, which are entitled “Selfie”, as if tongue-in-cheek, to multi-figure sets, which are to be recognised with well-known quotations from the past. Piwowarczyk’s cows that sit at the wheel and, poker-faced, drive a car (one could guess it is a flower-decorated Volkswagen minibus) probably head to some music festival or simply travel aimlessly along Route 66. Others, wearing glasses and characteristically hippie colourful headbands, are references to “Saturday Night Fever” and the cult “Easy Rider”. Still some other cow, wearing Lennon glasses, sticks out its tongue as if parodying the famous logo of the Rolling Stones, put together soon after the Beatles leader had spitefully commented: “What is their biggest sh*t called? Satisfaction or something?” And finally, “The Wonder years” crowns the series, depicting cows that cherish the sunny tranquillity in a grassy meadow and sip colourful lemonades through their straws. It is hard not to notice that this tongue-in-cheek composition enters into dialogue with Manet’s famous “Luncheon on the grass”, which is continuously parodied in contemporary art.
The seemingly simple humour which stems from humanizing cows, and as such comprehensible even to children, does have a deeper meaning, however; it offers a sense of the transitory, dreamlike nature of “wonder years”, and maybe also the ominous, intuitively perceptible memento of narcotic, escapist “travels”, evoking colourful visions… This is perhaps an escape from contemporary reality, from colourless daily life.