The paintings of Jason Kowalski lure viewers through crumbling buildings, rusted trucks and drooping signs.
The artist is fascinated by objects with a past.
The Colorado-based Kowalski is making his Santa Fe debut at LewAllen Galleries.
Close observers will find shadows and hints of handwritten notes, old postcards and magazine ads within Kowalski’s mottled surfaces. Aged neon signs spring from hotels and cafes. The artist depicts his subjects with a respect bordering on veneration.
He says it all started when he was still in college at California’s Laguna College of Art and Design in 2006-07. He traveled around the West, from Montana to Texas, spotting and photographing dilapidated buildings – old bowling alleys, abandoned filling stations and sun-bleached roadside eateries.
“I’ve always had an appreciation for Americana and all things old, going back to a childhood filled with antiques,” Kowalski said in a telephone interview from Monument, Colorado. “We did a lot of small town antique shopping.”
Born in Boynton Beach, Florida, Kowalski spent much of his childhood in Eau Claire, Wisconsin after his family moved there when he was 9.
“I always wanted to be an artist of some sort, but I didn’t know what,” he said. “Going to school was huge.”
He trained as a figure painter at Laguna, bolstering him with a solid foundation as he settled into realism and landscape.
After graduation, a Santa Monica gallery offered him his first solo show. It sold out in a week. Soon additional galleries came calling.
He knows how lucky he is.
“I just love history and nostalgia,” he said.
His imagery evokes a spirit of resilience even as his architectural subjects erode and change with age. His affectionate treatment of these forgotten places gestures toward a shared sense of American memory. The addition of collage invites the viewer to further appreciate the richness of history.
“It’s almost like a ghost image,” Kowalski said.
He lifts from a large box of postcards left to him by his grandparents. He scours antique stores; friends also add to the ephemera. Old stamps and aging maps also appear.
“I like to represent what’s really there,” he said. “I want to tell the story of what these places look like now.”
After a stop in Tucumcari, he completed paintings of the old Sahara Lounge. On a recent trip to Albuquerque, he spotted the sign lying in an alleyway.
“One day it’s there and the next day it’s gone,” he said, “so I act quick.”
Soaring California housing prices drove the move to Colorado.
“Southern California got a little bit stifling,” Kowalski said, “because of all the people and the concrete. We wanted something that was a mix of West Coast mentality and the Midwest.”
Kowalski also shows his work at galleries in Palm Desert and Laguna Beach.