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Airborne art inspired by environmental passion

Arts & Culture

Adelaide ceramic artist Klaus Gutowski’s latest exhibition of stunning figurative sculptures compels individuals to think about their own role in polluting the environment.

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Titled Airborne and showing at Peter Walker Fine Art in Walkerville, it is Gutowski’s third solo exhibition since he quit a successful career as a chef to pursue his passion for art.

His work has always had a strong environmental theme, with his last solo show, Renaissance of Progressive Thinking, exploring renewable energy.

“It’s three years now since that and I sort of had the feeling that nothing has really changed much in that time,” he says.

“I felt like something was airborne, like all this pollution that’s now in our atmosphere.

“We started something [polluting the environment and using it for our gain], and now we can’t contain it … sort of like a virus.”

Gutowski says his use of figurative ceramic sculptures was intended to emphasise the idea that ordinary people – including himself – should consider their own responsibility for taking better care of the environment.

“It seems really hard for us to change. It’s always the others that have to do something, like the big polluters, not me.

“I think that has a lot to do with how we grew up, our cultural background. It’s difficult for us to change.”

Many of the figures represent teenagers, with some based on Gutowski’s 15-year-old son, Joshua.

“I feel responsible myself that I might not do certain things that I should do to leave this legacy for him.”

One of the most striking pieces is titled Icarus; it is like a modern version of the Icarus in Greek mythology whose wings melted when he got too close to the sun. The biggest piece in the exhibition, standing at 127cm high atop a 166m wooden base, Icarus wears a helmet and has wings made out of branches and porcelain butterflies that look like the want to lift him up but can’t.

Clear Cut features two people, who appear to have had a disagreement, sitting with their backs to each other on a log. Their disappointment and frustration, says Gutowski, is not just over their relationship with each other, but also their relationship to nature.

Clear Cut, Earthenware, underglaze, glaze, engobe, oxides, copper leaf, wooden log. By Klaus Gutowski

Clear Cut: Earthenware, underglaze, glaze, engobe, oxides, copper leaf, wooden log. By Klaus Gutowski

Many of the other figures also sit or stand on cut-off logs or have branches coming out of their heads, which are intended to symbolise dried-up thoughts or ideas and plans that don’t come to fruition.

Airborne includes three earthenware heads with the words Protest, Grace and Rage appearing like thought bubbles above them. On the reverse side are the words Inner, Disgrace and Outrage.

“The feelings may be expressing how we feel towards the whole situation and environmental problems we encounter,” Gutowski says.

Klaus-Gutowski---innerprotest

Inner Protest: Earthenware, underglaze, engobe, oxides. Height 20cm. By Klaus Gutowski

Gutowski has enjoyed considerable success with his art since graduating in 2009 from the Adelaide College of the Arts, where he now teaches.

He originally studied interior design in Germany and had planned to go on to study art, but says he did an apprenticeship as a chef because it was an occupation that lent itself to working and travelling abroad.

Gutowski moved to Australia in 1999 after marrying his German-Australian wife, and previously owned Sprouts restaurant in Hindmarsh Square.

“But when I had the restaurant I really felt like I had to make a decision about what I wanted in life, and it was the arts,” he says. “So I started studying art quite late in life and changed everything.

“What I do at the moment is work with ceramics and as a chef I worked with ceramics, too.

“When I first touched clay and played around with it, I found it was a material I liked – you can shape it any way and do whatever you like with it. The possibilities are endless.”

Gutowski says he has always felt strongly about the environment, making it an obvious focus for his work.

“To start your artwork, at some point you have to find something in yourself that you are really passionate about, that you want to talk about and tell stories about.”

Klaus Gutowski’s Airborne exhibition is showing at Peter Walker Fine Art until December 12.

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