.The View From ‘Above’: Solo show for photographer Kacper Kowalski

The first solo-artist show at San Anselmo’s Garvey|Simon gallery offers a change in perspective.

“Above” features the work of Kacper Kowalski, a Polish photographer who lives to fly—and just so happens to have a camera on-hand to share his bird’s eye view with the world.

His mission? To showcase simultaneously intimate and distant snapshots of life and the shared human condition, as seen from 500 feet above the ground.

“Art is inherently capable of helping people see things from a different perspective, or be inspired in a different way,” said Catherine Garvey Simon, co-owner of Garvey|Simon. “… we felt Kacper’s work was so strong and his vision so clear that we wanted to showcase an entire body of his work.”

Kowalski was born in Gdańsk, a city in the northernmost part of Poland, located along the Baltic Sea. From a young age, he remembers looking down from the tall stories of buildings and pondering the relationship between aerial viewpoints and their effect on perspective.

“All my life, I’ve been watching [my] neighborhood from above,” Kowalski said. “In 1996, when I started to study architecture just after high school, I started to fly on paragliders.”

Though Kowalski initially thought to follow in his family’s footsteps to become an architect, he soon realized he just couldn’t keep his head out of the clouds.

“My passion for flying was stronger and, with creative work like architecture, it should be the first passion,” Kowalski said. “In my imagination, when I was trying to get the solution [in architecture], I found nothing … only the weather forecast for the next flight or memories from the last one.”

When Kowalski first began his forays into the sky, it was long before the days of easy-to-access aerial photography. Or, to put it simply, there were no drones. And so, to compensate for his near-obsessive relationship with flying, he decided to bring a camera along on his excursions to add purpose to an otherwise pleasurable but self-serving pursuit.

“In those days, it was deep analog times,” Kowalski said. “No digital cameras, no drones—so that was an amazing moment because just a few years before … civil aviation was not very common and during the communism time in Poland, aerial photography was prohibited.”

For his contributions to the world of aerial photography, Kowalski has won countless awards and honorary mentions. His work has also been shown hundreds of times in galleries and art shows all the way from Poland to locations in Asia, North America, Europe and across the globe.

During the course of his life and career, Kowalski has flown more than 5,000 hours.

“Flying, by its own, is super selfish as well, and very addictive as well,” said Kowalski. “The world is not better because I fly—I could say that it’s even worse, because when I don’t fly, I think about it all day. So, I want it to be useful … I want it to be like a giant human camera; today I would say like a flying human drone, an image supplier, because I wanted to show what I can see if someone would be flying with me.”

Through flight and photography, Kowalski’s ultimate idea was to paint a portrait of civilization through the example of his local neighborhood. This goal changed and evolved as the world around him also transformed. While Kowalski was once alone in the sky, bringing aerial photography to a pre-drone world, he found that, as time passed, he had to share the air—and the world of aerial photography.

“Five hundred feet above the ground—that was my kingdom,” Kowalski said. “And then the drone revolution came, so no one needs a person flying for an image anymore, so I lost my kingdom …”

After the “drone revolution,” Kowalski began his project over again, with the idea being to discover and bring a new key element to the experience. While once he had hidden behind the camera, he now wanted to bring his firsthand meditative interactions with the landscape and its people, from the Ice Age onward, into an array of past, present and future perspectives.

Rather than being left behind in the advancement of technology, Kowalski used the competition to advance his art.

His aim? To show, through his photography, a post-apocalyptic vision, a moment of transition, the connection felt from flying in the same vertical space that, during the Ice Age, was a glacier along the Baltic Sea. Using the monochromatic symbolism and abstraction in the ice below, Kowalski continues to expand the question of perspective, existence and the human condition.

“When Harry Potter was unconscious in Kings Cross station,” Kowalski said, “he met with Dumbledore, then he asked the ghost of Dumbledore, ‘Tell me, professor, is this a real situation or are you only in my head?’ and the response is, ‘Harry, of course it’s appearing only in your head, but why the hell do you think it’s not real?’”

“There’s something about this show [“Above”] that I feel allows people to question themselves in really healthy ways, and then feel this sense of awe and surprise, and to me that’s what life is all about,” said Catherine Garvey Simon. “If you’re not constantly in awe of or feeling surprised by life, then you’re not really fully engaged with life, I don’t think. And there’s something about this show that allows people to engage with life on this really experiential level—it’s a capsule of human experience, and it’s beautiful.”

Garvey|Simon was founded in 2010 by Elizabeth K. Garvey, who operates the New York location as an advisor and dealer, and her sister and co-founder, Catherine G. Simon, a contemporary collector and resident of Marin County. Garvey and Simon opened the two galleries in order to bring contemporary art to a more accessible level. Together, their galleries feature a variety of artistic mediums and work as a platform for underrepresented voices in the fine arts community.

“[With art,] you are shaping an experience into this other object or form or canvas,” Simon said. “Then someone else gets to engage and have their own experience with, and that inherently helps you shift your own mind, whether it’s emotionally or seeing something a different way.”

Garvey|Simon’s Bay Area location is 538 San Anselmo Ave. in San Anselmo. The gallery is open to the public Tue–Sat from noon to 5pm. For more information, call 415.720.9252 or visit the website at garveysimon.com.


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