Greenpoint, October, 2015

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Floating World

(Courtesy University of Michigan Museum of Art)
Could it be that the greatest painter from Brooklyn was actually from Dziesławice? Not sure where that is?  Well, it's about 18 km east of Busko-Zdrój. Still stumped? OK, it's a village in southern Poland (pop. 280). Karol Kozlowski left the impoverished Dziesławice in 1913 after serving a stint in the Russian Army in Mongolia. He came to Brooklyn, where he was more or less adopted by a family who took him for "simple." For 27 years, he worked 6 days a week cleaning the inside of furnaces for Astoria Light, Heat and Power Company. In his scarce free time, he painted landscapes from countries he had never seen.

According to the excellent entry on Kozlowski in the Encyclopedia of American Folk Art, the paintings appear to be based on imagined views rather than any identifiable print source. Perhaps this accounts for the the way this painting, "Japan's Thousand Islands Mt. Huzi" (c. 1960), seems to conflate Japanese, or at least Asian, iconography (houses like pagodas) with a prospect that reminds me of the Kosciuszko Bridge doubled and seen from somewhere up the Newtown Creek. Kozlowski died in 1969. He is thought to have made just 36 paintings--one or two more than Vermeer.

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