Review: Damon Kowarsky- Joshua McClelland Print Room

 Damon Kowarsky, Joshua McClelland Print Room until October 30


The exhibition rooms; a charming series of small, intimate rooms more akin to an old school apartment than contemporary viewing rooms, immediately establish a homely setting within which the intimacy of Damon’s work comes to the fore, a closeness augmented by their surrounding antiques and bric-a-brac.

The initial sensation is very much one of a juxtaposition of old and new, an underlying theme in Damon’s own work, but as desi unfolds it becomes clear that the personalized environment offers an apt accompaniment to the twenty or so works that line all manner of walls, corners and surfaces.

Inspired by his time in Pakistan and India, desi, the term coming from the Urdu self designation for ‘local’ (which colloquially has come to signify ‘South Asian’), is Damon’s own affectionate reference to the affinity he has with the region.  (The exhibit will travel to Pakistan in 2010 where it will be playfully re-titled Per desi (foreigner). 

Damon’s prints and paintings (watercolour and gouache), particularly those of Pakistani cityscapes, unpretentiously portray the area in a fresh and evocative light, which in view of the current global tensions, is not an easy feat, especially given the anxiety with which Pakistanis approach the way they are perceived by the rest of the world.

If sentiment or a sense of romanticism seems present in Damon’s work, it’s an unconscious thing on the artist’s part which he does not distinguish above and beyond his subject matter. 

The foundation for each image instead stems from Damon’s extensive drawings made from observation on location. Constrained by physical practicalities when on location in South Asia and the Middle East for prolonged drawing periods, particularly those involving heat and pollution, Damon immediately reduces the elements of his cityscapes down to shape.  Invariably drawn from high vantages, the drawings act as the first part in a series of filtering, an inbuilt editing process in which the ‘static and noise’ of a scene is removed in favour of the core image.  Eschewing the more seductive option of using cameras and still images to draw and copy from, there is a consistent sense in Damon’s images that the 3D has been reduced down to the 2D in a purely drawn way, rather than in a pictorial or photographic way. 

Within the realm of his prints, even the use of the print medium is designed to reinforce the handmade and drawn emphasis that Damon places on his work.  The etching and aquatint processes lend an additional atmospheric haze that descends on the scenes, imbuing the images with a gradated quality not unlike that which comes to mind when imagining South Asian skies. 

In Aminabad I, a clutter of rooftops, suggesting endless opportunities for Parkour enthusiasts, draw the viewer in from a variety of entry points.  The sensation is similar in Rawalpindi I, again offering Damon’s trademark stylised drawing as conveyed through the print medium, but augmented by the introduction of a figure who draws equal amounts of our attention as the cityscape we view over his shoulder does. 

Despite the reliance on drawing, the steady sensation offered throughout much of desi is similar to that offered by long exposure photography, where the ephemeral falls by the wayside, making way for richly constructed arrangements where tone takes on a heightened significance.  Occasionally in desi, the organic replication of photographic like effects also makes itself known as occurs in Taj Ganj II.  Here a kind of double negative effectoccurs, where the tender overlay of a transparent figure over the solid landscapes takes place, producing a new tension which seems to reinforce the psychological nature of the image.  The resulting unsubstantiated romanticism is created from an association the viewer is led to believe exists between the figure and the setting. In fact, the viewer is unable to pinpoint the figure’s exact relationship to the locale or if any relationship ever existed.  It’s a feeling that happens time and again through desi, but isn’t the slightest bit unnerving..

desi is showing at Joshua McClelland Print Room, Level 2, 15 Collins Street, Melbourne, phone 9654 5835, Monday to Friday through to October 30.

More of Damon’s work can be found at


By Dave Di Vito

Dave Di Vito

Dave is a freelance curator and writer who increasingly splits his time between Melbourne and East Asia. In the past decade he has amongst other things, founded and run a non profit art space (Immersion Therapy), had photographic and written pieces published in Japan, clocked up hundreds of hours volunteering at galleries around the traps, completed a Masters of Curatorship at the Uni of Melbourne, developed an unhealthy love for Project Runway and been an archaeological site worker in Europe.