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What Lies Beneath. Curating small things on the streets of your town

Review In The Sunday Independent
11 December 2022

Born in Belchatów in central Poland, Monkia Kosmowska came to Ireland aged eight - and her abiding memories of her homeland are "the streets I used to go through, nostalgic memories of car trips and looking out the window". At Crawford College of Art in Cork, those memories became more and more important to her and "that's what gave me my signature style".

Kosmowska now focuses on a "sense of nostalgia and love for a place, but also melancholy for a past I can't get back to". Aged two, Kosmowska drew a face using a hairclip - and that signalled her interest in, and talent for art.

"I always had issues communicating with others and that really became a problem when I moved to Ireland. Neither my brother not I spoke any English - and it was difficult for us to develop socially. He went into music and I into art.

"When I felt very, very lonely I know that if my art was good enough, someone would understand and I'd feel less lonely." Kosmowska finds it difficult to believe she belongs anywhere. "We're not Irish, but we're not very Polish any more either." Her name, she adds, from Greek, monos, means 'alone'.

As an "angsty, lonely teenager" her subject matter was "a cliché'd moody mess" but gradually she changed from portraits of sad people to landscapes and she "grew up enough not to romanticise the negative, and find beauty in places I couldn't see it in before". Kosmowska doesn't have any strong connections with the place, "which is why I'm so enamoured by it. I'm neither a tourist who's there to see the sights, nor a local who has seen it all a million times.

"I went there to paint things people might miss, so that maybe one day someone will look at them and be happy. "Maybe the specific spot I painted meant something to them. Maybe it was just a place they passed by every day to work and now they have moved and forgotten all about it - but that spot had all their thoughts and feelings from all those car rides."

And even though Kosmowska says her viewer might say 'Why did she paint that? Nothing happened there', for her, "those are the most emotionally packed spots, because they've seen your tears, your road rage, all the car conversations, all the songs you've listened to."

One such spot is captured in 'The Crossing, Youghal Road, Dungarvan', an acrylic on gessoed recycled board. The very materials she uses "suggest an awareness of the crisis the planet is in" and she thinks it's her duty "to raise awareness".

Having primed the board, she then applies a layer of very strong, bold red and then goes over that with muted, natural colours.

"Even though you end up not seeing it, I think that you can still feel the pent-up emotion behind the mundane scene."

At school her art teacher, David O'Mahony, introduced her to the "gut-wrenchingly real" works of Francis Bacon and Giacometti, whose art explores loneliness and sadness.

More recently Edward Hopper has been an influence - and in this Hopperesque work Kosmowska loves road signs for their "emotion and personality. They just stand there, lonely. That said, it's a work that takes you different directions."

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