Peter Barelkowski

Peter Barelkowski

Toronto, ON, Canada

About Peter Barelkowski

Peter Barelkowski’s paintings are situated in cloudlike non-spaces, where figures and objects float like ideas in fields of colour. These spaces become the sites for events which are outside of time, events that are simultaneously trauma and aftermath, story and memory. The traumas that appear to be endlessly replayed are both historical and existential, events that seem gritty and real but situated in spaces that are dreamlike and intangible. At times these spaces are granted the primordial distinction between land and sky in its rawest form – a cleaving hori-zon – creating the realms of the upper and lower. At other times the severing of the space comes in the form of a box, which separates the inside from the outside. It either case the separations create a power dynamic between two fields. The first occupied by looming over-seers: uniformed authorities, towering matrons, and giant birds. The latter is the realm of the masses huddled in cells and cellars, and the mundane trappings of the everyday: bottles, and chairs. These spaces, however, are not without hope. A ladder appears in nearly every work.This recurring motif offers the promise of escape through ascension.


1972 - 77 University, M.A.
1979 - 81 Goldsmiths College
1985 - 88 Ontario College of Art


Barelkowski's artistic work has consistently been an exploration of the past, strongly routed in history. It is no surprise since his first academic pursuit was in that subject, he graduated with an MA in History from Poznan University in Poland. His interest in the past drove him to research that included his own familial lines. Following his father’s premature death at the age of 67, Barelkowski decided to learn exactly where his family came from by researching the Barelkowskis’ genealogical roots. The story that he found was a haunting one, but not unusual from many other Jewish families who left Germany in the 18th century to find a better life in Eastern Europe. The facts and the stories uncovered in this historical investigation inspired a number of series: The Jewish Villages, Exodus, Horrors and Come Play with Us, An Invitation to Our Horror (or the Nazis).
While his work is informed by the Jewish experience, his paintings are universal - they are about the human condition.
After years of artistic practice, he has arrived at an expression that is minimalist and almost naïve with its deceptive visual simplicity.
Identifying all his paintings as Untitled, he refuses to guide viewers to his specific narrative which is steeped in history, laced with nostalgia and wrestles with personal and familial traumas. Instead, he invites them to construct their own impressions by configuring the symbols he offers such as ladders, disrupted chairs, fiddlers, clowns, crowds, angels and shifting horizons. However one interprets his monochromatic canvases one is always left in a contemplative state.
For example, the painting of a boy dressed in a clownish costume with an intensely red background is based on the photograph of group of Jews (woman and children ) being rounded up by Germans in Warsaw ghetto. His presentation of the horror of the moment and the outcome is summarized by the image of a single boy, walking with his hands raised in front of the group.
The contrast in the image gives it its much power – the boy is dressed in the clownish costume yet it’s about a very serious matter; he is placed against a very bright red background which would normally represent cheerful and positive experiences but this is about a dark side of humanity; the boy stands alone yet it’s based on a mass movement of people. The painting is about the alienation, loneliness and horrors (and dangers) of being different.
The black and white piece with a ship and the one with people moving across the horizon are from the Exodus series which he has been working on for some time. Again while it might be inspired by the Jewish experience, it is relevant even today and probably will be for the rest of time.
Barelkowski’s process is to rework and revisit a theme over several years. The Barelkowski symbols with which we are so familiar often reappear. The ladder – a connector, the escape route, the symbol of hope? The chair usually a place for comfort and stability is disrupted. The childlike or naive manner in which the figures are drawn and the scratching of the canvas give the paintings a sense of whimsy which then instantaneously appear surreal when the depth of the subject matter is realized.


Artist Project 2016, Contemporary Art Fair, Toronto, February 18-21, 2016
The Art Wynwood , Contemporary Art Fair, Miami, FL, represented by Spence Gallery, Feb 11 - 15, 2016
Art Fair Battersea, London UK, represented by Spence Gallery, October 21 - 25, 2015
INSOMNIA / Nuit Blanche, group show, Red Head Gallery, Toronto, September 30 - October 4, 2015
Art Fair New York, represented by Spence Gallery, September 10 - 12, 2015
2015 TOAE, Toronto, September 18 - 20, 2015
Papermill Gallery, Todmorden Mills Museum, Toronto, The 2015 Ontario Society of Artists Members' Exhibition, Aug 19 - Sept 13, 2015, Best in Show Award
Art Hamptons, NY, Contemporary Art Fair, represented by Gallery 133, July 2 - 5, 2015
Colour, Members Exhibition, Propeller Gallery, June 24 - July 5, 2015
Arta Gallery, Group Show, June 19 - July 7, 2015
Arta Gallery, Distillery Historic District, Toronto, 4 Expression, Four Artists Show, March 4 - 17, 2015
Artist Project 2015, Juried Contemporary Art Fair, Toronto, February 19 - 22, 2015
Collective Memories, Solo Exhibition, Miles Nadal JCC Gallery, Toronto, November 6 - 30, 2014
Migration, Nuit Blanche 2014, Propeller Gallery, Toronto, September 24 - October 23, 2014
Shared Places, Shared Spaces, Propeller Gallery, Toronto, July 30 - August 10, 2014
2014 TOAE , Toronto, July 4 - 6, 2014
Artist Project Toronto, Juried Contemporary Art Fair, February 20 - 23, 2014
13, Propeller Gallery, Toronto, Group Show, October 2 - 12, 2013
Earls Court Gallery, Hamilton, Four Artists Show, July 4—August 4, 2013
Darkness at the edge…( curated by Thom Sokoloski ), Propeller Gallery, Toronto, June 12—July 7, 2013
TOAE 2013, Juried, Toronto, July 5— 7, 2013
Brooklyn College, New York, NY, Group Show, March 7—May 13, 2013
The Artist Project Toronto, Juried Contemporary Art Fair, February 21 - 24, 2013