Dennis Kowal— American Sculptor

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By Diana ColsonDennis Kowal

Dennis Kowal was born and raised in Chicago. As a child, he remembers sitting in the Music Box Theatre watching a movie. When the newsreel came on, exposing the audience to the first atomic bomb tests, the boy was so horrified that he hid beneath the seats. The experience so terrified him that years later, as an artist, he created a series of sculptures called Ominous Ikons, a series on which he continues even today. These pieces evoke a symbol of ambivalence, fear and duplicity—i.e. the extinction of life as we know it.  Says Kowal: “Fine art for me is the antithesis of war and as such is an irreducible truth.”

After surviving Bulbar Polio at the age of 10, he grew up to attend University of Illinois on the Navy Pier in Chicago, and also the Art Institute of Chicago, receiving his BS in 1960.  He received his MFA in 1962 from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. His life as a sculptor has spanned more than five decades.

Enigma, located on the Bay Front
Enigma, located on the Bay Front

Kowal’s work is monumental and archetypical as well as classic and symbolic. It has also been called sensual and intuitive, for a life affirming creative energy emerges from within each piece. He has had over fifty one-man exhibitions, exhibited in hundreds of group shows, and delivered an equal number of lectures. He has also published eleven limited edition prints and authored the technical book, Casting Sculpture.

Kowal has served as professor at a number of different colleges, among them the U. of Illinois in Champaign; Columbus College of Art & Design; Frostberg State College in Maryland; and Massachusetts College of Art in Boston.

His work has been featured at Sarasota Season of Sculpture in 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2008. His work can also be seen at the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, Temple Beth Israel, and the Van Wezel Auditorium. It has been featured at Florida Federal in Tampa, FL; Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg, FL; “WOW2” Art without Walls in Ft Pierce, FL, and Sculpture Key West. Two of his works have been exhibited at the Ravinia Festival, a summer music event that has served Chicago for over 100 years.

Definitely an East Coast guy, Kowal is a sculptor of grand pedigree. He has

Cycle Series, located by the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce
Cycle Series, located by the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce

been named Artist-in-Residence at dozens of prestigious locations: MacDowell Colony in NH; “Yaddo” in Saratoga Springs, NY; University of Georgia in Athens, Ga.; Institute of Contemporary Art, NEA, Boston; De Cordova Museum, Lincoln, MA;  Amherst College, Amherst, MA.; Oxbow, MI; Maudslay State Park, Newburyport, NH; Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH; Haystack in Hinckley, Maine; and “Coolfont” in Berkley Springs, WV.

Kowal received an NEA Matching Grant at Babson College, Wellesley, MA. He has served as Visiting Artist at Milton Academy, MS. MA Council for the Arts and Humanities, and also at Pinellas County Center for the Arts in St Petersburg, FL.  He worked on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

A controversial and outspoken artist, Dennis Kowal has been written up in ‘Who’s Who in America”, and also in “Who’s Who in American Art.” Boston Magazine has named him as one of “82 People to Watch.” Harvard Common Press has written about his work in “Public Art in Greater Boston.” Dateline TV has included him in a program called “Public Art, Voodoo Dolls, & Politics.” He has been written up in Art New England; Arts & Culture Magazine, Sarasota, Fl; Art in America;  ART News; International Sculpture News Magazine; HUB publications; the C.G .Jung Society Quarterly (Symbols: Signs of our Times);  and the Sarasota Art Review —Art, Money, and Politics.

Photon II sits in front of the Van Wezel.  Prototypes of this piece were given to our Sister Cities
Photon II sits in front of the Van Wezel. Prototypes of this piece were given to our Sister Cities

One of Kowal’s most elegant pieces stands in front of the Van Wezel Performing Arts Center. It received the Millennium Award from The Florida Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs. Entitled “Photon –Aerospace Aluminum”, the City of Sarasota selected prototypes of this work to be given as gifts to its eight Sister Cities: Treviso, Italy; Hamilton, Ontario, Canada; Perpignan, France; Vladimir, Russia; Telmond, Israel; Dunfermine, Scotland; Siming, Xiamen, China; and Merida, Mexico.

Kowal and his spirited wife— painter Jill Hoffman Kowal—have been married for 17 years and live in the Laurel Park area.  Besides being an artist, Jill is also famed as a documentarian of the Punk Rock Era in Europe and America. In the fall, she will be giving a presentation on the Punk Rock Era at the Selby Gallery at Ringling College of Art and Design.

Dennis’s namesake daughter, Denise Kowal, is the creator of the International Chalk Festival.  Another daughter, Jolie, and her husband, Brian McInnis, engage in the restoration of historic properties. His eldest daughter, Christie Kowal Smith, is a licensed arborist in Boston. His brothers, Cal and Richard, are both artists.

Dennis Kowal’s most recent installation of public art was at the Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston.  It was an 8” 2” core ten steel piece called “Constellation”. He is currently working on smaller pieces in carved acrylic, compiling an artistic biography of his work, and completing a video about his sculptures.

In the words of Dennis Kowal:

“Creativity is rare.

The expression of creativity is even more rare.

Those who know the difference are in danger.

A subtle palatable fear is in the air.”

 Kowal’s work may be seen on his website:

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