Dinner and a show at Campbell’s Place (an art show)
When Dave Toporowski, 48, and his wife Beverly dined with their two daughters at Campbell’s Place last spring, they planned for a nice family night out. What they got was much more.
Campbell’s owner, Vanessa Mullen, stopped at their table to check on their meal and, as she often does with customers, began a conversation. Toporowski, a decorative painter, inquired about displaying art work in the restaurant. By the time Mullen left the table, they had a deal. Toporowski would create two to three pieces within the next few weeks; if Mullen liked them, he would be invited to display additional pieces at the popular pub.
Toporowski was thrilled. The next few weeks were spent creating three pieces for Mullen’s review. Using tempered hardboard built up with a texture of grout, joint compound and, “anything else in my workshop,” Toporowski created silhouette, life-like displays which blended into their backgrounds. These are then painted in vibrant hues with metallic undertones and finished with an acrylic compound.
Mullen loved his work, so Toporowski created a dozen more pieces. As a decorative painter for the last 15 years, Toporowski uses his artistic abilities to fill his clients’ homes with colorful murals. Though he had enjoyed great freedom in creating a wide variety of designs, and his work had graced the walls of numerous residences as well as day care centers and office buildings, he had never had a showing of own.
Two intense months were dedicated to creating the additional pieces. The subject matter for these works came from many sources. His wife served as the inspiration for “Many Faces, One Soul,” which shows an image of a woman’s face (with no features) and nude body. “Layers of Love,” depicting a man holding a small child, originated from a picture Toporowski saw in a magazine. He created other works from ideas he had playing in his mind, but had not yet found the form or medium to express them.
In all of his pieces, a silhouette appears. Toporowski, who hopes the viewer has to look at each work a few times to understand it, says, “I want all the images to blend into the background as if they came off an ancient cave wall.”
The figures in a few pieces have been purposely created to fade into the background. “Sweet Sunset,” for example, has sand and blue hues, and the figure seems to blend into a beach’s sunset. The artist explains his approach, “My work happens spontaneously…I can’t really tell you a specific process.”
Using only his hands to create the texture mixture and shape it upon the hardboard, the artist allows himself to freely mold and shape the image and then, using a brush, rag or hand strokes, paints it. He often begins with an idea of what he would like to create, but if in the process the shape takes on a new image, Toporowski follows his feelings for the piece.
He calls his work and his creative approach to it “very raw.” Since he has been working as a decorative painter creating very specific pictures with everything neatly defined, he had to train himself to be raw, he explains. He purposely went outside his comfort zone to create work that was more abstract than the detailed murals he has been creating for a decade and a half.
The rawness of the work is alive not only in the images themselves but in the hard, rough, three-dimensional texture as well. “I purposely made them rough and raw.
I want people to not just look at the art but to touch it as well.”
Made of cedar, the frames which hold some of the pieces share this raw look. Toporowski bought the cedar flooring from a lumberyard and used the back because of its rough texture. He shaped and painted these frames with metallic paint to match the piece.
“Staying Strong” shows a man’s muscular stomach and many lines. The artist invites the viewer to consider what this means since the man’s face is not readily available. Does this image speak to physical strength or being strong mentally? Do the lines suggest he is bound by physical bars such as prison walls? This is just the type of contemplation and probing Toporowski hopes his work will evoke.
The son of a machinist, he was raised in Warrington and attended Archbishop Wood High School where he was a popular athlete and “the life of the party who marched to the beat of his own drum,” recalls high school friend Kathie Meadows. Toporowski went to Albright College and took art classes, initially just to boost his grade point average. “I saw that my friends’ dads who were doing well were all in sales or business jobs, so that’s why I took a business major, but the art classes were the only ones I could get A’s in. I took them and loved them!”
Thinking he could never make a living as an artist, Toporowski initially pursued other jobs including a computer chip salesman, mail carrier and machinist. He never found his true calling, though, until he became a decorative artist. “I have realized that being an artist and pursing this new work is right where I belong. I am going in the direction where I need to be, and I really love this feeling.”
He credits his wife Beverly, his “kindred spirit,” as the inspiration for his new artistic direction. They met at North by Northwest in Mt. Airy five years ago. It was Salsa Night, and Toporowski, who had just completed a year of salsa lessons at La Luna Dance Studio in Bensalem, loved the way she moved. They began to date regularly at the club’s Wednesday night Salsa Night, and now, five years later, remain deeply in love, raising young daughters Nia, 3, and Sana, 1, in Plymouth Meeting.
Beverly, a family doctor once profiled in the Chestnut Hill Local, has helped Dave name some works and served as inspiration for a few pieces. They continue to enjoy family dinners at Campbell’s, and though he won’t select his favorite piece, they do enjoy gazing up at his artwork while they dine.Toporowski’s work will be presented at Campbell’s Place, 8337 Germantown Ave., until Aug. 15. For more information, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 610-505-4241.