Finding Roman Golla is the new exhibition opening Thursday, April 26, at the Crisp Visual Arts Center on the campus of Culver Academies. Four years in planning, Finding Roman Golla is a joyous tribute to Outsider Art as seen through the eyes of one naïve painter, Polish immigrant, and chess master Roman Golla. Robert Nowalk, curator of the Culver Collection, provided the background on the artist.
Born in Zakopane, Poland, in 1917, Golla was 22 years old when the Nazi military crossed the border and began rounding up all able-bodied young people for deportation to forced labor camps. He spent the war making airplane parts in France. Released at the end of the war, Golla returned to Poland but eventually immigrated to America in 1951, settling in Chicago. His proficiency in chess was apparent upon his arrival, earning him a world ranking and a position in the U.S. Open Chess Tournaments in 1953, 1961, and 1963.
Despite a lack of artistic training, Golla, at 47, suddenly saw himself as an artist and began painting, eventually filling over 100 canvases with memories of his native Poland, mythological fantasies, and dreams of places he had not seen. In 1978, Harold Haydon, art critic for the Chicago Sun Times, described Golla as a painter who finds his “way to pictorial expression with complete conviction and success.”
Never married, Golla continued to paint and play chess for some 30 years before passing away alone on Dec. 12, 2001. After his passing, the City of Chicago assumed possession of the contents of his studio apartment until any heirs could be located.
Though still known in the world of chess, Roman Golla, the painter, might have been forgotten, but for a small body of artwork that miraculously remained together. After privately changing hands an unknown number of times, it appeared on Chicago’s Craig’s List in 2014. Curated by Culver Academies’ instructor Robert Nowalk, the exhibition of 30 paintings communicates volumes about innate creativity, the question of genius, and the ability of the human spirit to thrive through art.
Finding Roman Golla will run at the Crisp Visual Arts Center from April 26 through June 30. The Crisp Visual Arts Center Galleries are free and open to the public Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.–4 p.m., and by appointment on weekends. For gallery information, please call (574) 842-8278. Images and stories about Roman Golla, as well as other CVAC exhibitions, can be found at theunintendedcurator.com.