Since returning home to the Ohio Valley, artist Bob Dombrowski of St. Clairsville has found his artistic vision renewed by the light and landscape of his native place.
Dombrowski moved in February 2013 to St. Clairsville, where his mother, Carol Dombrowski, still resides. His father, Bob, died in 2002. “I missed my family. I missed being around family,” he said.
After living in Los Angeles for seven years and then 23 years in New York City, he said, “It just wears you down. I just wasn’t inspired anymore living in the city.”
But, now that he’s home, Dombrowski has rediscovered inspiration for his artistic pursuits. “I found myself being drawn to the landscape and light,” he remarked.
“After coming back here, I got inspired again. I picked up the paintbrush and started painting away,” Dombrowski commented. “Seasons change the light. I just had to paint it.”
Reflecting on the Ohio Valley’s scenic beauty, he said, “The landscape is gorgeous. How could you not want to paint it? Growing up, I did not appreciate it.”
Currently, he said, “I’m doing a lot of commissioned pieces. People are asking for house portraits.”
At the same time, Dombrowski said, “I’m working on fine art for myself. When I have 25 pieces, I’ll go to a gallery. I just don’t have the body of work that I used to.”
While living on the East Coast, his work was exhibited in galleries across the country. Described as a skilled colorist, he was commissioned to do work for major advertising and design agencies, national magazines and publishing houses.
In addition to creating fine art, he works as a master muralist and illustrator. Recently, he completed a mural of a beach scene for a poolhouse at a home in St. Clairsville. When he lived in New York, he was commissioned by designers to create murals for numerous clients in New York and New England. In a few cases, he painted murals on site.
For other projects, he did paintings on canvases which were then applied like wallpaper.
“I do a lot of wallpaper restoration,” he added, explaining that he matches and restores patterns such as Zuber, a French hand-painted, hand-blocked wallpaper, and Gracie, another hand-painted wallpaper.
For one project, he had to create a panel to match three panels of antique wallpaper. “They wanted it dirty and antique-looking. I had to match the dirt and the cracks, which I love doing,” he said. “I love the challenge of how to match something … I find it really exciting and challenging to match color.”
He also is involved in “the more decorative side of restoration,” working on marble, stone, granite and brick and creating faux finishes and trompe l’oeil (“fool the eye”) effects.
He started in this line of work with Chuck Fischer Studios in New York, beginning in 1995 and still ongoing. “We’ve continued to work together on small projects,” he said.
As an illustrator, he has produced images for books and magazines, doing 20 covers a year at one point. However, he said, “The illustration stuff, it really died off with the whole digital age.”
When he illustrated books for a number of reading series, he said, “It was really rewarding for me because growing up I didn’t go to the museums. My only exposure to art was through these wonderfully illustrated children’s books.”
His career as an illustrator almost halted before it truly began, through an ill-timed mishap. Dombrowski recalled that in 1995, he worked three and one-half weeks creating 18 illustrations for his first job with artists’ representatives. However, on his way to show the finished product, he left all 18 original illustrations on a subway train by accident. “I was petrified to tell my agents,” he said.
Instead, he set out to re-create his work. “In a week, I did what I did in three weeks. It actually turned out better,” he said.
But what became of the lost original illustrations? “Probably they were sold on the street for a quarter in The Bronx,” he joked.
A 1977 graduate of St. John Central High School in Bellaire, Dombrowski attended Ohio University’s Eastern Campus for two years and spent three years on the main campus in Athens, earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. Later, he studied in New York at the Parsons School of Design and the School of Visual Arts.
Dombrowski, who has been “drawing since I could hold a pencil,” was interested in art and theater. After college, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. He branched out to work with special effects, and “that got me to art,” he said.
“I do love acting. I just don’t have a hard enough skin,” he commented. “It’s much easier to take the critique in the art world.
“I really believe that things happen for a reason,” he reflected. “I learned over the years not to have regrets. People are put in my life for a reason and taken away for a reason.”
As an artist, Dombrowski said, “I developed this style on my own. I didn’t have those rigid rules to follow. I was just self-taught – and had fun with it.”
A series of providential circumstances led to Dombrowski’s work as a professional artist. After moving to New York, “I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” he said. He was waiting tables in restaurants by day and drawing at home at night.
He completed about a dozen pieces, which he showed to his friend, Fischer, who bought one of the pieces. In turn, a friend of Fischer in the publishing industry saw the piece and arranged for Dombrowski to meet with the art director of a magazine. “I went in and he offered me the cover and five inside illustrations,” the artist recalled.
“I don’t believe in coincidences either,” Dombrowski remarked. “I think Chuck (Fischer) was meant to buy that piece and to hang it, and it was meant for that guy to see it.”
Another friend, an illustrator, introduced Dombrowski to an agent who signed the budding artist. “I had no idea how hard it was to get illustration representatives in New York City at that time. It was all meant to be,” he said.
Now, having come full circle to his Ohio Valley roots, Dombrowski commented, “It’s great. I feel like a big fish in a little pond here. It’s much better than being a little fish in the big pond of New York City.”
As for his artistic endeavors, he said, “I just need to take it slow and let it unfold the way it should be.”