One lazy evening, Czechoslovakian-born, world-renowned painter Kamil Kubik and his best friend of 20 years Carol Caprarola were trying to remedy the dilemma of an empty stomach and settled on pizza delivery. When a Chinese gentleman arrived at Kubik’s Union City firehouse-turned-studio with their pie, the artist spontaneously broke out into Mandarin and the two started chatting.
Caprarola was impressed, but not surprised. Mandarin was one of five languages Kubik spoke, acquired like his collection of artistic achievements and accolades as he toured around the world alongside his prima ballerina wife Joanna Bowers, capturing scenes both humble and iconic with vivid, living brush strokes.
“I’m no painter, so I don’t know the lingo, but I do know that his art has filled my house for 20 years and it’s so incredible, I never get tired of it,” Caprarola said.
“You are still my favorite artist!” – Barbara Bush, of Kamil Kubik
Kubik often invited those who strolled along the paths of the cities and towns he painted to pick up a brush and add the ultimate local touch to his creations.
“He’s a true artist in every sense of the word,” Caprapola said. “He loved to paint, to be with people, and he had no interest whatsoever in the commercial end of his art. I miss him so, so much.”
Becoming Barbara Bush’s favorite painter
Born in Czechoslovakia in 1930, Kubik grew into an age of Nazi turmoil and was forced to escape to Germany in 1948. After living in a refugee camp for several years, he hopped a boat to Australia with a single suitcase, making his way with art, taking lessons, painting, and learning.
While there he met Bowers, his wife of 56 years, and together they traveled the world, happily chasing her global ballet career. They eventually settled in America where Kubik opened up the St. James Gallery on Madison Avenue in Manhattan.
He worked his way, almost by default, Caprarola explained, into the coveted designations of official painter of the White House, and of both the U.S. Open Tennis and Golf Championships. He was commissioned by the head of the New York Stock Exchange to do a painting of the floor during morning business, which inspired his well-known Wall Street series.
One day Barbara Bush walked down Madison Avenue, happened upon Kubik’s studio, and fell in love with what she saw. In a typewriter-written message dated January 12, 1987 under the Vice President’s House letterhead, Bush thanked Kubik and his wife for the Christmas card they had sent. Beneath her signature, she hand-wrote, “You are still my favorite artist!”
He was commissioned by the Ritz-Carlton to paint all of their hotel locations. Characteristic of his not-for-profit mentality, he didn’t make it through them all; though to his credit, there are many.
“I was constantly trying to help him sell his work right until he died,” Caprarola said. “He needed money. But he had no interest in that. He just wanted to make art.”
And make art Kubik did, prolifically, constantly, and passionately, until he couldn’t paint any longer. But even then he tried.
Not just a commission
In the early 90s, Caprarola worked as special assistant to the senate president of New Jersey and was charged with obtaining art for the State House. After some research and a few phone calls to some art collector friends, she came upon Kubik. They arranged to meet for lunch.
“You know how you just have chemistry with people?” she said. “We became instant friends.”
As they worked together, they began to play together, and the friendship lasted long after their professional relationship.
Six years ago, Kubik suffered from a debilitating stroke. He was essentially bed ridden, and so Caprarola frequently drove hours to Union City to visit him and his wife over the years.
One year on Kubik’s birthday, Caprarola came to the fire house with a little cupcake as she did every year, climbed up on his bed and sat with a canvas on her knees. She handed him a Sharpie and asked if he’d like to draw.
“Of course,” he said, but he found himself unable.
“At that moment he knew that his gift was gone,” Caprarola said through tears, “and after that, I don’t think he wanted to get better.”
On Aug. 3, 2011, Kubik passed away, leaving hundreds of paintings full of his vibrant spirit and history behind. Caprarola has made it her mission to see that he lives on through his work.
“I immediately loved the man who was my friend,” she said, “but I fell totally in love with his art. To this day it absolutely blows me away. I want others to experience that, too.”
For more information on Kubik’s artwork, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gennarose Pope may be reached at email@example.com