In the developing series of vehicles made by Dobrowolski, an aeroplane was sooner or later going to happen. He had already considered it when he made the hovercraft, but decided, at that time, that the precision demanded of constructing a plane was too great. It also did not seem to him to fit the home- construction garden shed character of his work and the accessibility of the techniques to anybody. But he changed his mind when he found a book by a Frenchman, Henri Mignet, an idealistic aeroplane designer, who wanted to make building a plane accessible to the DIY man. Suddenly, making an aeroplane became a real possibility and, as a bonus, this presented itself within an ideological commitment to accessibility which chimed with the artist's own leanings.
Significantly, the plane, made while the artist was a student at the Royal College of Art, differs from the four earlier vehicles - the boat, pedal-car, hovercraft, and tank - in that its basic design was not improvised by the artist. It was made to a design published by Mignet, in 1935 in a book entitled The Flying Flea. Translated from the French by 'The Air League of the British Empire' Mignet's sentiments have an extraordinary resonance with Dobrowolski's preoccupations.
'I deny that I am exceptionally lucky or skilful. It is just because I am like everybody else, just a plain ordinary man that I defend my conception, that I write my book for normal people, that I will launch them, if they will follow me, not into danger but into the finest of sports - the sport of one's dreams. And let me repeat once more, TRUE AMATEUR AVIATION IS NOT A QUESTION OF MONEY.'
Mignet actually crossed the channel in a plane of this design. There's a famous photograph of him - famous in home-built aeroplane circles of him landing in a field somewhere near Dover with a motor-cycle inner-tube over his shoulder which was in case he fell in the sea. But thirteen people also got killed flying versions of the plane. Initially they thought that it was people who didn't know how to fly trying to fly aeroplanes. But after they did a lot of investigation they found out that it was actually a design fault in the plane. At a certain pitch in flight all the controls went into reverse and they were crashing. But this one is a slightly modernised one. I contacted a bloke called Graham Priest I'd read about in a magazine. He said, 'Yeah. We can make it safe. What it is, it's a slightly strange wing formation called tandem wing'. This meant that, basically, there were two large wings. It was the fact that they overlapped that was the root of the problem. My plane is slightly longer by about a foot and the wings don't overlap. There's a different shaped wing profile on it as well. Graham sent me some plans that he'd got from somewhere - Belgium I think. He sent me some photocopies of the new wing profiles which were black on dark grey paper and I could only read them by holding them up to the light at an angle - and they were all in French. So, touch wood, they're correct.
One aspect of the aeroplane alludes, again, to Dobrowolski's antipathy for the press and media of mass communication.
When I first envisaged making it I thought I was going to paint canvas wings - 'wing canvas/painter's canvas' - I was going to paint on the wings. But when I actually came to making it that changed. I became more concerned with art almost being made, not for the art gallery or the person, but for the television or the newspaper and then for the viewer to see it that way. My own experience was that you'd make a hovercraft and some bloke from the press would turn up and you'd tell him about how the bottles come from the beach and it was all about the return of the hovercraft to the beach - sort of at one with the landscape and all poetic, deep and meaningful and he puts it in the newspaper as, 'HOVER CRAFTY'; 'CHRIS DOBROWOLSKI'S GOT A LOT OF BOTTLE!'; 'IT'S A LOT LESS BOVER WITH A HOVER'; 'WEIRDO, FREAKY ART STUDENT MAKES CRAZY MACHINE' And there's a picture of me that just says 'nutter', you know. The newspaper turns it into something completely different. So what I was trying to do was reclaim my image if you see what I mean. Take all of those horrible, tacky newspaper articles and make something from them to go in an art gallery.
Of all the vehicles in the exhibition the aeroplane seems, to an eye unexperienced in aviation, to be the most ungainly. Made from tea-chests, its surfaces - fuselage and wings - are covered with images and letters creating a kind of mottled effect, somewhere between a dragon-fly and a moth. The engine looks particularly spiteful and is mounted at the front in a way that implies that its weight has broken the nose which appears to point downwards. It inspires little confidence in its capacity to take flight.
The connotations of 'Flying Officer Kite' culture - distinctly English rather than French - seem, again, to poke fun at upper class eccentricity in a way that is present in others of Dobrowolski's vehicles, notably the pedal car. The translation of Mignet's text by 'The Air League Of The British Empire' could not have been lost on the artist whose obvious amusement at the pomposity of authority, and of uniformed officialdom in particular, is evident in many of his anecdotes.
Mignet's allusion to flying as 'the sport of one's dreams' seems loaded with relevances. Dobrowolski's vehicles often imply a dream world of Alice in Wonderland character.
'The time has come,' the Walrus said,
'To talk of many things:
Of shoes - and ships - and sealing-wax-
Of cabbages and kings -
Of why the sea is boiling hot -
And whether pigs have wings.'
Perhaps more obviously, these marvellous machines relate to the imagery and spirit of Surrealism in their strange reconciliation of the irrational and the rational - in this case the irrational made to work physically. While having the capacity to operate effectively in the rational world these vehicles seem to ridicule rationality in all its official forms.