You currently have a solo-show at Galerie Toyen called “Princesses”? What led you to this exclusively feminine theme of exhibition?
I was wondering about which part of my work I would present and two major factors led me to the topic of women. On one hand, it came naturally to my mind as, lately, I’ve been painting women more than before (feminine subjects appeared more often). On the other hand, I saw a sign in the name of the gallery itself, named Toyen. She was an important Czech surrealist painter who established herself in the art world at a time when it was more of a male affair. She was one of the few women.
In general, how important is the choice of the title of a work or exhibition for you? How do you choose a title and have you ever given a new title to an older work?
The older (and wiser ;)) I am, the more I realize that the title of the work has great meaning. Coming up with a name is the same creative activity as painting a picture… it’s poetry. With the title, I want to indicate (preferably in a poetic form) what is behind the creation of the work or what led me to its creation, to point the viewer into a certain direction (for the perception/acceptance/understanding of the image). But I do not want to deprive him of the opportunity to find new or different connections, observations and other levels of understanding. A title that literally and directly establishes or dictates how to read the picture or from which angle to look at it is not ideal. It should be mysterious rather than literal, direct and descriptive. It should be knotted like a thought in a poem.
Sometimes when I finish a picture, the result reminds me of something, evokes something (for example, from literature, from a movie, etc.) and it can then lead to the title… but this is not always the case. For example, a detail in a picture can lead to a title. It can also emerge from anything that accompanied the creation of the image or get out of it.
Now for renaming older works… I do it all the time. Sometimes an older work gets multiple titles (over time/years). Over time it is perceived differently or the original name loses its meaning. The picture gives me new associations or outlines other realities and we find something new in it…
Across the different works and titles, the social spectrum (and timeline) of the women represented in this “Princesses” exhibition is very large… from the “underworld” to “divinity”. So what is your definition of “princesses”?
I associate princesses with my childhood. The girls played princesses, they wanted to be them. In fairy tales, we see the princess as the heroine, as the main character (or one of the main characters) of the story, with whom things usually turn out well. Good triumphs over evil, etc. It’s a certain archetype (either this type of story or the princess ideal). After the adventures, the princess gets everything she wanted.
As I said, it is an archetype that appears in oral and written transmission throughout the centuries. It reminds me of today’s American Dream. This brings me to the point that I could say that in today’s world, women from show-business (actresses, singers, models…) are similar to the princesses from stories… simply successful women from all possible industries.
All these icons fulfill the princess ideal. Princesses were defined just like these everywhere in the eyes of women today. That’s why in some names I refer to the world of the sacred (divinity)… Further to the names : we also find here references to masterpieces of the past, it’s connected… my admiration for the painters whose works I quote is similar to the one I mentioned earlier (icons, idealized women…). It occurs to me that by creating an ideal we somehow kill a living being, we create a distorted image that robs and surpasses a specific person… life is replaced by virtuality, fiction…
Furthermore, the titles contain references to songs and films that evoke or remind us of the life of a princess (as everyone generally imagines it)… Dolce vita, California dreaming…
Of course, princesses can also be evil… but this deviates from the image that society has created about the princess and which is generally accepted as correct and legitimate.. From the essence of the archetype, we see this being as the pinnacle of culture, beauty, etc. there is also an element of privilege.
This is an artificially created being in unconscious psychic processes that have been going on for centuries. It is part of the collective unconscious. Stories have been gaining strength and power for centuries, and we count ourselves on the sacrificial altar of this configuration (this arrangement of human existence).
“Old masters”, pop-culture, dreams, films/series, history, magazines, litterature, photography… could you tell us more about where those “princesses” come from… from which kind of “realm”?
From what realm… as I already outlined in the previous words… formerly from the world of stories today, from the media world. Actually, social networks are full of them, they allow everyone to fulfill their dreams, to be princesses. Women, but also men show their “princess face” (when I talk about a princess, I primarily mean the generally accepted ideal that I already mentioned).
You took part in several “summer” exhibitions in CZ, among which other women are portraited, often depicted as smoking or so called “femme fatale”. What is the importance of this particular esthetic in your work?
« Femme fatale » is another fascinating archetype from the world of art and literature… I associate with superheroes from comics… with supernatural abilities but not always with good intentions.
I have always been fascinated by characters from the underworld and superheroes. I think the femme fatale has something from both of these worlds. This duality is interesting to me.
What’s coming next… How is the preparation of the next season going and do you already have a theme in mind for your upcoming show(s)?
About what’s coming next, I will connect this to the previous question…
I am currently thinking about this relationship of two incompatible aspects occurring in one package. The most famous and enlightening example is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It’s another archetype. For example, Hulk and Dr. Baner are represented in the comics… I think that figurative painting is primarily about psychology and therefore this topic of split personality (or schizophrenia and multiple personalities) is very engaging, fascinating, interesting and full of possibilities for how to grasp and process this topic.
Another example is the god Janus… Here I see the occurrence of this archetype for centuries. I would like something from thinking about this dualism to appear in the paintings in my next exhibition called “Magic Monsters”. Even the title is supposed to indicate the direction of my thinking or to outline this theme… magic carries with it something that enchants us, and even if it brings the problem of what is and is not real, from my point of view it is the bright part of the title. But in the background of the show we also see the dark possibility.
On the contrary, monsters carry with them negative connotations… from a general point of view… but from another angle we can see that a monster can bring great things to the world with his monstrous actions. From this context we can talk about an act of genius as a monstrous matter and equate between genius and monster.
One of your works stands out by its almost abstraction and deprivation of colors… “Spirit of alcohol”. In an exhibition called “princesses”, can you explain why and how this spirit is feminine?
You could say that girls were partly responsible for my earlier problems with alcohol. When I was younger I was very shy, basically it was hard for me to talk/communicate with people ; especially with girls of my age and even more with those I liked. So I started to solve this handicap with alcohol. I recommend it, it is an invaluable help…
That’s why the name, this spirit hovers over women like an old friend, it’s like a hazy memory of lost youth, like a ghost from the past who was first a friend and later a nightmare…
There are several smaller square formats (60 x 60 cm) in the exhibition. How does it affect the composition of a work and are you at ease with this format?
It’s not a format that I often use but it’s not a problem to deal with it. The main thing is that this format is very simple to make a decision. When you have a rectangular format, you have to think about how to adapt the composition (for example from a photography to the canvas) and decide if it’s better to use it horizontally or vertically (also depending on the number of figures you want to represent). Whereas, with a square format, the figure finds its place naturally and the composition will be identical whatever orientation you choose in the beginning. It’s a smaller adventure!
Moreover, these canvases also had the interesting characteristic of having a thickness of 6 cm ; which increases its physical presence.
You have “Art is easy” inscripted on the arm you are painting with. How does it affect the action of painting or thinking?
This sentence comes regularly in the texts of some artists… but this tattoo was a mistake of an alcohol-fuelled night… both euphoric and unreasonable.
It’s a reminder of bad times in the past, when I painted drunk to feel the euphoria and lightness… without fear. Now that I don’t drink anymore, this tattoo is here to convince me to do things with enthusiasm and without fear.
As Czeck artists we use the term “Utahanỳ” for paintings (which can be translated as “exhausted”) to describe the direction taken by a painting… and you don’t see that it is getting worse and worse… you don’t see the degradation of the process. On the contrary, you think it’s better.
Sometimes people make mistakes and don’t realize it immediately or don’t see how things get worse. The most difficult thing is to know when to stop… that’s also a usual lesson that we learn at the Artschool and Academy… “you have to know when it’s finished”.
Current show : Princesses – Galerie Toyen (Prague) – Until August 31th
Upcoming show : Magic Monsters – Nová Síň – From September 14th to 25th – https://www.novasin.org/vystavy/tomas-jetela-magic-monsters/
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