In a certain sense, the world of Western European and American culture is still in the dark about what happened to art ‘after Communism’. I mean what happened to art not only in Russia itself, but also in the nations of Eastern Europe that had been satellites of the Soviet Union. In theory there should have been an immediate liberation, with artists suddenly set free to do what they pleased and produce what they pleased. In practice, this seems not to have been the case.
Jaroslav Valecka is in quite a number of ways a typical product of the post-Communist situation in his native country, the Czech Republic. This in many ways amounts to saying that his work is not ‘typical’ of anything at all, but is sui generis, an entirely individual product of his own talent.
There are a number of ways of looking at this situation. One can look back at two very specific moments in Czech culture, moments in culture associated with the culture of Prague, its capital city. I don’t think I am alone in finding Prague beautiful, but also melancholy and slightly sinister. I associate this atmosphere with the history of one of its most famous inhabitants, the 16th century Hapsburg emperor Rudolph II, a student of astrology and alchemy, and patron of some particularly strange artists, among them Arcimboldo, who portrayed his patron as the Roman god Vertumnus, in a painting where the likeness is made up of different kinds of flowers and fruit.
I also associate it with the writer Franz Kafka, whose work is described in Wikipedia as “filled with the themes and archetypes of alienation, physical and psychological brutality, parent-child conflict, characters on a terrifying quest, labyrinths of bureaucracy, and mystical transformations.” One doesn’t have to look far in this book to find at least some of these themes in Valecka’s work. Several paintings, one showing a woman being attacked by giant scorpions, another a man whose face is being attacked by a gigantic moth, recall what is perhaps Kafka’s most famous story, The Metamorphosis, in which a traveling salesman called Gregor Samsa awakens to find that he has been transformed overnight into a giant insect.
However, the scenery for these works is not Prague but what used to be called the Sudetenland, a region of Czechoslovakia that, before World War II, had a primarily German-speaking population. Immediately after the Anschluss of March 1938, which united Austria with Germany, the Nazi government began making increasingly aggressive claims to the region, which was handed over to Germany in October of the same year. This was followed by the German invasion of the Czech area of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, and then by the outbreak of World War II.
Following the war, the majority of the German-speaking population of the Sudetenland (a name now officially banned) was expelled. A large part of the small minority who were left emigrated of their own accord. In 1930 the German inhabitants of the region had numbered over three million. In 2001, only 40,000 people in the Czech Republic claimed German ethnicity.
Valecka’s paintings often seem to speak of this tragic history. There are numerous snow-bound landscapes, devoid of inhabitants. Some paintings show roofless houses. Other still allude to the World War – a single-engined plane crashed and crumpled in a snowbound forest; a panorama, with mountains and a lake, where the sky is full of parachutists; another panorama where a plane is coming down in flames. There are spooky incidents – a man wearing a bird’s head, standing upright, hands in pockets, in a little boat in the middling of a twilight lake. There is no sign of an outboard motor or a pair of oars. The water is still, and the boat doesn’t seem to be moving. A tall scarecrow figure recurs. In one painting it is seen hanging from a lamppost – the victim of a symbolic lynching. In another painting, there is a head-and-shoulders image of a young man, staring directly at us, with his mouth sewn shut.
This is perhaps as near as Valecka gets to an outright political statement. The collective impression the paintings make is nevertheless one of great unease. They are not so much about history, as things that exist in the midst of history.
It is interesting to consider why this should be the case. One clue, perhaps, is Valecka’s membership of the now international Stuckist Movement. Stuckism originated in Britain, as a provincial avant-garde movement rooted in the Medway Valley. The Medway is not one of the noblest of England’s rivers. It has a course of only seventy miles, flowing through Sussex and then Kent, finally emptying into the Thames Estuary. On its banks are a number of small towns, one of which, Chatham, has a long history as a naval dockyard. In the 1970s, the Valley was one of the places where Punk Rock originated. From this a more complete arts scene developed, embracing not only music, but also poetry and the visual arts. A similar experimental arts scene had developed in Liverpool and its environs about a decade earlier. In both locations, much of the activity was proudly amateur, with little professional formation. And yet, paradoxically, both these provincial scenes were proudly avant-garde, more keenly aware, in fact of the main European avant-garde tradition than the elitist arts scene in London. It is no accident that the only major exhibition of British Stuckist work so far held in an official space took place at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool. It was so popular its run had to be extended.
The Medway visual arts scene, however, had one important sticking point. Its participants, even those with little or no art school training, believed in making things. They were deeply resistant to the Conceptual currents that were sweeping the board in certain European avant-gardes, perhaps particularly in France, and which were beginning to have an impact on the various official publicly subsidized institutions, among them the various branches of the Tate, places that were supposed to foster artistic experiment in London – this despite the fact that an ‘official avant-garde’ is obviously, by its very nature, an oxymoron.
Stuckism, like many experimental arts movements (the Fauves are a case in point) got its name from one of its opponents: in this case from the girl-friend of one of its originating figures, the painter Billy Childish. She, losing patience with his devotion to painting, berated him with the cry: “The trouble with you, Billy, is that you’re stuck, stuck, STUCK!”
Under the name Stuckists, the British followers of the new movement became famous, or at least notorious, for their annual demonstrations in front of Tate Britain, denouncing and ridiculing the Turner Prize, an annual jamboree that had become the flagship event for support of what the official hierarchy wished to define as approved avant-gardism.
Given this history of Stuckism in its native country, it may be wondered why the name, and the ideas it embodied, spread so rapidly elsewhere. If one looks at the history of radical movements in the arts, from the mid-19th century onwards, nearly all of them originated in mainland Europe – in France. Germany or Italy, though some also had important offshoots elsewhere, as, for example, the Futurist impulse did in Russia. The chief exception is Pre-Raphaelitism, especially in its later form, the Aesthetic Movement. This was influential in fostering the birth of Symbolism, which in turn morphed into Surrealism. Stuckism has been the first British-born art movement since Pre-Raphaelitism to achieve an equivalent international impact. The force of this impact may perhaps be judged by that fact that, at least a quarter-of-a-century and perhaps more since its birth, it is still regarded as troublesome and subversive.
One thing that undoubtedly helped to disseminate Stuckism was the Internet, which fostered lateral rather that hierarchical communication. For obvious reasons, young artists acclimatized themselves much more rapidly to the possibilities offered by the worldwide web than their seniors. Though the Stuckists were no friends of digital methods of creating and changing imagery, they soon became aware of the power of the web to transmit ideas, both very rapidly and over extremely long distances. They became gleefully conscious that the Internet enabled them to subvert and circumvent long established channels of communication controlled by others. No longer was there any need to rely on perhaps reluctant intermediaries, either to communicate ideas, or to offer access to the images that artists allied to Stuckism produced.
The rise of the Internet coincided almost exactly with the collapse of the Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, which had endured since the end of World War II. In theory at least this offered the artists of the satellite nations a new freedom of expression, freed from the rigid political and ideological controls imposed by local Communist apparatchiks. In practice, this was not quite the case. The new political masters were theoreticians in their own right, and the ‘dissident’ intellectuals to whom they were allied very naturally came forward to re-organize existing cultural systems, inherited from the communist past. The problem as that these new organizers very often had their own fairly rigid system of ideas, allied to then fashionable French Structuralism, and that they had, in particular, a great enthusiasm for Conceptual Art. Artists who did not fit into this pattern tended to lose out. No wonder Valecka found refuge in international Stuckism.
Yet, while this may signal a certain spirit of rebelliousness against the state of things as they are, he is certainly not an unperson in his native country. One of the paintings included in this book, A Signal Rocket, dated 2011, is in the collection of the Prague National Gallery. Since 1997 he has had quite a number of solo shows in Prafue or elsewhere in the Czech Republic, one or more every year. He has been included in a number of group exhibitions outside it – a handful in France (none in Paris), one or two in Germany, and, in 2009, an exhibition at the Czech Centre in New York.
One can attribute this rather sparse international showing, surprising given both the evidently high quality of the paintings, and also their poetic appeal, to the fact that he comes from a small, nation, though one with an extremely well-established artistic tradition, stretching back to the beginning years of the International Modern Movement in art. Perhaps the best-known name in this context is that of the Art Nouveau painter and poster designer Alphonse Mucha who, in his time, had a Europe-wide influence. Another perhaps familiar figure is Jiri ‘Georg’ Dokoupil (b. 1954), still indentified as Czech, though he escaped from Prague aged fourteen, at the time of the Russian invasion in 1968, and has made is career largely elsewhere, though he still retains links with his native country. It is perhaps worth quoting a statement of Dokoupil’s in this context. “I’d come to realize,” he once said, “that the conceptual artists had become liars. What they had promised us was salvation, art without form. But I’d go into a gallery and there would be nothing to see, and it would be for a lot of money – that just couldn’t be it.” One can be pretty certain that Valecka would agree with this.
The charm of Valecka’s paintings is, very often, their poetic melancholy. Looking at them, we enter into a haunted world. Even when the compositions make statements about violent events, they tend to distance these from the spectator. It is symbolic that so many of his landscapes are made from a high viewpoint. Looking far into the distance. His attitude seems to be that of a visiting stranger, trying to make sense of places and events from which he is subtly alienated. He sees traces and signs of he catastrophic, but he is not immediately, viscerally involved.
We live at a time when there is a great deal of extremely superficial political art, mislabeled as radical and ‘avant-garde’, but in fact very conformist at heart, embracing received opinions dear to the liberal or would-be liberal educated elite. Valecka’s work does not do this. It does embrace the turbulent past of the region of Europe he lives in. And it often speaks eloquently of what the Roman poet Virgil, more than two millennia ago, called the “lacrimae rerurm” – the “tears of things”.
Dream of the North
Human speech is not entirely accurate, especially with regard to expressions describing mental states, among which belongs the word ‘dream’. Dreams are usually a combination of two tendencies of human nature - what we wish for, and what we fear. In a dream, these tendencies are interwoven with countless threads of experience and perceptions from our lives, which influence us no matter when and where they happened. A common dream is like a safety valve, used by our sub-conscious to ensure the relative balance of our mental state. The seeming illogicality and chaos of dreams have a profound positive meaning and order, which, however, are most commonly not reflected in the dream itself. The bizarre imagery and story-lines frequently tempt us to recollect our dreams, to write them down or possibly to depict them in works of art. Although significant dreams appear only rarely, there are individuals who receive great inspiration in this way, whether for their artistic or scientific work.
In another of its meanings, the word dream expresses a powerful and vivid image of something important, which is connected with the feeling of fulfilment in life. People fulfil dreams of this kind in their professional lives, relationships and other areas. Here, it signifies creativity and imagination, which coupled with discipline and hard work can make dreams come true. It is mostly in this sense that the name of Jaroslav Valečka’s exhibition in the Regional Gallery in Liberec can be understood.
Jaroslav Valečka draws much of his inspiration from the landscape of Northern Bohemia, where he lived as a child (in the village of Líska in the Lusatian Mountains) and to which he often returns to this day. He is among those lucky few who have managed to use the connection with the landscape created at an age when the soul is very receptive and absorbs all impressions with great intensity. The charming mountainous landscapes of the Lusatian and Jizera Mountains and the Ještěd Ridge contrast sharply with its dark past, marked by the post-war change of population. Abandoned and dilapidated private and public buildings, burned out churches and cemeteries in ruin made a backdrop for the lives of people who often moved to this area involuntarily. For long time, this contrast foreshadowed the character of the artist's paintings, which are among the first to reflect artistically on the area of the Sudetenland, heavily affected by the loss of memory. Yet Valečka’s stance is purely apolitical, because his engagement is based on general humanistic values in which issues of nationality are transformed and generalized into purely human ones.
The word north does not have only a geographical meaning. It can also be understood in the context of Nordic poetry and Nordic artists. Of those who stood symbolically at the cradle of Jaroslav Valečka's artistic views, let's name Caspar David Friedrich and Edvard Munch, and also the film director Ingmar Bergman. Caspar David Friedrich saw landscape not as a defined backdrop or a view through a window, but as the harmonic union of a specific real place and his imagination. He does not imitate Nature, but contributes to it, to achieve an image that will be an expression of his experience and a crystalline idea which is not strictly bound to its model. He combines freely the landscape of the Krkonoše mountains with Saxon architecture, or the landscape of the Bohemian Uplands with the North Sea. Similarly, Jaroslav Valečka combines the view of Liberec with Königstein fortress in Saxon Switzerland. Friedrich included a rear view image of a figure in his paintings; Valečka uses a figure or its shadow; but for both artists, these represent the encounter of a lonely observer, wanderer or even the painter himself with a landscape. Friedrich was fascinated by the process of creation and destruction, death and dying, and depicted these using fine symbolic suggestions and hints In the work of Edvard Munch, Ingmar Berman and later also Jaroslav Valečka, these hints develop into an open, sometimes almost naturalistic desire to penetrate the dark secrets of reality.
Valečka is a typical post-modern artist. He is interested in the depiction of landscapes, although the Studio of landscape painting at the Prague Academy was closed in the 1990s. Jaroslav Valečka’s landscapes become stages for stories and events of the past, present and, in a certain sense, even the future - how else to explain the numerous lights around Souš dam, the area that is nowadays entirely uninhabited? His attention to rural and urban land is accompanied with a strong interest in the story of a particular “common” man, whether he be from the present or the original inhabitant of the landscape. He shows unusual empathy for both kinds. The Bergmanesque principle of the flashback and the psychological complexity of characters are cornerstones of Valečka’s pictorial stories, too.
The artist understands landscape in the sense of the original expression, Landschaft, which means a horizontally unfolded area of land. He depicts landscapes idyllically, mostly at three times of day – at dawn, at dusk and at night. All these times offer a man the realm of peace, which is translated into the feeling that time has stopped.
The night has its power
Many paintings are night-time views lit by silver moonlight. How one experiences this time of day depends on how mindful one is. If it is in our power, we can at this time – more easily than during the day – feel the greatness and order of the Universe. One can become one with the cosmic theatre, its seemingly unmoving constellations and planets and its moving asteroids and comets playing the main roles. If, however, you fail to control your emotions, night will deepen and agitate them, especially the negative ones, and make you feel like a helpless pawn. The Moon controls the rhythm of tides in the oceans, and living matter saturated with water also reacts to these rhythms. Sensitive people may experience a surge of energy, which, however, may occasionally cause a number of unpleasant phenomena (nightmares, somnambulism).
The light in the artist's paintings is often enhanced by a white covering of snow, which diffuses the starlight and lends the paintings a fairy-tale-like, idyllic quality. The night-time landscape is rarely viewed without the presence of a man. Sometimes, that presence is mediated by the lights of a city or a village settlement. The surfaces of lakes play a special role, as they multiply the lights on the banks. The night-time landscape is often accompanied by the motif of the energy of fire as an ambivalent force, destructive and purifying, and artistically as a chance to use the maximum contrast between blue and yellow. At night in particular, man is confronted with the power of storms, the unpredictability of bolts of lightning and the roaring of thunder. Resistance is in vain; the only possible reaction is reconciliation to the often-destructive forces of Nature.
The night-time view is typical not only for Jaroslav Valečka's landscapes, but also for his interior architectonic motifs. The viewer becomes a witness of events taking place in darkened castle halls, which are entered by people in contemporary clothes. Dark spaces often hide even darker dwellers, because under the cover of night, negative manifestations of the lower self and its negative tendencies, hidden in the subconscious, hide more easily. Sometimes, these are revealed even in the daytime images and so the canvas becomes a contrasting expression of the beauty of a fairy-tale-like landscape and the dark side of human nature. The English art historian, Edward Lucie-Smith, expressed this quality excellently: "Looking at them [Valečka’s paintings], we enter into a haunted world. Even when the compositions make statements about violent events, they tend to distance these from the spectator. It is symbolic that so many of his landscapes are made from a high viewpoint. Looking far into the distance. His attitude seems to be that of a visiting stranger, trying to make sense of places and events from which he is subtly alienated. He sees traces and signs of the catastrophic, but he is not immediately, viscerally involved.”
The people in his paintings often represent the dark side of Nature. Man is seen here as an imperfect creature, fallible, in religious terminology even “sinful” and, most importantly, mortal. The imminence of death and fate are the two themes Jaroslav Valečka works with and often he brings to the scenes an almost horror-like atmosphere. In this sense, his work may be compared with that of Karel Hynek Mácha and Karel Jaromír Erben. His landscapes can lift a man from the deep, giving him wings, while his figural scenes have the power to cast him back into it. His heroes often experience a painful loneliness, melancholy and uncertainty. To escape, they choose to find oblivion through alcohol, from where it is only a step into astral worlds, full of all kinds of monsters. Apocalyptic visions and human tragedies are balanced with a dose of irony and black humour. This is most apparent where the artist gives people animal masks. People become more interesting and, paradoxically, the animal masks make them more human in a certain way.
Valečka’s work should also be viewed from the perspective of the art groups he has been a member of, as this can illuminate many of his creative principles. Most important is the Stuckism art movement, founded in 1999 in Great Britain, which spread to many other countries. The movement’s name is derived from the word stuck. Stuckists promote painting as a valuable medium in fine art, and they define themselves in opposition to other artistic media, conceptual art in particular. In doing so, they have introduced an interesting form of protest against the dictates of contemporary art and the creation of “novel” art at any cost. They are also critical towards contemporary art institutions and their modus operandi, where the value of art does not depend so much on who created it as on who collects and exhibits it. In the history of art, they admire in particular the French, German and Nordic Expressionism of the late 19th and the early 20th centuries. In their work, they emphasise expression, authenticity and emotion. This is why some artists define it as certain kind of Neomodernism. The Czech branch of Stuckism, under the name of Prague Stuckists, was founded in 2004. Later, on the grounds of differences in opinion, some of the members broke away; and in 2012, they founded the Czech-Slovakian group Central European Stuckists. Currently, however, the conflict between painting on the one hand and conceptual art and other artistic media on the other is not so intense. The medium of painting is not only tolerated, but respected and appreciated.
Jaroslav Valečka shows his irony and ability to see things with some detachment in his membership in the prankish art group Natvrdlí (The Obstinate). The members of this group dedicate themselves obstinately to the medium of painting, which allows them to communicate stories with surprising imagination and a special sense of humour.
In his landscapes, Jaroslav Valečka offers multiple possibilities for escaping time – by his unmistakable use of colour and light in depictions of certain times of day (dawn, dusk, night) or the seasons (winter, early spring). In his figurative scenes, Valečka combines expressive symbolism with Naivist morphology; loosely connected episodes reveal their logic and the temporal sequence of events only at a second glance. Like Mircea Eliad, Valečka believes that periodically repeated events, like processions or carnival and other folk festivals, are important for the creation of myths and for the restoration of community. In the area of the human psyche he says, together with the Sphinx, "Answer my riddle…”. Although we won’t be compelled to leap into the abyss, we might certainly feel dizzy from it, if we cannot answer. Jaroslav Valečka tells his stories in cycles. His paintings are somewhat like film shots, loosely connected into a single story. It’s not a typical approach to creation, but it does reflect the artist’s method – systematic, step by step, giving a tangible form to his dreams (and sometimes nightmares). Thus he attempts to maintain concentration and keep his distance from the superficiality and changeability of contemporary modern trends.
 For example, the 'discovery' of the periodic table.
 Edward Lucie-Smith, Martina Vítková, Veronika Marešová and Rea Michalová: Jaroslav Valečka, Prague : KANT, 2015, p. 11.
 The group was founded by the art historian and photographer Robert Janás. Members: Filip Kudrnáč, Kateřina Pažoutová, Martin Salajka, Jaroslav Valečka, later also Jiří Hauschka, Jaromír 99, Markéta Urbanová and Jan Gemrot.
 Central European Stuckists: Jiří Hauschka, Markéta Korečková, Ján Macko, Markéta Urbanová and Jaroslav Valečka.
 Members: Karel Jerie, MICL, Lukáš Miffek, Jaroslav Valečka, and the theoretician Rea Michalová.
Jaroslav Valečka is a man of firm principles, long-term plans and great diligence. The same applies to his art: it is unusually holistic, little subject to influences and trends and consistently puts forward a suggestive testimony about a mysteriously melancholic, yet very poetic world. The artistic language of the author is clearly shaped, devoid of superfluous ornament or deliberate randomness, and tells a very simple, almost primeval story whose urgency is capable of cutting the spectator to the very marrow. That is surely in part because Valečka’s message balances sophisticatedly on the boundary between fairytale and darkness.
I regard the artist's idiosyncratic style as one of his strongest sides. If we have a chance to see his work in the whole breadth of his individual series (for which this publication provides an ideal opportunity), unsuspected, subtle variations on motifs are revealed to us, both in the landscape and figural lines of his work. Valečka’s paintings connect together in front of our eyes like a sequence of stage sets or a storyboard, disclosing to us a sequential storyline that binds together the whole series and balances it with bravado. These shades are very refined and so may seem (given the absolute distinctness of each image) barely perceptible. They represent, however, a certain “superstructure” that does not unfold only as a story, but also affects the timeline, for example, with a subtle gradation of lighting situations. These uncontrived bonds within a series and between series remind me of the logic of the relationship between stars and constellations.
If I had to find a comparison in the history of Czech modern painting, I would choose the examples of Václav Špála and Jan Zrzavý, who also attempted to work the motif to total perfection and maximum communicability. Similarly to these masters, Jaroslav Valečka has been absolute clear since the beginning of his artistic career about what path to take and has never retreated or diverged from his course. His path passes through all of reality, allowing him at any moment to enrich his works with entirely new experiences without in any way jeopardizing the distinction of his style as such.
The rural environment of the Lusatian Mountains in North Bohemia (where Valečka grew up and to which he still returns periodically to live and work) is the artist’s dominant source of inspiration, in terms both of landscape and demography. He manifests an intimate fondness for the Sudetenland landscape, a “nameless” landscape heavily afflicted by war and by communism. He paints distant horizons and sensitively observes the changes in the sky. He captures landscapes that are cold, wintry and snow-covered, landscapes glowing with the light of fires, landscapes with the shimmering lights of human habitations. A dominant role is played by the excellently balanced colour scale with points of light and disquieting shadows. The atmosphere of silence and view from afar (making visible the individual planes of the terrain) represent other important elements in the expression of mood. In parallel, the artist develops figural themes in which he becomes steeped in the microcosm of the human individual, his mental states and humours. He conceives man as a being close to the mysterious forces of fate and death.
Jaroslav Valečka captures in his pieces the magical splendour and enchantment of extraordinary moments. His "landscape of miracles" does not in reality, however, contain any miracles. On the contrary, the artist highlights consequences with a candour similar to that of Karel Jaromír Erben (from a strictly philosophical perspective it is a moralist stance). Valečka also has in common with Erben a certain grim storytelling skill and a fondness for simple themes. I am convinced that like the poet’s work, Valečka’s, too, will only mature with the passing years.
Valečka’s inner and outer landscapes
The title of this text paraphrases that of a remarkable book by Václav Cílek, whose thinking I believe resonates in may aspects with the no less remarkable work of Jaroslav Valečka.
By way of introduction, the words of the classic Czech writer Josef Holeček cited in the aforementioned book are apt: “The landscape always influences the soul of man, or even the nation, so characterizing their qualities must begin with a description of the landscape in which they live.” Perhaps this very observation of Holeček’s was one of the painter Jaroslav Valečka’s sources of motivation for his enduring, central interest in depicting landscape.
Valečka subscribes to the international Stuckism movement via its Czech chapter, the Central Europe Stuckists, and is a member of the loose group Natvrdlí (Blockheaded), a Czech artists’ collective with an ironic, prankish subtext that demonstrates sharp dissent with the deluge of post-conceptual trends.
Neo-post-conceptualism, which found its way into this country in the late 1990s as a result of the liberated social atmosphere set in motion by the Velvet Revolution, afflicted Valečka during his studies at the Academy of Fine Art in Prague (AVU) in Professor Jiří Sopko’s painting studio and Professor Hendrych’s sculpture studio. The first decade of the new millennium only confirmed the growing promotion of conceptualism, the impact of new media and the intermedial concept of visual art. The change in approach to art and understanding it was also reflected in the concept of teaching at colleges of art, which partly abandoned training in traditional art disciplines and began to prioritize a multidisciplinary approach with an emphasis on academic polemics and programmatic confrontation. Not even these strong re-evaluating trends, pronouncing painting to be a thing dead and surpassed, could convince Valečka to change his artistic orientation; on the contrary, they reinforced his attitudes and opinions advocating a return to the traditional concept of painting.
In this confusing, “fluid” period, Jaroslav Valečka consistently maintains his traditional painterly positions. He systematically builds on the roots of European landscape painting in the line of Northern Romanticism, especially the work of the German Romantic Caspar David Friedrich, to which he has a close affinity, while at the same time drawing on modernist styles of painting – Expressionism and in a certain sense Symbolism. This is not, however, a matter of recycling something verified and already seen, but of creating a distinctive artistic handwriting with an unmistakable colourist character.
In terms of subject matter, Valečka’s landscape painting is closely tied to the Lusatian Mountains in North Bohemia, the land of his childhood and adolescence, the homeland to which he still returns both physically and mentally. The painter is a member of the second generation of Czechs to be born in the raw, former German Sudetenland border region and to grow entwined with its powerful submerged vibrations. Here the artist finds a refuge for his inspirations, a refuge that in Cílek’s sense shapes reason, judgement, character and our souls.
The artist captures the landscape as an image of the people who inhabit it. He transposes the content of our minds from technicist urban scenes filled with globalized shopping centres and tangles of highways to harsh, but eerily beautiful nature – to an environment that, despite its tumultuous history marked by war, expulsion of the original population and subsequent resettlement directed by indiscriminate communist central planning, has still maintained some of its former traditions of folk festivals and customs and whose indomitable genius loci endures with its magical aura. Valečka records witch burning bonfires, village pig slaughters, carnivals and funeral processions against the background of his suggestive panoramic views of open landscapes, like a pilgrim overlooking a valley or watching goings-on somewhere off in the distance.
He depicts repeatedly and from many angles bitterly cold winter or early spring in contrast with a strange, melodramatic light emanating from the sky. Elsewhere the cold tones of the painting are kindled by the glow of distant fires or illuminated human dwellings dotted along the horizon. The mood of the paintings is often enhanced by the evening or nighttime setting of the captured scenes, capable of stimulating our imagination to the maximum.
Valečka achieves his convincing, impressive effect by employing the ala prima technique. He first lays out the basic composition of the image and then directly models and builds the space and depth of the rural scenery with paint without the use of preparatory drawings. He allows himself to become absorbed by the subject and sensitively observes the development and shift of his original idea and mental sketch. He intuitively and emotionally paints what the happenings on the canvas themselves exhort him to.
The authentic ballad-like quality, melancholic poetry and almost acrid gloom of his canvases bring us back to ourselves, to the essence of human existence and the infinite carousel of life and death. This awareness of ourselves does not only burden us painfully, however, but also refreshes, anchors and guides us towards harmony with the universe.
Ralph Waldo Emerson aptly describes this dichotomy in his collection of essays Nature and the Soul: “In the tranquil landscape, and especially in the distant line of the horizon, man beholds somewhat as beautiful as his own nature. The greatest delight which the fields and woods minister, is the suggestion of an occult relation between man and the vegetable. I am not alone and unacknowledged. They nod to me, and I to them. Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. I am glad to the brink of fear. In the woods too, a man casts off his years, as the snake his slough, and at what period soever of life, is always a child. In the woods, is perpetual youth. In the woods, we return to reason and faith. Yet it is certain that the power to produce this delight, does not reside in nature, but in man, or in a harmony of both.”
The poetics of enigmas in the work of Jaroslav Valečka
The work of Jaroslav Valečka has evolved logically and continuously since the end of the 1990s, when the author finished his studies at Prague's Academy of Arts. Since 1991 he has gone through the painting studio of Jiří Sopko, the sculpture studio of Prof. Hendrych and has been on scholarships to Germany, Norway and the Netherlands. Apart from all that he received various prizes, e.g. The Soros Foundation Prize (1993) or The Hlávka Foundation Prize in 1996.
However, despite the sheer existence of an extraordinary and elaborate integrity of his work or the evidence about its quality which the prizes have seemed to suggest, his pathway to success has been complex. It has not been easy to push through in the past decade or so with a landscape painting on the edge of magical realism, or with lyrical portrait painting, which the author has simultaneously been pursuing in the second thematic line of his work. Particularly the first few years were quite pathetic.
Nevertheless, years of relentless work, cooperation with smaller galleries at home and abroad and taking part in extensive exhibitions, e.g. Perfect Tense in 2003 at Prague Castle's Riding-Hall have slowly made him an indispensable name on Czech art scene. Valečka is currently rated one of the most outstanding representatives of the younger middle-aged artists. His painting follows the classical line of figural and landscape painting. His work is highly expressive, yet very painstaking and stylistically pure, balancing on the edge of a simplified naivety.
Captive unto the panoramas
Valečka's landscape painting is absolutely unique especially because of its intensive feeling of nostalgia, ruin and dreariness. His landscapes are analytical studies of loneliness: they are inhospitable and unfitting for life. Some of them are winter landscapes, which makes the mentioned feelings even stronger. Valečka's paintings typically depict bare mountain sceneries, deep woods and abandoned piedmont houses. Out of the many possibilities that his landscapes offer he characteristically chooses the ones that pass the spectator's acceptance, and depicts the ones to which the spectator is yet to relate.
Two lines of themes can be distinguished in the author's work: the first one develops silent, meditative, panoramic views and awesome forest sceneries. The other line shows landscapes with people. These are most often countrymen, anonymously mobbed at a local occasion, e.g. around a fire in the woods or at a mysterious rustic wedding on a damp winter plain. These sceneries recall bizarre, indefinable pagan rituals. His figures tend to blend into the landscapes: they are inanimate and indefinite. In most cases they have no face, and none of the humans is depicted with physiognomic accuracy. They are shadows, impressions and representations of humanity. As characters in a play they witness the existence of obstinate highlanders in a waste and inhospitable land of a peculiar magic. The roughness and anonymity of the landscapes mirror the characters of the inhabitants. Valečka's paintings make the panorama of northern Bohemian borderland link closely with the dreary atmosphere of mutually alienated people and their minimal emotionality.
The figuration concept
Valečka's figural painting is typical for its symbolism: it is a landscape with a staffage of humans. Here again he emphasises anonymity, emptiness and mystery, evoking moments of magic and the mysterious aura of the displayed figures. If his figuration recalls any models at all, it is most definitely the figuration of Edvard Munch.
Naked, shameless girls are covered with a veil; portraits of lonely men in empty, spacious rooms are covered with a shadow; the portrayed characters which are stripped most have the physiognomy and the colouring of the resurrected. Valečka also often deals with the extreme case of death: ghastly pale dead men in coffins, women on the edge of psychical exhaustion, people fallen across the composition.
The themes of Valečka's paintings are by no means frolic. They are mysterious and in some cases symbolist and bleak. They are cynical. His favorite Sudetenland's atmosphere resonates with his figures.
Valečka does not court popularity. He is looking for a spectator who can understand. He develops formally and thematically from one exhibition to another and this shows his continuous ingenious pursuit. This catalogue gives evidence of its fruits.
The Magical Painting of Jaroslav Valečka
Jaroslav Valečka is one of the most interesting and most talented representatives of contemporary Czech artistic generation.He graduated at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague and Prague is also his place of residence.
However, he spent a significant part of his life inthe country, namely in Northern Bohemia. His bond with the dark romance of Northern Bohemia can clearly be identified in the Themis of his work, and leaves visible marks on the character of his artistic personality. Valečka has never been, nor ever aspires to be an ambitious leader of artistic avant-garde, and his paintings are definitely not meant to amaze the public. Infact, the power of his paintings rests in apart icularintimacy of his work and also in an exceptionally balanced quality of his artistic production.
His talent can easily get lost in group exhibitions, where an individual author is represented by one or two pieces. Nevertheless, the larger the collection of Valečka’s work is, the better one can realise his qualities as a painter. Valečka cannot be expected to produce a single masterpiece overshadowing everything else.His work tends to develop slowly, it matures step by step and materialises in tens of full-blooded, authentic pieces.
These can become an integral part of public and private gallery collections, just like Grimshaw’s nocturnos, landscapes of Worspswede group, which can also hardly be represented by a single piece, yet undoubtedly present quality art.
I am not referring to the respective artists just incidentally. In fact, Valečka’s paintings are both classical and contemporary at the same time.
Czech painting is now absorbed by omniscient reminiscences to 20th century abstract art. Being inspired by historical tradition of painting is not bad in itself. No artist creates in vacuum and is—at least subconsciously—made to be receiving impulses from things already done.
Czech artistic milieu today, however, tends to adore 20th century painting, which makes it difficult to fully appreciate the values of other artistic styles.The impulses of classical modern art and of abstract art produced between two world wars in particular, come back over and over again in a more or less pulverised form.
Valečka overcomes this crisis by going back to the tradition prior to modernism. His figurative motives remindus of Edvard Munch,his Themis and compostion recall Friedrich’s romantism and symbolism of the SURSUM group, and the way he handles colour and light is close to luminism, a style at the turn of 19th and 20th centuries.
Nevertheless, Valečka does not produce copies. He absorbs impulses and his own creativity forges them into a new integral unity. In that sense, his works have a totally contemporary feeling.The themes of his paintings are usually village settings from Lužické hory in Northern Bohemia. These are landscape views, either empty or with only sketched figures .Along side his landscapes,Valečka alsopaints figurative scenes.They are typical for thein dreamlike magic. (Valečka’s relatives and neighbours gain the quality of Arbes’s characters from his romanettos.)
Magical effect is underlined by evening and night sceneries in which his paintings are set. The quality of the painter becomes even more obvious in relation to his landscapes. He sometimes leaves them empty, sometimes they get populated by peculiar figures. Inhis figuration he joins the expressionist, Munchian understanding of the figure with an introvert, dreamy romanticism.
His figurek have only sketched faces which make them look ominously mysterious.
Thepower of Valečka’s paintings,however, rests mainly in his fascinating handling of colour and light. Colour and light create an integral unity, a peculiar medium woven from unbelievably fine hues and mysticallys hining light. When combined with unusual sacred themes, this medium gains a magical character. A church with a burning tower on one of the paintings is transformed into a tabernacle glaring with mystical light. Valečka confidently manages composition and deep structure of his paintings. His technical virtuosity is joined with the originality of his Themis and his suggestive handling of colour and light.
Valečka is becoming one of the most talented Czech painters with a clearly defined direction.