Jiří Votruba: Too Much Love

2 May-23 June 2019

“One way or another, we shall now let ourselves be gently rocked by too much love... for the world and for art.”

 

Painter, graphic designer and illustrator Jirí Votruba is a leading figure in Czech Art. In his paintings and other works of art, he has successfully combined his visual experiences with Japanese comics and graphic design with American painting strategies after World War II. Exceptionally creative in the field of graphic design, Votruba focuses his work on artistic activities. As part of a long-term collaboration with the National Theater, he is also collaborating with the Children's Opera, where he works on creating an original scene.

 

The exhibition, which will include 60 works to be exhibited under the name of Too Much Love in CerModern, illustrates the artist's long-term aesthetic strategies and the critical point of view directed at contemporary society as a subtext.

 

In 3 different episodes of Too Much Love exhibition, he will exhibit his works which he has prepared with a wide production chronology ranging from pop art portraits, one of the most distinctive symbols of his art, to the series prepared from the comic book culture with reference to the waste culture that focused on political reality.

 

The exhibition will be organized in collaboration with the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Ankara

 

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I don’t know if there is more or less love in large cities, in international centers – in short, in the big world – than anywhere else, but one thing is certain: like everything else, in the big city love is exposed to an energetic field full of visual temptations and unceasing forward movement. And not just love among living beings, but also love for art and even art as such. All one has to do is expose one’s face, eyes, mind, and sensibilities to these boisterous events, to let oneself be permeated by them, and then, with a subtle sense of objectivity, to produce a report on what it perhaps means, what I think about it, how I see it. One can certainly also leave it be, pass through it all like a ghost, and disappear in a place of no return, in eternity, in timelessness. This is easy to do in the big city, but it is not the case with Jiří Votruba. He is not lost in the city, but leaves his trace in it, a quite distinctive trace, and not just in love-filled Prague, but elsewhere as well, quite far away. He likes the buzz of what the city has to offer: culture and popular culture, art and advertising, the profound and the superficial, the known and the unknown. He likes change and movement; he soaks in the roiling lights, shapes and colors that greet those who let themselves be pulled in by the city. And he likes art – the kind of art that belongs to the hustle and bustle of the big city. It is thus no surprise that Jiří’s art courts this big city, especially since there is too much love in it.

 

The paintings in the series Too Much Love, which has been growing since the middle of the first decade, are a colorful jumble of small-scale images and fragments of cultural, pop-cultural, and social reality. They are reproductions and paraphrases of imagery from products and logos, cultural symbols; they recall pop-art, except that they are covered in drip painting to reveal what came before pop-art – i.e., abstract expressionism. In the next stage of this series, real objects get their say: garbage, the trash of consumer civilization. The paintings thus become assemblages of sorts, including even the use of ready-made Barbie dolls in the manner of Christ on the cross. We get the sense of something known that has been made new and original. There is no arguing that the synthesizing of context is Votruba’s strong suit. Not only in Too Much Love, but also in his other series, we recognize his admiration for American postwar art, mixed with an enthusiasm for the cultural and consumer imagery of the Western world and Japan. We hear the echoes of the comic-book art that has been so successful in American and Japanese culture; we are amazed at the fascination with the global brand universe, with the icons of Western commercial imagery that have become a natural part of social existence; we understand the way fine art has become intertwined with its applied performances. Interestingly, though, Jirka’s works not only admire contemporary civilization, but also take a slightly critical view of it. Both are constantly present. He is always telling us: this is good, but be careful.

 

Another powerful and extensive series of paintings are the figural paintings from 2009–2012 entitled Global Portrait. They depict people to whom Jirka has some kind of relationship: individuals whom he admires, but also ordinary people from Europe and Japan whom he has met. The important thing is not just the subject, but also the related attributes and the chosen background: His wife Laura with black glasses and an Art Today bag standing in front of a green wall, or Nikola Márová, the prima ballerina at Prague’s National Theatre, posing unostentatiously in jeans and a yellow tank top in front of a background showing a sequence of ballet steps. (Jirka likes to use visual manuals, which are like an applied form of comic-book art. He especially indulged in their use in his series of paintings from 2001–2005 known as User’s Manuals, in which he combined visual instructions with colorful flowers.) Another piece shows Dr. Heinrich Blömeke, the former director of Prague’s Goethe-Institute, in front of a yellow wall with comic-book speech bubbles containing the names of German-language literary greats. The Japanese comic-book figure Mighty Atom zooms across a wall behind Kero Kitagawa, a shop clerk from the Kanazawa boutique Rough; the artist Petr Písařík is placed against a bright orange background above text like from a magazine of must-have fashions; and American poet Lane Lams is shown from behind, looking out over the countryside. Additional portraits include the Vitáseks – husband-and-wife doctors at Prague’s Na Homolce Hospital – plus many others.

 

But Jirka didn’t stick just with paintings. His subjects expanded into three dimensions – here it is no secret that he was inspired by his favorite American painter, Alex Katz – as he began to create painted cutouts that can be exhibited differently than canvases. They can be installed within the gallery space, thus expanding the pop-cultural and painterly illusion. Jirka was attracted to cutouts not only for making portraits of people who would expand his Global Portraits, but also for exploring visual icons such as erstwhile revolutionary Che Guevara, whose portrait has been reused over and over on consumer products until it has become a fashion brand of its own. Jirka even created a cutout dedicated to the king of Japanese comics, Osamu Tezuka, with meticulously carved corners on the top of his head. These cutouts nevertheless evolved into distinctive three-dimensional comics that, using that unambiguous symbol of love – a red heart – further developed the motif of love, i.e., that global motif that Jirka apparently is not ready to give up just yet. The red heart even found its way onto his paintings of snow-covered mountains (I don’t know whether they are more Japanese or European), in which mountain sceneries encounter brand-name shoes and pop-cultural attributes – after all, these are what make the city a paradise. The semantic contrast is clear.

 

Jirka’s identifying marks include a distinct visual diction that works with a meticulous line and the specific use of colors when painting. His bright colors, including the previously very popular yellow, orange, and red, have continued to expand in their range to liberate Jirka’s painterly range. His pleasant pop style and way of going with the consumerist grain, his subtle humor and sharp wit all find support in his colors and his line, as does the hidden but unconcealed concern as to where all these pleasant, forthcoming, and consumerist things might lead. To new heights, or over a cliff? One way or another, we shall now let ourselves be gently rocked by too much love... for the world and for art.

 

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