Jaroslav Čása: Several Questions


Zdeněk, you’ve travelled quite a bit. Where have you felt best, and where has it been best for your paintings? Fifteen years ago I had a peek behind the Iron Curtain and I was outright startled. Back then I walked into the Museum of Modern Art in Paris and scrounged for a student discount for so long till they found out I was Czech, and they let me in free of charge. I opened my eyes to Constructivists, which is what the exhibition /ed. note: He is referring to the exhibition Aspects historiques du constructivisme et de l´art concret, Collection McCrory (Historical Aspects of Constructivism and Concrete Art, McCrory Collection) that took place from 3 Jun – 28 Aug 1977 at Musée d´Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. Two Zdeněk Sýkora paintings are on the list of works exhibited/ was about – pleasingly from the entire world, through the eyes of the 20th Century. And I ran right into Kupka. With him it started, though I knew the foreign artists better from books. I took in one picture after another. And then, suddenly, yours. One that I knew from your studio. And in such fine company: Malevich, Mondrian, Kupka, Riley, Sýkora. I read the sign: Zdenek Sykora, Louny. Louny, that’s what touched me most back then. Later, back at home, it hit me that there’s also a path that leads from Louny to the outside world – regardless of the communists, smart alecks, idiots, ideology and demagogy. That’s the first point. The second is that I realised that art is happiness. From that moment I envied you, that you always knew how to pursue that objective. The third is that since then, I have been constantly carrying these two feelings with me. So, Zdeněk, which way does the path to the outside world go?
That’s some question! You answered it yourself. But that feeling you spoke about, I always have it when I participate in international exhibitions where the list of participating artists feature cities like New York, Frankfurt, Paris, Madrid, Tokyo, London – and then suddenly Louny chimes in there. That always brings a smile to my face and it makes me feel good that Louny is present in such an international context.

Which way does the path to the outside world go? Mainly through yourself. And you can only get to yourself in a place where you feel good, where you feel like you’re at home. I was not headed for the outside world. It never occurred to me that I would get to some international arena through my obsession, painting. When I studied at the local secondary school, I remember that my first ambition was to exhibit at Houda’s, the local glazier. Everything that people brought in to get framed under glass was exhibited there. This was my first fulfilled desire. I was lucky that there was an excellent person at the school – Professor Mařík /ed. note: Jaroslav Mařík (1888–1965), teacher and artist. Studied at the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague (Schikaneder, Preisler). From 1912 a draughtsmanship professor at the secondary school in Louny/, the man who gave me my foundation in art. Towards the end of my studies, I had no other want or passion than to continue with painting, but I didn’t manage to do so. It was Louny that played a fundamentally significant role in my future. During the war here, a group of enthusiastic people was formed centred around the city librarian at the time, Jaroslav Janík. /Ed. note: Jaroslav Janík (1901–1974), from 1933 till 1946 the head librarian in Louny. Orientated towards philosophy and highly educated, he fundamentally influenced the intellectual atmosphere of Louny. His friends included Jindřich Chalupecký, Jiří Kolář, Jaromír Funke and Konstantin Biebl./ This group was initiated and led by Kamil Linhart. It was here where the wide horizons that culture offers were first opened up to me. Only after the war did I finally get to art, I couldn’t be without it. I was lucky to have excellent professors like Salcman, Lidický and Bouda. The rest just depended on me. It’s important that a person does what they’re passionate about. Whoever is driven by just ambition and a desire to be rich and famous, will face miserable drudgery and this can always been seen in the result.

What do you think about the status of artists in society?
I’m against putting any profession above others. Why should some singer, writer, actor or painter be something more than a good mason, butcher or doctor? I get along well with everyone who is really skilled at something. An artist can be popular, he can exhilarate, but that doesn’t give him the right to have a higher status. Of course, art has other levels; it’s a path to spiritual, not material expression. This evaluation is not very simple, but in principle it is as I’ve said.

How many people understand quality in art?
If someone stands in front of art, especially modern art, it depends on the level of their inner freedom; it’s important for you to be as natural as you really are in front of the work of art. It’s just a misunderstanding that someone doesn’t understand modern art. People understand (or don’t understand) old art the same as new art. What’s important is whether or not someone is able to feel art. Then it absolutely doesn’t matter whether they’re looking at new or old art. I make modern art that seems to be distant from the Everyman. But it is with these people where I find understanding, if they are also individuals.

In a certain way, the feeling of inner freedom stems from one’s social foundation. Do you get the feeling that it’s worse here than anywhere else?
Differences certainly do exist, because here the culture’s continuity was interrupted. There were the Fifties, which brought the absolute vulgarisation of art into Socialist Realism. In the early Sixties it was enough to be open for a couple of years, and art entered the public consciousness. Changes happened quickly: from the time the guestbooks at our first exhibitions contained insults, it took less than two years and the disagreement no longer existed. The darkness returned in another form during normalization /translator´s note: The period in Czechoslovakia in the 1970s and 80s, when the political reforms of the 60s were reversed and the new status quo was preserved/, and certain things were banned from being shown (abstraction completely).

Do you think that understanding comes from being exposed to wider contexts or more information about contemporary art etc.?
The sole path is to maintain your own opinion and not succumb to propaganda about art that turns it into something far less accessible than it really is.

So what about Louny and art?
I think that there used to be an excellent audience for art when the Benedikt Rejt Gallery was still operating. Once the gallery re-opens, which is our wish, and people will have the opportunity to go there any time and have a look just like they go out for a coffee or a beer, art will become a part of their lives. Everyone who wants to, who is so inclined, can go out and enjoy this spiritual sandwich. If this opportunity will last a few years, then it won’t be any problem at all to cultivate an artistically educated audience. The gallery in Louny has got the capacity for it: magnificent collections that any other gallery in the country can envy. It’s necessary to start exhibiting again. In Prague the opportunities to exhibit will dwindle, and Louny can someday become a very important exhibition centre. “The public’s artistic consciousness” could be a matter of course here in Louny in a couple of years.

Sometimes it alarms me that all the Green alternatives are left of centre. We stewed in that environment for long enough. We can’t even breathe here and we vote for right-wing parties, we’re lacking balance. What’s your opinion?
Being orientated to the right will probably be our salvation now, until a real economy is re-established in place of this fictitious and phoney one. Once we’re as far along as the West, then we can start thinking differently. It can also be said that capitalism in and of itself is not an ideal principle for life. It is a different, more natural type of putting pressure on people. The search will have to continue. I don’t know if that’s going to be on the left or on the right, we can’t let ourselves be deceived and we have to be able to tell when these terms are being used as a person’s or group’s political tool to get into power – which, regrettably, is what has prevailed thus far. It’s necessary to look for a lifestyle, the meaning of human existence, try to give life spiritual substance – this can be religious belief or some philosophy that can be used for everyday life. We live in the “artificial primeval forest of civilisation” where nothing can be defined precisely. There is constant movement.


Published in Aréna, Vol. II, 28 Jan 1992, No. 1, p. 1.

Jaroslav Čása (1953), friend from Louny and secondary school English teacher. He also attended Zdeněk Sýkora’s art club classes and lectures.