Česká centra, Czech Centres

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2 Feb 2012 - 31 Mar 2012


The exhibition reflects the creations of the Frenchman and Czech native Yan Zelenka, who earned his place in the world of French visual arts.

The name of the exhibition refers to a Czech children's riddle. The subtitle of the exhibition, “Vegetable Imagination,” affords visitors considerable room for their own fantasy… The author of the text is Adam Hoffmeister, the exhibition curator.

I first met the sculptor Yan Zelenka, a man of quiet voice, tranquil demeanor, and elegant manners, in the early eighties in Paris, in the studio of the recently departed painter Antonín Sládek. It was on Rue de Fauberg St. Antoine in the eleventh Parisian district. At the time, that quarter of Paris, not far from the Bastille, still maintained its original character of a people’s quarter, full of small stores selling fabric and furniture, as well as workshops of upholsterers, joiners, artisan woodcarvers, patina makers, bookbinders and the like.

Yan Zelenka has remained faithful to that quarter until today. He works in a studio which can be found at 37, rue de Montreuil and which has been called the “Industrial Courtyard” since its very foundation. Until the French Revolution it was home to the factory of the royal manufacturer of printed wallpaper, Revillon. At present, its three courtyards measuring 4000 square meters house roughly fifty designers and artisanal craftspeople. In the last one of these works the Czech-French sculptor and painter Yan Zelenka, who in addition to creating his own work, offers courses on sculpture and drawing, with and without models.

Yan Zelenka was born in October 1943 to the family of an accountant, in a building across from the baroque Rohansky Palace in Prague’s “Small Quarter.” He himself says that observing its baroque curves was his first relevant design experience and that it had a definite impact upon him. After finishing elementary school he applied to the College and High Art School of Vaclav Hollar in Prague. However, he was not accepted. He therefore joined the Zukov concern in Holešovice where he learned to create decorative objects out of different types of metal. There, aside from practical knowledge and craftsmanship, he acquired the necessary worker’s profile. After he was accepted to the Artistic High School in Žižkov and subsequently to Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague (UMPRUM), nothing more stood in his way. He began his studies at UMPRUM in the sculpture studio of Professor Kavan. However, he completed his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts, graduating in 1971 under the direction of Professor Lidický. After completing his military service, where he met the painter, sculptor and translator from French, Jaroslav Myslivček, he succeeded - particularly because of the latter’s advice - in obtaining a short-term residency for study in France. There he would meet his future wife.

After coming home, he attempted for a long time to return to France. He was only able to do so after four years in 1978. He began working as an assistant for the French sculptor René Coutelle. Zelenka lived for a full twelve years in the distinctive French atmosphere of the grand artist, in a sprawling house with a garden. In addition to his work as an assistant he never neglected his own art. He drew, painted and modeled, and poured statues of plaster and bronze. His bronze sculptures gained renown and were auctioned in the famous auction house Hotel Drouot.

In 1991 he participated in a number of group exhibits at the May Salon (quai de Branly), the exposition Réalités nouvelles (Gran Palais) and Formes Humains (the Garden of the Rodin Museum) in 1996. In 2000 he exhibited in a group show at the Czech Centre named Nine Czech Artists in Paris. He had a solo exhibition in the Espace Accattone in Paris in 2007. After 2000 drawing and painting took precedence over sculpture for Zelenka. Vegetable and fruit motifs drew his attention. Because he is a trained sculpture, he has a sense and understanding of their forms. The round shape of the pea, the pear and the beet in monumental scale hurtle through the air; in contrast the dramatically sharp spikes of artichoke leaves cut through clouds above a forlorn landscape. The vegetables swell to gigantic size and powerfully assail the world. In a tragicomic battle, the clever knight Don Quijote and the loyal Sancho Panza ride out to save the fantastically empty landscape of a world already dominated by gigantic artichokes. Zelenka perfectly masters drawing and so he happily plays with his vegetables (which sound like "Zelenka" in Czech, both rooted in the word for "green"). Sometimes he paints artichokes in a mannerist spirit; at other times his painting loosens up, taking on more abstract forms.

Other well-known figures, Angel and Death, join in the imaginary battle with the animated vegetables. Zelenka’s increasingly loosens his signature style and into his most favored motifs he adds strawberries. A bunch of strawberries creates the impression of the monumental and their monstrosity is further underscored by the fact that they are black. From the top of the strawberries it is only a short step to a new theme - Mountains. They appear on the pictures with names like Mountain, Through the Mountain, White Mountain, and Mountains and Fire. Zelenka is smitten with the enormity of his own strange elements moving through an immense realm. He amazes himself and his audience with the power of mountains, whether they are formed of strawberries or other members of the vegetable realm or are pictures tucked in memories. Yan Zelenka paints them fiercely and with the great courage of a gentle and peaceful man. Perhaps he even identifies somewhat with his favorite hero, Don Quijote.




From: 2 Feb 2012
To: 31 Mar 2012


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