Petr Pastrnak

At the beginning of May

Petr Pastrňák interviewed by Martin Dostál

How do you paint, Petr?
Basically I constantly paint myself through into an internal state of mind, in which the painting goes by itself. But it is tough. It is strange but you get good results not only by painting yourself through but also by means of meditation. These are two ways to perfection and this applies in every activity. Exploring these areas is what I am most interest in with respect to painting, and it might also be the reason why I am attached to it so much.
When do you paint?
Once I start, I must concentrate on work for the whole day from morning to the night. I don‘t have to work all the time but I have to keep my mind constantly focussed. I do my painting in several–week cycles. I start where I have finished. I take it as a way to a climax, to a moment when I manage to paint quickly, spontaneously, joyfully, with little conscious effort, without an external support. This is a beautifully liberating state brought about by painting, into which I am constantly learning to get. But for me it is equally difficult as at the beginning when I started painting. I dream about being totally concentrated on work on a daily basis and, at the same time, do other things, which I devote myself to, at full stretch. I don‘t want to be consumed so much by starting to work. As a matter of fact I discover for myself the basis of Zen painting.
Is this the reason why you go to India? In this case you’d better go to Japan or China, hadn’t you?
I go to India out of my desire for self–knowledge.
How do you paint?
Ideally using all colours. Spontaneously, without any limitation. I put the paints around myself and make a selection, as I would do with the keys on a keyboard. I must have everything prepared; they I might take a nap, for example, trying to imagine what colours could be there and what they would look like. This is one of the ways how I can do something: imagine perfectly the entire situation. I don‘t want to think about anything while I am painting. I consider myself to be more of an abstract painter but in most cases I need a platform on which the painting will take place, and this platform is realistic. However, it may eventually end up with a completely different result; I might finally paint something utterly different but I start from a certain basis. Sometimes, while I am creating and I have already painted something, I use a picture or a photograph or I view a slide, whose rhythm of lines, for example, captivates me and inspires me. This way I achieve a counter effect which I would otherwise not be able to design by myself. I strive to constantly move forward, selecting different ways to avoid repetition after some time.
Do you recognize when you repeat yourself?
Not always. Sometimes it is also difficult to immediately destroy a finished thing, a painted picture. When I am not sure, I ask those around. But it‘s different when I resume work after a long interruption …. I always repeat myself. The reason is to be even able to start as beginnings are very difficult. I repaint what I create this way, I develop it until something happens.
What needs to happen?
Something should appear, something new and unknown. I have to … I need to discover something. I can‘t make it up beforehand. And if I do, it‘s old.
Why do you actually paint?
Maybe in order to be able to live outside the society and not to be asocial at the same time.
Are the themes you select sometimes a little appealing?
Sometimes I select themes which, in a sense, are on edge in terms of appeal. I feel attracted to themes with sentimental traces. They feature a sort of empty nostalgia and memory of a deep experience, which, however, also bears the potential of fun, which is not clearly visible. Sometimes I like balancing on the edge when it is unrecognizable whether it is meant seriously or as fun. I like getting over the edge. But at the same time I always really mean it.
Why do you paint the Forests?
I had been preparing myself for the theme of Forests for a long time. When I was a child, I painted the forests according to Mařák so I wanted try again.
How old were you back then?
I was fifteen. I started by copying the reproductions of Czech landscapists of the 19th century. When I later saw real landscape paintings in the Ostrava gallery, it occurred to me that each painting has a living element. This is what fascinates me about them. Back then I was also surprised by their dimension, their depth. At that time I was interesting in painting only for a limited period, then came poetry and music; I wrote songs and did a lot of other things. When I started painting again, it occurred to me that I would have to try doing the forests again.
What was it like paint them again?
I found out that Forests are a theme in which you can nicely and quickly go from the realistic to the abstract and vice versa. The forest is also a rich mythological theme; we always feel something under its appearance, it is a map of internal way that may be full of mysteries. In India, for example, the forest is a holy place.
What technique do you use for painting?
I use acrylic paints that I apply using anything I have at hand. Recently I have painted a lot using only brushes, and in the past five years I have been using the technique of washing out colours. This way the painting acquires an element of randomness, which entertains me. There is a certain relationship between this technique and the silvery, negative effect common for photographs. Light places are dark and vice versa.
And landscapes?
When I am in the countryside with an open horizon, and now I am thinking of the Dutch landscapist van Goyen, for example, I realize how much I am attracted to the openness of the horizon. As if it invited to dissolution. A painting could work in a similar way so that a man would get lost in it. Be in a state where there is nothing solid to cling onto. I did the landscape according to the Czech landscapists of the 19th century, but also according to Jan van Goyen or Emil Filla…
…who, beside other things, wrote a study on van Goyen. What role does thinking play in painting?
Thinking is a matter of preparation; when I paint, I just want to watch. If I feel deeply relaxed, it is visible on the paintings. They feature movement and peace. Concentration.
How do know you are finishing a painting?
A painter able to recognize when to finish is a good painter. It is constant examination, you must be completely absorbed into the process of painting and, at the same time, keep a certain distance. You must become that activity. Be totally light. Painting might be a strange phenomenon but it is similar to singing and dancing. Even top performing sportsmen experience similar states of mind.
What is special about painting?
Unlike sporting performance, which is an event, again similarly to singing or dancing, painting leaves a record, an artefact which you can put under your arm and carry away. Painting remains, pictures are simply constant.

Paintings which come to you …

Introduction by Martin Dostál

It is up to each and every one of us what life we will decide to live. Such a decision, however, does not have to be permanent, precise or timely, and it may come whenever it wants and gradually as well as it may leave; the man will eventually end up dying anyway. The painter Petr Pastrňák came down to his painting gradually, later than usual. The question is whether he actually wanted to be a painter. He himself used to claim that he would be surprised by anyone ever being interested in his paintings. He graduated from the Prague Academy only after the Velvet Revolution, and attended the ateliers of Milan Knížák (1990—1992), Michal Bielický (1992—1994) and Jiří David (1994—1996). Due to the fact the he was born in February 1962, he was a relatively old student since Jiří David, before whom he finally defended his Diploma Thesis, came into the world only six years earlier. In mid 1990s Petr exhibited, besides his paintings, also slide installations, ready–made series of educational slides designed for school education in 1970s. Petr made them into a series projected onto a wall at a pleasant rhythm. It was unimportant that the scenes had social connotations; they were beautiful for Petr. He claimed that the art takes place inside the person who is watching. I believe this to be a key motto which can be used for getting closer to Petr’s decision to be a painter, to make paintings in his life and to have his paintings come to him and into him.

However, it would be erroneous to think that Pastrňák’s paintings come into existence with little conscious effort, easily and randomly despite the fact that their visual transparency and masterful aesthetic gesturing may induce such an impression. However, the creation of his paintings is not a difficult process; they do not have a programmed composition and are not preceded by studies, sketches, or complicated messages. Pastrňák’s paintings appear matter–of–factly in the space of the painter’s past and present existence, in an exact but undelimitable field open to proper living experience and search for the meaning of life. Petr Pastrňák himself wrote that is seems to him that his paintings form some sort of a diary. A diary in the sense of themes which are transformed into clear abstractions, serial stamps, forest landscapes or Czech literary panoramas, still lifes with aquarium fish, saint picture of Madonna and Buddha, portraits of wellknown and unknown people, nude pictures, butterflies … but also as a diary record of his own physical energy and state of mind, whose only trace is an image recording. The thing is that an artist as such is worthless, and the story of his life, no matter how interesting, nostalgic, tragic, happy and negligible it may be, is non–transferable, as any other life. Through his paintings, Peter might be communicating this experience of the substantial.

Lately he has been going to India to spend a couple of months each time, where he simply exists. He reduces his activity to the minimum and even in Prague, where he lives and creates, he cuts down on the external. Five or six years ago I wrote that, besides the influences of Eastern Asian thinking, the fascination by TV series was also playing its role; this does not hold true now. The television has disappeared and the sense of experience and living in time and space is emphasized. Petr makes his paintings at the time when he himself does not know what will be next. The only corrective elements is his own spectatorship and his viewing of a painting being created in spite of the fact that aesthetic experience gives a sound guarantee of his painting. He himself is also a grateful viewer and, while painting, he uses a method not dissimilar to Eastern Asian with its intuition of an indefinitely varied tradition and the memory of the history of painting as such, drawing his inspiration equally from Matisse (with his fish) and Gerhard Richter, badly framed school reproductions of the Czech landscape paintings of the 19th and 20th centuries, and the reactions to his colleague painters. However, the presence of motifs and principles is latent; substantial is the element of vibrant and exciting coincidence, which is limited or, on the other hand, animated by the technical possibilities of painting, colour, canvas or paper surface, splashing, roller coating, wash–drawing, or paint creeping. The result is always different and, at the same time, Pastrňák–like, unmistakable due to its exciting lightness bordering with the unbearable necessity to follow the brush–strokes on his paintings with one’s eyes over and over again.

Abstract creations, with which Petr successfully entered the Czech scene around 1995, is a leitmotif of his painting. After the initial density of lines, strokes and colours, the paintings become increasingly lighter and reduced, featuring a scale combination of a monochromatic scale of two or three colours. The Taoist experience is not picking out of the ink reality; it is a convinced and convincing attempt at transforming it into Western European image dispositions. The self–contained looseness is strengthened by cyclical series of more realistic paintings, in the past years especially by landscape painting, this including the Forests cycle (2003—2004) and, in the past two years, a series of transpositions of the already painted Czech landscape (summer landscapes by Adolf Kosárek, Junction of the Elbe and the Vltava by Chittussi and Filla’s landscapes from the Czech Highlands — created in late 1940s and early 1950s under the conscious and admiring influence of the Asian ink painting). Also in these cases, the same as in portraits, created by splashing especially at the end of the old millennium and the beginning of the new millennium, the loose balefulness of his brushwork soaks through into his paintings, masterful, ever–changing and experienced. Distractibility bordering with abstraction, obscured form and shapes, concealing and revealing of the depicted and depictable … all of these possibilities are only offered by painting. Petr’s choice to exist as a painter was correct.