When Pavel Hayek parted with graphic work in 1990, it was not only due to the fact that he turned to the painted picture as a medium more suited to his new creative issues, but also because he aimed to discover for himself and for the others a new relationship between structure and its possible semantic handling. In both the Czechoslovak and international artistic creation, the concept of structure has obviously not been unknown since the 1960s. That was the time when the concept of structure as the search for “new sensitiveness” was formed, as a counterpart to the material texture of informal painting or graphics (though often designated, especially on the Czech scene, as structure, structural painting or structural graphics – e.g. in one of the protagonists, Vladimír Boudník – so that the inner complementarity of both approaches was even more obvious). This was to allow the author’s self to step backwards, so that the composition might be under control as a result of rational operations, or that it might arise as an impersonal treatment of elements, organized according to a given syntactic formula. On the Czech scene, and not only here, an initiation role was played by works of Zdeněk Sýkora, created by repetitive alignment of many dozens of extremely simple identical geometrical elements, arranged according to selected combinatory rules, whose application the pioneering author entrusted to a computer as early as in 1964. Soon, there appeared new ones – Jan Kubíček with the visualisation of a simple principle, Miloš Urbásek with exhaustive surveys of the whole range of possible combinations of a given inventory of elements, Ivan Chatrný, finding aesthetic and communication qualities of structures originating from the superposition of simple grids, or Radek Kratina, creating his variables as starting points for possible metamorphoses and enabling the viewer to become an active participant. These were the structures one could meet since the 1960s – they made common use of the language of geometry. Hayek has intentionally referred to this context, but his approach was different. Consistently with the conceptual experience which has allowed to bring up to date the meanings themselves as messages of the work of art, in the strictest cases even meanings reduced to a minimal textual sequence, he developed an innovative solution – a structure that is not merely an aesthetic and intellectual experience, but is shaped by a series of relations between the syntactic possibilities of the structure and its articulation from figures, although painted impersonally, but always having their individual morphological character. He has found the semantically clearly identifiable elements in nature, perhaps as close as possible – in the garden of his own house. They always have something in common: they may be subsumed under a certain name, and they evidently differ fundamentally from other identical, impersonal geometric forms of squares, circles or their sections. In nature, elements belonging to a given genus are more or less similar, but their personal characteristics are equally important as their appurtenance to a certain definite category… Various types of spices, vegetables or fruit moreover also evoke the appurtenance to the domain of eating as a primary human activity. From these vegetable forms “closest to Man” the author has gradually worked his way to more surprising, less known leaves of various trees or bushes, seeds, pulled off roots or grass… Conformingly to his explorations, he has introduced to the domain of painting unique forms from the vegetal world; in his articulation though, they were always reflected in the painting as records of their surface, the series of records forming the whole structure. Since the very beginning, Pavel Hayek has fixed a rule that he has kept up to now (with some exceptions that only confirm it): his structures can be made only of black and white spaces, so that the selected elements appear in them either in positive or in negative… Logically, a significant part of his effort has been constituted by experimenting with photograms, in which he exposed to light structures consisting of a series of elements of the same kind, set up on sensitive photographic paper. The specific innovation in Hayek’s work is the development of a whole scale of relations, from the possibility to perceive the created structure as an autonomous, merely aesthetic fact, to one’s ability to identify it, in a given moment of perception, as the incarnation of a concrete meaning. The concept of an apple, bananas, the concept of maple leaves, maple achenes – on the painting surface, each is pictured thanks to its specific, identifiable characteristics. This links the author’s work up with a reflection of natural phenomena in the specific conditions of visual media, and it also establishes a permanent interaction between the structure and its semantic grasping. We are able to identify, in a pictorial projection, the unique morphological characteristics, given by the irreproducibility of every individual in what is traditionally called “live nature”. However, the artist’s creation cannot be summed up merely by the fact that he has discovered this “live nature” as a semantic embedding of his works and as a source of their morphological originality in every single detail – simultaneously, Pavel Hayek transforms the possibilities of syntax, to which these elements are subordinated, and relates to our experience with various types of abstract works of the past decades. The first large category of paintings might be characterized as reflections of various forms of more or less arranged structures without any precise rule; later there appeared paintings and graphics, dominated by a precise serial arrangement; several years ago, there appeared paraphrases of the moiré-effect, and then the drift or thickening of elements towards a certain centre… And the structures whose density or unbelievable complexity of details defied transposition into a painting or a serigraphy derived from it, have found their adequate shape in a photogram (in the context of Czech photography, the chapter on Hayek’s input has so far not been duly evaluated). The author seems to analyse, in his paintings and graphics, whether the particular syntactic formulas, known from the pure abstraction of the past decades (and therein also rather exhausted by various creative processes using the language of geometry), can be revitalised particularly by their new semantic embedding and a transformation of their morphology. This new correlation between structure and semantics then becomes the author’s own message, surprisingly original and unmistakable on the Czech scene as well as elsewhere (perhaps the closest to him are authors looking for semantic embedding in the language of geometry).
- “Were the succession of stars endless, then the background of the sky would present us an uniform luminosity, like that displayed by the Galaxy, since there could be absolutely no point, in all that background, at which would not exist a star. The only mode, therefore, in which, under such a state of affairs, we could comprehend the voids which our telescopes find in innumerable directions, would be by supposing the distance of the invisible background so immense that no ray from it has yet been able to reach us at all.” 1
This joint exhibition by the artists Otto Zitko (born 1959, resident in Vienna) and Pavel Hayek (born 1959, resident in Brno), set up by the the former Brno gallery owner Karel Tutsch (1942 – 2008) will present two artistic positions which differ but are at the same time complementary. The link between them is not an expression of the monarchist demographic relationship between Brno and Vienna. Hayek invited Zitko as a creative kindred spirit. Otto Zitko is known in the Czech milieu not only
for his achievements outside, but has also exhibited in the Austrian Cultural Forum in Prague and at Karel Tutsch’s Na bidýlku gallery in Brno. The compositions in Hayek’s pictures are only compositions to the extent that Zitko’s gesture is a true gesture. In this context Barbara Steiner talks of Zitko’s constructed gesture and Jiří Valoch about Hayek’s composition-free pictures – structures sui generis. This structural aspect is the great connection between the two artistic approaches, between Zitko’s endless line, overgrowing the pictures and interior walls of the House of Arts, and Hayek’s floorplan-specific structures, which are “themselves” placed into the position of
the democratically organised form and the non-hierarchy of the decor.
Structure denies illusion in order to approach the real form of the world, to deny the unstable impression and to support the stability of the constitution. Pavel Hayek stands at the other end of illusionism: the illusionist attempt to depict reality. The filled-in outlines of one kind of fruit, leaf or stump lie like shadows on the picture’s surface or like prints on the surface of photographic paper (from this point of view shadow and print are shown to be a more significant proof of the existence and state of things than a faithful portrait, which indeed is never faithful for a variety of mainly psychological reasons). It was no coincidence that Pavel Hayek exhibited with Jiří Šigut at Na bidýlku in the 1990s. With this difference, that in comparison with Šigut, who leaves photopaper in the landscape, giving a hand to chance and forbidding the human hand or mind to organise the image space in any way, Hayek manages the layout of the surface into the monotonous rhythm of a repeating shape.
The word “repeating” should be in inverted commas, since it is the delicate nuances between the individual rowan leaves or garlic cloves that impart Hayek’s message and distance the process of creation and its meaning (in which the fact that each leaf is individual plays an important part) miles from the work of mere decoration. This individuality is transformed by a two-dimensional reduction into a relative sign which is, by its rhythm and sequence, reminiscent of an ornamental carving. Nevertheless, the homogeneity of the whole is not stylised decoration made up of identical multiple segments, but a demonstration of individualised entities organised into a unified community. It is thus a simplified example of an ideal social structure. Just as earlier illusionists used animal allegory usually for revolutionary social relations (for example, the Renaissance scene of the Revolt of the Hares at Bučovice Castle), Hayek makes use of the example of flora to express the idea of an ideal and stabilised community in which each individual is voluntarily subordinate to the greater whole without the presence of a foreign (different) element which would draw all attention to itself, which is the seed of a future conflict. It is said that a recurrent motif for the 20th century is nostalgia for a sense of community, the idea of its loss. Hayek’s pictures are linked to the wider process of the change in the perception of the image which came about here in the 1990s, when an image had to undergo processes of deconstruction, leading to the situation where the outside is neither under the
control of the interior nor free of it: they are two parts of a single whole.
From picture to picture Pavel Hayek attempts – by always focusing on just one kind of vegetable, fruit, spice, tree or plant – to persuade the viewer that in spite of all limitations the world is composed of individual fragments and uniqueness of forms. The vitalism of his structures is purely floral, whereas the energy of Zitko’s line may have its origin in the irresistible force of a strawberry or ivy tendril just as much as in the continuous movement of invisible animal plasma. Anything living can be reflected in the many-year line through which Otto Zitko has linked to protoplasm, the veins of leaves, the arteries of living bodies, but also to medieval manuscripts, the art deco stucco of Viennese houses, to Jackson Pollock and the rawness and ritual of the Viennese actionists, and which will be loosely continued by graffiti and tag exponents, bioartists or by contrast consciously by the neo-minimalists with their grilles. Or the line will itself become immersed in a virtual network or rootstock perhaps in the way that Gilles Deleuze and Samuel Weber describe it: “In this sense, the figure of surfing gives form and direction to the dispersion of the media and of information. It allows the subject – like a surfer on the crest of a wave – to feel an exhilarating sense of control, without aiming at a particular destination … Thus, as Gilles Deleuze has noted, surfing requires becoming involved, caught up in, movements where the human being is no longer the source of action: ‘All the new sports – surfing, windsurfing, hang-gliding – take the form of entering into an existing wave … The key thing is how to get taken up in the motion of a big wave, a column of rising air, to get into something instead of being the origin of an effort’ …” 2
The first picture by Zitko, the source from which grew his by now well-known line – which changes colour, strength, form and expression through its individual stages – was, it is said, silver paint poured on an image. So where in this forward flow can we find this stated structure? Precisely in the aforementioned fabricated gesture. However much Zitko’s line may for the most part move like a spontaneous, energetic,
chaotic outpouring, it is, just like Zdeněk Sýkora’s lines, designed like a structure linked to the surface of the image and the wall and to the spatial situation. Thus the necessary tension arises between construction and gesture. Above all, the line tied to the specific architectural form and expression is subordinated to the composition and is transferred to the irregular structure of the net. A net is an endlessly repeated metaphor in post-modern culture and it is here that the interpretation of Zitko’s extensive work straddles modernist projection and post-modern decentralisation. The empty centre, where meaning is defined not only by what the line itself records, but equally acutely by what it separates, detaches, by what remains outside. The line
and the situation outside make a single whole, a single meaning.
In spite of all its twists and turns we can take Otto Zitko’s line to be one and continuous. For the most part it moves forward horizontally, purloining the sacred vertical. In spite of this, when looking at the finished work we cannot help but feel a modernist astonishment at something great, exceptional, like the sweep of the night sky, had it been created by human effort. But the aura of the work is always disturbed by the artist with a new power, a node which even in the present links restlessly to the future, seeking continuity, thereby declaring the incompleteness of the work and the legitimacy of a further reincarnation. This open link in the chain is present perhaps in every one of Zitko’s creations, thus looking progressively forward, seeking new horizons. It is a DNA connection and at the same time the artist’s brand, a signature guaranteeing an original. When compared to the direct path of a modern machine, Zitko’s line treats the landscape it passes through less destructively, it seeks a way through like an unrestricted river twisting through different territories: from private premise to galleries and museums, from picture to walls, from state to state. This deterritorialised flow goes beyond the bounds of modernity and centrality. Its nomadic nature is its own content. On the other hand however, Samuel Beckett reminds us that man does not travel for the love of travel, that mad we may be, but not in that way. The destination, however much the line would like to avoid it, is there on the road, but it does not necessarily need to be the final one.
A gap is not an unplace: it has its space, boundaries, content and meaning. It is the definition or at the very least the context of that which is left out. In a similar way Otto Zitko puts small barriers in the way of the endless unfolding of his line. Sometimes he puts blank panels in its way, stealing small sections from it. An empty space then remains under them, a gap in an otherwise vital flow of energy. In reality this wilfulness is an ingenious commentary on the part of the artist, above all an appreciation of the free existence of the line. As if Zitko’s line had become personified in a living independent being and through its own movement had escaped its author. Perhaps for this reason Otto Zitko holds it back and binds it into networks, breaks it up with intrusive formats and sometimes organises it on a limited surface (occasionally limited by the assignment). He does not always allow it into every corner and edge of the walls, panels and paper into which it is driven by its nature. He tangles it up inextricably into knots and squiggles, sometimes in the shape of faces or holes, smudging it and ending with a clamp – his sign – which is at the same time a connector ready for a further attachment.
Pavel Hayek also counts on the gap and works with it. Its presence is just as important as the involvement of the “true” subject of a depiction. Taken on its own, it is also the subject of a depiction. With this treatment within a picture, externalities, hierarchical relationships of domination and subordination disappear and we may speak of a communism of forms, albeit in a different sense than that intended by Nicolas Bourriaud. A gap builds its own original composition in the same way as a floorplan of peapod or pit, we almost do not know what is negative and what is positive, an internal coding which is underlined by the often black and white nature of Hayek’s compositions. As can be seen, the use of the photogram in Hayek’s work is quite logical, not only in relation to colour reduction (the earlier pictures also used other colours, albeit always soberly and in good taste) but also in relation to the print as something undeniable and real. Hayek’s almost obsessive overdrawing of natural shapes is a constant search for the real in a world of simulacra and postproduction,
a record of originals lost in the structure of the whole. The larger the whole, the more detailed it becomes.
The importance of the fragment, which by its partial nature draws even greater attention to the whole, is celebrated in post-modern discourse. With both Hayek and Zitko we feel very intensely the existence of the greater whole, which is incomprehensible and unknowable in its entirety and is substituted by a selected, extracted fragment. A serial is something brought to us in the 1960s in the new and specific form of an infinite story machine, by a renewed interest in comics and the first television series, which opened up closed cycles of images to a situation of permanent continuation, non-completion, endlessness, unknowability and thereby, continuous desire. It is, however, also possible that this permanent distance in time from the whole tires the senses, which begin to perceive it as a strategy of cold intellect. However, Zitko’s neo-expressive basis – his individualisation of the substance, nature, colour and intensity of drawing, its urgency and at times earnestness – and Hayek’s feeling for detail put a limit on such oversimplification.
Pavel Hayek – MECHANICAL SCORES
The series of twelve paintings titled “Mechanical Scores” and created in the course of this year constitutes a digression to another preserve. Here, Hayek consistently addresses a technical element, that of recordings for automatophones. The playing machines, or better instruments, reproducing musical compositions by means of special mechanical devices without any contribution by a live interpreter, have been known since the Middle Ages, but they were especially popular in the second half of the 19th and in the early 20th centuries. It is therefore no wonder that it was in this period that they underwent significant development. One of the idiophones developed in that same period is Manopan, an instrument sounding by means of air flow. The musical composition is played according to a paper strip with a system of square and rectangular openings indicating the lengths and pitches of tones. These strips form a kind of score transcription for the instrument. The repertoire
on the strips was mainly popular, from well-known opera pieces, overtures through dance compositions. Pavel Hayek has chosen two strips with pieces by Carl Maria von Weber (Jubel-Ouvertüre) and Giacomo Meyerbeer (Fantasia from the opera The Huguenots). He enlarged and visually corrected sections of them, especially concerning the option whether points, perforated in the original, would be black or only outlined in black in the painting. These rationally created paintings – scores re-create a structure that cannot deny some kind of dynamics, metric structure and overall musicality.
After the retrospective exhibition of minimising painter Tomáš Rajlich, the Galerie Závodný in Mikulov has returned to the model of a double exhibition with one of the artists being a foreigner – in this case Esther Stocker (1974), a Vienna-based painter and three-dimensional artist, and the other a native – almost literally, since the painter Pavel Hayek (1959) is from Brno. Both names obviously indicate that the present exhibition project has maintained the gallery’s intellectual-aesthetic standard. Each artist has taken one floor, Pavel Hayek the lower one and Esther Stocker the upper. Despite that, the exhibition makes a compact impression; besides the black & white (un)colour(ed) spectrum, used by both artists, this is due to certain relations to the modernist context, their dealing with structures and their disturbing, pervading of reality and abstraction, and also to their connections to space, eventually manifested with Esther’s creative expansion into the third dimension.
Both artists present their recent works, therefore the Mikulov show displays the latest developments of the two of them, which may be quite surprising especially in the case of Pavel Hayek. Let me now begin with him. Even the first glimpse into the exhibition shows his refined, cultivated black & white painting in which an essential part is played by optical-spatial structure. However, it is somewhat different from what it used to be. Organised natural systems, however abstracted or aspiring to spatial effect they may have been, have disappeared, and now one has to deal with a lined, squared or dotted surface in movement, simulating wave motion and plastic illusion in an almost op-art manner. Titles refer to the source material, i.e. textiles; they are crumpled by the artist, photographed, and then the right cut-out is chosen with the help of a computer. Subsequently, the final image is produced by means of a cutting plotter machine. The result of the seemingly cold conceptual approach surprises with its delusive and subtle aesthetics, not only reflecting op-art and geometrical impulses of the 1960s, but also slightly evoking the gestic character of the expressive hand and painting strokes that may remind of some works by Roy Lichtenstein with their depersonalized “reproducibility”. And to be even more historical, I cannot avoid reminding of the meaning of painting textiles, i.e. draperies, in the history of Western visual art. Therefore, through a huge black & white detour Pavel Hayek has restored this motif in present-day painting, discovering in the recent years ever more pronounced ways to various (neo)modernist syntheses.
Similarly to Hayek, also with Esther Stocker I keep being surprised by all the different, new or shifted possibilities borne by abstracting or abstract geometry. In her paintings, Esther creatively works with essential geometrising components, whether they consist of disturbed “fixed” square grid structure or slightly dissonant geometry, drawing attention by sensitive and variously rhythmed proportional relations. Considering that the artist uses exclusively the white – grey – black scale, they inevitably play a major part here. Her use of white is especially important in this sense, because it helps her inconspicuously, but markedly to build a tension between the plane, space and rhythm. Another important fact is that the painting compositions are unlimited, infinite; the canvas thus gets more dynamic as regards the viewer and becomes a part of the space. That space in which Esther Stocker slightly intervenes in Mikulov with her conspicuously inconspicuous mural structure and several crumpled objects with a geometrical grid, which seem to have merged into the 3D reality of Hayek’s canvases, thus interconnecting the two artists.
Both of them assume specific and distinct positions of their own towards the aesthetic as well as extra-artistic reality. Edith Jeřábková comments on this in the exhibition catalogue: “Modernist mimicry brings evidence on the character of our environment, still modern in a black & white manner, but with a movement of a surface detail indicating the dynamics occurring inside the organism.” Dynamics that ripple the modernist building of Mikulov gallery, too.