Jiří Sopko: Time in Pictures, 2014

Curator: Linda Sedláková
Place: Egon Schiele Art centrum, Široká 71, Český Krumlov
Dates: 18.4-28.10.2014,extended to 11.1.2015
Contact: http://www.schieleartcentrum.cz/





 Jiří Sopko - Time in Pictures
Jiří Sopko is not an artist who enjoys dwelling on his past work and, for this reason, he has always avoided retrospective exhibitions. This could be because, even after more than half a century of artistic creation, the source of his inspiration is still vibrant and is still bearing new and innovative fruit. However, when he was approached by the Director of the Egon Schiele Art Center, offering him a six-month exhibition in Český Krumlov, in the tourist and cultural heart of Southern Bohemia, which is the destination every year of a high percentage of foreign visitors, the idea of a retrospective exhibition was quite obvious. However, it was not an easy task. It was necessary to select only representative works for each stage of Sopko's creative career, a sort of thematic overall impression. Sopko's earliest abstract landscape period following his visit to Cyprus is represented by two newly exhibited pictures from the nineteen seventies, in the Czech grotesque style, of cephalopods, with wild dancers and a unique two-sided roller blind The horror of the nineteen seventies was followed by the calm of a water surface, both in the Little Duck in the main room, and also in the last room, dominated by The Sea from 1988 (previously exhibited briefly only at Forum 88). In the nineteen nineties, Sopko's art once again contained the landscape which, when confronted by a human being, then this is always a contemplative person, who is barely moving. The entire cycle in the first room concludes with works from the past few years, depicting only pure sections of the landscape around Sopko's country cottage at Rynoltice in Northern Bohemia.
The second room is conceived as a sort of palace hall, as it contains seven designs for the future ceiling painting in the grand hall of the Týnec u Klatov Baroque palace. One of the designs is displayed directly in a walk-through model of the hall, while the remaining six are installed in groups of three on the walls along the model. The installation is completed by three tapestries from the Moravian Tapestry Manufacture, woven according to the works of Jiří Sopko: Meadow, Upside Down Table and Neon. The last of these was woven specifically for the exhibition in Český Krumlov. The majestic nature of the exhibition is relieved by several acrylic paintings on paper, completed last year.
The sea is murmuring in the last of the spaces, not only in these installations, but also through three works from various stages of Sopko's creation, reflecting the important role of water in his work.

About painting
When Sopko is painting, he is pursued by a constant feeling of impatience as to how the picture will look when it is finished. He sits before the canvas with a general idea which, however, he modifies during the work and it often happens that the final picture is completely different. Thus, for Sopko, painting is a constant search for balance or the possibility of harmony on the canvas. Two colours can be next to one another but, if a third one is added, the whole picture can be thrown out of balance. At the turn of the millennium, this search for harmony brought him to create diptychs and triptychs. He himself says that: ".....as far as increasing numbers is concerned, in relation to how I simplify everything, well I try to increase the number of relationships in the picture and it is with the third canvas (although it is not always necessarily bound to three) that one understands what was involved in the previous ones".
And this retrospective exhibition is also about looking for harmony between the old and the new. Surprisingly, although the depicted subjects are often brutal (the screaming cephalopods in Trinity, the woman skewered on a cone in Untitled, the tied-up Great Magician), the whole picture makes a calm and harmonic impression.

About Jiří Sopko
His father came from a Lutheran family, from the Augsberg branch, and their name was originally written "Szopka". This part of the family came from Spišská Sobota in Slovakia and contained many ministers. Finally Sopko's great grandfather became a forest ranger. His mother, who came from Kladno, was a teacher. She met his father in Transcarpathian Ukraine, where he was a state official. Sopko was born there but his family moved to Dunajská Streda in the Žitný ostrov (Great Rye Island) region, where his father was an executive administrator, when he was three years old. However, at the beginning of the nineteen fifties, he was fired because of political undesirability and the family moved again, this time to Kladno. The area was burdened by heavy industry and was thus dark and dirty. As Sopko himself said, for a long time he thought that sparrows were black birds. It is not surprising that he painted dark pictures at school. In 1966, after he graduated from school, Jiří Sopko received an atelier prize and spent half a year in Cyprus with a fellow student, Georgios Kotsonis, whose family took him in like one of their own. In Cyprus, Sopko was influenced by a completely different colour scale and brightness. He was next to the sea with no one around him, but he did not paint particularly intensely and tended rather to absorb the atmosphere of the place. This marked a change in colour composition in his abstract period and yellow began to predominate, symbolizing the sun.
In 1968 he emigrated to France for a short time with a large group of artists; first they lived in Paris and then Sopko went to Caen in Normandy. Five months later, he returned do Czechoslovakia and was glad to be home. Human figures returned to his pictures at this time. He had always enjoyed circuses and clowns, which explains his liking for James Ensor. His friends included many mimes, with whom he worked artistically – most often with Ctibor Turba in the "absurd" theatre. Josef Kroutvor defined the cultural mood of that period as the "Czech grotesque".
In the nineteen seventies, political developments did not allow Sopko's work to be exhibited, as it did not meet the requirements of the official cultural ideology. He even went through a period when he wanted to give up painting. In the end, it was the only way he knew how to express himself and now he is glad he persisted. In the second half of the nineteen seventies he could at least work at restoring works of art.
Jiří Sopko, born under Pisces, has loved warmth and water for as long as he can remember. However, he is fond not only of swimming, but also of simply being near the water, which he finds calming. And this can be felt in his work from the end of the nineteen eighties.
He was completely rehabilitated politically only after November of 1989. Since 1990 he has been taught at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague and, after 2002, held the position of Rector for two terms of office.
In the nineteen nineties, Sopko became tired of people, possibly because of greater public attention, and wanted to paint serene pictures for himself – "nirvana". Clouds and landscapes began to appear on the canvases, where he examined the subject of serenity. As he is getting older, he says, he is more and more attracted by minimalism, by reduction of space, which is, however, very difficult. His great success in this area is reflected in last year's cycle of almost impressionist paintings of meadows and fields, depicting landscape motifs from around his country cottage at Rynoltice in Northern Bohemia.

Linda Sedláková

Photos from installation of the exhibition are HERE.

Exhibition opening: