Jiří Sopko: Drawings from collection of Gema Gallery, Prague, 2016

Place: Galerie Gema, Máchova 17, Praha 2
Date: 17. 6. - 9.9. 2016
Contact: Galerie Gema







Gema Gallery, which recently opened new exhibition premises at Máchova Street in Prague – Vinohrady, has represented the painter Jiří Sopko for 20 years and systematically collects his works. It is now opening its collections for the first time, presenting to the visitors a selection of forty drawings made by the artist between 1968 and 2002.
The exhibition curator unconventionally placed the drawings in variously coloured passe-partouts, specifically yellow, orange, violet and green, with the intention to underscore the fact that Sopko likes colours and the colours like him as well. As most of the works are unnamed and signed with dates, the curator left them without descriptions (which usually only disturb the clarity of the setting) and left the space entirely to the drawings themselves.
The oldest drawing dates from 1968 and depicts grotesque figures "á la Ensor". Sopko had always enjoyed circuses and clowns, which explains his liking for James Ensor specifically. 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".
The exhibition also displays many drawings from the 1970s, when Sopko used his specific style to comment on that sad period of Czech history. The political situation at that time did not allow Sopko's works to be exhibited, as they did not meet the requirements of the official, ideology-driven culture. He even went through a period when he wanted to give up painting entirely. In the end, it was the only way he knew how to express himself and today he is glad he persisted. In the second half of the 1970s, he could at least work at restoring older works of art.
The 1990s were a much happier time for him. Sopko reached a certain sense of inner peace, which is reflected in his drawings. Surprisingly, figures are often omitted. Sopko plays with landscape motifs and discovers the principle of multiplication where the artist captures one and the same situation in various colour variants. 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 commented on 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".
The most recent of the selected works is from 2002, the date of the last big exhibition of Jiří Sopko's works, which was held at the Prague Castle's Riding School (Jízdárna), where his works were last displayed in spacious premises. In the same year, Sopko was elected the Rector of the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague and subsequently even served two terms in office. The administrative burden stifled his artistic pursuits to a certain degree, but as recent exhibitions have shown, his feel for colours, humour and his enthusiasm to create have remained. We have surely not seen the last from Jiří Sopko and have much to look forward to.
Linda K. Sedláková