The works of the Italian Trecento and Quattrocento artists have long been a source of inspiration for Tadeas Kotrba (*1986). During an artistic residency in the Tuscan village of San Sano earlier this year, courtesy of the Éva Kahánfoundation, he had the opportunity to tour the churches of the nearby towns and cities, and their unique displays of frescos and altar paintings by such masters as Piero della Francesca, Fra Angelico and Lorenzetti, served to jolt him from his artistic slumber.
Those archetypal images of infernal devils and demons prancing around bubbling cauldrons alongside merciful scenes of the Madonna and Child or the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin, also feature in the Kotrba’s latest works created specially for this exhibition. The angels and patrons distinguished by contrasting lines is in fact one of the hallmarks of the artist’s father, Marius Kotrba. On this occasion, however, Tadeas does not draw on his late father’s actual sketches, but instead uses them purely for stylistic inspiration, in the same way that painters of a particular school sought to recreate the stylistic hallmarks of their master. Tadeas does not, however, try to recreate the plasticity of space by creating a point of infinity in the perspective, which in the Italian Renaissance was so revelatory. Instead he creates a paper layer using adhesive tape, which gives the illusion of depth. At the same time these artworks act as a performative record because over time the tape will begin to peal, thereby changing the composition of the painting.
Women are a strong motif in this series. Whereas many of Kotrba’s paintings previously featured men overcoming obstacles, these works give prominence to the other sex. Mothers, wives and daughters are symbolically pressed to the earth by a vaulting celestial skyline. Guardians are at hand, however, circling above them, and helping them to bear the oppressive burden of the world. The series is complemented with paintings of couples whose relationships are characterised by tension, albeit it a tension that at times attracts or repels. The meetings between them have not occurred by chance, but at the intervention of higher powers, revealed by the presence of angels who either bring the pairs together or prevent them from meeting.
The construction and installation within the gallery have also not been left to chance. The structure is an amalgamation of different historical periods, from the vaulted Romanesque ceilings, to the Gothic, Renaissance, and nineteenth century decor. The temporary structures which are also present in the form of scaffolding and buttressing systems, are in fact there to aid restoration work on the frescos and sacral features. This network of supports on which some of Kotrba’s sketches have been mounted, also serves to reveal the artist’s creative processes, which should evoke that same sense of amendment and rebirth that can be found at the heart of the Italian idea of rinascimento.
Tadeáš Kotrba - Exhausted, I Made My Way Through the Dark Undergrowth
(22. 01. - 13. 03. 2015)
Paintings by Tadeáš Kotrba (* 1986), graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague, who also had the opportunity to study at Central Saint Martins in London, are on the verge of landscape, portrait and figurative painting. Through figures facing obstacles, we are drawn into the internal landscape of the painting. The large-scale space shrinks to an intimate personal world. The landscapes have a character of something random. Nevertheless, they impress, so that we relate to everything taking place within the scene. The whole situation is vaguely familiar, but we will probably never be able to say or remember when it took place. Kotrba does not create the landscapes and spaces for us to revel in the majestic beauty of Nature, as the 19th-century Romantics did, but to find ourselves within them and to start to remember.
The techniques used by the artist also refer to a commemoration of remaining memory. Earlier, the figures in his paintings were also disappearing into the fog or in the rain; now, his paintings are left as if unfinished. They are sectors of memories, just as in our imperfect memory which is never able to conserve a souvenir as we had reconstructed it down to the last detail. In addition to the impossibility of remembering life and the world around us, Tadeáš Kotrba can transfer one more futile endeavor to his images. The endless Sisyphean effort to advance one step further, to overcome oneself and the obstacles again. Although we sometimes succeed in wading through a river or skipping over a fallen tree, another obstacle arises, just as in the paintings and sketches – which were surprisingly not designed as preliminary sketches for the actual paintings, but in addition, as full-fledged works, capable of supplementation and explanation.
The thematic set of paintings is inspired by the artist's residence on an island in Southeast Asia. Although this areas is associated with tropical flora, palm leaves and the bright colors of primitive island cultures, he has succeeded in achieving a solid atmosphere on his uncoated canvases, whereby the dirt and soil are sensed rather than the exotic fragrances. The island is thus not viewed as an isolated Paradise on Earth, but as a variable space. Its diversity is also highlighted by the color range and the manner of its application. Some paintings are influenced by the colors showing through in the back of the painting which are transferred, by unexpected and ultimately adopted effects, to the face side. The imperfections caused by the unstable temperature of last summer also became a merit. Other images function with the conscious contrast of grisaille painting supplemented by an aid for reading in color.
The heterogeneous landscapes serve as timeless scenery borrowed for mysterious, long postponed and yet so familiar situations and moods, thanks to which we can enter the images as into a landscape behind a mirror. The paintings and drawings from the island cycle should represent a memento of our invariable behavior, which each of us can substitute for our own Sisyphean stone.
Emma Pecháčková, curator