Jiří David: Closer to the night...

Jiří, when was your last exhibition at FUTURA?


The painting one, I had here, was 16 years ago.


That’s not possible. 


So look at it, here in the office you have the catalogue. Look back at the credits.


Here is it, 2003.


Ok, 2003. After I was taking part in another show, where I had the Fifth Seal, these photographs.


How it changed since then?


The show in 2003 was a certain experiment, with a computer I generated more then 1000 different paintings and then I eliminated and eliminated and was thinking to reach the limit for it to still have the point to paint it on canvas. Today may be just printed would be enough and it would have the same strength. Experiment was also in the way, that I asked other people to paint the images. It was interesting because a certain distant form appeared. No internally experienced, I need at that time a form, that I myself would not identify with.


Now in the new exhibition, it is totally different. 


Yes, last years, maybe four-five, I think, that what you don’t do, like in this spread of your arms, like Leonardo, alone, it is just an outside game of sorts, and I don’t believe in it anymore. Of course, when I did the Venice Biennale, I couldn’t embrace it all, indeed, but I was there three months in it, It was terrible on those scaffoldings. Also, I think, that here with the show it is actually quite a step into some socially political situations, but not in this poster-like, first sight clear way, this I never liked.


For me, this is since Venice very different, for the first time.


At the previous show with the mirrors in Topičův salon, it was a certain addendum, the mirrors were recycled from this big world to this small Prague scene. It was not anymore a mirroring plane for the projection of self-identifications, but intimate confession between the mirror and the viewer, between the mirror and the author. On the other hand, the interventions I made into the mirrors, were somehow related to destruction, the fear of one’s self, that’s why also the gun, the bullet holes, a person my age thinks more about the things “that can happen”. Some people younger then I are already dead, from my generation. 


That is also somehow in the mood of the FUTURA show, Closer to the night…


Definitely the exhibition is about that. I don’t want to say I recapitulate my life, but of course, in a way I do. Maybe it is related with my mother being recently very bad, my father died quite young, only five years more then I have now, and so one is thinking… and I wouldn’t like to dramatise it, but often I think, if there is still time.

Even though it may look sometimes very opulent, for example in the large photographs, but this is also about the disappearance, in the fusion, the merging, the reconciliation, looking for that getting lost and also actually a recapitulation if the sense of what I did, and that is already almost 40 years of intense, intentional labour, if it has or had, for me and at least for a small circle of people, sensitive people, some meaning. Speaking about painting today, people often underlines the commodity aspect, but to make the first line, this is so difficult. I hate starting paintings, for me, it is completely unbearable to make that first line on the canvas.


That’s why you printed on the canvases?


The underprints were originally made for another occasion. I am making them already for about 5 years and they are made for some philosophical, sociological texts. Meaning, the political subtext was essential.


So it was illustrations?


I never wanted to make illustrations. I wanted to rather find some pandan of meanings, some sense of meaning to the texts. I wanted them to go on a parallel way, to have some primordial meaning encoded in the images. What I saw, when I read them, I always read the texts several times, and I am waiting, when something will jump out of it on me, when the texts will stay on this subconscious level.


And so you make them on a computer?




And did you know from the beginning you will paint on them?


No. I want to make some kind of mini book, when I will have one hundred of them. And I am thinking about a certain dada approach. Taking the visuals and draw accidentally 3-4 sentences from the texts, that doesn’t have to contextually fit at all. Maybe the painting actually outran this dada situation, it became some sort of component, or layer, that it somehow searching it there. But also the underprint is a bit 3D, it is some kind of technique, that already prints the layers on the canvas.


So the printer is copying painting techniques?


Yes exactly, and based on this I was looking for some very simple painter’s approach. Painter’s from my point of view, some orthodox painters would probably say it is a drawing painting, but this drawing painting is lived through in the sense of the touch between the brush and the oil paint, that has entirely different properties, and not only historical, not only what comes to its memory, but also a physical ones and this physicality gave me a better capacity to identify with it. All of sudden everything was in contact, somehow it happened this peculiar inter-layer, that is totally crucial for me, even visually. 


It is somehow a certain coping with some sort of emptiness, but not the emptiness in an existential sense, but the emptiness of a sense. While making those paintings I had strong anguish states, that comes back, and it’s something terrible, when the night is endless and you are falling into depths, that is so so… I fought with it 4 months, always being scared to go to sleep, and always, damned, I knew that it will come at 2 A.M., I just knew, I knew and I reflected it, that it will come, but I couldn’t do anything about it. And so my wife sleeps next to me, I don’t want to wake her up, she is going early for work, at six, so I get out and was walking in the garden, winter or summer, and nothing helped. And this emptiness is for example, when you are calling yourself dreams, to fall asleep easier, which is already a problem, some sort of entirely trivial situations, to be able to get in the dream with them, and not be thinking about something you for example work on, to be able to fall asleep. But the emptiness starts that those situations and stories, this dream calling, stops to exist, somehow it is exhausted, and I am not able to call it back, so I am much more hard to fall asleep. You can call dreams with some erotic, or sexual thought, to just break away from from the constant pressure of thinking the physicality of the erotic can help.


There is a certain contra post in the paintings between almost cabalistic spirituality and soft warm sexuality, it is sex, but almost in a sense of forgetting inside the womb…


I don’t really look on porn, it bores me, now in my age. Definitely I had some period, but I never really used porn in my own things. It was always with someone I knew. Here it is our friend, who was a nude model on the academy and I got plenty of her photographs. It is somehow a different way of thinking about erotics and sexuality and not a promiscuity one, something that is somehow different than in a contact with the woman you love, and it is not simply an evil thought, it is somehow just thinking about a body. But not a lascivious one, or cheap instinct one, maybe primitive instinct, yes.


It is interesting, that on the nudes there are those disturbing elements, over the genitals, faces, something that encircles but also disrupts.

The face that is covered, hidden or suffused with some material, something that can contradict the identity or find its inner sense plays a big role. I have one recurring dream, that lasted for long, and I couldn’t get rid of it. It was I killed someone in that dream, and that I killed this someone and hid him. I don’t recall whether it was a man or a woman, probably a woman, I killed that woman and hid her. And some person gets to me, who wants to know who killed her and I feel it will come that he will discover it was me and it will be the end for me. And I think he never found her, but he was very very close. This dream was really dramatic, it lasted long long time maybe every once a month and I was hell scared of it. 

Another one was, and this one I was calling myself, as a teenager, when I knew nothing about Tibet and mantras, so I was saying to myself “when I will die, I won’t be anymore”. I was maybe 12-15 and this was running in my head you couldn’t stop it. When I was going to sleep it was a massive spiral, where I was getting more and more down and deeper. And I was horrified because suddenly pillows around me turned into stones, really stones, and I was touching stones. Getting old you of course break away from all those things, rationally or in other ways, but they’re still present latently, and this is the emptiness I am talking about.


May you say something more about the photos?


It is a bit older work, those red gardens with the fragments of naked bodies, maybe 7 years ago I made them. But I transformed them recently, I was turning them into completely non-realistic colour scales, I somehow reworked and reworked the colour substance. For me this “psychedelia” links with sexuality, it has really sexual, erotic power and energy. The vases relates also to this. I normally really dislike glass, because it’s a material for an effect. But because I like this person for who’s house I made those vases, I said I will try. Also the context, you are driving on the highway, turn to the forest, driving in the forest, small villages, with ponds, with one church, huge church, and there is this small workshop, with a kiln. A weird fairy tale, three guys waiting there and you bring this stupid drawing on a piece of paper that you could never do, because something like that simply isn’t possible to be done. I was feeling like a child in sand, playing with sand cakes, it is really like sand cakes, they take it out of the kiln, and its a sand cake. But you don’t see it yet, because when the glass is ardent, you cannot see its colours, you don’t see whether it will not explode in the cooling kiln, or when grinding, because I was experimenting with materials that make it very difficult and the workers were scared they will loose hands or eyes when it explodes. Not everything worked out finally, as I wanted, but in those compromises I thought, damn, yes, the material kept its specificity, kept itself, I didn’t break it, but it has also me inside.


interview led and edited by Michal Novotný