Tomáš Smetana Friends
Portraiture is a pretext for me for leading discussion, for personal sharing (I draw based on reality). I’m not good at rendering external appearances, in most cases the proportions are off, one eye is too low, the other too high, the nose is too short; but what penetrates the portrait somehow incidentally—as long as there is the right balance—is an inner form, an expression.
We met Tomáš Smetana for lunch. At a restaurant not far from his atelier run by Russians in Bohnice, we were waited on by a burly older gentleman in a miniskirt with a tattooed eyebrow and a spider on his neck. Tomáš ordered a chicken breast and a small beer. We sat directly beneath a loudspeaker (they were playing disco) with a view of a corner festively adorned with white-violet balloons and garlands.
Tomáš began to talk about (his) life. The scenery of the restaurant continued to draw attention to itself in a powerful way, but only from a distance. Tomáš spoke calmly and openly about what the mental illness had given him, which was nearly his death. At the age of 33 he was faced with ending in delirium or therapy. Tomáš chose life. He chose it categorically — Tonička and Hynek were born to him and his wife Klára.
When he had overcome his crisis, he began to draw “what he saw”. He used a mechanical pencil and large-format paper so that he would not have to interrupt his drawing with sharpening his pencil or worrying that his wandering on paper would soon come to an end. He devoted himself to the present moment; he would draw for hours and meditate at the same time. This is how he learned to see even practical things through to the end. Through drawing he entered another reality, another space-time continuum, and paradoxically this allowed him to come into contact with real life, which is where he achieved fulfillment.
Here emerged still lifes and the protracted and still unfinished cycle of portraits Friends, which we now present to you and which we will continually update. Tomáš Smetana adds to his portraiting his own characteristics and depicts the situations in which he captured his friends who stood for him as models. It is like adding attributes that have long played a role. Their meaning lies likewise in their gestures and are supplemented by the expressions of their faces. The Friends cycle shows people as Tomáš Smetana sees them, thus his portraiture in this vision does not have to be recognizable or even be likeable. The characterization of the portrait displays neither ugliness nor beauty in the sense of fondness or rejection, but rather the acceptance of the person and his expression, which is enhanced by the portrait. By intensifying the expression, the painter expresses himself, and the characterization of the figure becomes apparent to the viewer. The portraits are friends, so the characterization is completely honest.
Self-awareness and acceptance are the conditions of genuine friendship and love for one’s neighbor. This is why you will find Tomáš’s self-portrait in the series.
Tomáš has once again begun to make collages. He cuts up and completes xeroxes of his older drawings — he returns to what he has consciously experienced and places it in new contexts at a faster pace than would be allowed by large-format drawings with a mechanical pencil. Recently, the less time he spends sitting in his atelier over his drawings, the more spends walking around the countryside like a pilgrim, and every path leads him home.
foto: Martin Polák