Jan Jedlička

Galerie U Betlémské kaple / Gallery at Bethlehem Chapel
2. Dezember 2015 - 24. January 2016

Jan Jedlička used the camera to portray landscapes from out of the past. He focused on “drawing” the sharp contours of the landscape, mainly in the area of Maremma in Tuscany. This approach logically led to his experiments with the heliogravure technique. Its specific qualities, such as its ability to depict contrasts clearly but softly, allowed him to work thematically with what had always interested him the most: an intensive actualization of the earth and its materials through the work of art.

Jan Jedlička transformed photographs related to his series Il Cerchio (Circle) into large-scale heliogravure prints. In the series he captured his favorite landscape in various seasons with a camera with a stable, wide-angle rectified lens allowing him to always position the horizon in the centre of the frame. Thus the horizon of the flat landscape in Maremma runs through all the images of the series in the same position in one endless line. The vast sky is balanced by the sharply outlined details of the earth, changing with the seasons. Jan Jedlička always perceived the changing of the seasons quite deeply upon his return to Maremma. His stays there were always limited in duration and he felt sensitive to changes in the landscape he had visited a few months before.

The detail in the photographs provides an almost palpable presence of the landscape, giving the viewer the feeling that he is practically standing in the landscape. Such detail presents a new quality in the heliogravures, yet also confirms a hidden continuity in all of Jedlička's work.

In general, this sort of emotional experience and presentation of place can be understood as a form of struggle against a feeling of rootlessness. In this case, however, it stems from an exceptional perception of the material world, through which Jan Jedlička expresses his emotion. Matter is not a mere medium or form for him. He understands it as an essence, an element which amplifies its own expression. The sense of place is returned to its sensual dimension. Shortly after Jedlička went into exile in the 1970s, on the island of Elba in a former iron mine he found a great variety of coloured chalk which he began processing into pigments. Further geological deduction led him to veins of iron ore in the area of southern Tuscany, to Follonica, Massa Marittima and in the hills in the vicinity of Maremma. Thus Maremma became a source of raw material, both stones and mud, which expanded his collection of more than two hundred Maremma pigments.

Maremma is a land of wetlands in which two elements conjoin, earth and water, prime movers of emergence, disappearance and degradation in nature. Their pervasiveness underscores the permeability of different layers of time: the present, thriving with life, is filled with the future and its inevitable destruction. The future mingles with the present and the past, with no single linear development – this is a phenomenon closely connected to the life and work of Jan Jedlička, not only to the moments spent in Maremma in Tuscany. Just as his childhood and youth in Czechoslovakia permeates his work in exile, the strong impulses from Italy, or Ireland, intensify the experience of returning to places connected to the past in Prague and its surroundings. Jan Jedlička built up a unique relationship to the material of earth during his time of emigration. He was not one of those who went into exile with a handful of native soil, instead he discovered the emotional power of the rough essence of earth during his years abroad.

Exile inevitably creates a rupture with one's previous life and work. Jan Jedlička is an artist with an extraordinary sense for anchoring his work in the place where it is found in the moment. Therefore the turning point in his work when he relocated was of great importance. He did not try to forcibly draw on what he had done at home, he understood that the thread had been broken. He patiently became acquainted with a different mentality, with a different tradition, art and theory. He gave the work time to naturally grow from a new soil. The large-scale heliogravures of the Maremma landscape are yet another proof of this.
Marie Rakušanová


Exhibition plan

Jan Jedlička

18. 10. 1944

Jan Jedlička was born in Prague in 1944. In 1960s he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague. He focuses on long-term projects of landscapes through various techniques – drawings, local pigments, photographs, prints and films. He lives and works in Zurich and Prague. 


Between Worlds
A mediator who makes things speak - artist Jan Jedlička turns seventy

On this day, painter and photographer Jan Jedlicka turns seventy years old. His art is nourished by an intellectual resourcefulness with a profundity that reaches far beyond what we assume to be the current issues of the day.

As in his life, so too in his art. Jan Jedlicka melds the strata of time and the cultural spaces of Europe in a way that effortlessly oversteps the boundaries we take so much for granted today. Jedlicka draws upon intellectual resources with a profundity that reaches far beyond what we assume to be the current issues of the day.

Born in Prague, he left his home city in 1969, shortly after graduating from the Academy of Fine Arts there.

The self-immolation of student activist Jan Palach and Jedlicka´s own imminent conscription into the Czechoslovakian army with the prospect of having to guard an internment camp for political dissidents were the key events that prompted him as a young man to lake this important step. He left for Switzerland, and soon settled in Zurich, the city where he still lives. Nevertheless, apart from personal loyalties, he has put down no real roots in the cultural climate of Switzerland. In an art scene permeated by tongue-in-cheek folksiness and would-be cosmopolitan airs, he-has remained an outsider. Behind the modesty and sincere friendliness of this man lies an almost palpable sense of marginalization that has become a way of life for him.

When Jedlicka emigrated, he was, in the best sense of the term, an academic artist, whose technical finesse was invested in the fantastical realism that had evolved seamlessly in Prague from the turn of the twentieth century right through to the postwar era.

It soon became evident to him that the aesthetic ideas he had honed in the cultural isolation of his homeland held little appeal in the west. „I was like an earthworm that has to grow anew following an amputation,“ says Jedlicka in hindsight. In recalibrating his approach, he discovered his affinities with Land Art and the notion of „preserving traces“ that had by then begun emerging in Europe and the USA. Jedlicka is fascinated by the constant transformation of phenomena that lakes place before our very eyes. A distrust of ideological slogans and superficial definitions of reality, such as those imparted under the socialist regime, had become second nature to him. And so a way of moving perceptively through space, taking precise note of things and transforming them into form, became the building blocks of his new art.

He found the ideal geographic terrain for this new approach in Italy. Since the late 1970s, Jedlicka has been a regular visitor to the Maremma – a distinctive coastal region in southern Tuscany. Here, he has discovered the ideal counterpart to his own artistic ideas. The Maremma lures him with its specific landscape forms and with the historical dimension that they so clearly echo. It is here that, over the years, he has created his major cycles of pigment drawings, paintings, photographs and films.

Concise Traces

The Maremma – the very name betrays its proximity to the sea – is an in-between realm, where land and water are no longer separate and distinct. The elements are constantly realigning. The unique character of this landscape was evident even to the people of Antiquity. Today, the region is sparsely populated, with a network of canals bearing witness to centuries of efforts to make the land arable. By controlling the flow of water, the soil has been drained to reclaim strips of arable land from the sea.

Taking Jan Jedlicka´s art as a guide means entering into an untouched landscape in which nature has completely absorbed all traces of human activity. It is the breadth of the sky stretching over the vast expanse of the land that appeals to Jedlicka´s imagination. The concise traces of his watercolor brushstrokes map an open terrain in which a landscape of almost indistinguishable elements takes shape. These are the traces of a realm in which objects have yet to find individuation. When we look at these works, we are reminded of prehistoric cave drawings, of musical structures and of sounds that surge momentarily, only to ebb away again. It is no coincidence that, a few years ago, András Schiff chose these works by Jedlicka to illustrate his interpretation of Beethoven´s piano sonatas.

Even in the main body of his work as a painter, Jedlicka´s approach is that of a neutral communicator whose personal experience of the landscape remains free of any subjective signature. He lets the landscape speak for itself, uninterrupted by the voice or notions of an author. The materials he uses, too, are always directly related to the phenomena themselves: the colours are won from the stones and the earth that the artist finds on his walks. He grinds them and filters them, procuring the most luminous of pigments. Then, in his studio, he mixes them with water and pours them directly onto the canvas. The resulting forms are somewhat distorted, in that they are not directly controlled by human hand, merging easily on the surface into a regular pattern. Here, too, he eschews all semblance of composition. In these sonorous, saturated patches of colour that radiate so subtly from within a darker ground, the very landscape itself seems to speak out with confidence in its own situation. It is barely possible to interpret or translate this into conventional linguistic or discursive structures.

For a long lime, Jedlicka regarded photography merely as an aid to the craft of drawing and painting. It was not until much later that he began to see it as a medium with an artistic syntax of its own. His exploration of the photographic image reaches an impressive climax in the expansive cycle Il Cerchio, dedicated to the Maremma, which was published in book form in 2008. Over a period of more than a year, the artist revisited the area every two months to capture the landscape as it altered with the seasons. Every day, from morning to evening, he would walk with his camera, documenting the changing vegetation and the changing light. What we find is a landscape in which nature retains its quiddity, casually negating any historical narrative. Humankind appears to have no place here, „It is a foreign place,“ recalls the photographer, „where you have to bring your own means of survival from outside.“ The photographs lend the quietude of this monotonous landscape an enduring formal structure. The camera focuses directly on the horizon, which divides the picture plane evenly in the middle. At the same time, the camera position remains close to the ground, so that the observer feels part of the luscious vegetation while the sky arches sublime above.

Nature embraces humankind in its constantly recurrent cycles and, in doing so, opens up a singular sensory perspective. The words of American landscape photographer Robert Adams come to mind, when he said of his colleague Timothy O´Sullivan – who had made several excursions into the then barely charted American West in the mid-nineteenth century, „The pictures themselves are human compositions, but they refer to a design that is independent of us.“

Living History

Nature transcends the vicissitudes of our days and times. Indifferently absorbing our civilizational efforts, it ploughs them all into the furrow of forgetfulness. It would not he going too far to interpret Jedlicka´s fascination with the close relationship between human history and landscape – as evidenced in his images of the Maremma – in terms of his own personal background.

Jedlicka is the son of a bourgeois family in Prague with a distinctly Bohemian identity and a clear affinity to the notion of a multi-ethnic Austrian stale.

The reality of this multicultural climate soon emerges in any encounter with Jedlicka. His forebears include doctors and lawyers, among them his great-grandfather Frantisek Zenisek (1849-1916), who was a painter and a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague. On a visit to Janovice Castle, where Sidonie Nadherny von Borutin regularly played host to Rilke and Karl Kraus, there is a portrait of Kaiser Franz Josef, painted by Jedlicka´s great-grandfather. Both of them – the Kaiser and the artist – died in the same year. This brings us to another great-grand- father, Bedrich Jedlicka, who, in 1866, at the age of ten, was an eye-witness, along with some of his friends on a nearby hill, lo the Battle of Konig-gratz and was promptly escorted from the danger zone by his horrified father. Time and history have left no visible traces of these events or their context. But they continue to resonate in the consciousness of Jan Jedlicka and form an undercurrent in his art.
Heinz Liesbrock 
Translation Isabel Flett, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Feuilleton, 18. October 2014, Nr. 242.





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