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On snowflakes and dusk falling on the slopes after skiing and other motifs of paintings

Petr Vaňous interviews Petr Gruber on the occasion of his exhibition SILENT PLACES

March 10th, 2021

Your paintings explore landscape and space. Was nature a substantial part of your childhood?

I lived in a small apartment in a tenement house, but I and my parents used to spend the holidays in different parts of Bohemia. Nature was close to my home and I would spend most of my time with friends outdoors. I came to love nature especially while staying at my grandparents’ house in the countryside.

You come from Vysočina. From where exactly? Do you have any favourite places there where you return regularly?


I come from Havlíčkův Brod. Whenever I visit my parents in Brod, we go to see my grandparents in the village of Chválkov. It was my favourite place where I also spent most of my childhood. I know the local forest virtually by heart. There are certain spots in the woods where I often pause to savour their intense atmosphere. For example, I always visit one tree that evokes strong feelings in me. The forest is a venue of a traditional fair with a holy mass. I remember going to the fair and hearing a distant music play through the trees.

Does memory – specific or random recollections – play an important role in your paintings?


Memory is very important for me. Indeed, I paint from memory, invoking specific recollections related to places I have visited. It is essential for me to know where the place is, from where and in what direction I’m looking. When I sense something is missing while I am painting, I try to remember what was at that place, which helps me to complete the composition. For example, I would add a prominent fragment of a branch or shutter. This detail puts the picture into the context of the specific space and surroundings, and even the backdrop. But I do not arrange or even make up the memory in any way. Its magic and mystery lie in its randomness, and I often underline its vague character in my painting.


What places attract you in general?


It would be places that strike me with genius loci so powerful and unique that I perceive them as imaginary archetypes. That is why I often return to these locations – mostly in my mind, of course. The paintings currently exhibited at The Chemistry Gallery are linked to four places, specifically Krkonoše; the Vranov Dam near Vranov nad Dyjí; Šumava, and the Ostrovec campsite near Tábor.

Your paintings have a contemplative feeling. What message do they convey?


You are right. Sometimes I feel the urge to name a painting, for example, the Holy Mountain or Clean Air or Breath. While we face many troubles in our everyday life, including health problems, my paintings should be like clean air and pure health. They are a kind of therapy. If the viewer immerses in my painting, it can take him on a soothing journey or into a dream. The colours should evoke pleasant feelings, too, but there is also a slight fear of an imminent danger. The aspect of uneasiness is characteristic for my paintings, it makes them quiver and shiver. However, it is also the gentle nature itself that attracts me, and a certain sense of timelessness the places emanate.


You studied at the Academy of Fine Arts under Jiří Sopko. What kind of experience was it for you?


It was hard at first, but then things turned for better. From year four on, those were the best times at the AVU. I painted the works I consider essential there. Jiří Sopko almost never told us how to paint, as was typical of him. In hindsight, I really appreciate his approach. The important thing for me was painting based on a model, which helped me to abandon certain mannerisms I had brought to the Academy. Students in general developed slowly, but intensely.


You are a distinctive colourist. Could you briefly describe how you work with colours?

I find it crucial that the colour scheme follows from the particular atmosphere. My memories or recollections, as you mentioned above, come to me already in colour. I need to know exactly what tone, and the tone of what thing in the picture I’m going to paint. Often, though, I find the right colour only in the process of painting. I do not use a single colour, , but rather two and sometimes three or more. Yet, two colours are enough to define the colour scheme, and when I achieve the right combination, the painting works. The aim is to find a harmonious relationship of colours. My paintings first look like a pure abstraction, and only in a later stage, I give the colours more precise shapes. Throughout the whole process, I keep in mind the motif I’m painting. I consider the time of a day when the image is created, that a dark green area in the grass shall foretell the nearing storm, etc. I often work with colour shadows. I believe that there should be at least one pure colour in the picture that sets the direction of the painting. I paint in acrylic and oil, using the method of layered and combined glazing. A thick layer of paint carries a different potential than two glaze layers one over other. Technically speaking, in the painting process, it takes quite a long time before the paint creates the intended substance and structure. This is indeed why I find it so invigorating. The result should be a total diversity of substances.

What works do you present at your solo exhibition at The Chemistry Gallery?

Basically, I present there all my works from the last year and a half. The exhibited paintings each portray an individual climate, yet I believe they narrate a consistent story. There are three large-format paintings I made independently and intended as the foundation of the exhibition. I took the exhibition as a challenge to explore novel colour relationships, such as orange or claret, i.e. warm colours. The exhibition is about a journey through landscapes at dusk and walks in snow along moon-lit snowcat tracks. About a tinkle of a metal bucket on the silent mountain hut porch. About the peace and quiet on a mountain hotel balcony or the echo of music carried across a calm lake. About orange colour combined with purple, and ultramarine blue with Prussian blue. About snowflakes and dusk falling on the slopes after skiing.

What are your plans for the near future?


If the situation permits, I would love to continue painting over and over again. I also have an upcoming solo exhibition at the Pragovka Gallery, which will take place in November 2023. Further, I am discussing participation in several joint exhibitions this year that will be curated by you, just like this one, for which I would like to thank you.

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