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Jan Šafránek: Life around us

  • Where: Montmartre Gallery
  • When: March 11, 2014, 19:00 – April 6, 2014, 21:00

Opening of an exhibition of work by Jan Šafránek. Richard Drury will provide an introduction.


11. 3. 2014 – 6. 4. 2014


Jan Šafránek (born 1948, Hradec Králové) is a visual artist with an instantly recognisable style who is known to the Czech public for his figurative paintings in particular. Originally self-taught, he began painting advertising panels for a film company in Hradec Králové. In 1974 he moved to Prague where he moved in underground circles and among the members of the Crusaders’ School of Pure Humour Without Jokes. After signing Charter 77, he was forced under pressure from the secret police to emigrate to Vienna, where he studied painting and drawing under Professor Carl Unger at the Academy of Fine Arts. A few years later he settled in Australia’s Sydney. He undertook trips to the USA, Mexico, South America and the Pacific. Since 1990 he has been living between Vienna and Prague. His most recent exhibition, On the Road, took place at the Gallery of Modern Art in Roudnice nad Labem in 2013.

The exhibition Life Around Us presents Šafránek’s oil paintings and works on paper from the 2003–2014 period, with the main subject the human figure and the world of people. The ordinary clamour of the city, people swarming on the street, everyday work and common situations: a shop assistant resignedly offering goods, a street artist exhibiting, a sleeping receptionist or a skater enjoying some free time on the ice. Men, children, beautiful women, old ladies, fat people. As if their lives were being set in contrast against the great stories of the heroes of today.

The pictures’ narrative aspect and the capturing of figures frozen in action offer a comparison with photojournalism, with photographic accounts of reality. At the same time, Šafránek’s work is also concerned with the generalisation of certain observed phenomena. He does not capture concrete figures but human characters that, via various forms of facial expression, gesture and clothing, he fixes forever. Stereotypical attitudes to life flicker in the expressions of the figures; thanks to the linking of different traditions and exotic elements, they sometimes approach a kind of metaphor for global society.

The occasional placing of the figures in abstract spaces or the breaking of the picture surface of a canvas add to the rejection of the idea of realism.  The artist’s favourite motif of the “painting within a painting”, which can be multiplied countless times, reflects the Renaissance concept of the painting as a “window to the world”, while also, among other things, playing with the representation of reality.

The artist has been capturing the public life of society since the mid 1960s. In those days, his speeches of orators at party meetings, interrogations by secret police officers and delegations kissing one another contained a large dose of sarcasm. However, with the political and social changes that biting criticism disappeared. He is a gawker fascinated by human life and the world of which he is part, bearing a testimony to today’s era that some may find repellent, others moralising.

Marianna Placáková

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