Translation of a speech made by Czech art historian Jiri Machalicky, PhDr. at Jiri Ptacek’s graduation exhibition opening at the National Art Gallery in Prague in June 2001
Jiri Ptacek chose a theme of rapidly-changing scenery for his paintings, which was inspired by his trips to Berlin. Memories of different moments were metamorphosed into a collection of paintings in which he recreates views of the Earth from different perspectives in various abstract contexts. The artist gives only a hint of the evening or night landscape in a flare of electric lighting. He succeeds in representing its bizarre atmosphere with the impersonalization of a large city; with the loneliness of an uprooted man who, before he knows it, can find himself anywhere in the world without having a chance to find his surroundings and settle down. There are no human subjects in the paintings; they are present only through their interventions on the face of the landscape. The collection, which has the artist imprinting his personal feelings onto the landscape, is close to the symbolist or neo-romantic paintings of the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. At the same time it is evident that the industrial manifestations presented by members of Group 42*, in relation to all that is connected to urban life, still has its successors. From a different perspective, we encounter in the paintings a nostalgic longing for the revelation of deeply hidden secrets. A sense of precisely-captured moments is discoverable here.
(*Group 42: a group of artists in the former Czechoslovakia which, in the 1940s and 1950s, specialised in artwork on powerful industrial themes – factories, machines, industrial landscapes, people represented as machines, etc)
Jiri Ptacek chooses traditional rather than experimental methods to depict space and composition, and, simultaneously, to describe the way he feels about life. The industrial landscape comprises something gloomy and in its pure pragmatics something almost grievously frightening. The artist is able to offer a mirror to the contemporary fallen lifestyle and to the world where scientific and technical progress and a shallow mode of thinking draw apart, separated by an excess of trivia coming from all directions. A contrast of the worlds which the artist has had a chance to get to know is projected on to his larger paintings. Jiri Ptacek shows his ability to perceive sensitively and to distinguish the character of various motifs which he has included in the collection. He approaches the interpretation of single themes with an internal discipline. He achieves a significant impressiveness by a pragmatic means of expression while suppressing colour and small details and underlining important moments. The effectiveness of his use of lights shining in darkness intensified through pictorial expression is typical not only of his past, but also of his current activity.
Jiří Machalický PhDr. (Art Historian, Prague, Czech Republic) 2001