Josef Duchan: Space in the Plane (25. 5 –29.6.2021)
Selecting a representative sample from a body of work as wide as Josef Duchan’s for a venue as limited in space as the Havelka Gallery presents a great adventure and challenge, but also a great responsibility for the curator: The choice is always subjective and thus a could result in a misleading interpretation. The exhibition “Space in the Plane” mainly includes works from recent years, months and even days, and therefore it’s important to outline their broader context.
For Josef Duchan (1970), creation is as essential a need as breathing or movement. His heightened perception is the driving force that both feeds him and drains him. Like an extremely absorbent sponge, he soaks up everything that happens around him and also within himself. He is sensitive to the most minute details and inconspicuous changes, and he also perceives what others do not notice. He must somehow get this absorbed material out and process it into a new form as quickly as possible — otherwise he would explode.
His older paintings, drawings and engravings filled the entire area of the canvas or plywood, but also strips cut from a billboard, a formica panel, a car windscreen or even a cell phone monitor. Strikingly colourful, intricate, rhythmically repeating abstract fragments cluster together and repel one another, coalesce and expand, proliferating in structures reminiscent of cross-cuts of organic tissue, nocturnal aerial views of a pulsing megapolis or swirling particles in space — only it isn’t clear whether they are dynamic processes in outer space or under a microscope.
In the exhibition at the Havelka Gallery, this period is represented by the drawing Odyssey, which can serve as a guide to deciphering Duchan’s complex work. For the artist himself it serves as a matrix with an inbuilt universal formula for depicting space in planes. Although the quasi-scientific drawing of planets rotating in a spiral of refracting space differs formally from his current work, they share a fundamental common denominator: an attempt to capture the motion of phenomena in time and space — an effort to record on a two-dimensional surface three-dimensional reality in the fourth dimension (and perhaps also in other dimensions).
This basic principle of Duchan’s work also is a reminder of how sensitively he embraced the conception of drawing and painting of his professors Dalibor Chatrný and Vladimír Kokolia and developed it into a characterful, original and ever-changing form.
In recent years, Josef Duchan has moved away from abstraction and focused more on clearly definable, perhaps even banal phenomena. The starting point is a real perception, or rather a sequence of perceptions within a period of time and space that is delimited by his own movement. He draws while on a walk, on his bike, in the car, on the subway and on the train. He draws in the studio, in clubs, in pubs and at the cinema. He even draws in the dark. As a hypersensitive receiver, he surveys the surrounding reality layer by layer — the landscape flashing by the train window, the approaching skyline of Hradčany, figures fluttering past in the streets, the silhouette of his wife, Erika, smoking on the balcony… Each plane of the drawing represents one moment, one layer of time, and while he is drawing they assemble into a 3D model of his subjective perception. Limited by the area of the paper, one plane is immediately overlapped by others, often creating a dense network in which the initial motifs can be deciphered only with difficulty. Other times, the process stops at two or three layers, with specific elements remaining clearly legible. In addition to visual sensations, his work also reflects surrounding sounds, especially music, by which he sometimes becomes so engrossed that its rhythm begins to determine the movements of his hand, and the image thus becomes a gestural musical recording. Here, there is a strong kinship with Karel Malich (mentioned previously by art historian Marek Pokorný), especially with the artist’s wire sculptures, whose eloquent titles contain the key to their reading: I Sit and Look Up from the Angle of View; I and the One I Observe; Landscape with the Eternal…
Although this attempt to decipher Duchan’s method might seem to indicate that we are dealing with a well-thought-out concept, it is basically a process that is highly intuitive, undirected and difficult to control, where each new drawing is a surprise even to the artist himself. To the viewers — but also to himself — Josef Duchan thus simulates a singular vision of an “integrated system” of our reality, the complexity of which eludes the five basic senses.
Terezie Zemánková, Prague, May 2021
Online exhibition: Josef Duchan / Recycling in lockdown, Industra Brno (15.1 – 15.2. 2021)
The author and curator quotations
The planned Josef Duchan’s exhibition was supposed to focus on the recycling method: The artist explored the industrial surroundings and derived various material and experience from local operations during his residential stay at the Industra Art Gallery. This brilliant painter tried also other techniques – postproduction installation, sewing and interviews. His preparation started in his atelier in Prague where it finished, too.
We have yet another story of an artist being prevented from holding his exhibition. A story where not only the life of the artist himself, but also the lives of the audience were shifted from their ordinary course. What could be the point of Duchan’s recycling process in lockdown? We hope that it is the time for new experiments for the artist, yet it is only a record without a face-to-face contact from the point of view of the audience.
Josef Duchan (1970) graduated from The Academy of Fine Arts in Prague (graphic arts, restoration). He moved from the restorative art to structural abstraction which gradually changes its appearance and forms. The artist moved from classical painting canvas to painting and drawing on various found material and towards yet freer artistic expression. His work has no limits and goes beyond regular spatial or physical borders. He draws using both hands in infinite cycles, his colour prints metamorphose into objects and installations. His unique style “head – hands – heart” is elusive, fascinating and liberating. Even more in times of considerable restrictions.
Lenka Lindaurová, the exhibition curator
“The objects and drawings that were created during my residential stay in Brno and later in my atelier in Prague, influenced my perception of material and objects I found left idle in the surroundings. I tried to give them a different identity with a new birth certificate number as a part of the dialogue. Simply I tried to restore them from the bin.”
Josef Duchan, the author
Solo exhibition in Reduta (Prague, Národní) Reduta LIVE September 2019
Josef Duchan (1970 Frýdek Místek) je malíř, grafik a restaurátor. Vystudoval atelier Grafika 2 (Dalibor Chatrný, Vladimír Kokolia) a poté atelier Restaurování malířských děl (Karel Stretti) na Akademii výtvarných umění v Praze. Po studiích se věnoval hlavně restaurování, přičemž působil také jako pedagog na Střední umělecko-průmyslové škole v Jihlavě, kde založil v rámci výuky sítotiskovou dílnu. V profesním životě se v současné době věnuje zejména vlastní volné tvorbě, ať už jde o kresbu, grafiku, fragmentální malbu či řezbu a kombinovanou techniku.
Tvorbu Josefa Duchana jste měli v Praze možnost vidět v roce 2019 například v industriální hale v pražských Holešovicích, která je součástí multifunkčního centra Vnitroblock, kde Josef představil nejnovější velkoformátové malby, nebo letos v Centru současného umění DOX, kde vystavoval své grafiky a kresby na výstavě architektury profesora Petra Hájka pod názvem Galegion.
Josef Duchan spolupracuje i s dalšími kurátory, například s ředitelem galerie Plato Ostrava Markem Pokorným, bývalou ředitelkou Ceny Jindřicha Chalupeckého Lenkou Lindaurovou a předními teoretiky umění Janou a Jiřím Ševčíkovými.
Josef Duchan vystavoval také v zahraničí, a to na Slovensku, na Ukrajině, v Německu, ve Švédsku, v Kanadě nebo v USA. V roce 2000 obdržel ocenění Grafika roku – Cena Pražské plynárenské a v letech 2009 – 2011 se účastnil sympozia Smalt Art v Ostravě.
Na výstavě Reduta LIVE Josef Duchan představí svoje kresby, které vznikají intuitivními tahy tužkou, propiskou či fixem. Jde o zachycování a vrstvení pocitů z hudebního prožitku ze sedmi koncertů v Jazz clubu Reduta, které si Josef vybral z programu v lendu a únoru 2020. Zachycuje jak kapelu, diváky a sál, tak hlavně všudypřítomnou energii a vibrace. Výstava je pokračováním cyklu LIVE – s kurátorem Mirou Macíkem Josef navazuje na již proběhlé výstavy ATELIER LIVE (Vnitroblock, Praha) a PROSTĚJOV LIVE (Rainbow Gallery, Prostějov).
Solo Exhibition Villa Pelle (Prague) Intuition, June 2019
Concentration on a grandiose plan
As a part of Intuition exhibition by Josef Duchan
The advantage of Josef Duchan’s work is its elusiveness, unclassifiability. It rebels against comparison, quick conclusion and therefore encourages a deeper insight. It needs time, it needs observation and in fact, it needs the viewer’s undivided attention. Who can manage that today?
We named the exhibition Intuition which could seemingly indicate that the author creates under an unknown agreement with his subconscious. Yet, that would be misleading. According to a dictionary, intuition means suddenly acquired knowledge or a decision which is not driven by conscious reasoning but by irrational certainty. However, we can say that Duchan’s decision, accompanied by a sense of clarity, has its reasons. Marek Pokorný, a theorist, described the author as “a technically trained medium which brings us a message not from the beyond but from the real and the virtual world.”
Apparently, Josef Duchan is indeed such a medium. His head is a source of structures spreading into infinity which he neatly records, seeks and reads important messages in them sometimes or, by contrast, he allows them to run freely. He is moving from abstract unconscious sketches to concrete images or vice versa at other times.
Although we discuss paintings, the fundamental medium for the author is still the drawing: the obsessive trajectory of many lines and points creates an ultimate dense colourful structure. In the past, it created symmetrical or otherwise meritorious patterns in Duchan’s paintings as if he in a single painting zooms in a sample of complex organic net under a microscope. He often inserts realistic details in the abstraction in order to prevent the viewer’s eye from sinking into the depths. Nowadays, he is carried away by an interplay of head-hands-heart and in a rather gestural prints he travels by colours over the underlay. Where various materials become the underlay except painting canvas, as it is tying by its aesthetics. Josef Duchan paints on billboards cut to pieces or he carves his lines into a solid board which prevents a plain gesture. A slower pace as well as selected materials and technique should keep the artist to some extent under control. Hence the artist sets limits to his own intuition, he adds to the burden so that he “does not fly away” towards a manneristic ornament.
Gradually, his exceptionally diverse work (there are couple dozen small-format sketches alone created in a week’s time and the author keeps sketching even in a dark cinema) begins showing an increasingly stronger focus on a grandiose plan. A plan which will never be attainable in art and to which only some can at times come close.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Walter Benjamin predicted that humankind is going to outlive its culture and that humanity’s heritage will be put aside for a minimum value to a pawnshop, one piece after another, to get a “current” small coin in return. A hundred years later, it is important to note that we made different arrangements and some efforts to make grandiose plans did not disappear and are reflected in work of more and more generations of artists, including Josef Duchan.
Solo exhibition Bratislava Castle Galley, Slovakia, LIVE, June 2018
The works on Josef Duchan’s paper, which we present for the first time in a larger selection and as an independent, striking layer of his technically and technologically into a wide-spread work, are an eloquent example of the author’s artistic ambiguity. On the one hand, a thorough preparation from the studies with Vladimír Kokolia and his extensive restoration practice are transcribed into them, and on the other hand, the escaping perceptions and reactions of the perceiving being to the surrounding world are fixed in them. Perceptions and reactions that, despite all skill, cannot be kept under control. It is as if Josef Duchan is a technically trained medium that brings us a message not from the grave, but from the real and virtual world, which attacks all the senses of today’s man with mutually disturbing excitements and irritations.
The series of twelve large drawings, which the author is exhibiting for the first time under the title Totems, represents a specific transition phase. Originally, text draws for restoration tests became the starting material for drawing interventions and color structuring of the area. The overall tone is still very close to the paintings of Josef Duchan, which formed the basis of his recent exhibitions, but in detail, the matrix and the drawing intervention are disconnected. Paradoxically, words, even after merging with drawing and color, acquire autonomy, and the act of drawing, which seems to be a filling between them, speaks for itself. It is in these large areas that the energy that Josef Duchan uses live is released in a large number of smaller drawings from recent years. And partly in some purely textual drawings.
The author thus leaves the catchment network, which, in the form of a geometric layout of the surface, held the whole together for several years, and succumbs to the act of drawing as a partially controlled and partly affective activity. It meets the technique used and the base material, but at the same time denies them. Horror vacui as an emblem of Duchan’s work thus no longer assumes the form of a network filled to the last place with more and more details, but has the nature of a (however long) moment in which a seismographic map of captured and intertwined perceptions, or optical sensation of slowly drying layers.
Josef Duchan’s work is created outside the currents of contemporary art, and it is difficult for us to find parallels in the classics of the older generation. It is neither for nor against. It does not have a direction determined by the consciousness of history (art), but it does not deny it either. As a sensitive subject, the artist responds in an endless loop of feedback to the basic challenges of the creative process. He perceives everything. It doesn’t explain anything. He draws.
Marek Pokorný, květen 2018
Solo exhibition, Entrance (Prague) – My world, august 2016
The pictures by Josef Duchan give us an opportunity to peak into his concept of union of visual work: elements are radically fragmented to tiniest pieces and then integrated back to a super-complex unit. It is a kind of picture moulding by fractal geometry. The elements have rich colour and formal structure but under the flood of detail we can feel more global, freeing big form. We have a feeling as if the formally structured wholeness of the world could be observable not only in detail but also in its comprehensive fullness. The author knows he does not have to tell the usual stories of perception of the world; since the representative role of abstract forms allows him to be free of emotional and epic burden. Although he does not retreat and insists on his view, his pictures have a unique status in the Czech art scene.
doc. PhDr. Jana Ševčíková, Academy of Fine Arts in Prague
Selection of exhibitions
- LIVE Prostějov Rainbow Gallery
- Ateliér Live, Vnitroblok Praha
- Intuice, Villa Pellé, Praha
- V přímém přenosu/LIVE, Bratislavský hrad, Bratislava
- Svět pod kaleidoskopem, Galerie J&T Banky, Praha
- Citlivá těla mé mysli, BBLA, New York, USA
- Microcosmos, Gallery17/18, Ottawa, Kanada
- Můj svět, Entrance Gallery, Praha
- Dům umění české Budějovice, Principy spolu s profesorem Petrem Hájkem
- Centrum současného umění DOX – Galegion, spolu s profesorem Petrem Hájkem
- Smalt Art, Ostrava