The art journey of Joska Skalník (*1948) was shaped by the legendary milieu of the Činoherní klub Theatre and the varied activities of the Jazz Section. Ever since he has reached maturity as a painter and a graphic artist, he has found a stable source of inspiration in dreams, situations and games. It was through their prism that he has learned to observe the scene of life.
His visual language flows from sensual experiences, which he transforms into a pictorially realized web of ideas about the contemporary world. Drawn by the magical gravitation of the changes in the heavenly sphere, he has chosen a wide range of blue tones as the fulcrum of his painterly expressions. When organizing the spatial structure of his paintings, he has remained true to his original feel for the graphic art. His imagination permits him to factor into his artful contemplation of the enigmas of the natural world the tender details from the plant and animal worlds.
He has responded to specific qualities of the countries he had visited as well as to the changing moods of the local climates. He has been taken by the way these conditions are reflected in the mentality and the emotions of their inhabitants. When he began to contemplate the unceasing cycles of captivating natural phenomena, he enlarged his expressive means with the methods of collage-making. This gave him the chance to unload into his painterly organism the fragments of expressive elements of color stickers or photographs, so that the optical whole that he achieves testifies to the meaning of what he is communicating. In the last twelve years, the island of Bali has become the most propitious locality for the creation of his collages. As soon as he began to absorb its mentality, this place has opened new avenues for his selfreflection and enriched his imagination.
The exhibit of Joska Skalník’s collages, in which the author offers shy glances into his most private spaces, informs the public about an important dimension of his art.
PhDr. Jiří Šetlík, 2008
Meditation in Blue
In 1991 the Dalai Lama meditated at Lány with Václav Havel and later with Joska Skalník, who suggested the theme of the meditation to him – the colour blue. Such things can’t be fully described but it is necessary to try. Many creative people from many religions have contemplated colours for many years. It is one thing to know what Goethe wrote about them, for instance, it is another thing to have these colours premeditated and experienced. One of my friends, for instance, immerses himself in the colour blue that he imagines as calm aquamarine water, a sort of primeval lake. He then uses meditation as the basis for movement, which at a certain moment of impact is transformed into pink and red fire and then flows away in a stream of blue.
I think that in the course of the many operations that Joska Skalník has undergone, he has glimpsed the other shore of death, and gazed from there at our world. His pictures are a by-product of meditation, which is more interesting than the pictures themselves. Most painters develop some theme in their work and concentrate on some meaning. Joska empties his paintings of meaning. Meaning is an anchor or ballast, but here it is a matter of breaking free, of detachment.Tearing free of all that and becoming free as a bird! To swim like a fish, soar on wings, leaving thoughts on the ground and boulders under the water. Not being held down by them, but filling with light.The fewer thoughts the better.
Neither water or air are quiet, let alone the colour blue. We can imagine sounds and beings of water and the winds of the weather, but meditating on blue-coloured music is not something one can manage straight away; it takes years of practice. A uniform blue can be broken up and its fragments used to make a new composition. This is how collage becomes another way of dealing with water and air. It no longer has much in common with the general view of art as creating something nice.
A specific instance: his meditation on the end of the world, expressed in a picture from the end of 2012. The centre of the picture is occupied by a blue planet with continents, reminiscent of fabled dragon-like creatures. Above it there appears a silvery sky and an oval celestial body, perhaps a moon. Still higher there is the dark blue band of an upended starry firmament, expressing a new cosmic situation. Peeping out from behind are the ordinary lights of a terrestrial cloud, indicating the journey home. The blue planet emerges like Venus from merry, gently billowing waves. It is purified. Something has happened. We return, the universe itself has been transformed. We feel solemn, but it is a good feeling.
This particular example can be used to demonstrate how the work of Joska Skalník tends towards Japan or Bali on its own accord. Europe is getting faster and noisier all the time. It is hard for gentle, quiet visions to penetrate it. I think we are lucky to have amongst us someone who frees himself from art in this manner.
Václav Cílek, 2013
A Desire to Seize the Untouchable
Joska Skalník is an original as a painter and a graphic artist of a solitary temperament. It’s not easy to fit him into a precise category of the current Czech art scene, even while his work is immediately recognizable and unmistakable there. His painting is grounded in symbolism, both through the language it chooses and through the messages it passes on. The colors, the shapes, and everything else on his canvases reflect an attempt to convey metaphysical, even transcendental, meanings. They flow from a kind of a mental state between wakefulness and dreaming, a zone populated by vision, a place of old myths and new daydreams – all saturated with a musicality, with the experience of music.
While Skalník’s work can be viewed from many perspectives, the integrity of his artistic personality has always been unimpeachable. Even though he is a nonfigurative painter, he’s interested mainly in the intimate aspects, and deeper levels, of his life’s experience. He has described his work as being ‘abstract and influenced by Poetism,’ which cradles ‘the erotic and the fantastic’. The coin of his purchase on the world is the aphorism that ‘dreams are more potent than reality’, which he has put up in his studio. And in his painting, in his solitary flight, and in his dream about the possibilities of the medium, Skalník really does manage to express, in his abstract and his poetic way, the constant desires of our existence – not some accidental fancies.
Skalník’s typical blue never merely describes, never becomes the sky or the sea, even while it may suggest such things. His polyhedron never becomes a mere pyramid. His blue and all those shapes that repeatedly enter his canvases (all the circles, squares, sinusoids) express the esoteric geometry of the heart and the spirit. The challenge and the view that Skalník’s art brings always flow from his interior worlds and speak of time and timelessness, of spiritual spaces, of joy, of hope and new possibilities which constantly keep opening. At the same time, his art radiates serenity and harmony, inviting meditation.
On Skalník’s canvases, the dramatic, thick, and plastic strokes of the brush run up against the calming effect of his linear and two-dimensional geometry. The amorphous color stain, raised by his brush, meets the surface of a canvas where only the plain language of geometry is spoken. The expression inherent in the paint contracts with the geometric serenity of the composition. And out of this tension there arises a visual conversation, a dialogue between the peaceful and the unquiet, between dreams and the chaos of wakefulness, between silence and the roar of the world. At the same time, the horizons of Skalník’s paintings extend far into the past, to the old archetypal images that transcend all limits. This content is usually a matter of discreet suggestion, though at times it yields readable images of waves, mountains, clouds, breasts, and wombs.
Ever since he mastered the medium, Skalník has always gone after the strongest possible effects with the most minimal means. This becomes obvious when one recalls the titles of this works: Tempting, Dizzying Moments, Journeys into the Unknown, Garden of Knowledge, City of Angels, Three Phases of the Heart. They very straightforwardly bring up Skalník’s ambition, his unceasing desire to seize the untouchable.
Nowadays, when painting is once again a fashionable thing to do, Skalník’s pictures will perhaps be more accepted. They contribute the special and unique chord of ‘modern blue poetism’ to contemporary art developments in our country, something that doesn’t really fit in with the overall line and traditions of European art history. Joska Skalník’s painting seems to stem from some ancient and unknown mythologies that we can’t fully comprehend, but which we can inwardly feel and experience. His paintings probably meet with a much greater response in countries he is attracted to, where he has spent much time in recent years and where he exhibits most often – in another continent altogether, Asia. The traditions and roots there have an affinity to the perception of a light-blue meditation field filled with games, symbols, shapes and signs.
When the Dalai Lama was here six years ago, he taught me how to meditate. He taught me that I have to close my eyes, and imagine that my worries, my thoughts are like quickly floating clouds; that at a certain point I have to exert a kind of energy to stop these clouds, which is the moment of transcending, the moment of meditation, the moment of achieving a clear view. In Skalník’s pictures I see both. I see those floating clouds, but I also see them standing still, I see a clear view in those picture, a transcending. I also see points and life, in them I see fragments of being that are mingled with dream-like fantasy.
I’ve known Joska Skalník for many years, and all those years I’ve followed his painting and the small, inconspicuous changes in his artistic expression over the years and decades. (Recently, for example, I’ve a feeling that his pictures feature a slightly mystical tone).
Despite these changes, however, his pictures have something visually in common, something I love them for, and why I have several of them at home: that special sensitive, gentle combination of elements that are purely surreal, fantasy-based, with geometrical forms and a typical Skalník-style sky. I understand these pictures as conveying information about motifs of the world that overlap each other in a dream-like way, as a kind of pausing face to face with time, and as contemplation about the alternating and fusing of various spaces.
Although similar verbal characterisation could be applied to many other artists, one thing is certain – if we see his paintings, prints and graphic designs through our own eyes, it’s impossible to confuse Joska Skalník with anyone else.
Indeed, Skalnik’s works are a melange of little windows – square, rectangle and/or circle – in an awkward overlap against an ambiguous space.
The air of serenity in some works can be deceiving, for underlying tensions are suggested through some gestural lunges with the brush, breaks in the shapes or hairline strokes in simulated movement.
Warps, like an aberration, mar the surface of Transformation while the cubes in Dreaming in the Studio are faintly reminiscent of Tajuddin Ismail’s earlier Boxcapes.
Skalnik’s works can be taken as deeply personal contemplations; those with a more universal theme show a kind of poetic empathy to the environment.
Ool Kok Chuen, New Straits Times
Alongside his cultural activities that defied the totalitarian regime (such as the Jazz Section events and the preparation of the banned Minisalon), [Joska Skalník] first became known to the broader public through his graphics. He continued with them even under the favourable conditions of the renewed democracy, although he began to devote fresh focus to painting and installation. Aimed at the infinity of space, Skalník’s pictures evoke a feeling of dream-like experiences through abstract forms and sensual concreteness of detail. He fused Surrealist starting points with elements of magical realism, and through a balanced harmony of colour tones he bonds into a unified whole the imaginative world of his painterly expression.
Jiří Šetlík, Fineart
Skalník’s work is an expression of the need to assemble a kind of open, flexible and more soothing game out of elements taken from the visible world. They are elements from its surface, from places where we are closest to it in terms of touch and sight; they are enchanted perception. Another characteristic feature here is his emblematic colour, blue, the colour of clouds and the mass of the sea. At the same time, his prints and installations contain a dramatic element that joins the individual parts into a specific narrative.
Jan Rous, Papiriál
The Nová síň Gallery is currently filled with harmony and tranquillity, the implicit sensing of romantic stories and unknown faraway places. Coming in from a busy dust-filled street, you enter a completely different atmosphere. Joska Skalník’s installations provide space to expand one’s own ideas and dreams, raising questions and providing answers to them.
Jiří Machalický, Prostor
Joska Skalník’s tranquillity and equilibrium are inward traits. He doesn’t have to look for them around him, on the contrary – he radiates them from within. This manifests itself in everything that he does (…) Joska Skalník took an interest in involved and high-quality actions, whether they stemmed from the official or unofficial scenes. He initiated an endless series of them himself (…) Apart from that, however, he never forgot his personal destiny, his ‘freelance’ work. He considers himself an abstract artist who follows on from Poetism; the eternal theme of his work is that of dreams – situations – games. Joska Skalník’s activity has, over recent years, grown more intense than ever before; he demonstrates that a strong person remains true to himself.
Josef Moucha, Playboy
It seems each time that he raises his brush Joska seeks out every imaginable shade of blue that can be gleaned from the rainbow and uses them to repeatedly penetrate into the heavenly realm. The supreme directing desire of Joska, perhaps, is to gradually direct lower emotions to take flight somewhere into the buddhic world of twinkling sapphires. (…)
For the onlooker Joska seems to make the space in the skies firm and the foundations of the deep strong, activating higher desires for reflection below. Even as he sets one sailing over the ether in between heaven and earth, his work does not fail to inspire the feet to remain firmly planted on the earth.
Mehru Jaffer, The Jakarta Post
The collage features throughout Joska Skalník’s work in diverse ways. It appears in his free art as well as in his poster, LP cover and book designs. His expression alternates reality and dream, which both reflect the atmosphere of the present day with all its positive and negative aspects. His collages create a series of artistic ‘poems’ comprising fragments of the present-day world that combine harshness and fragility, tension and harmony, powerful expressiveness with a light touch. Locked inside them, they have a precise rhythm of alternating elements: a gently flowing melancholic melody, nostalgia but at the same time an objectivity that doesn’t allow it to slip into cheap sentimentality. Geometric forms are complemented by views of nature, while a refined world of eroticism comes into contact with technological civilisation. The loose arrangement of elements comes into conflict with clear-cut order and a precise articulation of area and space.
Jiří Machalický, Česká koláž
Skalnik’s love of freedom was evident in his 60 prints and paintings, all with dominant blue tones, recently on display at Silpakorn University. The exhibition was organised by the Embassy of the Czech Republic in co-operation with the university. (…)
For him the dream (of having freedom) is not an escape from reality, but a way of looking at life. ‘It’s like leafing through a diary, an opportunity for playing with various means of expression,’ he says, smiling. (…)
‘I have a duty as an artist. I want to show my inner self which is personal and poetic. With an abstract work, I can tell people that there are no boundaries to thinking, doing and dreaming. That’s why I try to show my exhibition around the world.’
Manote Tripathi, The Nation, Thajsko
(…) Meaning is ever present, and it is a meaning that bears a message or notifying thought aimed at us – about time, joy, hope and possibility. In his pictures entering new inner spaces there is a message that is also turned inwards, not as an appeal but as meditation. It is less and less a matter of a mere encounter between geometric precision and an amorphous brushstroke or colour patch; instead, there emerges here a geometry that is visionary, almost sacred. Space isn’t real, but spiritual. Geometric shapes are mystical shapes forming the architecture of the spirit. Emphasis is placed on the esoteric geometry of Pythagoras: the circle, square and triangle. There ultimately comes the spiral, representing energy that is both solar and lunar, male and female. The endlessly repeating circle of the adept’s journey through outward space grows ever denser; the boundary between outer and inner space intersects, self-reflection emerges and culminates. Is there still any sense in merely talking about painting?
His work, after all, subscribes to fantasy, secrets, that subliminal hidden self that dreams on, unfettered, unchecked by life’s daily drudgery.
Gauri Sinh, Bombay Times
We spent moments of enjoyment and admiration looking at the handsome and harmonious paintings by top Czech artist and painter Joska Skalnik at the main lobby of the World Trade Center.These painting were marked by balanced composition of forms and color. In most cases the painter has used acrylic paints with shades of blue, developing from an azure transparency through darker tones and harmonies to the green and brown shades of local surfaces, or on the contrary to shade of white. It has made Joska Skalnik one of the truly distinctive figures in contemporary Czech art. He has achieved worldwide reputation through his exhibitions in London, New York, Paris, Amsterdam, Tokyo and other cities in the world.(…) From Jakarta, this exhibition will be shown in Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok.
Harris Sitampoel, Indonesian Observer
Blue is an obligatory part of the artist’s works, since a frequent theme of his is that of the water and the sky, in other words the infinitely mysterious poles that are home to human fantasy, mysticism, but reality as well. They are ungraspable points providing space for the imagination without which art would lose its sources.
Svobodné slovo newspaper
Joska Skalník, who has anticipated his fiftieth birthday with an exhibition at Mánes, clearly ranks among a rare breed of practical dreamers. If the ground floor surprises us with a sober series of bluish pictures providing a backdrop to the central installation, the basement is filled with a fraction of examples of his graphic works. It is here that we realise to our astonishment that, in our subconscious mind, Skalník skilfully established himself behind everything that determined the pattern of our interests from the mid-1970s onwards – including his work for the Činoherní klub, the first art publications by the Jazz Section, the design of Hrabal’s prose work I Served the King of England, and a series of postcards, always with clouds and a blue sky, that arrived at the beginning of each year to confirm hope.
Once our minds are tuned in like this, more and more associations suggest themselves: the recordings of Philip Glass and Laurie Anderson that Joska got hold of and brought at that bleak time in such a natural way; the meetings that took place during the second half of the 1980s, no longer in studios, but in a side salon of the café at the Municipal House, at which he was an essential participant; his collaboration in the Grey Brick almanac that no one was supposed to know about, but whose creation was awaited by everyone with baited breath.This is the point we have to take a sudden pause: none of this is exhibited, and very few people will infer it from the exhibited works. It is only eyewitnesses and archivists who nowadays remember the full meaning of terms such as the Jazz Section, Open Dialogue and the Minisalon. And at that moment there remains the work alone, devoid of all other juxtapositions and contexts. What does it tell us?
It’s strange: initially we were willing to balance out the ground floor, featuring its blue paintings and installation, with a kind of emotional impression at the historical documentary quality of the basement: it is there that we wanted to witness the main focus and emphasis of Skalník’s work, as a certain counterbalance to the imagined dilution of his free work.
Left on its own, however, this part of his work suddenly comes across not as the graphic designer’s Sunday relaxation work, but as the testimony of a vision that, in comparison with the vision of another sorcerer of blue, Yves Klein, is undoubtedly narrower and less prophetic, but which is just as dream-like, liberating in its dreaming and open to something else, something we aren’t yet capable of living. A dream? Possibly. But are we able to exist without it?
Josef Hlaváček, Ateliér
Pinks and blues, but especially blues. Blue of every hue and tone dominates the paintings of Joska Skalnik. Is it a phase, like Picasso’s Blue Period? Not quite, for Skalnik claims that the color blue is an obsession, a disease even. Try as he may, he just cannot get away from it. (…)
The most interesting graphic art pieces are the ones he has done for jazz music. This also includes an LP cover for Jazz Q and a Jazz Quartet poster. In both he uses assemblages of objects, like isolated black and white piano keys and parts of musical instruments to create the main visual. Work done for theatre comprises of posters, playbills and programs. The humor of the man shows through in some – a poster for experimental theatre based on Shakespearean work that shows a jester carrying a bag of wisdom.
Parvathi Nayar Narayan, The Jakarta Post
His largest solo exhibition so far ranks among those that (…) captivate the viewer with their original poetics evoking a positive atmosphere. This [atmosphere] completely dominates the Mánes Gallery. (…) His pictures contain mystery, fragility and dynamism at the same time. They aren’t rigid abstraction or the aesthetics of beauty as an end in themselves, but a carefully thought-out game with symbols (the square, cross and circle), capable of continuing outside the format of the picture as well. They set geometrical order and loose expressiveness against one another. This classical contradiction generates a disturbing tension.
Petr Volf, Reflex
Even in randomness there is a certain logic. This was also true in the case of number 303 that Joska Skalník gave to his object from the cycle ‘Thoughts in Solitude’, doing so spontaneously but – of course – not by accident. This seemingly banal act dating from 1985 would have undoubtedly faded into oblivion had Joska not been imprisoned a year later at Prague’s Ruzyně jail in cell no. 303.
Joska Skalník’s life is full of exceptional twists of fate, with both highs and lows. There’s nothing strange about that, since in his biography you can find milestones connected with remarkable cultural deeds and changes affecting the whole of society.
As a painter, Joska Skalník has exhibited in many countries of the world; many thousands of people have attended his solo exhibitions in Prague, Indonesia, the USA, and countries of Asia and Africa. The opening of his exhibition at the Mánes Gallery in 1996 was attended by 1200 people (no further comment needed). Now he is exhibiting in Martin, his first major exhibition in Slovakia! The exhibition presents Joska’s free and applied prints, collages, paintings and installations. Apart from blue, dominating the whole of Joska’s work, we encounter his games with symbols that he often leaves open-ended. He in sets in counterbalance to each other regularity, symmetry, and powerful expressiveness. As a whole, however, Skalník’s pictures evoke a harmonious composition that, on the contrary, soothes and satisfies…
Joska Skalník is a free man. He values the phenomenon of freedom that helps him create his best works with exceptional fantasy and creativity. While we are on the subject, his dream of a large bed on a tall mountain under a great eiderdown, interrupted by contemplation and sleep, is only a beautiful metaphor for the freedom of man as a humble part of nature. Truly, Joska, what colour is the sky over Turec? Welcome here!
Jarmila Kovačová, Turec Gallery, Slovakia
It is a great honour for a contemporary Czech artist to stage a solo exhibition at the Mánes Gallery. Joska Skalník reciprocates this honour by paying it back to the architecture of this major Prague exhibition hall. He has revealed its space for the projection of his ideas, something that is Skalník’s lifelong artistic theme, as it occurred to me when I wanted to find a common denominator linking his work.
Space for the projection of ideas is his fundamental thesis, regardless of the scale in which it is realised: it breaks down the barriers of the postcard format, while he reduces the whole of Czech contemporary art to small boxes for the Minisalon and, on the contrary, he takes over the huge Mánes Gallery space with order and inner organisation, transforming it into a meditation space inducing a feeling of seriousness, tranquillity and persistence. Joska Skalník requires only a minimum colour range and number of artistic means to create his artefacts and pictures. The presentation is important, however; it is fundamental and indispensable. It provides his works with a further context, meaning and content.
For him, it is a primary prerequisite, which is why he spent so much time continually drawing the Mánes space, sketching the interior and the installation of the pictures. He was concerned with achieving a unified and clearly organised whole.
Anna Fárová, Ateliér
Skalnik’s works bring you into the world of fantasy, dreams and visions. His favorite color is blue, symbolizing independence and freedom.
He came to Seoul. He showed up in a blue shirt at the opening ceremony of exhibition in Gallery Korea. We can find the blue color even at his works. It means the sky and the sea. The only way which can never be repressed is to see the blue sea and sky in blue eyes. It is dreaming. Freely. Who can suppress his thoughts in his mind. ‘Inner experience. A picture with a dream’ His dream is freedom.
Madame Figaro, Soul
Skalnik works alone, and his works appear the exploration of his personal space and space which demands transcendences. Within this space there are a series of blues, the moody blue of the changing sky, the light gauzy blue of the child’s cotton dress, the inky blue of midnight, spread across the sky like a blot from a pen, the electric blue like the leather dress of the disco dancer, the blue of the sky in which clouds like fluffy Persian cats, purr their way. There is the blue of the eye of the Nordic girl, and blue cast with shadows of red. There is the seamless blue of the universe, which does not engage stars in wars within an intergallatic battle ground. Rather the moon is mother of the earth, fulsome of breast, voluptuous, generous of girth and womb and the sky is the cradle of man.
Celia Winter Irving, The Herald, Harare
Skalnik said he conceived of the secret project after reading a contraband Xerox copy of 1984, George Orwell’s novel about an oppressive future society.
‘Hopefully, when you put the 244 boxes together, it gives the public a picture of 1984 in Czechoslovakia,’ said Skalnik, a key figure in the cultural group Jazz Section.
Patricia Walsh, The Miami Herald
In 1984, when the hand of Government censorship lay heavy on art in Czechoslovakia, Joska Skalnik, a graphic designer and longtime troublemaker, came up with a very Czech idea. If unofficial artists could not exhibit, why not create an unofficial salon? The work could not be exhibited, of course. But it would exist, and its mere existence would be intensely annoying to the nation’s cultural overlords. (…)
Like his fellow artists, Mr. Skalnik had a perfectly attuned sense of how to tweak the official nose. Working within an officially tolerated club called the Jazz Section, he devised schemes to remind the Government that artists, in the end, have the last laugh. Mr. Skalnik’s organizing talent and his persuasiveness were legendary.
William Grimes, The New York Times
Joska Skalník (1948) placed the attributes of vain desires in six showcases: blue clouds illuminated by the setting sun, propellers, snow-white wings. He pressed a tuft of cotton wool – a symbol of cleanliness and pain – to the side of the case with a wire mesh. It’s possible to share, but not lessen, the pain of others.
Jiří Hůla, Lidové noviny newspaper
A distinctive style of painting is not so much an outcome of determination as of the sincere love for nature and the mankind. From the works by Mr. Skalnik and what he has done through his career we see this kind of love and the unreserved devotion to society. We see a man with abundant experience, unworldly perception and superb artistic insights, which he untiringly transforms into numerous works of art.
The qualities of Mr. Skalnik are those required for the attainment of a distinctive style in arts. The formation of a style is comparable to that of a diamond, which only shines after being put under high temperature, high voltage for a considerable amount of time.
Prof. Yuan Xikun, Jintai Art Museum, Peking