Artist, mother and teacher – the three lives of painter Tereza Límanová

Photo: archive of Prague 5’s town hall gallery

Born and raised in Prague, Tereza Límanová captures the city in an unusual way in her paintings. She paints mostly landscapes, but in an abstract and reduced style that may well stem from what she describes as an almost obsessive fear of kitsch. Her latest exhibition “From Colors to Whiteness: From Jinonice to Košíře” is currently on display at Prague 5’s town hall gallery and closes Friday. It focuses on the unusual sights and landscapes of Prague 5, a mostly residential neighborhood far from the golden steeples that most visitors of the Czech capital come to see. During a recent interview at the gallery, Tereza explained how she discovered her love of painting as a child already.

Photo: archive of Prague 5’s town hall gallery
“I have to say that as a child, I always wanted to please the adults as a painter. I always wanted to paint things as I see them, a still life. I wanted to master the composition of a house. I wanted to make my mother happy, and I would paint a vase full of flowers, which she loved very much. I would please my father, who is an architect, by painting a perfect chair, or a cloth and an apple, with all the shades. That went on for many years, this feeling that I have to master depicting the reality.”

Even though she loved painting, after finishing secondary school, Tereza went on to study French, Czech and English at Charles University – a decision that she doesn’t regret.

“I loved reading foreign literature and 19th century Czech literature so much, that actually, it was 50-50 between painting and studying that. And I didn’t think myself capable as working as a full-time artist, probably. That is why I don’t feel bitter about this, or feel like I failed at something, fortunately.”

Photo: archive of Prague 5’s town hall gallery
Upon graduating from university, Tereza became a teacher, a profession in which she continues working to this day. She is also the mother of two sons, Manus and Finbar, aged seven and 13. How does she manage to work, take care of her children and still find time for painting?

“What is best for me is to chose two or three days a week, be at home around 2, have two or three hours to paint, and then pick up my younger son, Manus, from kindergarten. I might finish the painting in the evening, when they go to bed. But having started on it, I have this feeling of relaxation; there is no tension about the painting, since it is right here, on the floor, probably kicked behind the radiator. When I have more time, I might tend to fall into what might be a type of laziness, to just work more slowly, so I think I probably need the pressure.”

Photo: archive of Prague 5’s town hall gallery
Her paintings, which combine oil paint and oil pastels on paper, are sparse and lyrical, with lots of vertical lines and very few rounded elements. Tereza uses muted colors and a lot of white. A previous exhibition of her work was on display at Malá Strana’s Galerie Perla in 2010. It focused on the house in Malá Strana’s where she had grown up and was titled “One House, One Life”. The artist says that she has come a long way from the very realistic style that she used to employ when she was younger– something that happened after her first son was born.

“After the birth of Finbar, I suddenly started painting things I liked and I wanted to paint. It was a big liberation, and my husband Justin used to mind him a lot while I painted. And I suppose the process of liberating myself from what I should be able to do, and should be able to draw, all those perfect ears, and hands, and toes, big toes and other toes, which I used to practice painting. Mastering them does not have the same weight and importance as it used to.”

Photo: archive of Prague 5’s town hall gallery
Tereza works from photos of things that catch her attention and that she then renders in her signature abstract and lyrical style. She says that in many ways, being not only a painter, but also a mother and teacher, has had a very liberating effect on her artistically.

“I think that for me personally, having these three roles actually helps me, because I don’t feel the obligation to paint. I don’t feel that it has to be a perfect painting, or that I have time and space and no one bothers me. I squeeze painting between school and the boys coming home.

“But I suppose I am lucky that a painting doesn’t take me weeks, or that I don’t do ten layers that have dry for hours. That would be very difficult. So I take it as a gift. I need the energy and the emotion. I have a marvelous photo for the future painting, which I may have chosen a day, a week or a year before, and it is there waiting for me. It makes my life really energetic, it gives my life meaning. And if I know I have half an hour extra to do something and work really fast, then sometimes these paintings done under pressure, with not much time, are the best.”

Photo: archive of Prague 5’s town hall gallery
Your husband, Justin Quinn, has been on our program several times; he is a poet. How do his poetry and your art mix – is there any ever overlap?

“That is a funny question, which has to arise, and I think I could talk about it for hours, but I’ll try to be to the point. We talk about these things a lot. We might fight when we talk about who should do the dishes. But when we talk about me painting and him writing poetry, our experience, our struggles, our gains and new ideas, we love it and we really become one person, in a way. So that is a good topic for us, and a time where we manage to get over possible problems. He is a formal poet, form is very important to him, taming the wild emotions into a form. And I never saw myself as being a formal painter, I work faster, and there are really wild emotions when I start painting. But in a way, there are many similarities between our work when it comes to form.

Photo: archive of Prague 5’s town hall gallery
“And I remember one time Justin said: ‘This is quite a good painting.’ I always ask him to come and he never wants to see it, because he might be critical and I will get annoyed – but once he said: ‘This painting is not bad, but do ten more of the same theme and you might get somewhere.’ And I was really annoyed. He said that he might use it for his poetry collection, but he needed me to make some changes, and he suggested that if I start in the morning, by evening I might have gotten the right form.

“At the time we were living in Boston, and he bought me the last ten sheets of thick paper at this shop. I started working at it in the morning, and he said that the first was not bad and that they progressed, but it was still not to his liking. I was getting desperate, our son Finbar was six months old and getting desperate, too. Then it was seven or eight in the evening and I had the last sheet of paper, and said: ‘I think I am giving up.’ But he said: ‘No, do try.’ And somehow I was able to please him, with this last one, maybe because I said: ‘I give up, after eight hours and eight paintings, I give up.’ But that was the one he liked best.”

Photo: archive of Prague 5’s town hall gallery
With her exhibition drawing to an end, I was curious to see what Tereza is working on next. She told me that a well-known artist who had recently come to see her exhibition had given her some food for thought.

“He wrote me a very critical mail, saying that he liked certain things, but he thinks I should just let things flow and paint something not connected with reality. So this might be a trigger, because his opinion has been on my mind quite a bit. I don’t really agree and it even pains me a bit, but I think it’s a good kick and I should start from there.”

The episode featured today was first broadcast on January 6, 2012.