British contemporary art exhibition in Prague

Charles Thomson - 'Green Skull, Blue Cat and Red Bottle'

Art lovers in Prague can now appreciate non-conformity in a remarkable exhibition featuring contemporary avant-garde British artists at the Černá Labuť Art Gallery. The eleven featured artists fall outside of mainstream and ‘favored’ art movements in the United Kingdom. Among them are Charles Thomson, Anna Keen, Joe Machine and Ella Guru.

Anna Keen - 'Colosseum and bus,  Rome'
I talked to Edward Lucie-Smith about the selection of these artists, how Stuckism and contemporary British art in general is received by Czech audiences and his efforts to assist a more intense cultural exchange in this field.

“Stuckist artists are artists who believe in painting. They’re not interested in installation, they’re not interested in video, and they’re certainly not interested in performance. They believe that you make objects and those objects can be stuck on a wall. So these artists are both retrograde and at the same time rather typically avant-garde. And they are extremely varied; they are not quite all Stuckists.

“I’m represented as a photographer, and I am certainly not a Stuckist. There are a couple of other artists I suggested neither of whom are identified as part of the Stuckist movement. But they are all painters, apart from me as a photographer of course, who believe in painting, who believe in the power of painting, but who use it in extremely different ways.

Charles Thomson - 'Green Skull,  Blue Cat and Red Bottle'
“You may like one, you may not like another, you may see no connection between one who is entirely abstract and others who are entirely figurative, but they represent a moment of dissidence.

“And let me just add one thing important because of the context, and that is that the Stuckist movement, although it originated in Britain, has become international, look up the site and the other thing you will discover is guess what – there are a number of eminent Czech Stuckists. The movement has been very strong here in a rebellion against academic control, a rebellion which has followed the fall of communism.”

Does the artwork exhibited here in this show follow a specific theme?

“No it doesn’t, it’s the choice of the dealers that own this gallery, and it reflects their tastes, their feelings, that kind of thing. I had a very small part in the show by recommending artists. Believe me, when I came here and saw it, I thought wow, they did very well. It looks great.”

Joe Machine - 'Sailor barfight'
So there is no underlying message?

“The underlying message is that artists should be free to do what they want.”

They don’t have to be political or cultural…

“Exactly! Exactly.”

Do the organizers of this exhibition typically support non-mainstream artists?

“I think their impulse is to support art which a cultivated public will feel comfortable living with. I came to an evening event here when I first arrived and there was an extremely nice, cultivated, international, but basically Czech public relating to the pictures and relating to each other. Well, if you look back at the first years of modernism in Paris, you’d have gotten exactly that kind of public at the early exhibitions of Picasso, for example. The Czech Republic has an extremely long tradition in modernism and modernist movements - in fact a longer and more solid modernist tradition than probably any other eastern European country. Modernism started here very early, it goes back a long way.

Edward Lucie-Smith - 'Rome-Foro Italico'
“One of the things which modernism always was is international. If I can help people here and this gallery to become more international, because I have as it happens a very wide network of international contacts, then I am happy to do that. The other thing I am happy to do is to obviously look for young Czech artists. I am happy to help them and I have a strong connection with the city of Trieste in Italy. It is much easier to find places for new artists in Italian circumstances now than it is in Britain; it is extremely competitive in London.

The exhibition opened on February 28th and will run until May 6th, 2018.

“As soon as I arrived I was introduced to a young woman artist, all of twenty-nine years old and shown some of her work, and so I thought bingo, I can do something with that. I went straight back to my Trieste contacts, and I think they’ve just offered her an exhibition in Trieste. Well, that’s what I call success. It’s not that I want to come to the Czech Republic and say that there are all these interesting artists from outside that you should be taking a look at. I also want to say, yes, I understand you have a great tradition of your own, show me. If I like it I’ll try and do something with it.”