Eva Svankmajerova: 1940 - 2005

Eva Svankmajerova, photo: CTK

The Czech Republic lost one of its finest artists this week, Eva Svankmajerova: writer, painter, and Surrealist artistic collaborator with her husband Jan on numerous mixed live-action/stop animation films including the award-winning "Little Otik" in 2000. Over forty-five years Eva and Jan Svankmajer became inseparable on the Czech arts scene. They collaborated on deeply visceral works that echoed the darkness of totalitarian life as well as life in general, hiding and subsequently revealing surfaces beneath surfaces: sexuality, corruption, hidden violence, and sporadic beauty.

Eva Svankmajerova,  photo: CTK
In her own paintings she first made her mark in the 1960s. Art historian Jan Kriz:

"Eva Svankmajerova gained notable public attention in the mid-60s through a number of cycles that marked a return to the use of figure in painting - the 'New Figurative Painting' - a response to earlier abstraction. A number of artists took this route but Eva Svankmajerova in particular began relying on 'narrative' in her paintings to tell certain stories working in particular with symbols.

In her case, the use of symbol and the connection to inner imagination and the subconscious were extremely personal. In one series, the 'Emancipation Cycle' she deconstructed famous paintings, famous nudes, by replacing the female subjects with men. That series made use of light irony and sarcasm and was one that really ensured her place on the Czech scene."

Also in the 60s Eva Svankmajerova began collaborating on her husband's films. Surrealism, says Jan Kriz, was a logical next step:

"Her work with visual metaphors later brought her into the Czech Surrealist school - she became an active part. Czech Surrealists like Mrs Svankmajerova - like others before them - were interested in a return to inner feeling, motivation, fantasy, the subconscious."

In her husband's films, Eva's vision melded together with Jan's, often reflecting dark visions of oppression but also black sarcasm in response to the totalitarian regime.

"The freedom of inner imagination provided methods of dealing with extreme social pressure. An example is the work of Surrealist poet Vratislav Effenberger. It reacted with intent to outside pressures, but of course with fairly complex metaphorical structures. 'Answers' are not obviously stated on the surface, but are felt on deeper levels."

Eva Svankmajerova completed one final project before her death, collaborating on one last film with her husband Jan. Titled "Lunacies" it will premiere in Prague next month - an epitaph to Eva Svankmajerova's life and work. Eva Svankmajerova was 65.