The unusual denim paintings of František Matoušek on display at Dox gallery
František Matoušek’s paintings are instantly recognizable because of the material he uses, instead of painting on canvas, Matoušek stretches different varieties of denim over his frames. Often, he distresses the fabric, removes threads and roughs it up, so the texture of the denim becomes an element of the paintings’ motifs.
At a recent guided tour of his exhibition “De Nîmes”, the artist explained his preference for the unusual painting surface.
“My use of denim is connected to my childhood and growing up under the so-called socialist system. I was yearning for freedom and the free world. For me, jeans, jean jackets and so on symbolized America. Jeans were the epitome of the desire to live in a free environment, where you can travel, listen to the music you like, read the books you want to read. So my interest in denim really goes back to that time in my life.”
“His choice is very interesting because fabric itself has a quality that is related to memory, it’s a cultural product that has its own history, and that’s also the very specific case of denim. For him it was a symbol of his childhood and teenage years. But of course denim, as the origin of the word indicates, is also related to European history. So you can see just by this one example that there are layers of time and layers of memory.”
The exhibit’s title is derived from the French expression “serge de Nîmes,” a sturdy fabric from the southern French town of Nîmes that was the first version of denim cloth. A sort of mid-career retrospective, the exhibit shows paintings exploring various themes, amongst them family history.
“This specific painting is based on this color portrait over there, of my mother. My grandfather painted it in the 1950s. She was about 15 or 16 years old. I used it as a starting point for this portrait. And I dressed her in a jacket that I owned at the time, instead of the blouse that she is wearing in the original picture. I wanted to know how that would change her. Maybe also what she would be like if she was a teenager today, I was interested in seeing the transformation.”
Scenes of New York are another topic of a series of Matoušek’s paintings, after he found himself very impressed with the city on his first visit in 2000.
“New York was a vision of something that didn’t exist. There was no New York for us, or for me, when I was young, in the 1980s. Now, it still stands for freedom and it is a Mecca of contemporary art, a fascinating city in so many ways. When I first visited there, I was almost overwhelmed by how great New York is, it was beyond my imagination.”
“What is quite unique in his case is the diversity and range of both subject matters and his stylistic approach in terms of painterly style. When you look at his pictures, you can see that each of his paintings is unique in terms of painterly devices and stylistic means. He has a signature style. But it is not, as often is the case with painters, just one or two formal elements, but rather the way he puts the many different elements together.”
“I don’t really know if I will go back to painting New York. It remains to be seen. But as far as painting children is concerned, I hope that I can paint them when they are older, when they start going through puberty for example. Who knows if they even want me to paint them and if I live to see them when they are teenagers. But that could be exciting. I’d be really interested in the development, it could make my work complete. Right now, the paintings are rather sentimental, and later on, they could have a different mood when the children get older. But I don’t know. I don’t really like planning too much in advance.”
Despite the fact that František Matoušek is considered one of the most influential and innovative painters of his generation by his peers, the show at Dox is his first solo-exhibit to date in a museum-like environment, says Jaroslav Anděl.
The exhibit “De Nîmes” runs at Dox gallery in Prague until the 15th of March.