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Program

Mar 26, 2020 - Apr 30, 2020

Artists That Never Give Up in the City That Never Sleeps

Inspiring interviews with Czech artists living in New York in these challenging times.

  


Petr Sís, Petra Valentová, Tom Kotík, Hana Shannon
in conversation with Marek Milde


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



In times of uncertainty, when current events connected to the outbreak of the coronavirus have brought our life to a standstill, many people are finding refuge in art. Art can provide comfort, insight, and hope. A good book, painting, or a movie can reshuffle our mind and elevate the spirit, reminding us of the power of human creativity that – regardless the circumstances – can overcome almost any obstacle. Currently, the doors of museums, galleries and theaters are closed, as is Czech Center New York, but what about the artists themselves, the creators who make culture happen, have they come to a standstill as well? Most importantly, what are the artists from the city that never sleeps doing?

Czech artists living in New York are an inherent part of the art world and the rich cultural fabric of New York City. As life in New York becomes increasingly more difficult and unusual, we have reached out to these local Czech artists, many of which in the past have performed and had exhibitions at the Czech Center, to ask them how they are doing and how the current crisis has impacted them and their community.  

We are thrilled to have received an abundance of positive responses and messages of hope, which we will share in a series of interviews. In these interviews, we are interested in opening a window into the artistic practice of these extraordinary artists – hearing about their newest projects, while talking about creativity and the possible role of art in light of the current situation.



 

“Art is comfort and inspiration…
Our ancestors would draw in caves in times of uncertainty…
So can we…”  


Petr Sís with Marek Milde



MM: How long have you lived in New York? How has New York influenced your work, how has it inspired you?
PS: I've been living in New York since ‘84 and to me, the city has been a great inspiration and source of energy.

MM: What are you currently working on? What are your upcoming projects?
PS: I am just finishing a book dedicated to the memory of Sir Nicholas Winton, who saved the lives of 699 children from Czechoslovakia just before the outbreak of World War II. The book is supposed to be published in the fall. I’ve spent the last two weeks drawing and working on the very last dots in the last picture.

MM: In 2014, we had your very successful exhibition titled Cartography of the Mind in the Czech Center Gallery. It was a wonderful cooperation and for me an opportunity to experience your drawings up close. They have the magical property of drawing a person deep into the story. Could you tell us how you choose characters and themes? Do you see the story or images first?
PS: Cartography of the Mind was a beautiful show thanks to Charlotta Kotík and also to you with your wife Kristýna. What fascinates me is entering a story... forgetting myself – as a way to escape gray reality, as I did in my childhood. Back then, I was able to live with Captain Nemo in his submarine and fly in a hot-air balloon over Africa. When I drew the stories, I did not notice that the whole night had passed by and it was already dawn. This really happened to me only at a young age… The older I got, the harder it was, and now it’s almost impossible… I choose the characters and stories that inspire me. Nicholas Winton was a young Englishman on vacation, who did not have to worry about children in faraway Czechoslovakia. People did not believe that a great disaster was coming. However, he managed to save nearly 700 children.

MM: The current coronavirus situation has affected the whole art world. Has it impacted you personally or professionally?
PS: Of course it has… I am answering these questions at a moment when the tsunami wave is just on the rise… It’s all still yet to be determined…

MM: Many people find comfort and broader perspectives in art. As an artist, what helps you find balance and support in times of uncertainty? Do you have any encouraging thoughts to share?
PS: Art is comfort and inspiration…
Our ancestors would draw in caves in times of uncertainty…
So can we…

Petr Sís is an artist, author, and filmmaker born in Brno, Czech Republic who now lives and works in the New York City metropolitan area. He has created award-winning animated shorts, posters, murals, tapestries, and public art.
He has written and illustrated a number of books for children and adults, including three Caldecott Honor books: Starry Messenger: Galileo Galilei, Tibet Through The Red Box and The Wall / Growing up Behind the Iron Curtain. He is the recipient of the 2003 MacArthur Fellowship and the 2012 Hans Christian Andersen Award for illustration. His art has been exhibited internationally; recently, the Dox Center for Contemporary Art in Prague presented his retrospective.







 

“I believe there is a lot of goodness, and interesting and inspirational things around us.”  


Petra Valentová with Marek Milde


 


MM:
How long have you lived in New York? How has New York influenced your work, how has it inspired you?
PV: I first arrived in New York in December 1997. In 1999/2000, I took part in the Cooper Union exchange program for one semester. Thanks to a Fulbright Scholarship, I studied at the Hunter College, CUNY from 2003 to 2005, receiving my MFA there. Since then, I have been living more or less with some breaks in NYC. I have a strong group of friends from different backgrounds, which has a big impact on my daily life. I am part of the city, its dynamics and diversity, which is directly reflected in my work. My husband is from Rajasthan, India, and so my work reflects all three environments – Czech, Indian, American – which I think is quite typical for NYC…

MM: What are you currently working on? What are your upcoming projects?
PV: For the last few years, I have been focusing on issues of cultural appropriation, collaborative design, hand-printing in India, ethical work with craftsmen in the woodworking village of Bagru in Rajasthan, India, blueprinting in Bohemia (specifically in Moravia), and sustainability. In addition, I am working on a series of wood prints, abstract cyanotypes based on the flora around me, and sewn images. Basically, all these projects are based on what is happening around me and influenced by whatever environment I am in. The rural environment of the Hudson Valley (Shawangung) in upstate New York, where we have a house, also influences me a lot. My projects are based on long-term personal cooperation with craftsmen and my goal is to further cultivate and develop these relationships.

MM: Your work has many layers – combining conceptual art, design, and traditional craft, bringing together the pressing issues of the present, such as the sustainability of a product in consumerism. One of your most interesting and fascinating projects is your recent work with patterns, namely the study of ancient indigo technique in India compared to the tradition of blueprint in Bohemia. You create your own original designs that often reflect the environmental and social context. Can you tell us more about your creative process and the direction you are aiming at?
PV: One of the main goals in my projects is to point out that crafts are like ecosystems: in the case of traditional Indian woodworking, many communities (farmers, form makers, print makers, dyers, and the laundry community) are all involved, linked, and essential for the maintenance and continuation of the craft. It is important for me to include all these communities and recognize their contribution. I also like to point out that it is necessary to approach the craft communities empathically, recognizing the historical context and mechanisms of power that still exist in today's world. That is why I work mainly on the principle of cooperation, I function more as a curator, a medium. I cooperate with a group of women printers, which I lead so they can create their own work, which enables them to become more emancipated. When I work with handmade printers in India and blueprint workshops in Moravia, I create a certain abstract bridge; in both countries, the masters and craftsmen are extremely interested in and fascinated by technology from the other side of the world, both the similarities and differences.
Regarding my own designs, I work a lot with the subject of Anthropocene, global warming, water loss, and local flora. Cracks, whether they are dry soil, cracked asphalt, or cracks on glass or ceramics, represent to me a record of time, being the witnesses of human activity and behavior.

MM: The current coronavirus situation has affected the entire cultural sector. Has it impacted you personally or professionally?
PV: I have two boys aged 8 and 10, schools are closed, so we have temporarily relocated from NYC to Ulster County (Shawangung) in upstate NY. Everything has slowed down, everyday life and work. The days are somehow simpler and I would say calmer. I had several exhibitions planned for abroad, which have either been postponed or canceled altogether. In India, as in other countries, everyday life has slowed down, printing has stopped, craftsmen are staying home. But it is not such a big change for me because in my work, the technique of hand-made wood printing, which I mainly work with, is slow, limited, there is no need to create a massive amount of material that no one needs. I personally am enjoying time with my family in the countryside, surrounded by small farms. I am closely following the situation in India, I am concerned about the families of printers with whom I have become close, but they are all acting responsibly, so hopefully they will be fine. I believe that once the situation calms down, my cooperation with workshops in both India and the Czech Republic will continue without any major problems.

MM: Many people find comfort and broader perspectives in art. As an artist, what helps you find balance and support in times of uncertainty? Do you have any encouraging thoughts to share?
PV: It is certainly the close collaboration with the people I have been working with for the past few years. The awareness of a certain responsibility toward the women / the printers with whom I work, and also personal relationships with form-makers and printers in Bohemia and Moravia. My projects are built on long-term relationships, which gives me a sense of support and optimism. I really like how many people are reacting to the current situation: with a responsible attitude, solidarity between people, sewing facemasks, help, sharing, and kindness. I believe there is a lot of goodness, and interesting and inspirational things around us.

Petra (Gupta) Valentova, PhD is a conceptual and multimedia artist focusing on questions of identity, memory, textile, and the craft of hand block printing and dyeing, as well as the cultural and intellectual rights of indigenous craft communities. Petra works with artists and designers in the US, India, and her native Czech Republic. She works with block makers and blue print (indigo) workshops in the Czech Republic and with indigenous printing communities in Bagru, Rajasthan in India. She exhibited extensively nationally and internationally, including at the Czech Center New York. In 2007, she published her book Searching for a Sámi/Cookbook, and her work is part of several public and private collections around the world.




 

“Stay open minded to every possibility in your creative life and you'll be happy.”   


 

Tom Kotik with Marek Milde


 



MM: How long have you lived in New York? How has New York influenced your work, how has it inspired you?
TK: I've lived in New York since I was in high school in 1983.  My work has always been architectural in form, and I attribute that to my life in New York.  Architecture is my landscape and I draw from this landscape in my work.

MM: What are you currently working on? What are your upcoming projects?
TK: I've been working on a series of wall pieces that present visual contexts for aural ideas. I've been interested in how materiality plays a part in how we see objects, and in turn, how we listen to a sound.  For example, I've created two identical images, one mounted on a panel and one painted directly on the wall.  Though the same imagery, we perceive them differently. Much like the same piece of music mediated through speakers is different than hearing it live.

MM: You are a musician, a bass guitarist, and also a visual artist. Your band, Sportsman Paradise, which performed at our Czech Street Festival, plays dynamic but also very loud rock. Your music not only greatly moved the audience to dance, it also echoed through the streets of New York over many blocks. In your art, on the other hand, you work with topics such as silence and interval: you create images and objects that relate to music, however they reveal rather that which is between the tones, prompting the viewer to stop, to pause for a moment. Can you tell us about your creative process and how you came to materialize something as intangible as silence in space?
TK: That's a great question. Firstly, I'd say that silence to me is a theoretical state. Even if locked into a soundproofed chamber, our body produces sound through its natural functions. However, I do make works about sound that appear silent because I'm fascinated with the idea of visually transmitting sound.  As a visual artist, I feel the need to create objects.  As we know, sound defies the idea of objecthood through its very nature as an invisible wave picked up by our ears. My objects are a playful method of turning this aspect of sound on its head. 

MM: The current coronavirus situation has affected the entire art world. Has it impacted you personally or professionally?
TK: Well, I just got a call from my gallerist this very morning informing me that the gallery was closing and that I need to pick up my work this week. In addition, all my freelance gallery work has been canceled as well. So unfortunately I'm affected right now.

MM: Many people find comfort and broader perspectives in art. As an artist, what helps you find balance and support in times of uncertainty? Do you have any encouraging thoughts to share?
TK: As John Cage used to say, have a "sunny disposition." Luckily I have lots of interests, one of them being in bands and playing music.  I'm blessed to play with some pretty talented people, so I take comfort knowing that when we're able to meet again, we can lose ourselves in composing new musical works together.  Stay open minded to every possibility in your creative life and you'll be happy.


Tom Kotik is an artist, curator, and musician based in Brooklyn, New York, who was born in Prague, Czech Republic.  Tom Kotik received his Master of Fine Arts degree from Hunter College in 2004 and his Bachelor’s Degree from New York University in 1993.  He has also attended the School of Applied Arts in Prague and Glasgow School of Art in Scotland.  He has been an artist in residence at Art OMI (2001), Yaddo (2006), LMCC Workspace Program (2005), and the Bronx Museum AIM Program (2005). His work has been widely exhibited in New York and abroad, including shows at Smack Mellon, Socrates Sculpture Park, and Sculpture Center in New York, and the National Gallery in Prague, Czech Republic.


 



 

“I’m just taking it one day at a time…

the time of focus, stillness and peace, I find all that in my studio.”  



Hana Shannon with Marek Milde



MM: How long have you lived in New York? How has New York influenced your work, how has it inspired you?
HS: I first came to New York about 20 years ago and I remember exactly the moment I got out of the plane at JFK. It was hot, humid, crowded, and dirty, but the energy was so good and intense, I fell in love with it. That energy always provided great inspiration and drive for me.

MM: What are you currently working on? What are your upcoming projects?
HS: I have 2 projects going on, color oil paintings and black and white silhouettes. Right now I’m experimenting with a bigger format. I’m working on a giant silhouette of Václav Havel. Oil on canvas. The first silhouettes were only 5” x 5” (13 x 13 cm) and this one is 50” x 50” (130 x 130 cm) which is a huge difference. It’s still a work in progress and I’m excited to see where it takes me.

MM: You create portraits, mostly depictions of your loved ones, in which color leads to an emotional experience. Recently you have left color behind, and in the series Nasty Women and Czech Silhouettes you paint black silhouettes of celebrities and political figures on wood. Can you tell us about this shift and your interest in this new topic?
HS: I never "left color behind,” just took a break when I didn’t have a studio space and was busy with my family. I have 3 children close in age and it was very intense, especially when they were little.  That’s why I started the black and white silhouettes – so that I could work at home on something smaller and non-toxic. It soon turned into my new interest and challenge in the field of portrait. Again, first I focused on friends and family, and then I started to paint famous people who were interesting to me. My kids are bigger now and I couldn’t be happier to get back into the studio again.  I found a great studio space over a year ago and returned to painting in color. I keep working on the silhouettes simultaneously, it’s great to mix it up to keep a fresh point of view.

MM: The current coronavirus situation has affected the whole art world. Has it impacted you personally or professionally?
HS: Yes, this affects everybody. You can’t escape it. It’s really not easy to focus on art at this time. The atmosphere around is just so heavy. I managed to get to my studio a few times but I’m not very productive. I don’t know how much longer my studio building will remain open. At least I got to finish a silhouette of Milan Kundera, for the Famous Czechs series, and I’m happy for that.  Coronavirus affected me right from the beginning because I have friends and family members who have gotten ill with the virus. I’m currently at home with my family practicing social distancing along with all other New Yorkers. I don't know what’s going to happen and I’m just taking it one day at a time.

MM: Many people find comfort and broader perspectives in art. As an artist, what helps you find balance and support in times of uncertainty? Do you have any encouraging thoughts to share?
HS: Personally, I find comfort in the creative process. The process of painting, the time of focus, stillness and peace, I find all that in my studio.  I’m very happy and treasure the time I get to spend there.
It grounds me and fulfills me and I feel I can be a better person thanks to that, more present for other people. I also practice the Wim Hof method, which is a combination of a special breath technique and exposure to cold and I find these very helpful. I call it a “more physical” form of meditation. I find it easier than classic meditation where I have trouble staying still, both in my mind and body.


Hana Shannon, born in the Czech Republic, studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague. After graduating with a Master’s degree in Fine Art, she moved to the US to pursue her art career.  Her main focus is painting, she has created extraordinary portraits such as her series Czech Silhouettes. Her work has been shown nationally and internationally, including at the Czech National Gallery and the Czech Center New York as part of the exhibitions Melting the Pot in 2009 and The New Bohemia - Reflect What You Are in 2019. 





 





 



 

 

Marek Milde is Czech born, Prague native, artist and a curator, based in Brooklyn, New York.
He is working in tandem with his wife Kristyna Milde on projects investigating culture and environmental issues, their interdisciplinary art practice includes installation, and public art.  
Their work has been presented nationally and internationally in venues such as Museum of Modern Art, Queens Museum and DOX in Prague. As Exhibition and Production Manager he is organizing programs and exhibitions at the Czech Center NY, and also working for the Exhibition and Collection Department of the Whitney Museum of American Art. He received MFA from Queens College, New York in 2007, he studied Sculpture at Atelier Dodekaeder, Germany, Goetheanum, Switzerland, and the School of Applied Art in Prague. 

 

 


   



Venue:

Date

From: Mar 26, 2020
To: Apr 30, 2020

Organizer:

Czech Centre


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