We are pleased to present an exclusive interview followed by the Instagram Takeover by James Prosek an award-winning American artist with Czech heritage who currently has an exhibition at the prestigious Yale University Art Gallery. The show titled James Prosek: Art, Artifact, Artifice explores concepts of classification of nature and the fine line between art and artifact. In the interview, James Prosek who is also a writer and naturalist speaks more about his art practice and inspiration by nature.
Friday, November 13th
Czech Artists Worldwide Instagram Series offer an unique insight into the work and life of contemporary Czech artists abroad. The participating artists take over the Czech Centre’s Instagram for a day to present their work, life and last but not least their relationship to both the Czech Republic and the country where they currently live and work. The aim of the project is to map contemporary Czech art abroad and to present the artists to both Czech and local audiences.
The project is a joint effort of 12 Czech Centres across 3 continents. You can follow the series using the hashtag #CzechArtistsWorldwide
Interview with Marek Milde
James Prosek: I was introduced to nature by my father as a child through his love of birds. My passion for nature and the workings of evolution all stem from that early introduction. We would bring field guides out into the woods and meadows and try to identify the creatures and plants that we saw. I was just struck by the beauty and colorful diversity of the things I saw and it all got under my skin. I was compelled to draw but I don't exactly know where the impulse came from.
JP: I fell in love with fishing as a child, maybe around nine years old. And I fell in love with the fishes I was catching in my local streams, in particular trout. That early love of these colorful and beautiful fishes led me to explore questions that I still do today, like those of how and why we name and order nature, but also what the value is in making representations of things in nature at all. I was engaged in two forms of representing nature at that time—painting the trout in watercolors, and making imitations of the insects they eat, the little fishing lures we call flies, which are made of fur and feathers tied to hooks. The flies allow you to connect with the fish and catch them, they are a form of trickery and artifice (because the trout think they are real while really they are mimics of natural creatures), they allow a conversation with a fish through this interface, which is an imitation of nature. Painting the trout I also found made me better able to catch fish because I was forced to observe them very closely. So I make these connections now between art (depicting nature) and our survival as early hunter gatherers.
JP: In the show I combine objects from the Yale University Art Gallery and those from the Peabody Museum of Natural History. Typically objects in the Art Gallery are considered “art” and objects in the Natural History museum are considered “artifacts” while really many of these objects could be housed in the opposite museum. So the whole exercise is meant to call into question the artificial boundaries we draw between things in nature and culture… and how those lines, or into what category we classify objects, shapes our perceptions of them. The third component in the show are works made by me, and I made some of them to kind of live in an ambiguous space between art and artifact as a way of questioning the boundaries.
JP: I think that we make art because we have to. Humans make things because it’s an extension of the basic force in nature to make things. Nature and the forces of evolution are infinitely creative. Nature is constantly testing the limits of what is possible to exist. I think therefore that art plays a very important role in our survival. It helps us make sense of our changing environment and to explore and question where our society is going. We need people like this that constantly test and question our behavior and through their work, advocate for positive change. I think by painting beautiful things in nature that we are losing, for instance, we can help people appreciate them and hopefully become passionate enough about them that they want to help protect them. I know the paintings of John James Audubon helped do this for me as a child—helped me grow even more passionate about birds and nature than I would have been had I not seen the work.
James Prosek published his first book at nineteen years of age, Trout: an Illustrated History (Alfred A. Knopf, 1996), which featured seventy of his watercolor paintings of the trout of North America. Prosek's work has been shown at The Royal Academy of Arts in London, The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA, The Yale University Art Gallery, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, The Addison Gallery of American Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and The North Carolina Museum of Art among others.
He has been an artist-in-residence at numerous institutions, including the Yale University Art Gallery, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and the Addison Gallery of American Art.
Prosek has written for The New York Times and National Geographic Magazine and won a Peabody Award in 2003 for his documentary about traveling through England in the footsteps of the seventeenth-century author Izaak Walton.
James Prosek was born in Easton, Connecticut where he lives and works today. Prosek’s grandfather, Otakar Prosek, was born in Prague and moved to Argentina in the 1930s as an employee of Bata Corporation to purchase hides for shoe production. While in South America he met and married Prosek’s grandmother, who was Brazilian of Portuguese descent, and moved to Sao Paolo, where Prosek’s father, Louis, was born. The family moved to New Rochelle, NY in the 1950s. Prosek’s mother was also born in Prague and moved to the United States when she was ten years old.