We moved to Řeporyje in 1988, after a project lasting several months codenamed “Concrete Mixer” during which we managed — in collaboration with a local bricklayer, Přemek Rada — to fix the ground floor of a small country house, build a bathroom and a septic tank so it was possible, with the arrival of the first frosts, to bring in my wife and two little children from my father-in-law’s cottage. The reason for the above project was an effort to provide final solution to our dismal housing situation and also the sculptor's desire to let machined trunks roll freely along the surrounding fields which, to my great satisfaction, eventually happened.
In 1989, an extension was built to add a first floor and attic, a studio was built where the sheds and an outside toilet used to be, each window is di erent, so the resulting impression is something between a dwelling and a factory. I remember how I was listening to the presidential inaugural speech by Václav Havel on the radio while patting the fresh concrete oor of my studio with a shovel. The fences and the paving in the courtyard and on the terrace are made of Slivenec marble, typical of the villages in the area. In the garden, my old sculptures peep out from among the usual trees.
We used to grow all kinds of vegetables but, over time, all sorts of activities forced us to give it up. We had several dogs in a row. The first one was called Bakuňa lama vykuňa. He was a mongrel and, to this day, his descendants run around the village. en we had a wirehaired dachshund called Roza that we got from Petr Jareš and an Airedale terrier Maruška but both got lost. Now, we have, for a change, the Dalmatian Koran that we found, so Arjana now lives in a cottage with five guys. Myself and our three sons, Petr, Daniel, Ondřej, and the dog, Koran.
In Řeporyje, you can buy everything from a computer to a rake to an Opel Vectra, simply everything. In the square, you can see a guy with manure zigzagging among limousines. Behind the Baroque manor house, there is a giant concrete silo with a red inscription ‘Meindl’ which is illuminated every night by blinding lamps. In front of this, there is a place selling animal skins and an abandoned garden with a braying donkey.
I miss the village dances, the local band and, especially, the fact that traditional customs such as Shrovetide, celebrating the start of spring, harvest festivals, etc. are not observed any more. In Řeporyje, dances are still organised in the Sokol gym but the proximity of the city of Prague degrades them to something between a TV show and a rehearsal for the shooting of Miloš Forman's film The Firemen’s Ball.
I don’t like throwing rubbish into the stream, the general lack of interest in what’s behind one’s own fence.
You can walk to the Luka metro station in een minutes along a dirt road or go three stops by bus or drive there in three minutes. The metro takes you to Můstek station in about twenty minutes. When you get o there, you're in the centre and you look around all puzzled as if you have passed through an accelerator.
We buy eggs, milk, rabbits, ducks, vegetables, etc. from our neighbours. Mr Fafejta always comes to prune the trees and to drink a dram with me in the spring, Mr Holeček repairs our car, Mr Roreitner makes doors, beds and everything made of wood, his wife does our accounting, and some Ukrainian women from a nearby lodging house come to help with ironing and washing the windows, etc.
Even in the late nineties, it was already impossible to pass through the yard to the house without getting entangled in the sawdust oating everywhere, tripping over the sculptures in various stages of completion. My wife Arjana rebelled, claiming the situation was untenable. The sculptures rolled out across the road to the eld where I was tolerated for some time but then the field was sold in order for the ‘entrepreneurial baroque’ style estate to be built there and my days there were numbered. I returned from a stay in America where I promised myself to build a big studio.
I was very lucky because the right space, as they say, fell into my lap. I discovered a disused storage hall, built in the seventies, probably illegally, which was to be demolished within a year. I smelt a chance and bought the hall for two sculptures from some upstarts who shook their heads believing that I would have to demolish the structure with my wife and children with our own hands within a year. Fortunately, this did not happen because I managed to legalise the structure and get approval to use it as a sculpture studio.
What preceded this was a stormy meeting at the town hall where local football players called for me to be lynched because I “stole their hall”. They has planned to seize it, demolish it, bring in a lot of debris to make a three-metre high layer and build another football pitch on the resulting surface. The local councillors rejected this – not too subtle – plan and rented me the municipal land on which the hall stands. So I was able to move, together with the sculptures, from the field to the large studio. It was so great that I founded the Bubec Sculpture Studio (named after the local small artificial lake) there, which also began to be used by other sculptors from the Czech Republic and abroad. But that’s another story.
( The text is based on an interview for the Rural Renewal Forum in 2000, with additions made in January 2011.)
My works for Ondřejov were called Vepice.
It’s not a big mayfly (as the Czech name for it, “jepice”, might suggest) but the name of a quarry where the granite stone from which the sculpture was made is mined.
On my first arrival in Vepice, on the uncovered stone plate, an astronaut was standing there like in an illustration to a Jules Verne's novel. In his hand, he held a huge pipe connected to a long hose leading into the distance and, from the pipe, a long ame blazed which he used to cut the rock under his feet. Sci-fi in the middle of the picturesque Czech countryside.
The sculpture was placed on the Ondřejov radar field. I hope that these radars will attract astronauts from Verne's novel who will pile out of an ancient rocket. They will move in circles on the meadow and quietly dance around the sculpture. Then, they will load it into their spaceship and take o with it to the stars...
A studio is usually perceived as a quiet, cosy place where an artist can focus and work in peace. However, my destiny took me to a huge metal hall on the outskirts of Prague in the industrial part of the historical village of Řeporyje. is hangar has served me as a studio since the landmark year of 2000.
It is true that in the corner there is a masoned o ce with a storage heater and a telephone where the temperature is above freezing in winter but throughout the hall itself, the wind blows and the frost is usually more uncomfortable inside than outside. It is possible to get warm if you sprint across the hall which measures 90 yards diagonally. On this track, in the “run-with-a-lever-jack-in-your-hand” discipline, I’m unbeatable. Initially, I also used to run to the telephone which was ringing for a very long time but always stopped ringing just before I arrived, which led made me buy me a mobile phone. People who call me think they have caught me in a park or in the forest because, in addition to my voice, they can also hear the birds singing. Tey have no idea that these are birds that nest in the hall and bring their o spring into the world there.
But I can’t deny that in the spring or in the autumn and especially in the summer months when the sun is setting and warm rays fall into the hall, turning the whole space orange, and long, so shadows stretch from the sculptures, the space is transformed into an industrial cathedral. It is the time when I take a walking stick in my hand and wander through the deserted space. Somewhere, I nd a forgotten hammer, elsewhere I run into an unfinished sculpture which I intended to finish but couldn’t find it. In the middle of a thicket of sculptures, on scraps of wood, I come across a little family of orange-cap boletus fungi. In a faraway corner, between a bush hammer and a band saw, I surprise a stray visitor who could not nd his way out.
Another time, I sit on my bike and ride past groups of ancient sculptures which were created in the last millennium and their surface is covered with centuries-old dust. Sometimes friends or groups of visitors come to the hall and bring roller skates, scooters, bicycles, skateboards and other means of transport and, together, we move round in circles like skaters on an ice rink. For visitors unfamiliar with the situation, I have roller skates of various sizes ready which they can put in the same way visitors to castles put on slippers. Well, so why don’t you come and have a look at this studio of mine at some point...
This project began quite inconspicuously on 21 March 2005 when I — completely unsuspecting — arrived at the Vermont Studio Center located in a quiet mountain town of Johnson near the Canadian border. Artists from all over the world work in this studio. The next morning, some of them invited me to inspect a place called Scrap Yard, a place where you can find iron scrap. There was a large iron hemisphere waiting for me there and I stared at it and realised that I couldn’t leave it there even though I had no experience of working with metal.
A Filipino sculptor, Dan Raralio, taught me to weld and I carved a steel basket out of the hemisphere. The work captivated my interest to the extent that I started to visit the Scrap Yard several times a week and every time I took more hemispheres away with me. By the end of my stay, I had managed to get a total of eighteen of them. I started to put the carved baskets together to form balls out of them and they gradually started to appear in the meadow behind the studio and one day, they were even rolling on the surface of the nearby Gihon river. I placed the cut-out parts on the concrete or so they formed the same patterns as they were cut out of and, when beautiful rusty imprints of metal shapes appeared on the floor after heavy rain, I started to take their prints on rolls of paper through the process of rusting. Then I managed to weld together another sculpture using the carved out parts. It is an endless process whereby I transform old things into new ones.
The hemispheres originally came from liquid gas containers used for heating houses and I dreamt that one day I would work with the entire containers. At the end of my residency, all sculptures were stored in boxes and sent o to Bohemia where they were gradually exhibited in the Bubec Sculpture Studio, Brno House of Arts and other galleries under the name “Works from Vermont”.
The Exhibition in Brno was visited by the US Ambassador to the Czech Republic, Mr W. Cabaniss and his wife who invited me to their residence to give a lecture on my work and stay in Vermont. A few days later, one of the employees at the embassy drew my attention to a dump of huge storage tanks in Modřany where I managed to get six extraordinary pieces that I rescued from being ripped apart and taken away as scrap. They were originally used in the Smíchov Staropramen brewery for the maturation of beer and could hold 208 hl. So my dream came true and I began to work with storage tanks that were bigger than in my wildest dreams. In 2006, I was able to return to Vermont and even there I worked with entire tanks. The resulting works were exhibited at the Red Mill Gallery in Johnson, Vermont and, further exhibitions in the towns of Shelburne and Stowe, they ended up in the Czech Embassy in Washington, DC.
I returned to the Czech Republic, I worked with giant tanks again in my Prague studio. I was cutting simple patterns in them which are familiar from tablecloths, curtains, sweaters, paint rollers, lace, blankets and other things that surround us daily. By combining a delicate pattern with an industrial container, interesting sculptures with hidden meanings were created. I placed the carved shapes on the floor to form ornaments that evoked giant Persian carpets. entire body of work that came into being in just two years was exhibited in March and April 2007 in a giant hall at the former ČKD factory in Thámova street in Karlín.
The opening, I flew, at the invitation of Mr. W. Cabaniss, to Alabama where I created more sculptures out of tanks in former foundries. My works from Vermont and Alabama were exhibited, from April to November 2007, at the Birmingham Museum of Art (Alabama) and, from November 2008 to January 2009, in O. K. Harris Gallery in New York. In 2011, a long-term exhibition of these works was opened in the Sculpture Park of the Johnson State College (Vermont) where the year before a mosaic out of carved - out pieces from the Endless Table Cloth sculpture came into being which has been displayed on the campus of the university since 2006. I placed other works in the Griffiss Sculpture Park in the city of Rome (New York State) and on campus of the Onondaga Community College in Syracuse (also New York State).
So it has gradually happened that, on both sides of the Atlantic, stored in many boxes, I have several tons of steel cut-outs which I use to create further sculptures. In 2010, I used them to make large balls with a diameter of 250cm which, in winter 2010, were oating on the surface of the Vltava river near Prague's Mánes gallery as part of the PLAY exhibition until the Christmas ood came and toppled them over. And what next? God only knows...
I work with various materials. Recently, a lot of my work has been with steel but also with wood, glass, stone, bronze and clay. With each of them separately. I never combine them. Or only rarely. Not at all lately. But this may change at any time, maybe tomorrow. Or never. When I work with wood, I use the whole trunk. For my work with metal, I collect old, abandoned tanks or pipes that have already experienced something. Lived through something. Remember something. Just like the old trunks. But I am no mystic. I just love to work with a nished shape which has either grown or was designed by somebody to function without thinking of beauty while doing so. When I want to “relax”, I create a model for a bronze or glass casting. Or I go for a walk with my wife Arjana...