An exclusive interview with author Jan Vytiska.
Your paintings always have multiple narrative and symbolic layers. How do your creative process and motif choosing look like?
It’s a collage principle that sources from photographs and drawings. The whole of prep work, which for me is equally important as the painting process, is searching for photographs, from old folklore postcards to cute pop culture trash. Afterwards, it really goes like an avalanche – I find a picture that, sometimes, won’t even have any connection to the resulting work and the story then unfolds from its atmosphere, symbols or a character and then you just add actors and set the stage. It’s as if you were walking in the mountains and a small ball of snow is sent rolling by your hiking boot and as it rolls down the slope, it gains speed and size and then sweeps away all villagers in the valley. I wish my paintings worked like that. (devilish laughter)
Recently, we’ve seen post-apocalyptic themes or motifs of “angry Mother Earth” in your works. How do you perceive environmental grief?
The apocalypse theme has been present in my paintings from the start so I would say it’s a consistent body of work. One painting is called Matka Země se opaluje z posledního plamene lidské rasy (Mother Nature Sunbathes in the Last Flame of the Human Race) and a few weeks after I finished it the massive Australian fires started. The newest one I did before the [Covid-19] pandemic is named Death Is Coming – I guess I don’t have to further explain that one. Rather I feel grief when I see certain artists who never cared about ecology and, suddenly, they create environmental installations and are terribly conscious, which boosts their artistic credit. They just do what’s in, these wondrous coat-turners, but I guess everyone’s doing what they can and grief will be grief.
Would you label yourself as a present-day romantic?
Yes, and that will kill me, eventually. It will be a pathetic death with a pompous orchestra of futility. Imagine a brass band where you keep blowing into the trumpet so hard that, in the end, you have no air left in you and drop in complete agony.
Would you say that some of your motifs, specifically the folklore ones, are inspired by nostalgia or similarly tinged memories, perhaps from childhood?
That’s true. Actually, I was fascinated by the idea of sitting in a musty, hundred-years-old log cabin and watching pop culture garbage and then looking at your slippers, noticing the slime has oozed from the TV into the little wooden living room. Recently, someone wrote an accompanying text about my exhibition, mentioning that it seems like a childhood landscape in an adventure game where you can meet different characters in a hostile environment and put a shem into a ten-metre-tall Satan that’ll burn everything. I found that quite interesting as I’ve never thought about it like that. Personally, I perceive what I do as magic realism or, based on my trip to Balkan, the infamous turbo-folk music style. Let me just copy-paste something from Wikipedia here: Turbo-folk (Турбо-фолк in Cyrillic) is a music genre that originated in former Yugoslavia nearing the end of the 80s. It was based on traditional Balkan folklore which it fused with modern styles such as disco or Eurodance, and it utilized electric guitars or synthesizers. That wouldn’t be half bad to have on one’s tombstone – a turbo-folk painter.
Do you visit folklore or traditional events such as Mardi Gras? Do you think they still exist in their uncorrupted form somewhere in the Czech Republic?
Yes, I do visit them and they won’t stop fascinating me. Even though it’s sometimes a mass event, like in the Rožnov open-air museum, you can still find authentic devil masks or cymbalo music with zest but, of course, for Moravian Vlachs, it’s all a tourist gig and the truly authentic events take place in small villages but a native-born Praguer like me risks getting their teeth knocked out there.
Do you have a painting of yours hanging at home or any paintings for that matter?
Unfortunately not but I’m a folklore doily and tapestry collector, that kind they hang on the walls behind couches and beds in the Balkans to keep the draught off your back. So my room looks like a cottage or a visit at grandma’s – who smiles at you with a gold front tooth and slices up an apple for you with the same knife she used to cut out foot corns moments before. Therefore, there’s no room for paintings. Recently, I’ve moved into a smaller shared place so I only have enough room for a bed, leather jackets, synthesizers and a guitar.
What is the favourite or most spot-on review of your work you’ve seen?
A text Jiří Havlíček wrote for one catalogue – I even have it on my website and it gets constantly recycled when someone writes about my exhibitions or for another catalogue entry. Allow me to quote the last paragraph: “Vytiska rummages through the landfill of people’s entertainment, resuscitates offences against good taste and paints his paintings. He’s left with no other choice but to believe that Hell won’t devour him one day. At the heart of darkness, any faith is good enough.” And then people who come to see a vernissage and are enthusiastic. I’m really glad when someone buys a painting without being a collector, that’s beautiful to me. Such a horrible daub they then hang in their homes when they could go on a fantastic vacation instead.
What brought you the most joy and what made you mad recently?
I’m annoyed with the fake morals during the coronavirus pandemic – the most twisted characters of all are suddenly moralising everyone. As Carl Gustav Jung wrote: “What you dislike the most in others is basically what you most dislike in yourself.” I feel like people who were always positive and nice are now the worst, it’s a contrast. What made me happy was the gang of mountain goats cavorting through a small Irish town, hooves scuttling and snouts snorting.
How big of a role plays music in your life right now?
Music is a drug and always will be. No, drug is a bad word – air is a better one.
Your Facebook profile has been quite the meme stash for some years now. In 2018, you’ve published a book called Best of Internet with a selection of the greatest ones. What’s so tempting about communicating with the world nearly only via obscure, random pictures with a missing or absurd context, and depersonalised sources and authors?
Isn’t Facebook obscure in its own right? So I hit right back with these obscure pictures. Besides that, I do the usual posting ego trip of exhibitions, articles or paintings and then, of course, the best of poetry, philosophy and music. After all, you also have to educate your fellow Facebookies. The Best of Internet book came to life by accident even though I wanted to realize it for some time. Ondra Šorm and Petra Ondřejková whom I met through doing an exhibition in Prague’s Trafo Gallery loved this magnificent idea and, in the end, we did the release alongside an obscure event at Berlínskej Model (small exhibition space in Prague). It featured a display of ready-made objects from the book and the visitors took pictures with them and uploaded them back on the internet so the infinite cycle came to a close… or it actually still goes on, the memes became meme’s memes, “mee mee”, bleating like a goat or maybe howling like a wolf. (howl)
Is there a question that you would like to answer but nobody asked it yet?
Rolling Stones or Beatles? The answer is clear, I hope, if someone read this far. And if it isn’t, we are not going to walk together across the zebra, hand in hand!
Artist / Jan Vytiska
Interview / Františka Blažková & Markéta Kosinová
Translation / Františka Blažková