The fairytale-hued world of Slovak painter and visual artist Anna Štefanovičová is occupied by peculiar denizens – marionettes in endless variations. Inspired by the deep-rooted tradition of Bohemian puppet makers and her earliest terrifying childhood memory, Anna aims to work through discomfort, which she perceives as cathartic.

WORDS BY THE AUTHOR / How a Man May Sometimes Put His Trust in a Horse is a collection of paintings influenced by emotions and reactions to various life experiences. In these works, I explore vulnerability and earliest memories.

I’m trying to work with emotions, especially fear, uneasiness and terror. The motive is mainly about stepping away from fear and anxiety and finding space for therapy and hope, which creates faith that everything will work out. The theme is mainly about the portrayal of the puppets – the actors who represent these personal experiences. At first glance, the collection appears to be a stylized portrait series. But they are the likenesses of specific marionettes by Czech puppeteers, which I used as a template. I chose existing puppets because they can be used universally. A carved puppet of a little boy can be a different character in each game: a prince, a jester, a village clown… For example, I chose marionettes by Václav Dědek, Jan Karpas, Mikoláš Sychrovský, Jiří Hudeček, and others. Naturally, I aestheticize them into a form that is characteristic for me. In order to work more with ambiguity, I have stripped the puppets of their typical elements – the strings and control bars – to underline the illusion they evoke. Since this is a painting and not a real puppet, there is an absence of voice and movements, which the actor uses to animate the wooden figure and which awaken the illusion of liveliness in us, so I am aware that they don’t work as intensely in the painting.

The reason why I chose the puppet as the main motive of my paintings is that it is a continuation of my very first memory. It’s from when I was about 3 years old. I was living with my sister and parents in Prague. Behind the window of a shop or theatre was a marionette of a skeleton in a tuxedo playing the piano. I only have this image in my head. I know that from that moment on, I was intensely afraid of marionettes and death. It wasn’t clear to me that a marionette was a character in a drama. I was under the illusion that it was a real living being.

The puppets in my collection of paintings portray a sense of terror and unease. Tenderness and hope are represented (in the role of the closest companion) by the figure of a horse. In my paintings, I also see the horse as a religious symbol, a faith that offers me graspable answers to unsettling mysteries, strengthening my courage and confidence by showing that it is possible to overcome fear, to cope with the shortcomings and unpleasantness of everyday life.

In my opinion, the fairy tales and stories that inspired me in the process of creation have the same function. For example, the work Child Mary by the Brothers Grimm, the story about the horse The Black Beauty by Anna Sewekll, or the fairy tale About Wild Apples and Living Water, where the figure of the horse also plays an important role. These stories, and fairy tales in general, create a need for children to strengthen their sense of meaning in life but also to trust in the world around them and to overcome their fears.

I like to add other media to painting and so I have made large-scale drawings – “crumplages” with the same theme and ceramic magnets to accompany the paintings.

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Anna Štefanovičová is a multidisciplinary Slovak artist curretly residing in Prague where she also graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts, the Painting Studio of Vladimír Skrepl. She underwent internships at the Photography Studio (led by Václav Jirásek and Štěpánka Stein) of Prague’s Academy of Art, Architecture and Design, and also at The Studio of Visiting Artist (Simon Starling) at her alma mater. Her works appeared in publications Poke Poke Poke 2. A Fanzine Out-Salon Tattoo, Exorcising the Studio catalogue, 80IESLIBERTY catalogue and Papier v knihe (Paper in a Book) and others. Her works could be seen at multiple solo and group exhibitions. 


Artwork / Anna Štefanovičová

Translation / Františka Blažková

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