Jan Hísek




On a Star

If a boy sitting in the silt of a black river laid his head on coud wooden planks, the world would end without him even wishing it. A star with its dark-blue gaze full of inaudible music watched him from the depths of the sky. Its beam intersected a cloud of smoke left there by an even younger boy residing within the flutes of a column on an arching bridge. A cold cloud descended upon a comely swan swimming under the bridge´s arch. A sudden and barely night train carried the ruin of the moment away into the raw tunnel, and its twenty-two solar cars had to be recounted exactly. A pair of water birds escaped their homelands despite the red light. Two passing boats greeted each other in complete oblivion, and a wave touched the cloud of its effort.

Jan Hísek, 13. August 1999


I believe that I may have died. But how can one recognize real death from illusion born out of one´s own ego in the green light of the full moon, when the vibrations of Mother Earth are nearly imperceptible, like the beating of a humming bird´s heart from under a palm shoot? Isn´t it only unconscious reaction to memories when a new medium is born within – way back stage; and through this medium the mystery of the era of illusion is experienced? How does one come to terms with a person who passes into the souls of other people and becomes their angelic consoler and murderer? Is the angel dangerous and is murder translucent? Could this really be a question that marks a new course, so powerfully individualistic that calling it psychedelic romanticism would only construct a mere guideline for our current inability to live anonymously, with only the moonlight of internal vision? Why does internal vision have a black head, and how does one perceive a name outside the frame of a created painting? How temporally stable can a painting made from temporally unstable sensations be, emanating from a flow of endorphins from various trigger mechanisms and artistic impulses? Can a platonic ideal, which comes to embrace and is immediately afterwards banished despite its previous calling, be disappointing? What possibilities can the fixation of all these sensations in a visual form with timeless memory offer? Are the symbolic layers, which bring to the surface or, conversely, obscure an existing thought, an expression of the fourth, incomprehensible time, which is strengthened only by the ability to pass through three other types of time: accelerating time, decelerating time and internally harmonized time? Why name a course at all when it can be comprehended at a time when my steps and the steps of my unborn brother, who is walking to his execution, lead from the womb through a different landscape… maybe.

Jan Hísek, 8. September, 2000


The early spring was strange as soon as it cracked into the deep winter. Mom was in the hospital once again, with clear liquids pouring into her through a tube; for the umpteenth time now. I flew to London for five days so that I could pretend I was William Blake and die on a boat stranded in a dark ocean. But I experienced a much more powerful and luminous awakening…And after that I was mesmerized by the venerable Louise Bourgeois, who in her hours of insomnia made a surface of red attacks. Then the spring came with its sharp light and clouds hanging over the Little Chuchle Bridge. I danced with a beautiful butterfly, flowing on a wave of ecstasy, but it couldn´t believe that I danced even when painting. It got lost in a black coat made of long feathers, the same feathers from the diabolic wings I left behind on the ceiling of a Brooklyn apartment. Then I turned the lights off; it was nearly morning, and I made a few drawings in my bed in complete darkness… Perhaps once again something was happening.

Jan Hísek, 13. April 2001

Letter to the Turtle

Prague, 10 April 2012

My dear splendiferous Turtle,

With the reflections on the blue waters at daybreak, I write you after the dreams that you brought me on my first night on the southern islands of the Andaman Sea. I don’t know if I deserve such intense and revealing dreams or whether I am even willing to accept such a strange dive back into my childhood.
My mother, who left me seven years ago, appeared in the first dream as a younger woman yet with her shining grey hair. On the desk in my father’s study she created a never-yet-seen picture. The north window was open, because originally she had intended to exit through it, but instead she squeezed the oil paints straight out of their tubes and with wrinkled fingers she kneaded a tropical tree, clouds, a bizarre flying lamb and clouds of animals onto thick, soft paper, which at times seemed to be a canvas. In the dream, Adriena appeared and wanted to see the picture, pleasantly surprised by my mother’s accomplishment, but because of a white curtain in the room she was unable to see it. My mother pulled a newspaper page from behind the picture and, with tears in her eyes, showed me a photograph of her classmate Jiřina from the Academy of Applied Arts, who had just died at the age of eighty-five. She was a classmate whom I had never heard of, and even in the dream I thought that she likely never even existed. In the newspaper photograph she was a smiling, white-haired lady with a face like the one I will probably have when I grow old. I wanted to wake up, Turtle, but instead I found myself in the year 1947, on an imaginary hill that had grown up between the Charles Bridge and the Academy of Applied Arts. I saw Jiřina walking and waving to me, wearing a dress of the times with her wavy chestnut hair blowing in the wind and with a portfolio of drawings tucked under her arm. At that moment, I was my mother in her third year of studies with Professor Svolinský.
Turtle, I do not know why you send me such affecting dreams when I’m so far from home, but I did wake up rather happy, because the picture I saw in the dream now belonged only to me. I looked at my watch and saw that it was seven in the morning. The window was letting in a minimum of palm-shaded light. That meant in the Czech Republic it was already one in the morning on the 16th of March, the name day of Herbert, whom I have known since I was a baby. Thus, in my next dream I wanted to see precisely him. I was thinking that I must write him a postcard with name-day wishes as I allowed myself be lulled back to sleep by your southern Turtle dreams.
I marvel at how you did it, what magic of the sacred tree you must have used, but in a short while I was back at the Academy of Applied Arts and that person really did appear in my second dream. He was about sixteen, with a blue cap pulled over his eyes. He wanted me to lead him across the Mánes Bridge because he was intending to run away from home. At the edge of the bridge were two unfamiliar older people who scolded me for not at least calling them before flying off to Thailand with their son. I argued that they were not really his parents, Filip and Lucie, and I happily led Herbert across the bridge so that these strange parents could not see him. We walked along the north side of the bridge, which I normally don’t do, always going along the south side, where I can see the sun’s reflections on the surface of the Vltava River.
Turtle, I awoke with the regret that I probably would not lead anyone over the bridge with such joy, but then I thought about the other beautiful moments that could happen at this place, for my very first memory, that of my mother pushing me in a pram, is connected to this bridge. Turtle in your glorious shell, I am really glad that you sent me these dreams two months after I drew you with a black pencil on paper bearing a flower watermark. Before you dive down to the fabled lost ships and search for never-before-seen fish, I would like to ask you to please bring me your dream again, even at the least-expected moment. I send my heartfelt greetings to you in the clear blue waves from faraway Bohemia.

Your painter, Jan Hísek

Text: Otto. M. Urban, curator of the exhibition: Jan Hísek, River, Václav Špála Gallery, Prague, CZ, 2013

Jan Hísek, The River and Her Delta, Some notes

Jan Hísek has been a prominent figure on the Czech art scene for many years. Already at the beginning of the 1990s he was considered to be one of the most promising figures in Czech printmaking, a successor to such great artists from the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries as Odilon Redon, František Kobliha and Jan Konůpek. Another connection to that period of art is Hísek’s deep relationship with the work of Jan Zrzavý, whose vision has had a profound effect on him. He has exhibited many times abroad, and his works are included in multiple public and private collections. His illustrations have appeared in several books and bibliophile editions.
In addition to graphics, he increasingly devoted himself to drawing, which soon became a full-fledged branch of his work. At that time, he also began arranging individual prints and drawings into open cycles, recognizing their deep inner connections and relationships. It is typical for Hísek to explore different ways of expressing himself, and since the late 1990s he has also intensively dedicated himself to painting. From an artist specializing in graphics, Hísek has developed over the past two decades into a creator who moves with bravura among various media, making the most of their characteristic attributes to attain as closely as possible an ideal expression of his imagination and dream world. Nevertheless, or perhaps precisely because of this, his artistic style is instantly recognizable and distinctive.
The paintings presented in the exhibition “River” are mostly from the past two years, although he began working on the image Moon in 2004. In these paintings Hísek discovers a new tension in the natural elements of water and fire. Typical for both lines of matter is clear color symbolism, blue and red, encompassing all possible tints and tones. Despite the potency and strength of the elements, the new paintings come across as delicate and poetic, as if destructive power were woven from the tiniest details. Despite the fundamental polarity of the elements, he connects each to the other in the image Fire in the River. Is an apocalyptic end on the horizon, or does it symbolize a new beginning? The artist does not offer a clear answer and leaves the viewer with a feeling of expectancy.
Incredibly important for Hísek is the creative process itself. Key for him are places he knows and likes and that inspire him, the people as well as animals that he encounters and gets to know. He stores all of this in his memory, and during the process of creation individual fragmented moments seem to sort themselves, connect and coalesce. In this sense, Hísek’s works are quite realistic, perhaps even journal entries of a sort, manifesting memories of strong and deeply felt moments. On the other hand, it is also possible to read his paintings as eccentric, something almost akin to alter paintings, exalting ancient and extinct — or perhaps never-existing — cults and religions. They might even be transfigured maps of places he has visited, a geographical atlas of his own life.
A noteworthy aspect of Hísek’s creative approach is experimentation, for example, drawing in the dark, with physical vision suppressed and hand movements made in a different way. Playing a significant role in such a situation is sound, which in place of sight guides his drawing in the dark. Sounds and music are strongly reflected in Hísek’s paintings. His images are composed and assembled almost like a musical arrangement, in which individual motifs and elements repeat to create an unexpected rhythm, which is harmonized through details into a monolithic chord.
Also corresponding to this is his work with ornamentation and a general rejection of Renaissance perspective, or perhaps a modification of it into serially arranged compositions. Another connection with music is the act of improvisation. Hísek paints intuitively, without a clear division of the image and individual details arising as a reflection of the gradual development of the work. Although the final form may not be thoroughly determined at the outset, its concept and atmosphere are completely thought out and felt. This gives Hísek’s images a suggestive power. From the very beginning, the viewer is fascinated by the abundance of detail, perhaps also perplexed by the seemingly chaotic narrative. However, if viewers choose to absorb the paintings gradually, they will begin to discover their connections and enter into the paintings themselves, becoming part of their world, because they will understand their history and myths, recognize their wildlife and vegetation, learn their languages ​​and customs.
Jan Hísek’s place in contemporary painting is completely unique, he is a quintessential solitaire, an artist who follows his own path. However, this does not mean that he isn’t interested in the work of other artists. On the contrary, he closely follows happenings in the art world and is a full-fledged part of it — which is an affirmation of the colorfulness and diversity of the contemporary art scene.

Otto M. Urban, November–December 2013

Text: Radek Wohlmuth, curator of the exhibition: Jan Hísek, Island in the Forest, Vysočina Regional Gallery, Jihlava, CZ, 2019

Jan Hísek / Island in the Forest

The title of this exhibition project by the painter and graphic artist Jan Hísek (born in 1965) combines the concrete with the imaginary and at the same time encapsulates a general principle that defines his work. In this case, it refers primarily to one of his major paintings from last year, Island. Connected with this is Hísek’s perception of the Vysočina region as a “forestland”, where for him the concept of forest semantically and emotively encompasses an association with shelter as well as distance and silence. A measure of personal mythology — which for this artist is almost always present — is represented by an intense memory of Toyen’s painting Coral Island from the mid-1920s — around the time that his mother was born in Kamenice near Jihlava, which is in the immediate vicinity of the exhibition venue. Although she moved away from here with her parents as a young child, for Hísek this region is an important location connected with his family history, yet in fact remains terra incognita for him. which on the one hand is a reason for him to experience it subjectively, and on the other hand to present his imagery and himself here with a bit more intensity than before.  This all correlates to the concept of the whole project. Its comprehensive scope, which juxtaposes the most significant threads of his work, ensures the potential for a retrospective overview, and at the same time with the inclusion of recent works it clearly accentuates Hísek’s current creative stance with an open path for years to come. The entirety quite comprehensively covers the psychology, language and visuality of Hísek’s unique artistic narrative and identifies it as a multilayered marvel with which this artist makes visible his inner world and at the same time symbolically reflects the outer one. The ambition of this exhibition is to create an exceptional opportunity to witness the point of departure, context and the momentary state of Hísek’s body of work, yet with an awareness of the difficulty of interpreting it. That is why the exhibition is divided within the gallery space into logical units focusing not only on the media used but especially on formal development and chronological sequence.All in all, it covers almost a quarter of a century, starting with prints from around the mid-1990s, with which he first distinguished himself as a graduate from the Studio of Book Culture and Lettering of Milan Hegar and Jan Solpera at the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague. Already at that time he was gaining recognition for his exceptional and subtle work, technical precision and inventiveness, as well as his imaginative visual sensibility, which is still unparalleled on the contemporary Czech art scene. It is no coincidence that Jan Hísek is still the only primarily graphic artist among all finalists for the Jindřich Chalupecký Award (1999). This is also one of the reasons why his works on paper were accorded a proportionately large amount of space in the show.The second focus of the exhibition is naturally painting, towards which Hísek was already leaning strongly by the turn of the millennium and which plays a major role for him to this day. Represented here are both of his fundamental tendencies: loose, swirling compositions veering towards abstract incomprehensibility, and also the current one, which unfolds in a subdued or darkened palette and is characterized by a firmer morphology, linear contour modeling and imagery in general. But whether we are talking about his original systems of stratified drawing or, on the contrary, pure “incantation” in the color field, Hísek’s main method is still an almost uncontrolled intuitive image-making gradually developed from an initial starting point. Through it, only intuited emotive patterns unfold, encoding fragments of stories and sensations from places he has visited that are anchored in the unconscious. In his compositions — sometimes not unlike a landscape, sometimes closer to a celestial view — there spontaneously appear emblematic elements with a symbolic charge, such as ox-eye daisies or intertwined clouds. Jan Hísek is a sui generis solitaire with roots in romanticism. Metaphorically speaking — he is himself a bit of an island in the middle of forestland in a landlocked country. From this point of view, it is possible to regard his exhibition as autobiographical. His paintings cannot be absorbed easily let alone quickly, mainly because they often take the form of a complex web where traditional physical or optical laws do not apply. They are not literal, realistic, accessible or superficially showy. They do not have an unequivocal solution or point, and they usually do not make things easy for the viewer. Rather than describing, they reveal. They present a special timeless space that is consistent and has its special charm but also a depth and mystery that can never be fully fathomed. There is only one thing a viewer can do — enter the image with their eyes and look around in fascination.

Radek Wohlmuth, Prague, 2019




Other Paintings

Recent Works