Tue, 26 Sep 2000

Czech painter reaches heights of glory

By Mehru Jaffer

JAKARTA (JP): To look at the work of Czech painter Joska Skalnik is to be drowned in the deep blue of the sea or lost in the azure of the heavens.

It seems each time that he raises his brush Joska seeks out every imaginable shade of blue that can be gleaned from the rainbow and uses them to repeatedly penetrate into the heavenly realm. The supreme directing desire of Joska, perhaps, is to gradually direct lower emotions to take flight somewhere into the buddhic world of twinkling sapphires.

Joska contrasts all the stains of ink with a snow white that looks sometimes like fluffy clouds and sometimes like soft birds, all symbols of noble thoughts that forever aspire, rising joyously to embark on a celestial journey, to heights of glory inconceivable.

The idea is to dissolve the ego here and now, before attaining liberation and union which is the true beginning of real life.

For the onlooker Joska seems to make the space in the skies firm and the foundations of the deep strong, activating higher desires for reflection below. Even as he sets one sailing over the ether in between heaven and earth, his work does not fail to inspire the feet to remain firmly planted on the earth.

Joska's obsession with the highly creative symbols of waves, mountains, clouds, breasts and wombs and the concepts of flight and freedom is understandable as he grew up in the midst of decades of cultural repression as practiced by the totalitarian communist dictatorship that stayed on like an uninvited guest in his country for over three decades.

Joska is part of a generation that expressed extreme opposition to the stifling atmosphere created in his country, especially through jazz, officially regarded as a product of decadent western culture.

Together with others he organized concerts, distributed jazz literature and above all brought people from all over together. And for the sake of freedom Joska took risks that even a gambler would not dare to take. He continued to defy the gun-totting authorities with pens and paint brushes.

For many of his activities Joska was arrested, tried and imprisoned.

Eventually, it was these artists, writers and young politicians, all leading figures of the revolution, who were responsible for finally getting rid of communism a decade ago.

On his release from prison he helped to establish Open Dialogue in 1988 and after the fall of dictatorship he became a member of Civic Forum, the first new political organization that had as its founder the well known dramatist Vaclav Havel, now president of the Czech Republic. Today Joska also serves as artistic advisor to Havel.

In recent years Joska has reduced a large part of his activities to just painting although he is a devotee of every kind of artistic expression.

He is in awe of theater and spent years designing posters, covers for books and typographic designs for numerous magazines. Exhibiting here in Jakarta for the second time, what strikes Joska about art in Indonesia is the continuing inspiration it derives from religion, and age old traditions. He loves to look at it but he does not see himself using the same themes in his own work.

Born and brought up in an atheist milieu that encouraged modernity, Joska is moved less by rites, rituals and religion and more by the wonders of nature. In life he pays more heed to his instinct combined with rationality and, of course, to his unbounded imagination.

He takes his dreams seriously and tries to put on to the canvas many of the visions he has experienced in his sleep. He even goes to the extent of saying that he often feels that dreams are perhaps more potent than reality, seeing them not as some accidental fantasy but the real desire of existence. Which in his case is to seize the untouchable.

After Jakarta, Joska looks forward to going back to Bali to meet friends he made four years ago and to admire both the batik- and woodwork there.

But before Joska travels with the exhibition to his next destination, it is still possible to see his work in the Regent hotel lobby until Sept. 29.