Jan Merta: Der Frühling ist gekommen
11 March – 16 April 2011
Jan Merta (b. 1952 in Sumperk, Czech Republic) ranks among the most important painters of his generation in his home country. His work is informed by the demise of the communist regime. Before the fall of Communism his practice was affected by conceptual strategies which has since changed into a more pictorial and colorful approach to painting. Jan Merta’s pictures attest to his great versatility and universalism. Any visual experience of Merta can become the starting point for a painting: photos, films, memories, everyday occurences and glimpses of nature. Through numerous reflections and pictorial decisions these impressions together form a socially relevant painting. Merta’s pictures are not easily accessible, yet at the same time they are simply beautiful paintings in a technical sense and have a great mystique in terms of their content. On the viewers’ parts they certainly require an intellectual approach in order to reveal their meaning very slowly, layer by layer.
The painting Spring Has Come serves as the title of this exhibition, and relates to a childhood memory. It shows a child looking out through a window into a white, open space with a vague horizon looming in the distance. For Merta this motive is linked to a physical / mystical sense of well-being and the foreboding of enormous possibilities. By stylization and reduction, Merta converts the round art-déco-glass elements into a ‚Mondrian’, the engraved Primavera figure morphs during the painting process into a child in a vehicle, holding a book in its hands. The painting shows the metamorphosis of an intense childhood experience into an image filled with allusions to hopes, visions and optimism.
The work Burnt-Out Abstraction stems from a visual adventure on the way to the studio. Merta saw a burnt-out apartment with its windows being merely black gaping holes, with dark traces scattered on the building walls. In playful mode, Merta’s painting sets the percipience of a burnt apartment in connection to abstract painting. Like in many other paintings by Merta one can find ironic undertones as a means of expression of ambivalent feelings and thoughts.
In Spring Work II Merta plays with a powerful symbol and stereotype for work, earth and agriculture. It accentuates the heroic, monumental aspect and thus delivers a tongue-in-cheek comment to the archetypal, patriarchic and romantic connotations of this motive. The spade was a popular symbol in both the art of Communism as well as Faschism. But Merta’s brushstroke gives the theme a tender, fragile chromaticity that seems closer to a vegetable garden than a deployment, even if it keeps a slightly eerie aura.
Jan Merta studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague where he still lives today. He had numerous large exhibitions in the Czech Republic. Johnen Galerie is pleased to present its third solo show of Jan Merta’s work.