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The opening night of the exhibition of Tomaš Měsťánek

Tomáš Měšťánek entered the scene of Czech fine arts in the late 1970s, i.e. at a time when savage expression drew attention back to painting grounded in the dynamics of gestures and colours. From the very beginning of his work he has always favoured figural topics. Anchoring the painting in human issues appears to serve as a firm base in the contemporary, not quite comprehensible, artistic scene. Even now, broader circles of several generations are jointly facing the problem of how to avoid the danger of mere modernistic arrangements of content schemas. However, paintings by Měšťánek are not under this threat. His paintings and drawings capture the ever changing world controlled by urges and instincts.

A large part of Měšťánek’s life is connected to Uherské Hradiště, where he has lived and worked since the 1980s. As early as his studies at the local secondary arts school, he felt inclined towards the expressive conception of painting based on sensual grasping of the topic, shape modification and a relaxed way of work. Therefore, it was only natural that he continued to develop his talent at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague, in a studio headed by Karel Souček. After that stage, he spent some time studying in Italy, France and Russia, where the young artist not only acquired much knowledge, but also created a number of remarkable canvases. That was the time when he created his first pictures with social topics (the main characters being prostitutes, pimps, tramps, etc.); these pictures are still influenced by his academic training and self-discipline, as the hues are softened (grey and dark tones prevail), yet they anticipated the course he would take in the future. Experience gathered during the stay in Italy and the life on the periphery there (with people often excluded from society, such as prostitutes, drunkards, homeless) are sources of what can be considered the prevailing and key inspiration of the first stage of his work; inspiration he would keep on returning to even in the years to come. At the turn of the 1980s the young artist was influenced by the artistic scene of Olomouc (where he lived for nearly two years) and the related bohemian lifestyle, where the main figure was Jiří Stejskal, a friend who Tomáš studied with at secondary school in Uherské Hradiště. He stopped painting at that time, but he drew a lot. He created a large series of drawings, whose character stems from immediate experiences and ironic comments on these. On the other hand, he thus acquired abundant experience which he could profit from in a number of paintings he created in the 1980s and 1990s. In this time he also created several portraits especially of children, drawing the key inspiration from his family.

The return to Uherské Hradiště meant mainly a return to painting. He created a cycle of paintings depicting the life in pubs, copious new portraits, stories from everyday life and events happening in many different social layers. His local stories are still very surprising and topical and have lost nothing of their appeal for amazed audiences since they were exhibited for the first time at the author's individual or group exhibitions. They reflect the atmosphere of the time, an exasperated feeling of existential anxiety as well as a desire for individual and social identity.

The metamorphoses and decidedness of his artistic expression have always been influenced by the author's rational conception and continuous inner development as well as emotional motivations. The 1990s and the present days of his work can be characterized as a time when he profits from all the experience he has absorbed; also his work is exhibited in retrospect in many galleries in the Czech Republic and abroad and presents the painter's broad spectrum of expressive artistic manifestation. Měšťánek always draws on real experience and content; his topics are raw and free of any idealization. The contents of his paintings and drawings are tied to real events and real-life moments. The irritability of his expression together with the technical proficiency indicates that we have encountered one of the most outstanding painters of figuratively expressive orientation, which is a line that lies closest along the Czech modern tradition. It is not a mere artistic direction; it is a view of life, a philosophy where further attitudes and values crystallize. The core of the painter's work is focused on the human being. If we are to employ current terminology, Měšťánek’s painting and drawing represent a truly extensive sociological survey of the society through its image. He mastered the medium of the image, i.e. traditional expressive painting with all its subtleties. This means that the typical features of his work include an emphasis on intensive colours dictated as an entirely subjective expression, summarizing lines and contours, abstracting simplifications and deformations. His fast and restless style, painting with sweeping and explosive gestures and rapid moves of the brush has become a signature that one can recognise from a distance.

Eternal doubts, seeking, unrest, and dissatisfaction with himself make up the sword of Damocles that does not let him rest on his laurels and makes him carry on. After all, life is so multifaceted and colourful, and attempts to disclose its secrets, permanent metamorphoses, capturing a unique moment, situation and the true expression is something every artist longs to attain. His works includes new approaches towards old topics as well as brand new motifs such as "the ring is free", “traffic lights”, "the street and the city" etc. The streets of large cities resemble wild rivers and are dangerous and unpredictable on one hand, but on the other hand they are familiar to us. We can feel traces of noise and smoke. Streams of swarming humans fuse into one and the mob rolls down the street, an endless crowd, a new element, a mass of nameless persons. In Měšťánek’s conception, the street is more than a thoroughfare; it is an open stage where the perennial theatrum mundi takes place, a separate chapter, a world in itself. The drama shows the poverty, wealth, fame, manipulation, power and poverty; it sets passions ablaze. The street has its multifaceted features, appearance, topology, typology, its pedestrians, layabouts, homeless, strange fellows and other characters. We can see a theatre performance together, we can go to snack bars, the pub in Resslova, the station, washrooms, bus stops and other places intimately known to the author. He notices such manifestations of life that to some remain hidden forever – the life of the homeless and beggars. His canvases depict an atmosphere soaked with inner tension resulting from the consumption of alcohol, drugs, even window polishing agents and apathy. The exterior of the street reflects intimate visions, the time and its problems.

Tomáš Měšťánek does not care what is “in”. He does not care who reads what in his works. He is not afraid of bad taste or cliché. He is a painter who believes in his way. He includes his achievements as well as errors, mistakes and misunderstandings in it.

Milada Frolcová, Art Historian

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2008
© Karel Sedláček, 2008 - 2018