Vojtěch Kovařík → Lost in Time

October 16th - November 25th, 2023

Galerie Derouillon, Étienne Marcel

Galerie Derouillon is proud to present Vojtěch Kovařík's new exhibition curated by Marion Coindeau.

"Myths are nothing more than this incessant, tireless plea, this insidious and inflexible demand that all men see themselves in this image, eternal-yet-dated, that was fashioned of them one day, as if it were for all time." Roland Barthes, Mythologies, 1957

Vojtěch Kovařík's work is a pantheon in which the gods and goddesses who populate Greek mythology crowd together and where there are so many figures confined in frames too narrow to contain the weight of their own symbolism. For the artist, these once extraordinary beings are no longer triumphant; they appear suspended, constrained, bewildered, lost, haggard even. They are Prometheus, Aphrodite, Ares, and the indecisive Theseus being summoned in paintings and sculptures in the style of the muralists Diego Riviera and José Clemente Orozco. Kovařík reveals the gap between the great ideologies and myths our culture and each of us inherit, and the way they perpetuate patterns of oppression. Born just two years after the Velvet Revolution that saw the fall of the regime in 1989, Kovařík – who spent his youth at Vrah, his town's alternative club, where he listened to experimental music, techno and punk - is dedicated to deconstructing the authoritative, dismantling grand narratives and its heroes, leaving traces of individual mythology and giving them a new relevance.

Kovařík was inspired by the national socialist art strategies prevalent throughout the bloc before the collapse of the USSR, two years before being born in the Czech Republic. His paintings adopt the same principles: simplicity and clarity, use of symbols, exaggerated strokes, striking colors, uniformity, and repetition. However, in contrast with the traditions of this iconography, which depicted happy, powerful and dynamic leaders and workers, Kovařík pulls back the masks and portrays the heroes in a different light, undone here and there. The artist rehumanizes these gods that were so distant, and in doing so, narrates the dilemmas of contemporary life, confronted with symbols too stifling to inhabit his history and experience of the world. In a gesture that is as ritualistic as it is cathartic, Kovařík conceals words and phrases in his paintings, which are like a diary written in the margins of the pieces.

The monumental painting Four Seasons, presented in the exhibition “Lost in Time”, is such an image. In the myths, Persephone is a young Greek goddess of fertility and vegetation. She is abducted by Hades, the god of the Underworld, and taken to his subterranean kingdom. Persephone's mother, Demeter, goddess of agriculture, is plunged into despair after her daughter's disappearance and her grief causes a famine on earth. The myth of Persephone has often been read as being about light and the changing of seasons, death and rebirth, and as an allegory of metamorphosis. How can we not thus see such an ambiguous myth - from Persephone's abduction to Demeter's pain – as recounting the violence inflicted upon women? Kovařík has hidden a few phrases which are invisibly scattered within the painting: "When Demeter weeps, the whole earth weeps with her - the flowers wither, the leaves fall; it's desolation"; "A gesture is more individual than an individual", but also "In the evening, in a light-colored carousel, his eyes aching, he saw everything", all thoughts that transform this panorama into an emotional landscape, as well as into an allegory of his own life.

Rebecca Lamarche-Vadel

© Grégory Copitet

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