Before I start talk about what I do, I think I should tell you a little bit about my country. I come from a part of Czechoslovakia called Northern Bohemia and from the countryside known as the "Czech Paradise". This area is like a fairy tale land, with colorful forests covering the hills and valleys, tumbling streams, ruined castles, and picturesque little churches. But if you take a closer look around the area, you will see how nature and people have made works of art, all of which have deep meaning for me. Throughout the region, there is architecture, sculpture and painting - all arising from the need to create and decorate. This art is often naive, nonetheless it is deep and impressive. My grandfather, a village doctor, tried to document many of these works during his lifetime, and he often took me with him on his expeditions. I still remember these trips, and perhaps they started my interest in this type of art.
Today I live in Prague, a city which affects me in a totally different way. I can fantasize how the Holy Roman Emperor Charles the Fourth wandered through its streets, what Mozart did when he visited the city, or how Antonín Dvořák and Franz Kafka lived there. I can picture how Prague flourished after the First World War. I can also imagine how, after the Second World War, Prague lived at the expense of the past and amassed a huge debt for the future. It is all piled up in layers.
Studying with Professor Libeňský was very important for me. He is an excellent teacher, and he taught us that the most important thing is to be honest in our work. I am glad I had the opportunity to study with him; those six years cannot be repeated. I worked with other students in the school's studio every day, where we drew and painted using live models. In this way, we gained the basis for all art forms and were not limited to experimenting with glass. In the studio there were about twenty students from all classes of the six-year program. Each class had a specific theme, and the demands were placed upon us according to our progress. The professor would criticize our work before the entire group so that all could benefit. Professor Libeňský visited us in the studio everyday. He had our total respect, and all other students were envious that we had such -a caring and wonderful teacher. It was a great time.
Perhaps I should tell you a little about the way I work. One of my colleagues told me some time ago that the more she works with glass, the more she is absorbed in it and the more her whole thinking is transformed into glass. This is exactly what I do not want. In spite of the fact that art collectors consider me a glass specialist, I am also deeply involved in painting, drawing, and sculpture. I do not have great results in painting; and when I paint, it is like walking a tightrope: I often fall down, the work is slow and painful, but the victories are among the happiest moments in my life. In comparison, working with glass is like playing. Glass should be combined with other art forms. In this way, it will not loose the main purpose of art, the content of thoughts. Furthermore, when it is blended with other types of art, it will not be considered as art simply because of its attractiveness or effects which may be created by accident. This can be doně easily during exhibitions. But each glass artist must strive to achieve it so that he or she is not totally absorbed within one medium.
I have a great respect for glass as an excellent materiál for sculpture, as part of the vocabulary of materials in building construction, and for functional purposes.
1) Casting Glass
Casting glass is the technology of sculpting with molten glass, which has its specific characteristics just like bronze, stone, and wood. It seems to me that sculptures from glass have an inner light. They are magic and have a prehistoric effect. At the same time, they give the impression that they are from some future civilization from somewhere in the universe. My sculptures are mostly figurative, probably for three reasons: I am a rational woman and I need to express myself concretely, I háve a week point for the art of nature, and finally it is probably an attitude of my generation towards our predecessors. I like to use deep, rich, colorful glass which is opaque at its thickest but brilliantly colored when it is thin. I like when sculptures are polished after being cast, and when the whole impression is perfect.
2) Glass in Architecture - Windows
The use of artistic windows as a method of decorating churches and homes of the wealthy came from gothic times, when the colorful windows of cathedrals complemented the buildings' mystical, supernatural atmosphere. . Until now, I have had only one opportunity to work in this medium. Recently, I finished designing twelve windows and a rose window in a neo-gothic Anglican chapel in Mariánské Lázně. The windows are still not constructed, so I can only de-seribe them for you (you can imagine that I am very curious myself!). All the windows will have black, partly symbolic, yet simple geometric forms. The only rich color piercing the space will come from the center of the rose window. There, the light will create a cone of color as it comes through red transparent glass. Architectural work is very interesting because there are several different views within one place, and there is the old question of the extent to which the other arts should be submissive to architecture.
3) Glass in Industrial Design
Another important area is designing functional subjects from glass. This field cannot be compared with pure artistic activity. It is very difficult, time consuming work, and the results can be more important than art itself. It is not really so much work as it is a process. It concerns subjects like bottles, glasses, and so on, which have a thousand-year tradition and firm principles. The designer must be adequately emphatic, but also disciplined. In this way, the artist can achieve a compromise between a few curved lines and something which is too extravagant. The artist must consider many factors, including the effect the design his on industrial production and the public. I find that occasional work in this area can be refreshing and pleasantly relaxing from the tension of my own creative work. Maybe it is because the limited boundaries prevent me from drifting and give me a sense of security. The most interesting technology for me is pressed glass. Perhaps it is because the machine does not substitute for the breath of a glassblower. Pressing glass is a purely mechanical function, and it does not result in any imitations: the machine is a machine and the man is a man. This technology seems to be contemporary and suitable for the mass production of glass.
When I think about the content of this lecture, some ideas come to mind about what artists should and should not do. One thing is certain: an artist should think about why she or he is doing art. Recently I saw a wonderful concert of Laurie Anderson in Prague. In an interview for TV, she said that she tries to point out ordinary things to people in an unusual, unexpected way so that people will notice them. I think that it is a marvelous idea. I also appreciate when art has a natural effect, so that it can almost go unnoticed. It should blend into the surroundings so that it appears as though everything was there since time immemorial -- here I see a sculpture, over there is a picture drawn on a canvas, and everywhere people hum a little song. Picasso said, "Do not create according to nature, but like nature." I would like to do that very much, but it is extremely difficult.
© 2009 Ivana Sramkova, ArtForum / ICZ a.s.