Pavel Brázda is considered one of the leading solitary figures of Czech art during the second half of the 20th century. His expression stems from a highly original conception of figural realism in which elements of a dream-like inner visionary state are fused with a universal humanist statement about both the positive and negative aspects of the human psyche. We are thus presented with a mirror image of the entire spectrum of human mental being, ranging, in the artist’s words, ‘from nightmare to idealism’. Brázda’s visual language is a unique phenomenon in the context of Czech (and perhaps also international) art. It has its roots in various historical chapters and trends of European culture: neither Gothic ‘surreality’ nor De Chirico’s metaphysical space are alien to him. Above all, however, it has its source in the Brázda’s credo that ‘one should stand by one’s truth’, in his uncompromising refusal to yield to ideological pressure or stylistic dogma.
Along with Věra Nováková, his wife and close artistic counterpart, Pavel Brázda belongs to the generation of young artists who, in the late 1940s during the ‘Red apocalypse’, were swiftly and mercilessly banished from the Prague Academy of Fine Arts – and from the subsequent development of Czech art. Their return to the broader context of Czech art was prevented not only by the ideological exclusiveness of the official culture scene during the Communist era but also by a long-term hesitance on the part of institutions and theoreticians caused by the inability to categorise them easily in whichever historical trend of art. It is only relatively recently, thanks to a climate of greater acceptance of the contribution made by artistic figures working outside formal structures of development, that Brázda and Nováková have received more general recognition without the problematic term ‘outsider art’.
From its very beginnings, before the mid-1940s, Brázda’s work has been inseparably linked with a critical probe into the inner processes of the human mind. He very early on developed a highly original conception of realism characterised by a detailed treatment of the depicted subject combined with a grotesque exaggeration emphasising the psychological aspect of the visual message. Here, Brázda’s sharp vision acts like a magnifying glass that he holds up both to his personal life and to the brutally absurd realities of the civilisation he has lived in. What, at first glance, seems like an imagined image is, on the contrary, firmly rooted in the objective fact of his experienced reality.
During the 1950s, Brázda’s ‘microscopic’ realism gradually gave way to an increasingly intense stylisation of shapes and colours. The human figure became the plastic embodiment of psychological meaning. The drama of human existence, expressed in themes of dictatorship, war, physical struggles and motorcycle races, speak to us with a powerful sense of urgency. In contrast to the false pathos, even cynicism of the pro-regime figuration of that time, here we witness a true testimony to the essence of man. Even in Brázda’s most serious scenes, we sense how he smiles grimly at the inescapable laws of human mortality.
It is important to stress that, although Pavel Brázda’s artistic career has spanned six decades, his work features an exceptional continuity of themes and their visual representation. His ‘electrically charged’ inventiveness enables endlessly fresh combinations of motifs created many years ago that appeared in his reflections on the reality of his day as well as on ‘timeless’ human qualities. If Brázda’s work of the 1940s and ’50s surprises us with how it stands apart from both academic and avant-garde fields, even today, at a time of seemingly unlimited artistic expression, it makes an impact on us with its focused criticism, humorous irony and compositional playfulness. Brázda never set much store by the binding artistic notion of a generational ‘identity’; his exclusion from most of his contemporaries (one that was largely determined by fate) gave him the freedom to renew his expression in a focused way and not succumb to generational ‘ageing’. This is demonstrated in the fact that, in recent years, Brázda has found a new audience among young viewers, who naturally identify with his darkly humorous symbolism and emphatic, inventive visual abbreviation.
For a number of years now, Pavel Brázda’s work has been primarily focused on the ‘eternally topical’ themes of the Human Comedy. This continually developing series has its origins in his early work that, today, finds fascinating new variations thanks to latest innovations in computer technology. Brázda’s approach has always been based on a process of filtering and giving concrete form to individual motifs that are coincidentally juxtaposed then fixed within the pictorial scheme on the basis of how successful this juxtaposition is. From the early 1980s he used a photocopier (still illegal at that time) in this process. Initially he made black-and-white images, then, after the Velvet Revolution, colour ones as well. From the 1990s Brázda began using the computer, whose flexibility suited his need to try out various configurations of motifs and colours. Since 2007 he has been working full-time with the aid of a computer, producing works not only on paper but also on larger-format canvas which corresponds well to his naturally monumental approach to composition.
Brázda’s ‘vivid tales’ have their genesis in various human situations, either drawn from his own life or from analogous levels. The initial visual ideas, based on a process of the attraction or repulsion of individual elements, exist as pencil sketches or scribbles. These are then given an increasingly firmer form in thicker black-and-white drawing until the image as a whole finds a satisfying sense of order. The drawing is then executed in felt-tip pen on paper, reproduced with a photocopier and the resulting photocopy is retouched using white paint to achieve greatest precision. This final image is then scanned and transferred into the computer where Brázda can use it to create any number of colour variations. The methodical character of this work clearly suits Pavel Brázda’s character, since he claims that each stage interests and entertains him. In the computer he mixes the colours, as he says, ‘like I would in real life’; he often needs to overlap individual colours many times in order to find just the right tone. Work using a computer has, significantly, ‘freed up’ a large number of Brázda’s themes that remained undeveloped since as long ago as the 1950s.
The works from Brázda’s ‘Human Comedy’ series represent a psychoplastic cabaret in which diverse forms of mental and physical interaction take place. The content of Brázda’s pictures is not immediately clear, nor is it meant to be; the viewer is not, in fact, intended to initially know what theme is. It is the title of the work (often used to give Brázda’s visual poetry its sharp meaning) that turns an irrational situation into something rationalised. In a rich mosaic of individual allegories, Brázda succeeds in spanning the entire range of mental states – in his words, ‘from the terror-stricken to ‘don’t worry be happy’’. Brázda’s human figure horrifies and delights us, precisely fulfilling the original meaning of the word ‘monster’: that which demonstrates or reveals. With its fantasy and seriously-meant humour, Brázda’s ‘Human Comedy’ reveals the truth about people, which in art is the most fundamental criterion.
Curator, GASK – Gallery of the Central Bohemian Region