Veronika’s Garden of Uncelestial Delights
Simon Schama’s groundbreaking book, Landscape and Memory studies, how, in various cultures, both classic and contemporary myths relate to landscapes, offering overwhelming evidence that history, religion and philosophy hold a deep correlation with ecological evolution and art. Most analytical discourse to date agrees that Veronika Holcová’s oeuvre is deeply rooted in cultural and artistic traditions that are European in general and Czech in particular. However, can we allow ourselves to get lost in her Arcadia without touching its roots? Where does her fastidiously terrifying paradise, teeming with lustful humanity, spring from?
Scarred memories of Bohemia
It may come as a surprise, but in the quest for pertinent influences, we may have to backtrack all the way to 14th century Bohemia. Let’s pick 1348. That year, Prague, already a European cultural hub and the capital of the Holy Roman Empire, opened its first university. This multicultural hotspot was attracting top talent from all of Europe: architects, artists, alchemists, scientists… a true Babylon; people conversing in Latin, German, Czech, Polish or Yiddish. Let’s follow a remarkable causal chain that may offer insight on what constitutes the quintessential DNA of Czech art. For several centuries, Czech artists were working, side by side with the European art elite… in order to witness a near-fatal blow that changed the course of its history and art forever. The year 1620 marked the end of Czech sovereignty, setting out a 300-year oppressive, choking Habsburg rule, to be followed, after a short break, in 1939 by an iron-fisted Nazi grip. Eventually, it got topped off, after 1948, by a damaging Orwellian nightmare — the totalitarian, communist regime. Herein lies one of the cornerstones of an ironic dichotomy that gave birth to the Czech art culture. Czech artists had the means, tools and skill to masterfully ply their trade, but it was the unrelenting censorships that forced them (in order to avoid losing their practice, freedom or life) to augment the skill of the metaphor, allegory, double-entendre and innuendo to the highest level possible. The narrative had to go underground: artists had to resort to creative cryptography. While the initiated majority of the population was able to crack the code instantly, the ruling administrators were left clueless. This skill has been handed over, generation after generation. It is embedded in the Bohemian landscape and memory. In addition, the Czech National Revival, a cultural movement that took place in the Czech lands during the 18th and 19th century cemented the nation’s resilience by restoring ancient Czech myths, legends, folktales and traditions. Despite centuries of decimation and persecution, via a metamorphic twist of irony, Czech art became an irreplaceable contributor to the global cultural landscape. Can we imagine the world of culture without Franz Kafka and his Metamorphosis, Karel Čapek and his newly minted term — Robots or Antonín Dvořák’s The New World Symphony, without Jan Švankmajer’s Faust, Leoš Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen, Miloš Forman’s One flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, František Kupka’s Cathedrals, Jiří Trnka’s animated Midsummer Night’s Dream or Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being?
Childhood memories’ intact landscape
In the times of ubiquitous persecution, it was the fairy tale that was spared. Czech illustrators, puppeteers and animators were often some of the leading visual artists of the country. This was an opportunity to create, freely, with no restrictions, with the potential to influence millions of young children. Moreover, Czech illustrators all but eliminated the gap between fine art and illustration. Whilst America cherished the widely appealing innocence of Norman Rockwell, Josef Čapek, in 1930, introduced cubism to children. Furthermore, Czech fairy tales are not the Disney-kind, diluted and streamlined versions. They are often dark, foreboding, cruel and mysterious. Impenetrable forests are populated with nasty Witches, Elves, loathsome Gnomes, human-flesh-eating Dragons, deceitful Tree Nymphs, merciless Water Ghosts and wicked Fairies. Count in misty marshes where will-o'-the-wisps are beckoning unsuspecting victims to a sweet death, and of course, there is the Braying man, the Noonday witch or the White Lady — the list is endless. Some tales don’t shy away from infanticide or cannibalism. Occasionally, the story’s villains murder the main hero and dismember his body. No worries, it gets resurrected as the story evolves: it is a fairy tale after all. By design, the Czech child was not kept in a haze of ignorant innocence. In preparation for adulthood, its sponge-like mind got saturated with a raw, unbridled not-so-harmonious world, abounding in deception and enmity.
Veronika’s very adult Arcadian wilderness
It is a whim of destiny that Veronika got acquainted with Canada and it is the ultimate irony that it was Canada’s wilderness, where she had the chance to revisit her childhood’s imaginary landscapes. Czech fairy tales were always situated in ancient times when European landscape resembled (some parts of) the Canadian wilderness: virgin forests, deep, impenetrable and devoid of human presence. It goes without saying that this new encounter enriched her Czech and European cultural legacy with yet another significant meme. A deeper analysis reveals, however, that, gradually, Veronika’s meme spectrum kept growing. She collects memories of all existence and all humanity. Her cultural memory absorbs, includes and transcends billions of years of evolution, offering a dizzying and delightful journey. Her tireless, inexhaustible, dancing brushwork conjures up an and connects the most improbable, yet surprisingly telling juxtapositions, opening our minds to an ardent post-Cambrian explosion embrace, a stream of unconditional love, where everything gets intimate with everything and everyone in a fragile Kosmos, offering violently eroding cuddles, helter-skelter-style; slashing through biologic boundaries and taboos. Everything is admissible, possible and plausible in a stream of freewheeling, frivolous lucidity. Talking flowers courting paper queens, mechanical insects and retro robots are making out with water nymphs in scintillating underwater kingdoms, adorned with coral castles covered with algae-clad emerald tongues and whispering seaweed. Well-intended gestures and hidden caresses, swimming birds and flying serpents are strangling eviscerated sunrays. Ethereal flower petals and filaments, embryos and jesters jiggle in a macabre flow, a serpentine snuggle, bringing memories of blushing girls indulging a first kiss. Then, after jumping over fires, they disappear into satyriatic shadows, willingly vulnerable to emerge again… with exhausted eyes.
Veronika Holcová’s AXENÉO7 exhibition is closing off her four-year sojourn in Canada. The experience made a deep and lasting impression on the artist; helped her to revisit her child-scapes of yesteryear, added new imprints and ignited new streams of inquiry, even inspired her to venture out and beyond her standard technique… painting. For the first time in her career, Veronika will exhibit her three-dimensional work.
One would expect Veronika to be a shy, introverted artist sunken in continuous daydreams, creating her magic dreamscapes. To the contrary, she is ebullient, vigorous, bristling with inexhaustible energy. She is erudite and insatiably curious. She is a connector, an organizer, a conduit and tireless promoter of art, linking the Canadian and Czech art scene: connecting artists with artists and people with people. Despite, or maybe because of her immense cultural memory Veronika is a citizen of the world; engaged, caring and conscientious. Her art; rich, poignant and unflagging is irreversibly memorable and hauntingly relevant, no matter what landscape you and I live in!
— Lumir Hladik (Toronto)
Veronika Holcová studied drawing, painting and graphic art at the Prague Academy of Fine Arts. Her practice incorporates drawing alongside classical and experimental painting techniques. There is an undeniable sense of automatism implicit within Holcová’s practice. She applies this approach primarily in her oil drawings on paper, which acts as a form of diary entry for her. They are created from sudden impulses, alla prima, using brushes and fingers. Her motifs, both figurative and abstract, are concentrated into compact organic and crystalline composites that form their central theme amidst a neutral white background. Using dreamlike imagination, she weds fragments of everyday life with dreamscapes and art historical references. Holcová’s work possesses strong traces of German Romanticism and Czech Surrealism and Symbolism.