Theodor Pištěk – From Life
Václav Chad Gallery, Zlín
19 May – 20 August 2017
“I love space – the endless sky, the comforting clouds, and the horizon, which challenges us to cross it.”
Theodor Pištěk, 1984
            Theodor Pištěk was born on 25 October 1932 into a family of artists in Prague. He studied under Vratislav Nechleba at the Academy of Fine Arts, from which he graduated in 1958. Besides painting, Pištěk has also established himself as a much sought-after costume designer, having worked on more than a hundred feature films, including Markéta Lazarová, Valley of the Bees, Shortcuts, Three Wishes for Cinderella, Valmont, and The People Versus Larry Flynt. In 1985, he won an Academy Award for Best Costume Design for his work on Miloš Forman’s Amadeus. In addition to his work as a painter and costume designer, Pištěk also used to be a professional race car driver, a career he left behind in 1973. He is one of today’s most important Czech painters, whose extensive body of work stretches from the late 1950s to the present day.
            Pištěk’s most widely known works, his photorealistic paintings, are a distinctive contribution this to this style, which flourished in the late 1970s and first half of the 1960s, particularly in the the United States and to some extent also in Western Europe. Unlike his trans-Atlantic colleagues, his smooth and highly realistic works reflect aspects of his personal life. In fact, leading postwar art theorist Jindřich Chalupecký wrote about Pištěk that, “unlike the photorealists, he composes his paintings loosely; and where the modern world as depicted by the American photorealists feels empty and absurd, Pištěk is captivated by its fantastical and hidden meanings.” A typical motif in Pištěk’s work was the world of fast machines and automobile races, which he succeeded in capturing in evocative detail. His paintings also exude an admiration for past periods in European painting. Nevertheless, he is attracted to more than just detailed and smooth painting or the visual deception of Baroque trompe l’oeil. Instead, he finds himself drawn towards multilayered visual narratives with multiple references to art and to the world around him.
            The world of cinema, a world full of diverse illusions, has left its traces in Pištěk’s mind as well. After all, film studios with their stage sets engage in a symbolic game of fiction and reality – and this is one of Pištěk’s central themes, found in both his photorealistic paintings and in the later pieces in which he works with the infinite variability of spatial possibilities. As with his “automotive” works, this latter stage in his career, which opened with his painting Party at Plečnik’s, reflects his consummate mastery of smooth painting and his interest in what the space essentially represents, how we perceive it, and what mysteries it has to offer. This romantic desire to enter into the painting and transcend its two-dimensionality also finds expression in Pištěk’s objects and intallations.
      The deception of the senses by which the world surrounds us, its beauty and ephemerality, the interchangeability of the whole and its details, the exploration of authenticity and truth, the interaction between fact and fiction, the abstraction and construction of reality (or, as Kolíbal might have put it, the reality “between the concrete, the illusive, and the abstract”) – these are the main elements of Pištěk’s work. They move from painting into film and the real world and back, generating endless series of paintings that among other things ask us to consider the meaning of life – and of art, which life cannot do without.

Martin Dostál