Antonin Střížek

U Recickych

A pair of shoes side by side on a white-and-blue tile floor, or a white kitchen chair standing in front of dreadful wallpaper are banal sites and thus highly forgettable. But Antonin Střížek’s clumsy, large-scale paintings of these same subjects are quite memorable. These common objects lodge in our minds; indeed, they drill their way into our memories, where they become a disquieting presence. Yet they indicate nothing but themselves and their own shabbiness, and that is precisely the point; it is this shabbiness, testifying to their poverty, bad taste, and indeed pitiable esthetic incapacity, that upsets the viewer. Still, these objects emanate a certain—albeit extremely naive—pride.

The objects in the paintings of this young Czech artist are hideous, philistine, wretched, guileless, and unimaginative. They are the products of an infinitely boring mediocrity that levels all distinctions—an averageness that instantly strikes every visitor to the formerly Socialist countries. Although this gray-on-gray averageness extends to all areas of existence, it is an obvious quality of everyday life. For ideological reasons, ordinary existence was to be “freed” of all dreams, playfulness, and luxury. Only practical, functional objects were fitting accoutrements of daily life. Esthetic aspects were considered bourgeois and hence decadent. Střížek is part of the generation of young Czech artists who are investigating the esthetic consequences of the so-called Socialist system. They concentrate on the banal objects of everyday life—the very things that expose an all-encompassing disposition that makes even dreams and ideals seem petty. From such a vantage point, a pond with carefully painted ducks, for example, is considered a lofty achievement of the imagination.

Střížek’s paintings are not critical; they bear witness to the artist’s love of objects and their banal appearances—albeit not without irony. For while Střížek knows that precisely this human propensity for banality, platitude, and averageness destroys the greatest dreams and neutralizes the boldest social upheavals bit by bit, ultimately dooming them to failure, he also knows that if human beings had not been constrained by the banalities of everyday life, they might have exterminated themselves long ago.

Noemi Smolik

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.

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