CHILDREN – 2015 | Veronika Marešová

If you visit Martin Kuriš’s current place of work and residence, you will understand how profoundly his art is linked to his immediate surroundings and everyday life within the close-knit circle of his family. The god-forsaken landscape at the foot of Buková Hora – a region marked by the turbulent events of the 20th century, in particular the expulsion of the local German population – continues to evoke strong emotions and visual sensations. The raw beauty of the landscape hides stirring scenes of past drama. It is an eloquently silent place, and at the same time a source of inspiration and fertile ground for Kuriš’s imaginative-narrative canvases, in which he places portraits of real people into poetic settings reminiscent of fairy tales and fables. His simple, almost naive style draws on the poetics of folk culture or traditional themes from classic literature, with the addition of exotic and surreal elements.

Kuriš’s narrative paintings, which he makes in the silent concentration of an isolated village near the town of Děčín, has undergone certain changes and transformations in both form and content since his studies at Prague’s Academy of Fine Arts. Still, these changes have always been closely tied to his own personal development. Where his works were originally dominated by mythology and fables in a contrast-rich and expressive style (e.g., the series A Ballad of Love and Betrayal, Professor Frankenstein, and Petr and Lucie), this approach was slowly replaced by an increasingly understated style mixing fiction with reality in subdued pastel colors (the series Magda and Lola). He creates predominantly figural paintings in which a key role is played by light and distinctive colors and where the central figure (usually distinctly colorful and brightly lit) carries the story from which all else evolves. As he paints his cycles, Kuriš writes small accompanying texts in the form of poems and reflections that gradually crystallize into short works of prose.

Since 2002, Kuriš has been creating artists’ books as a distinctive art form combining visual and literary storytelling. Some of these have even been presented on stage (The Prodigal Tailor, Petr of Drslavice, The Sad Fisherman, Baryk, and Navarana). As a result, Kuriš has expanded his artistic range to include other disciplines: dramatic adaptations, scenographic design, woodworking, and puppet theater. His fragile, gentle, and melancholic performances are intended primarily for children and adolescents, but also for adults with childlike souls. They are full of love and pain, intrigue and resolution, but above all cathartic renewal and the consolation that there is hope in this unpredictable, sick, and turbulent world.

His latest series, Children, was created specifically for the gallery spaces of the Jesuit College. It, too, speaks to us through stories that have been composed into paintings reminiscent of photographic snapshots. Magic and the supernatural give way to real depictions of Kuriš’s memories of his childhood in Kutná Hora: “It was a magical time of fairy tales, children’s games, little things, joy, but also fear, worry, and tears.” Today, he recalls these experiences as the father of three children. The series resembles a mixed-up album in which the paintings emerge randomly with no clear timeline or context. They depict seemingly ordinary and yet universal scenes from a sweetshop, the playground and school. The works’ simple and easily understood style and subtle colorist feel give them a sense of something intimate and familiar. It is as if we were contemplatively going through a box of childhood photographs, or remembering situations that we experienced or that our children will soon face themselves.

Veronika Marešová

Veronika Marešová