Jiří Němec’s painting has always reflected and often directly drawn on the subject of his spiritual quest. We can view the artist’s pictures as tracks he has left on his journey of self-recognition, much as we do, for example, with the paintings of Václav…
Jiří Němec’s painting has always reflected and often directly drawn on the subject of his spiritual quest. We can view the artist’s pictures as tracks he has left on his journey of self-recognition, much as we do, for example, with the paintings of Václav Boštík or the work of František Drtikol, to whom Jiří Němec is close in this respect. His monochromatically hued paintings from 1999 to 2007 radiate with light and evoke the contemplative states of consciousness, diving underneath the surface of the everyday into an inner mental space of profound peace and quiet. Some of them are reminiscent of meditation pictures known from eastern traditions (sacred yantras and mandalas), others depict dreamlike manifestations of the symbolic landscapes of the soul. The finely colour-modulated lyrical paintings, whose expressive power lies in their simplicity and economy of artistic means, reflect the process of the artist’s inner unification, his sense of unity behind all contrasts.
Images from the Ornagrams series (2008–2009), which are the topic of this exhibition, are a significant innovation in the context of Jiří Němec’s output to date, not on account of the subject-matter, ornaments, which after all has previously appeared in his work, but in the way he grasps it. A new feature of these pictures is how they have been inspired by nature, as perceived in the aspect of movement, its dynamic variability, instability, uniqueness. At first glance this may seem like a fundamental shift in the artist’s creative orientation: focused silence giving way to interest in movement; expeditions into the inner landscapes of the soul replaced by captivation with events in the outer world; the contemplation of the great unity of existence superseded by an interest in a non-recurring story. Nevertheless, what we witness here is a shift in the focus of the artist’s attention rather than an about-turn. Whereas before he quietly and attentively dwelt on the hidden movements of the mind, here he focuses on visible movements and the flow of nature. Or in other words: practising meditation has awakened in Jiří Němec the capability of compassionately perceiving the spontaneous dance of life, and he has decided to show us something of the richness of its manifestations and transformations: “Let everything flow freely!” It is as though the difference between “inner” and “outer” ceased to be significant, which may be directly linked to the emergence of the phenomenon of the ornament in the artist’s paintings as a kind of all-pervasive aesthetic or mental structure of reality.
The Ornagrams are created by the following procedure: first, the artist uses a video camera to capture all kinds of natural movements in the manifested world – the movements of ants, a white butterfly, swallows, hornets, a wisteria leaf in the wind, bubbles in the water, and the movement of people, or the trajectory of movement of small entities in a micro-world observed with a microscope. He picks out a sequence from the recording that interests him and highlights it in a drawing with elements of animation. These are actually “paintings found”, which the artist himself would not be able to create with his own hands. He treats them, in their non-stylized “as is” nature, as basic graphic figures or patterns which, through further mirrored duplication, he develops into complex and rich ornaments. These are ultimately transferred to the monochrome surface of the artist’s canvas as a contrasting line of colour. Dealing with the sequence of spontaneous movement of a certain entity as a recurring ornamental figure creates the notion of dance. It is as though artist gradually invited diverse beings to perform, in his paintings, dances which he, as choreographer, had planned for them. This participatory method of artistic collaboration with nature allows Jiří Němec to reach beyond the limits of his own hand and develop different graphic styles. Completely new, wonderful drawn figures and rhythms emerge, into whose play we viewers are drawn thanks to the ornamentation.
For me, Jiří Němec’s Ornagrams are a celebration of the universal creativity of the sensory world, its liveliness and soulfulness. These spontaneous rhythms and patterns spin movements of the manifested cosmos like a rich tapestry. If we are to understand the ornament as an aesthetic expression of cosmological order in the human culture, the way it is grasped by Jiří Němec is new in that he draws into it the dynamic movements of numerous bodies more than the human world. In this respect, the artist points to the hidden structure which permeates each, seemingly chaotic, event, or to the fact that our culture and creativity is nourished and shaped by wild spontaneity, this mysterious dance of the non-human world that we can never fully control, but in which we can be creatively involved.
Jiří Němec’s Ornagrams are a profession of admiration for the process, the flowing with the eternal Tao as manifested in the endless game of transformations of this universe. Their subject is the relationship between order and wildness, between the human and non-human world. They can be a challenge for us to learn to perceive in a more participatory and processional way, to grasp our culture and own humanity in the broader environmental and spiritual context, as part of the single integral community of life.
PhDr. Jiří Zemánek