Harrison & Španhel: A view to your mind

Czech Position

Prague’s Dea Orh pairs Czech and British painters in an abstract, broad brush stroke take on landscape, postcards and more

If you prefer to decipher your art, an intriguing exhibition at Dea Orh Gallery provides paintings open to interpretation. The gallery paired a British and Czech painter for a fresh look at a style not seen so often in these contemporary times. Brit Richard Harrison describes his work on display here as “landscape-based.”

“You get a sense of landscape from them, horizons and skies, but they are basically abstract landscapes,” he told Czech Position. “I’ve travelled quite a bit around the world and landscapes, remote landscapes, grab me.”

The paintings shown at Dea Orh stretch back to 2000 and are dark, heavier mood pieces. Viewing them gives off a sense of both nature and emotion. There is a lot of movement in Harrison’s work, which is unusual in not only a landscape, but an abstract one at that. Powerful forces seem to pull you in and encourage a longer look than might normally be given to one painting. The artist takes lots of photos on his travels and uses them later as inspiration in his studio.

“I hope the spectator, when they look at one, they are transported someplace else, a different state of mind or feeling,” he said. “Hopefully they (the paintings) are universal in a sense they evoke feelings that are common to everyone, maybe sadness, loneliness, a sense of nostalgia.”

Harrison’s body of work also encompasses figurative painting, but again, not in the typical way you’d think. “In the beginning, everything was pretty much abstract but then I began to develop forms and they became like figures, abstract shapes that seemed to take on a human or animal form, so I thought maybe I’ll start out specifically with the forms,” he said.

A new palette

Moving to Dea Orh’s downstairs space, the mood brightens a bit with Jakub Španhel’s most recent work. All from 2011, the Czech artist made a bold style change this year.

“Over the last 10 years I used dark colors, mainly black and gold, but recently I started to use other colors as well,” he told Czech Position.”I set myself a goal not to use black; I know how to work with it so no more black.” He adds that this was a real change in his work as people were used to seeing the black which is now missing.

Each painting seems to highlight one color which stands out from the rest of the piece. In one, a turquoise backdrop surrounds and even seems to radiate from a lightly sketched woman. There are three themes represented here: architecture in towns and cities; flowers and portraits and nudes. Like Harrison, Španhel is greatly inspired by his travels.

“All my work is based on photos from my travels or postcards,” he said, and laughingly added: “Obviously, that doesn’t apply to the nudes.” The work on display here suggests a sense of movement, but unlike Harrison’s work, a feeling of flowing and a touch of confusion is given off. Glimpses of forms can be seen and it is a question whether you should try to deduce what they are, or simply view the piece as a whole.

“Most important for me are the paintings, not the themes,” Španhel said. “They are ordinary topics, what matters most is the process.” He’s been enjoying his color change this year and thinks he’ll stick with it a while longer.

“My work used to be monochromatic but I’m glad I decided to use more colors,” he said. “But I can’t change overnight so am trying to add color and will continue until I get angry again and go back to black.”

The exhibition came about because Marko Brdarski, Dea Orh’s director, knows a London journalist who collects Harrison’s work and recommended the artist. Španhel is one of the gallery’s “stars” and Brdarski believes they make a good match.

“We found we could put both these artists together; Harrison is one of the champions of painting and Jakub is an acclaimed Czech painter so it is very exciting to show them both,” he told Czech Position.

Dea Orh is a private gallery showing work by both Czech and international artists. They represent Czech artists including Štefan Tóth, Zdenek Trs and Evžen Šimera, in addition to Španhel. The work they typically show are paintings and this display is one of their more adventurous. Allowing for an open interpretation of both artists’ work is what makes this exhibition such an appealing one. In viewing the pieces you can perceive that both men find true joy in their work.

“I’ll start off a painting with an idea which dictates the choice of colors, but then let the painting evolve,” said Harrison. “I believe some of the best paintings happen by chance and the skill is knowing when you have something worth keeping.”