Local artist disregards disability and draws stars

Czech Position

He was born with an extra chromosome — but that hasn’t stopped the son of two local artists from becoming a celebrity portrait artist

The drawings are simply signed “Kryštof” in pencil at the bottom. Walking into Galerie ART +UM is like entering a mini Hollywood office — drawings of movie stars and singers currently cover the walls. On display is a show called Nebe filmových hvezd (Heaven of Film Stars) by artist Kryštof Marschal.

“For me, his work is very original, and I’d like to see him become more well-known,” Gallery owner Eva Heřmanská told Czech Position. “He has no fear or self-consciousness.”

Like many artists, Kryštof has a day job. He is a gardener at a furniture company. Drawing since he was 3 years old, the now 31-year-old showed remarkable talent from a very early age. he may have inherited his artistic talent; both his parents are artists as well.

“When he was 3, he was already talented; we had him take an art class for children,” his father, Míla Marschal said. “They were supposed to do a still life, landscapes, but he didn’t like it.”

Kryštof adds: “I drew the teacher, and she was angry and gave me a bad grade.”

His talents are evident, and Kryštof is remarkable in another way: He has Down syndrome, a condition caused by an extra 21st chromosome. After meeting and speaking with him, this is completely irrelevant to his skill and passion for drawing.

Focused determination

“It’s his hobby, to spend time drawing,” Míla Marschal said. “People and portraits; he likes portraits because his mother (Zdena Marschalová) is a figurative painter. He takes after his mother,” he adds, laughing.

Famous people seem to be his forté; however, Kryštof says he has made a portrait of his sister’s dog, a horse and other things for friends. Set against shaded backgrounds, the portraits are often looking off to the side, with focused expressions.

The elder Marschal says Kryštof will see a film first, admire a situation and then look for photos.

“I have lots of photos; sometimes I don’t know where to start,” Kryštof says. “I’ll think about it during the week and then start to draw.”

He says it takes him between two to four days to draw a big picture, less time for a smaller one. His father adds that he always starts at the top, with the hair, and works his way down.

“Sometimes he runs out of room, he doesn’t like big pieces of paper, he like smaller pieces, so we just add more,” the father said.

Sure enough, some portraits are composed of a couple pieces of paper, but instead of taking away from the portrait, it adds flavor. The expressions Kryštof has drawn are so intense, the viewer is left wondering what has happened before, what is the person portrayed looking at and what must they be thinking. That it is such a piece of a moment makes sense that more than one piece of paper must be used.

Movie stars and singers

Kryštof gives a tour of his drawings, pointing out Heath Ledger from his role in “Dark Knight,” the last film the Australian-born actor completed before he died. Kryštof perfectly captured the intensity of that role for Ledger. He says his favorite person to draw is Johnny Depp because he is a good actor and nice looking — and he admires his success.

Two of Kryštof’s favorite portraits in this exhibition are of Depp; one from his role in “Don Juan DeMarco,” and the other from “Pirates of the Caribbean.” He is currently working on a drawing of Jennifer Grey from “Dirty Dancing” and will next do the scene from that movie in which Grey and Patrick Swayze are practicing the lift in the lake.

“I only use pencils and work off small photos so I can make it bigger and use my imagination,” Kryštof said. “Sometimes, I’m working so hard, my pencils are getting smaller and my dad is always buying new ones.” He favors the triangular shaped pencils from Koh-i-noor.“The colors are bright; when you put black on the paper it is alive,” he says.

Most striking are the eyes in the portraits: a perplexed Patrick Swayze, a grave Michael Jackson, a solemn Johnny Depp. But Kryštof focuses on a different facial feature.

“For me, I have a problem with noses,” he said. “I like hair; I always start with the hair.” And indeed, Kryštof’s people have thick, well-textured locks.

Gallery owner Hermanská knows Kryštof’s parents from the Nové Sdružení art group they all belong to and had an exhibition of Kryštof’s work in her gallery about two years ago. They are hoping to have two more exhibitions of his work in Prague this year. Galerie ART + UM features mostly Czech artists — painters, sculptors and jewelry makers.

Hermanská said she likes to offer different materials — glass, metal, stone — and make a connection between them. Hermanská, an artist herself, does fascinating colorful paintings on copper and steel. She is a Kryštof admirer, and appreciates his talent and insight.

“If you look closely at the faces, you can see shapes, lines, shadowing, it gives the faces character,” she said. “But if you ask Kryštof why he does it, he just says that’s how he sees it.”