Wolves and sheep’s loathing: A touch of humor and pain

Czech Position

Emotions abound at the Prague gallery Vernon Depot’s first show, by the young Czech artist Štepán Beránek

A new gallery in Prague 7’s Holešovice neighborhood is now showing work by the young and vibrant Czech artist Štepán Beránek. His colorful creations send a shock wave of life through the space, which opened in October.

“We attended an exhibition that was showing Štepán’s ‘Wolves’ work,” Valerie Dvoráková, Galerie Vernon’s artist coordinator told Czech Position on how they met the artist. “We hadn’t seen his previous work but really liked the wolves and wanted him for the gallery.”

Vernon Depot, part of Galerie Vernon, is a simple, bright industrial space showing contemporary works, located on the fourth floor of a non-descript building — in stark contrast to what you find on display once inside.

“For the first exhibition in this space we wanted something very unusual and interesting so people could see something different,” Dvoráková said. “This is an interesting space; it’s a bit of a labyrinth to find if you are searching for it, but you find a treasure.”

Beránek’s “Wolves” works are his newest and perhaps most interesting pieces. Made from shards of glass, the dramatic pieces invoke pain and suffering — hence the name. “They are part of the series “Pain,” he told Czech Position. “This wolf doesn’t have fur but glass; his fur should keep him “safe” and warm, but here it hurts him. A wolf needs his fur to live, but this a balance between safety and danger.”

One of the wolves, entitled, “Holding Pain” is strapped to the wall, the wolf writhing in pain. “Here he is trying to escape the pain, but he can’t,” adds Beránek, whose name translates as “little lamb” in English. The second piece shows a wolf suffering perhaps a worse fate — a coat made of glass and a bird attacking him. There is blood, and his mouth is twisted in agony.

Beránek says he draws inspiration from both Latin American and Baroque art. He likes how in Baroque pieces, you usually only see one side, but observing a piece from all sides gives you a new perspective. “The composition of this sculpture gives you two points of view,” he said. “The sculpture from the back has a different idea.”

Behind “Holding Pain” you’ll find Beránek’s newest work, also a bit distressing to observe. A small child with a shaking face is screaming while a large hairy spider grabs him from behind.

“The head is turning because he disagrees with what’s happening to him, but he is stuck in place by the spider,” Beránek explained. “It seems the figure has no idea about the spider. The problem looks at where there is danger or something bad behind us and we aren’t aware of it, but it is attacking us.” The shellacked artificial hair of this spider gives it an excellent tactical appearance.

There are two representatives from an older series of work, “Altars of Love.” Both take a deep look at sex and religion, especially Catholicism. On one, a woman’s thighs are clad in black tights, surrounded with draped black cloth and a white flower propped between her legs. In the second similar piece, white fur replaces the black material and the heart is a silver-hued bird diving from above into a golden pelvis with white panties stretched across the front.

“They have the same composition as a Catholic altar — the highlights are in the center, but it draws the viewer’s eyes up,” said Beránek. “The concentration point is the same: sex and religion.”

The dominating piece in this exhibition is red-draped bumps with a white spook arising from them. Red and yellow spikes radiate from its “head.”

“This is a light piece inspired by a hummingbird and an orchid,” he said. “The connection to religion in the composition is similar to a cross with the radiating beams surrounding the top. There’s a connection with the bird which comes from the sky to the flower with grows from the earth. A living room piece,” Beránek adds with a smile.

Although he says he is not religious, there are many elements of religion in his work. “I work often with the principle of a creator who enters your life or body,” he said. “I like the way religious art expresses spiritual things, this is why I’m inspired to use these symbols.”

Inspiration close to home

While the right side of the gallery shows some of Beránek’s more thoughtful, but agitating work; the left side is more light-hearted. Two heads represent family members in a warm and whimsical way.

The first is a clay pot with a greenish head growing out of it. The top of the head is missing and inside grass curls out. The eyes are rolled looking upward and there’s a slight smirk on the man’s face.

‘You have to do a series of portraits when in school — no one is so interested in them so I was trying to make them light,” he said. “This is called ‘Piquant Charlie’ [Pikantní Karel] and is my cousin. He has a lot of ideas so I wanted to make something grow from his head.”

The second piece is a simple lovely white plaster woman’s head surrounded by gray animals. Beránek said that it represents his wife, who often suffers from headaches and also loves animals. “I wanted to make it look like they were holding her head, comforting her,” he said.

The tactile nature of this exhibition is one of the main reasons it is so enjoyable. It’s also Beránek’s chief way to communicate. “For me, material represents how to connect the piece and the viewer; it represents the meaning so it is understandable for the viewer,” he said. “Glass hurts; if you hear shattering glass, you don’t like it. The contrast is the fur.”