Jan Cermak was born 7 May of 1947, in Prague Czech Republic.
Akademie Vytvarnych Umeni - Prague
Rijksacademie van Beeldende Kunsten - Amsterdam
Rietveld Academie - Amsterdam
Beneath follows a Lecture about JC
JAN CERMAK: A KEEN OBSERVATOR
With only eighteen guilders in his pockets, Jan Cermak arrived at Schiphol Airport in 1968. A suitcase full of painter’s materials and some necessary underwear were all he had with him. He headed for Amsterdam by bus, leaving him with fifteen guilders. That night he slept in the Vondelpark, where hippies provided him with a place to sleep.
With this action, Jan Cermak barely escaped two years imprisonment in his native country, having been a member of the Prague student movement at the time of the Russian invasion. A promising talent, he had been following art courses at the Vytvamych Umeni Academy in the Czech capital. He was forced to leave his home and build a new life in the Netherlands. In October of the same year he went to the Rijksakademie to take up the thread of his interrupted studies. His technical skills allowed him to skip the fist two years of this Amsterdam academy.
These sweeping events have had a determining impact on Jan Cermak’s personal and artistic development. They have made him averse to any restriction of freedom. As an artist Jan Cermak – now 52 years old – has developed into a typical individualist. Independent of all fashionable trends, he has always followed his own course, achieving a style of painting all his own. His work is characterised by a constant movement between extremes. One picture may unite several tendencies, such as (photo) realism and abstraction, or expressionism and impressionism.
Besides, he uses a multitude of materials in mixed techniques, such as acrylic and oil paint, watercolours and ink.
Before setting to work, Jan Cermak has completely hatched up the idea of what he is going to paint. By nature he has the gift of keen observation. Like a sponge, he absorbs impressions perceived in his surroundings and his conversations with other people, ultimately releasing them in his favourite activity: painting. Enriched with his own vision they are expressed in an overall picture, usually lending his images a narrative character. Underlying each free work is a critical attitude toward social phenomena and everyday occurrences. Not by raising a reproaching finger, but rather by putting things into perspective, by adding a bit of humour. Meaningful titles that come up during the process of painting often reflect the essence of the message he strives to convey. The past ten years Cermak has mainly been working in series exploring a common theme. Besides, he regularly works in commission, creating perfect portraits and realistic murals and ceiling paintings.
Returning to the Netherlands in 1990 after a three-year stay in the United States, he felt an overwhelming urge to release. The result is a series of sixteen paintings on the states of America that struck him most, including New York, Texas and Nevada. As to their content, these ‘state portraits’ deal with the contrasts that are characteristic of American society and nature, such as rich versus poor, city versus countryside and desert versus forest. Cermak creates similar contrasts in the visual elements, such as use of colour and form language, thus mutually reinforcing content and visual appearance of the work. Under the title of ‘It’s great to be rich and don’t go ashamed to be poor’ the difference between rich and poor in the city of New York is represented by a sharp dichotomy in the composition. The familiar image of towering, bright blue skyscrapers is set against abstracted vivid red garbage, symbolising the upper class of Manhattan and the underclass of The Bronx respectively. A green strip, representing Central Park, constitutes the border between these totally disparate environments.
Cermak sprayed this on with pur foam, a new material for him, making his painting into a three-dimensional object. Depending on what the image requires, the artist alternately uses plywood or canvas for a surface. In all his work, Cermak constantly experiments with a wide range of materials, such as concrete plaster, shot, pur foam, sand and airbrush.
The latter material is used frequently in the Women series, created from 1993 onward. This series exposes the problems women are facing, for instance the ideal of beauty the female body has to meet. In accordance with his world view he agitates against imposed values that restrain the freedom of, in this case, women. Nevertheless, his images of skinny teenagers and gluttonous female figure are very direct and confrontational, holding a mirror up to the viewer’s face. In his painting ‘Woman to cut out’ a naked woman literally wriggles herself into a bend to fit within the dotted lines of the cut-out picture. While the body and face have been photo-realistically airbrushed in flesh tones, the abstracted environment consists of a wide range of expressive shades of red, blue and green. The bright and vivid colouring that Jan Cermak uses to create a certain atmosphere or fitting emotion has become one of his trademarks. To Jan Cermak it is crucial to control the entire creation of the painting from beginning to end: from the preparation of the canvas up to the varnishing of the painting and even the construction of the frame. Most paintings are created horizontally on the floor: a first rough arrangement of acrylic planes is made, fixing the composition in outline with robust brushstrokes. Next, the figurative elements of the image are painted first, after which the more abstract forms and exuberant colours are filled in with oil paint.
The contrast between realism and abstraction is also apparent in the ‘Lefty’s’ series, created by Jan Cermak in a playful way from the late 80s onward. Pieces of abstractly painted paper appear to be attached to the wall with various tools such as scissors, axes and clothes pins. Jan Cermak uses the age-old trick of optical illusion or ‘trompe l’oeil’, adding to the image a suggestion of depth, which is further enhanced through shadow effects.
The title ‘Lefty’s’ refers to the fact that all these small canvases have been made with the left hand, Jan Cermak being right-handed. While displaying his skills as a painter in the realistically rendered tools, in the abstract parts he gives his imagination free reign.
This tendency is continued in the six-part series on the news, which is evidence to the fact that these series not only correspond thematically, but in their structure as well. This series is based on a postcard with a stamp on it, invariably showing the portrait of a head of state, for in stance Thatcher, Yeltsin and Chirac.
In the paintings created around 1998 Jan Cermak comments on news facts that occur during a brief period of time in a certain country. On the French postcard the state symbol Marianne is shown going up in smoke, placed opposite the controversial nuclear tests in the Pacific. At the same time, this series is designed to show the fleetingness of the news: important news heard one month is forgotten the next, due to the overdose of information we are confronted with.
His most recent series focuses on the subject many people consider the main item of the news nowadays, namely football. The polyptych entitled ‘Ajax versus… the others’ portrays well-known Dutch football players, such as Davids, Gullit and Reiziger. A striking feature of this series is the absence of the contrast between figurative and abstract elements, lending more unity to the picture, and the fact that they are made exclusively in a combination of acrylic and oil paint.
This also applies to the paintings that Cermak created apart from the series recently, such as ‘Disco Fiasco’ an ‘Symphony “le Coeur vert” performed by:Zwammerdam philharmonic orchestra’, in which he criticizes the phenomenon of disco and the building over of the ‘Green Heart’ (being the ‘green’ centre of the urban agglomeration of western Holland) respectively. In these pictures he develops an expressionist style characterised by an abstracted form language and exuberant colours. Though this appears to mark a change in his work, the critical attitude of a keen observatory remains predominant.