It was very spontaneous. Once in the morning I walked to my studio in Tongzhou located in the atelier quarter in an old factory. I found a pigeon feather on the side of the road by the edge of the pavement. It got my attention so I picked it up from the ground and I thought I could paint it. A feather contains a certain fragility and familiarity so I decided to paint it in bigger scale. After that I started to collect feathers deliberately.
What a feather stands for?
I was always attracted by details of the streets - apple rests, dry insects, cigarette butt and so. Common things taken out of the context transformed into the ink painting language. A feather means lightness and transience to me.
I do not know why, but your feathers evoke some of the works of Albrecht Dürer.
I have the same feeling. He also depicted common themes such as muff. There appears a contrast of the commonness of the subject and nobility of the artwork technique of the processing. In my case it is the ink painting.
You do paint feathers from 2007. That is quite a long time.
Yes, that is true and I enjoy it still. Like my series of hearts which is already closed. It depicts seemingly banal shape, but it is always a portrait of the individual feather. Every single one is different and unique.
There is a term "rusu moyo" (a missing motif) in Japanese art, where the detail represents the whole subject, for example leaf of a tree etc. Is there a level of referring to a higher subject in your work as well?
This kind of an art reference could be also found to a certain extend in Chinese artwork. However that was not my intention. It is the feathers itself. The artwork expression gives it importance and even a certain stateliness which is in contrary with its immanent fragility.
How does the public, both professional and lay, look at the feather? How does the Chinese viewer perceive them?
The feathers immediately became very popular and successful theme in China which discouraged me. I even wanted to stop rather than becoming a maker of feathers for sale. But after that I thought the success and failure is not so important in artwork. The most important is that my creations fulfill me. Undoubtedly feathers were positively accepted by various audiences - artists and curators as well as common people.
Do you have any similar theme that you return to for a long time?
It was hearts in the past, but that is already a closed chapter. I started painting flowers in South China once. I stopped for some time but I return to the theme from time to time in Czech Republic. In a way it is kind of a memory from my childhood, it is a reference to the European context and environment where I grew up.
Do the feathers contain the element of the "life painting"?
Actually, yes. I am influenced by particular situation - I paint feathers right after I find them and it is real portraits of real feathers.
Do you plan an exhibition of feathers?
That sounds like a good idea. I could imagine that.
You do often paint feathers of magpies, birds in China said to be carrying positive happy symbolism, and pigeons, meaningfully burdened in European cultural sphere. Is there any intention in that?
I would not agree. The feathers are not related to a certain bird. I do not hold such intentions. It is a theme free from such connotations and meanings that would seem to reveal.
Is there a reference to your childhood in the feathers?
Not really. As kids we used to make Indian headbands from buzzard feathers, which we found in the woods. But that was something different. On the contrary in the feather series there is the commonness of the streets. Sometimes I am asked to paint feathers of exotic birds, but that is not it. It lacks the immediacy, simplicity and urgency.
Is the act of finding the feather important? Is it some kind of a preservation of a certain memory to a special event?
The finding is not influenced by any strange circumstances. The feather is not being collected as a reminder. It is an individual subject without any special content or connotations.
Would you want say something for the end?
The feather gives the artist a
minimum freedom of choice of the composition or angles of sight. And this
disadvantage can be used.
Interview with Jiri Straka led by Jakub Zeman