Ink painting

Czech artist Jiri Straka studied Sinology at Charles University in Prague and is an expert and aficionado of ancient Chinese culture. Year-round he wears traditional Chinese garb and looks more Chinese than most Chinese do - often sparking interest and attracting stares from passers-by. In the mid-1990s Jiri Straka came to Beijing to study ink and wash painting at the Central Academy of Fine Arts. He has mastered the traditional methods and techniques of the art, but he has not let himself get tied down adhering to the rules of the art. He has progressed to creating mature ink and wash paintings that, according to traditional terminology, would be categorized as "boneless style" painting. From a formal perspective, he has distanced himself from mainstream Chinese literary free-brush painting. He often paints a certain landscape or flowers and plants outdoors, unrolls the paper, kneels and begins to create. He has a passion for large formats. This method of painting in nature, of course, stems from Western art traditions. I like his nature paintings very much for their strong infusion of Chinese ink and wash painting blended with Western temperament and spaciousness.

On traditional Chinese paper measuring three by three metres, Jiri Straka painted a larger-than-life pig´s heart as a response to the Buddhist and traditional Chinese concept of the "heart". He has also depicted an oversized dead and gutted chicken, a sheep and a killed mosquito. Exposed and enlarged - and, in moral terms, somewhat unjustified - everyday death sparks attention and admiration. Many years after Jiri Straka started to realize that his ink and wash paintings were slowly returning to classic Western expression. One can compare Jiri´s ink and wash free-brush paintings with the art of Italian painter Giuseppe Castiliogne, a painter in the Qing court. Both Jiri and Giuseppe came from Europe, both use Chinese tools and materials in their art, both have introduced elements of Western art tradition to traditional Chinese ink and wash painting - but a two-hundred-year gap divides the two. Castiliogne came to China and remained a whole fifty years - an early pioneer of globalization. Today, Jiri Straka represents an entirely different type of global person: he is a Sinofied European.

Chinese artist He Sen paints traditional ink and wash paintings with oil paints, while Czech artist Jiri Straka paints traditional ink and wash paintings that incline more and more towards the expression of classic Western painting. It is clear that globalization is not flowing in just one direction. Because Jiri Straka uses traditional Chinese ink and wash painting tools in his artwork, it is more appropriate to view it from the perspective of Chinese cultural tradition. In my opinion, Jiri Straka´s paintings are among the most eloquent and compelling works in contemporary ink and wash painting. In 1985 Li Xiaoshan, then a student of the Nanjing Art Academy, published an article entitled "My views on contemporary Chinese painting", in which he expressed the opinion that traditional Chinese visual art had reached a dead end and the only thing happening in Chinese art was the conservation of various types of ink and wash painting. His text provoked animated discussion in Chinese art circles regarding the viability and future of Chinese ink and wash painting. I consider that period to have marked the true birth of contemporary ink and wash painting. Over twenty years have passed since that time and the situation on the Chinese ink and wash painting scene has changed beyond recognition. New works continue to appear that are worthy of note. Jiri Straka´s art represents a challenge for Chinese ink and wash painting. It is proof that if one rids oneself of the restrictive layer of patriotism and the painting is approached purely and simply as a specific form of artistic expression and use of material, entirely original and innovative ink and wash works can be created. Jiri Straka gradually introduced more and more methods of Western classical painting to ink and wash painting, thus creating an impressive oeuvre of contemporary ink and wash art. In the course of the last century, Chinese painters have also successfully connected traditional ink and wash painting with the painting methods of Western classic realism. Jiang Zhaohe and his paintings of refugees have clearly been of the greatest significance. In Jiri Straka´s work it is as if one could see the long path that Chinese ink and wash painting has traveled. Just as Jiang Zhaohe paid attention to the regular lives of the people around him in his time, Jiri also expresses his life experiences and stories in his ink and wash paintings - thus liberating himself from the snares and pitfalls of superficial literary ink and wash painting. The works of painters He Sena and Jiri Straka demonstrate to us the significance of ink and wash painting in the present-day world. Ink and wash painting is no longer just a pleasure for the eyes for other friends in the literary world to enjoy nor a display of the artist´s skills, but it can penetrate and link together elements of various types of art and bridge the distance between differing cultures. Ink and wash painting has once again attained its artistic power and created immeasurable opportunities for the future.

Shu Yang