Luboš Plný Anna Zemánková
Bodies Electric: Luboš Plný & Anna Zemánková (June 1 - July 29, 2017)
In Walt Whitman’s powerful poem, “I Sing The Body Electric,” he equates the physical body
with the human soul. No matter how microscopically we examine the human body, even down to basic DNA, there remains ultimately a mystery. That mystery is the repository for the soul. Luboš Plný and Anna Zemánková follow this intuition with similar intentionality, but with very different processes and results. Plný works as a master of physical dissection, creating complex physical beauty. Zemánková approaches her work almost as an animist, infusing corporeal realities with essential manifestations of the soul.
Plný was in the military when he was diagnosed with schizophrenia simplex, a non-hallu-
cinatory manifestation of the disease. He was withdrawn and did not desire social intercourse. On his own he began to study psychiatric and medical texts as a way of coming to terms with his condition. Plný processed this information in the form of intricate collaged drawings, where he took himself (and those around him) apart layer by layer to observe the workings of the body and mind. The amount of detail in these large drawings coupled with their beautiful strangeness, soon catapulted him into public appreciation. Zemánková made her deeply pigmented and visionary drawings in a self-imposed solitude in the early hours of the morning. It was a way to combat a deepening and almost crippling depression brought on by the dissolution of her marriage, simultaneous with her children leaving home when they came of age. All her repressed sensuality and fierce need to nurture came out in these fantastic forms of reinvented Nature.
Both artists sing the intense razor’s edge of exaltation and sheer physicality. Plný and
Zemánková shape the mundane miraculous while living intense lives through their art making. They consciously and obsessively sing the Body Electric.
My Encounter with Luboš Plný
In 2003, Terezie Zemánková pointed me toward a small gallery, The Millennium Gallery, in
Prague, which was exhibiting a young Czech artist named Luboš Plný. No sooner had I entered the exhibition than his work caught my attention and I bought three of his drawings. Some time later I met Luboš and although I did not speak a word of Czech and he no French or English, we liked each other from the very start. Soon after, we decided, with Terezie, that we wanted to support his work, under the label abcd. I have met numerous creators in the field of art brut who are too fragile to protect themselves from the demands of the market and, because of this, over time end up losing their creativity. Keeping this in mind and because I love his work, I worked with Luboš to promote his creations by means of prestigious museum exhibitions in Paris, Kobe, Istanbul and Prague. This year, the Venice Biennale honors Luboš Plný by dedicating him a special space. What a fabulous destiny for this artist who was refused admisssion to the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague — for me a stroke of luck — a sign of a unique talent, a self-taught artist, stranger to all kinds of academies! Luboš Plný is an extraordinary creator; his work continues to evolve and his drawings have become part of the best private collections and institutions, an essential part of the field of art brut and art in general.
Advocating for Luboš Plný also means offering him the best contexts for his sales, enabling
him to work at his own pace, in peace, without undergoing the pressures of any kind. With CavinMorris Gallery I am happy to offer a superb selection of his latest creations, hanging next to those of Anna Zemánková. During all these years Shari and Randall have defended this wonderful artist with passion and rigor; I would like to thank them for that. - Bruno Decharme, 2017
Body Language of Luboš Plný
Luboš Plný was born in 1961 in Česká Lípa, a little town in northern Bohemia. After leav-
ing elementary school he learned electro-mechanics. As a boarder, he was subjected to a semimilitary regime. During his military service he was transfered to a psychiatric clinic. Consequently he began studying psychiatric and medical literature to explore his psychological state. After the army he worked as an electro-mechanic with Czech Railways. At the age of twenty-seven he was accorded an invalidity pension. Luboš left for Prague, where he worked as a cleaner, a sales assistant in a second-hand bookshop, a watchman in a gallery, and painter of tin soldiers. After 1989 he became a model at the Academy of Fine Arts, where he strove to acquire the non-existent title of “academic model.” To this end, he intensively developed his body. In 2002, the rector of the Academy ﬁnally awarded him with the long-coveted title. Luboš made a special stamp “Luboš Plný – academic model,” which became the identifying trademark of his creative work. His life and works have been also markedly affected by the pregnancy of his ex-wife Lucie and the birth of their son Vincent (2005).
His work has been part of a number of inter-
national exhibitions, both in Europe and Japan, the latest being the 57th Venice Biennale International Art Exhibition, Viva Arte Viva. This exhibition attempts to show, according to its curator Christine Macel, chief curator of the Pompidou Center in Paris, that the artistic act is an act of resistance, liberation and generosity, which can influence humanity’s destiny and challenge the powers governing world affairs.
For Plný, the functioning of his organs is a
constant concern, skilfully documented, a way to build his personal identity in time and space. He seems to identify with his body, unless he sees it as 10
Corpus Linguae, 2016
seems to identify with his body, unless he sees it as an object dedicated to his enjoyment. Through his work, he shows us this infinitely complex machine, experienced as a joyous affirmation of its processes and its products. The continual murmuring of its fragmented organs resounds in him as a vibrant call to which he offers himself; divine — and divinizing — offering of his body experiencing exquisite pleasure. Plný tracks down its slightest manifestations, draws carefully its multiple openings and connections. In this meticulous exploration of the fate of his body, Plný dismantles and redisposes things — he plays on the changes in proportions of body fragments, the location of organs, sometimes seen from several points of view simultaneously, overlapping in the same work, transformed into clusters of matter, residues of color. The spectator can only admire the complex networks he presents to us; sometimes we wonder if the artist was not also inspired by his first job as an electro-technician in the railway network. Yet this does not explain our fascination for the bodies dissected and recomposed by the process of grafting into new multi-corporeal hybrid structures. These drifting bodies, monstrous, intertwined or partially contained in one another, multiply the corporeal enigmas, erasing the boundaries between the masculine and the feminine, sometimes between the human and the animal. In Corpus Linguae, one of his most recent works (2016), Plný was trying to see whether he can draw with both hands simultaneously, holding blue pencil in the right hand and the red one in
Lobectomia Subtotalis, 2017
the left hand. The drawing shows the left and right hemispheres — the right hemisphere being the more artistic and creative side of the brain while the left one is responsible for analytic thought and controls logic and language. We can also detect the thyroid gland, Plný’s favourite organ: he underwent an operation of the thyroid in 2006; before the surgery he demanded the operating doctor to document the operation with the photographic camera he provided him with. Since then, the removal of his thyroid has inspired several of his works, most notably the triptych, Lobectomia Subtotalis (2017), in which
Doube Bind, 2016
Plný uses the operation photos to create a collage, adding a detailed description of his stay in the hospital : medication, ingested food, physical re-education, how he experiences the passage of time. The middle part of the triptych represents the (benignant) tumor — in the size of an egg — that was taken out during the operation. The Double Bind drawing — as its title suggests — is a reflection on the unresolvable dilemma Plný experienced as a child when his parents expressed, in his eyes, two contradictory demands, inviting him to act freely and at the same time indicating, non verbally, that such behaviour would be
Conversation (Head with Hands), 2004
a great disappointment to them. This led the artist to behave in a way that he did not wish to, trying to please his parents at all cost. On another drawing what initially appears to be the representation of two different figures, portrays one and the same body. On the left we see the right side of a human body fully drawn while the left one is only indicated by the ochre yellow colour. We find the same play between the minutely filled-in space contrasted with finely traced organs left empty on the left side of the drawing, which shows the bending head. Some of the organs are covered by silk paper, imitating the texture of
the skin, another recurring element PlnĂ˝ likes to experiment with, either in his work or on his own body (cf. his experience of sewing his arm and his face together with a thread, documented by a series of photographs). Conversation (Head with Hands), (2004) represents a gastronomical dialogue of two figures facing each other, arguing about food ; at the same time we see the digestive system. The collage entitled Pelvis (2010) is composed from an auto-portrait of Vincent van Gogh and cut paper bag. We see the cross section of the neck, including trachea and thyroid gland, topped with the head of the famous painter.
Man at Childbirth, 2007
The largest part of the drawing is taken up by the pelvis area. Man at Childbirth (2007) represents one of the founding experiences of the artist’s life, the birth of his son Vincent, documented minute by minute in his private journal and theme of several of his drawings and collages. Finally, the untitled collage from 2013 has been triggered off by the artist’s gruesome experience of having found a body of an assassinated woman, a certain Jana K., during one of his walks in the forest that surrounds his house; he calls this work an “accidental walker“ and he put himself in the upper right-hand corner of the work. He notes that the victim was fifty-six years old ; the same age he would reach this year, drawing our attention to the passing of time, inevitability of death, aging body…
- Barbara Šafářová, 2017
When you look at one of Luboš Plný’s drawings you are looking into one of Plný’s mirrors.
It is not always comfortable as he confronts the abstract terrors of the all too finite flesh. It is the snail on the razor’s edge. It is sharp and precise. It is also a completely universal feeling. Anyone from anywhere in the world can be drawn into Plnýs world, and the reason is simple. When he takes himself apart in such cruel and minute detail, he is taking us apart as well. Some artists hide realities in expressionistic paint splatter, but Plný takes the opposite path: he slices at truth, unafraid to confront it, and peels back truth’s flesh in his phantasms of medical precision. This is the line where reality becomes its own hallucination, ultimately the most realistic kind of hallucination where the interstices of every part of our bodies become crystalline and much too clear. It is a scalding feeling, similar to when the water is so hot that it feels cold. You shiver, you acknowledge your inevitable humanity, and only then do you see and absorb Plný’s consummate skills: Plný conjures the mundane importance of our being into a vision that is, even when spliced and examined through a stark microscopic lens, ultimately grand and beautiful and miraculous.
- Randall Morris, 2017
Untitled, 2013, Ink, acrylic, mixed media on paper, 23.5 x 33 inches, 59.7 x 83.8 cm, LuP 58
Untitled, 2013 (Details)
Conversation (Head with Hands), 2004, Mixed media on paper, 35.75 x 26 in, 90.8 x 66.0 cm, LuP 9 20
Man at Childbirth, 2007, Mixed media on paper, 33 x 23.5 inches, 83.8 x 59.7 cm, LuP 37 21
Pelvis, 2010 Ink, acrylic, mixed media on paper 33.25 x 23.75 inches 84.5 x 60.3 cm LuP 53
Double Bind, 2016 Ink, acrylic, mixed media on paper 39.37 x 27.56 inches 100 x 70 cm LuP 59
Corpus Linguae, 2016 Ink, acrylic, crayon on paper 33.125 x 23.5 inches 84.1 x 59.7 cm LuP 61
Lobectomia Subtotalis, 2017 Ink, acrylic, mixed media on paper 39.37 x 83.68 inches 100 x 210 cm LuP 62
Lobetomis Subtotalis, 2017 (Details)
Brain, 2016 Ink, acrylic, mixed media on paper 39.37 x 27.56 inches 100 x 70 cm LuP 60
Anna Zemánková by Terezie Zemánková
Anna was born on August 23rd 1908, as the second of four children to the Veselý family,
in the Moravian village of Staré Hodolany near Olomouc. Her mother Adolfa ruled strictly over the family, whereas her father Antonin, a hairdresser and popular musician, brought a free bohemian spirit into the household. Both of these influences contributed to the development of Anna’s personality. She was also influenced by the social and political climate of her childhood, which was characterized by strong patriotism that became even more powerful after the fall of the AustroHungarian Empire and the birth of an independent Czechoslovakia in 1918. The patriotic revival included the passionate preservation of traditions, processions in folk costumes, folk songs and fairy-tales, as well as classes in ornamental drawing influenced by folk art. All of this was a natural part of the life of young Anna Veselá.
Anna made her first attempts to paint during her adolescence. She based her realistic land-
scapes on postcards and showed a great sense for color. This did not lead to her dream to study at the Academy of Fine Arts. Her parents were strictly opposed to an artistic career for their daughter and they persuaded Anna to train as a dental assistant instead. In 1931 she opened her own practice in Olomouc. From her earnings she contributed to the construction of her family house in Dorźdín, a nearby village.
She gave up drawing for good at the age of twenty-five, when she married Lieutenant
Bohumír Zemánek. In 1936, after the birth of her second son Slavomir, she stopped working and devoted all her time to raising her children. Her romantic vision of a happy family suffered severely when the doctors diagnosed her firstborn son with eye cancer. Anna and her husband had to face a terrifying decision: let their son, who had a few months to live, pass away quietly; or have him undergo surgery that would cause him to lose his eyesight and was unlikely to stop the tumor from growing deeper into his brain. They decided against the operation. The circumstances of his death in 1939 became a family taboo and Anna had never completely accepted the loss of her son. Her life almost returned to normal when another son—Bohumil—was born 1942.
In 1948 Major Bohumír Zemánek was transferred to Prague and the whole family moved
with him. A spectacular apartment with huge balcony in Prague’s prestigious and leafy residential quarter, Dejvice, became Anna’s kingdom; she could finally realize her idealistic dream of a perfect 36
household. She completely immersed herself in her children’s world. With endless imagination she devoted herself to designing, creating and modifying the interiors of the children’s rooms, making toys and inventing fairy-tales. On the other hand she required unconditional obedience and respect from her children. Motherhood for her became a higher mythical mission, into which she put all her passion and energy.
In the mid 1950’s her dream world slowly started to break down. Bohumír Zemánek, an
introverted and disciplined soldier had never had much understanding for the dramatic manifestations of his romantic wife. Their conflicts slowly developed into a major crisis, further worsened by Anna’s difficult menopause. Her frustrations were intensified by the fact that her grown children were drifting apart from her. The feelings of resentment and discontent grew into temperamental outbursts, unbearable for her as well as other family members.
In 1960 Anna’s sons found a suitcase full of drawings from her youth in the cellar and decid-
ed to convince their mother to take up the old hobby again. At first she rejected the idea out of hand, saying: “Do you think I can afford to draw? I do have my duties and obligations!” In the end, she started to draw flowers, which she had always loved. Even her first, mainly realistic paintings, contained some fantastic elements, which became dominant after she overcame her initial uncertainty. She used to draw early in the morning, when the rest of the family was still asleep and she could, almost half-asleep, let her spontaneous imagination roam free. Like a sponge, she absorbed perceptions from her environment waiting for them to trigger the creative process. “It is like when a composer hears the first tone, for example a casserole falls on the ground, he hears the sound and catches its tone, which then carries on. It is like catching a key to something and that is what I feel when I draw.”
She came back to the drawings she started in the morning later in the afternoon when
the children and her husband left the apartment. Sometimes she spent up to eight hours a day at the drawing table. She mostly worked with music in the background. “I could not work in silence – the ideas would desert me. I have to keep them connected in one whole.” She loved Janacek, Bach, Beethoven but also Charles Lloyd. The music was not just in the background; it was also a source of inspiration for her. “Once, when I came back from a Bach concert, his great Mass, I was so excited and touched by the music, I sat down at the table and began to paint. I painted for the whole week until I finished the painting. I hung it up on the wall and thought to myself: Good God, 37
will there be anyone able to understand what I felt, what I wanted to express…? After some time we had a visitor coming around. This man was a well-known musician. He stopped in front of that picture. And then he told me: I can feel the organ and the singing. It was one of my nicest days.”
Between 1962 and 1963 Anna Zemánková changed the tempera technique for a much
lighter and “airy” method – pastel painting, which would from then on be present in all her creations and would become the dominant technique in the 1960s and 1970s. In that period her drawings gained more plasticity and sensuality. Her images evoke clusters of fruit forms penetrating and devouring one another or folding into each other – forms and images resembling wombs, bosoms, embryos or the act of conception and birth. She seems to have sublimated her female erotic energy into these extraterrestrial flowers, which as she saw it could not carry the slightest hint of anything sensual, impure or voluptuous. The fact that she had no intention to do so makes the erotic charge even stronger.
It was also in the 1960s that the presence of water became very important in her work.
Many of her floral amphibious images appear to have originated in the depths of the ocean. Some of them are endowed with tentacles and resemble octopi, sea anemone or amoebae. Their pulpy bodies float unanchored like embryos in a mother’s womb. Her delicate pen-and-ink drawings, so typical for this period of her work, create – in symbiosis with the grandiose main motif – a strange suspense.
Her obsession with details overruled her entirely after some time. The tiny ornaments
began to occupy more and more space. She created a series of minute drawings, which resemble images created by some spiritualist psychics. This similarity is slightly apparent in all phases of Zemánková’s creation. In spite of the fact that she wasn’t inclined to the practices of spiritualism, she talked about a force that “led her,” when she – her mind in a creative trance – sat at her drawing table at dawn.
In the second half of the 1970s Anna’s health rapidly deteriorated. The diabetes from which
she had suffered for many years worsened, and her obesity as well as the bad vascular system limited her mobility even more. In 1977 her daughter became independent and consequently, Anna moved to a smaller apartment. At that time she became dependent on her children. Despite all the hardship, her obsession to create did not abandon her. On the contrary, it became a respite from her agonizing everyday life. The creative activity thus perfectly fulfilled a therapeutic function. 38
from her agonizing everyday life. The creative activity thus perfectly fulfilled a therapeutic function. “Creation gives me a direction. I never felt like I feel these days. I used to be aggressive and unstable. Now I am calm, composed. I never get angry anymore…I have to draw a lot!” she always used verbs expressing necessity when talking about her artwork but at this time they became even more intensive. She was worried that she might become blind. It was, however, the consequences of her diabetes that had the greatest impact. In 1982 she had to have one leg amputated, and two years after the other one as well.
Her last sanctuary was a retirement home in Mníśek pod Brdy, where her son Salvomir
worked as a doctor. Even there she continued to create her satin collages. She died on January 15th, 1986.
Within her lifetime, she learned with great satisfaction that her work was accepted in the
Collection de l’Art Brut in Lausanne.
- Terezie Zemánková, 2002
This essay is excerpted from the monograph written for the abcd collection in 2003, with thanks to Terezie Zemánková.
I bristle sometimes at the word flowers in regard to the work of Anna Zemánková, because
it becomes a way of categorizing her work without allowing for the wisdom present in her ethereal drawings. They are so much more than flowers. They do not give up their narratives easily, but nonetheless those narratives are still there. I would be willing to bet that there are no real Earthbound blossoms present in her work. They are interplanetary in their reach and inter-dimensional in their scope. She has nurtured a visionary garden.
If you spend time with the work, as I did recently at her solo exhibition at the Collection
de l’art Brut, other factors begin to emerge. It is not always peaceful in this world. With her added power of exquisite color and absolute control, her beings (for I do see them as abstract beings), are more akin to Rocky Horror Picture Show than to sweet posies. Some seem to eat one another; sometimes they are autophagous. They devour with ferocious love.
There is a hunger and a greed for passion being expressed in these drawings. It is important
to note that when Zemánková worked she was expressing a sort of synesthesia -- she was visualizing and incorporating music into the work. There is a video of her while drawing that plays in the exhibition room at the Collection de l’Art Brut, and it is surprising to see the forceful physicality of her large gestures. Hers were not the movements of a person satisfied by mere completion. A drawing completed was just an invitation to begin the next one.
She also felt there was a medicinal spin to the work, that the energy invested into creating
them somehow had a soul-healing power. She was not a shamaness but her work expresses shamanistic impulses. Some of the drawings radiate their own souls. This is really a roundabout way of saying that Zemánková was an animist and that she perceived, created and brought out souls in these unearthly beings. I do not believe that she ever saw them as merely drawings. They have a terrible beauty and hers was a terrible power--terrible in its endless beautiful variations. She made some of the most innovative and important Art Brut of the 20th Century, swimming in the same visionary seas as Hilma Af Klint and Louise Bourgeois, and yet in full control of the potential of her own uncharted seas. 40
- Randall Morris, 2017
Untitled, Early1960s, Pastel on paper, 24.61 x 34.65 inches, 62.5 x 88 cm, AZe 618
Untitled, Early1960s Pastel on paper 32.68 x 23.43 inches 83 x 59.5 cm AZe 619
Untitled, 1972 Pastel and ink on paper 20 x 16 inches 50.8 x 40.6 cm AZe 368
Untitled,1970â€™s Pastel and ink on paper 4 x 5.75 inches 10.2 x 14.6 cm AZe 609
Untitled, 1970â€™s Pastel and ink on paper 4 x 6 inches 10.2 x 15.2 cm AZe 611
Untitled, Early1960s Pastel and ink on paper 5.91 x 7.87 inches 15 x 20 cm AZe 625
Untitled, Early1960s Pastel and ink on paper 3.94 x 5.91 inches 10 x 15 cm AZe 626
Untitled, Early1960s, Pastel on paper, 24.41 x 34.65 inches, 62 x 88 cm, AZe 620
Untitled,1970s, Pastel on paper, 23.62 x 15.75 inches, 60 x 40 cm, AZe 531 52
Untitled, Early1960s, Pastel, oil on paper, 33.07 x 23.23 inches, 84 x 59 cm, AZe 551 53
Untitled, Early1960s Pastel and Indian ink on paper 34.25 x 24.41 inches 87 x 62 cm AZe 621
Untitled, Early1960s Pastel on paper 32.68 x 23.43 inches 83 x 59.5 cm AZe 616
Untitled, Mid1960s, Pastel on paper, 24.8 x 34.65 inches, 63 x 88 cm, AZe 555
Untitled, nd Pastel on paper 23.5 x 29.25 inches 59.7 x 74.3 cm AZe 17
Untitled, 1970s Pastel, ink, embroidery, crochet on paper 35.04 x 24.61 inches 89 x 62.5 cm AZe 588
Untitled, 1970s, Pastel on paper, 24.5 x 34.5 inches, 62.2 x 87.6 cm, AZe 385 65
Our Contributors: Bruno Decharme began working in film industry after having finished his MA degree in philosophy in 1973, first as an assitant of the French filmmaker Jacques Tati, later as an editor, screenplay writer, producer, then as a director of short features, documentary films and advertising films. In 1980, he founded the Théâtre de l’Escalier d’Or. He also directed several music clips, one of which won the highest French music award in 2005, Victoire de la Musique. Since 1998, he created a series of documentary films about art brut and its creators. His films recieved several awards on various film festivals. In 1981, he started collecting art brut.
Barbara Šafářová lives in France. She obtained her Ph.D. degree in 2005, her thesis was entitled Achilles G. Rizzoli and Art Brut: An Interdisplinary Approach. She finished a second thesis, Unica Zürn, in 2006. She has written a number of articles on art brut (with Terezie Zemánková, Notes on Art Brut in the Czech Republic, in the catalogue L’art brut tchèque, Halle Saint-Pierre 2002, Hundred Years of Collections, a Century of Collectors, in the catalogue à corps perdu, abcd une collection d’art brut, ParisMusées 2004). President of abcd since 2002. Apart from her passion for art brut she loves foreign languages (she speaks about ten of them). She has also worked as a TV producer and teaches belly dance.
Terezie Zemánková received her Ph.D. at the Charles University Prague and the Sorbonne in Paris. The topic of her dissertation was art brut - the primordial creation. She wrote a number of articles about art brut for Folk Art Magazine, Création franche, Raw Vision, Art & Antiques, Xantypa, and Právo. Together with Barbara Šafářová she wrote Notes on Art Brut in the Czech Republic in the catalogue l’art brut tchèque, Halle Saint-Pierre 2002, and Zdenek Košek, the Master of Time in the catalogue Créateurs du ciel et de la terre, abcd la galerie, Paris. She is the curator of the exhibition System in Chaos - Contemporary Czech Art Brut (Cavin-Morris Gallery, New York, USA, 2005) and Magical Visions of Eva Droppová and Anna Zemánková (Gallery X and the Czech Center in Bratislava, Slovakia, 2006).
Copyright Â© 2017 CAVIN-MORRIS GALLERY Cavin-Morris Gallery 210 Eleventh Ave, Ste. 201 New York, NY 10001 t. 212 226 3768 www.cavinmorris.com Catalogue design: Marissa Levien and Sophie Friedman-Pappas Photography: Jurate Veceraite
To accompany the exhibition BODIES ELECTRIC at Cavin-Morris Gallery