Alexandr Vladimír Hrska (1890-1954)
academical painter, scenograph, graphic artist
The collectors! They are like children; they collect names and have no idea of the value. Some friend buys a picture by Zrzavy, they must have a picture by Zrzavy too and with the painting by Slavicek it was just like this. It was an early canvas of his, of poor quality but signed. And the other pictures! Horrors! What should one praise then? Everything is rubbish and how much it cost! In the whole flat literally decorated with paintings there is sheer nothing, just two beautiful pictures which one does not appreciate because they are untitled. They are family pictures of two predecessors, a great-grandfather and a great-grandmother, painted in Empire by a Russian artist who so clearly saw and so clearly expressed what he saw. A seventeen-year-old girl, beautiful and charming, still a bit meagre like many lanky children, in a modest, fragile and graceful posture - a picture breathing purity and virginity. And her husband - a purple tippler some 45 years old, with a red nose, a walrus moustache, piglike smiling eyes, in an unbuttoned uniform, a perfect figure from Gogol's "Dead Souls". And so I was standing in front of it and wondered at the comedy or tragedy of that marriage.
I am head over heels in work on "May". It is nearly finished in my head but there is still a long way to its completion, many fights and much patience. I work in the daytime, I work in the night-time too, I forget about food and sleep and there is only one thing I am sorry for and that is being so hard on myself. How many moments does life consist of! We pass through them without noticing and suddenly the presence of the beloved woman turns them into the beauty that we have not seen before and which we will retain in ourselves for a long time.
Lo, in art, doing the same all the time and doing it better and better - is that what Janáaek once wrote in his score which he gave to me during a first night: "To have an artistic conviction and to stick to it."
Though I am working hard and manage to do so, still I always have such an expectation in the morning - it was caused by that air-raid! I was drawing though aeroplanes were buzzing over my head; I just would not let them disturb me. It is nothing unusual, I thought, they will fly by and so there is no need to care about them. But all of a sudden, a new tone was added to that humblebees' buzzing, such a sharp one, ascensive and intensified. I looked back and above the next-door house I got a glimpse of a plane falling down in the distance. Right after that the whole house shook in its foundations and the windows rattled. I ran upstairs and saw that the quarter of Vysoaany was all in smoke, you could not see the stacks of the power station at all.
I am working - what a pity that the day is so short. When the weather clears up and the light is fairly good, dusk begins to fall. I toiled with setting the head today and finally I found out that every turning was forced. So I decided for a plain profile slanted forward in such a way that it formed in the whole figure a line S which filled the surface compositionally. And while making changes like this, I . ............ so as not to violate the balance of colours and therefore I have to wait until tomorrow if God grants that the light is good and there is no air-raid. When you are working on something as nice and sweet as that, you just refuse to believe that people can be so crazy and want to make war instead of enjoying life which is so good, so beautiful.
I ran to Svabinsky. I hadn't spoken with him for a quarter of a century but he gave me a hearty welcome. We talked about art for four hours, he told me about his life and about Jarmila and I told him about my life. It was a lovely afternoon and then there came the dusk in the huge studio which was as high as two floors. He was rather moved when we parted and invited me to come again (but he is not going to do anything for me).
What a pity that I cannot draw after the beloved woman. In front of her, my hand would enthusiasticly compose those lines, so dear to me. The very first drawing would be made by means of love. And even making new pictures every time is a feast for me. It is like receiving new poems, I learn them by heart, I transform them by means of my love into reality.
I worked the whole yesterday on "May" and today again. And it is only today that I think I have approached the right expression. I mean, you cannot illustrate something that Mácha already expresses graphically. You have to go deeper, to the place the stream of his images springs from, to the soul of the poet. You have to enter his world, to be the same romantic, to identify yourself with his disorder and on the level of his heart and desire to find some aliquot tone - to sound newly and independently of him but conformably. To be a Hrska but in the manner of Macha.
I have gone to work and when I do I always bury myself in it so that I am able to forget about the way time flows and flies. My happiness drives my work and I draw out of that fortune of mine (that love of mine), I find the shape and the tone of the colour there - what else can my brain do? Verbs accumulate when you idle about. When I work, I don't speak, I become silent. But then I hand the work over, get rid of this fever and allow myself to sit down.
I would like to say something about that Bathsheba - Saskia of Rembrandt. If you apply the rules of female beauty to her, you will find many faults. And still I will never forget my amazement when I saw her in the Louvre for the first time. All the ancient Venuses are cold compared with her, there is so much human warmth in that picture, so much loving look that it does not need any correction; the mistakes of which Rembrandt himself is aware, the way he loved, it is as if the mistakes had made of her this beloved woman, similar to no other. It is not a painting of a beautiful woman, it is a painting of great love. This woman was loved to such an extent that even now, centuries later, you hold your breath at this miracle - at the gold-tinted light Rembrandt used to surround the sweet body, at the painting that by means of colours created an eternal life - since the woman is still alive, blood streams under her shiny skin. No, you cannot imagine this gem of art when seeing a reproduction. No, not even I can approach this although my love is as ardent as his, I am not a genius, I am afraid. Not even my love can uplift me to such a height of art but it will uplift me where I can get to.
I have repainted the whole picture perhaps six times today and it is not yet what it should be. I am saying to myself: why am I not a sculptor, then I should only make the form and that is what I feel most clearly. But painting is difficult as the colour interferes with the form and supports it at the same time, it is a friend as well as an enemy. How complicated it is to transform surface into space, to master values in their inexpressible refinement. Now, in the evening, as tired as if I had dug the whole garden, I am going to bed, unsatisfied but not defeated. I have at least several points on which I can lean.
I think that I am satisfied today. The colour of the picture is balanced, grave and yet charming. I only have to add something to the inclination of the head and then to the position of the legs which I drew completely from memory.
That "May" is a terribly difficult thing, the work on it is proceeding more slowly than I thought. It is a work so packed with images that everything I invent seems so poor to me compared with the charming model. I will have to be more concentrated, stricter with myself and I won't be allowed to slacken up my efforts.
For me the child is mainly a problem of art in the way the orange red and the grey of shadows combine with the white blond colour of the skin and hair - this is what I am fascinated about. I would almost like to omit many of the details. Making portraits is ungrateful. It spoils somehow the purity of the artistic idea. I cannot explain it. It is a permanent problem of paintings - the fight between the sight of the artist and the sight of laymen. What else was it - for instance the sensation caused by "The Night Watch"? I am sure that the riflemen really did not resemble themselves. But what a picture! And the other figures in Rembrandt's pictures did not resemble themselves either but what a life they lived in that new appearance! I do not want to take shelter behind these famous examples; I only feel that if I make myself to be soberly detached, I will lose a lot from the imaginativeness of my idea - and that is what matters most, after all. Vinci, Rubens, El Greco - all these tremendously violated reality and this is perhaps what makes their pictures great - those are their pictures, that is the way they saw things.
When I began to build and the first bare walls grew, I looked at those converse debris in a parched field and could not imagine that this would be my life one day, I wondered what could fill that waste land. Sometimes memories took shape in the form of a room and a life lived in there, desires, hopes, happiness and pain complete the walls and turn them into our home. Not only the furniture and those trifles we are surrounded with - aren't they bearers of our life? Can I miss my armchair today since who could speak to me so intimately and remind me of the glory of my life? And the wall in my room, my easels and my keyboard of colours from which I choose the one that will sing most beautifully in my picture. And those tiny cups and ashtrays - all this forms my beauty even though it is perhaps not beautiful at all. And the room also consists of the windows through which dusk and night come to me and through which the naughtiest young morning peeps. I know that there are rooms which are one hundred times more beautiful but still I would never exchange that room of mine for them. Since it is like a close friend, not handsome, though, but still nice.
Somebody from the Vilímek family has come; they want drawings to accompany some poems and then they also want me to illustrate a book for them - I am looking forward to it myself. The book comprises the last poems by F.X. Svoboda -"Parting". It has three sections: Parting with friends, Parting with the landscape and Parting with the country. It is simple, so simple and hearty. And then they want me to illustrate The Fairy-tales by BoIena Numcová. And the Hokr family want me to illustrate the children's book by Hrubín. It will keep me busy the whole year!
I can already draw it nicely but now I want it to be a picture, colourful, like a jewel. First I wanted to follow our tradition, to follow Navrátil but this intention finally dwindled away because it just doesn't suit me. I must follow myself only just as I feel it in myself - still so vaguely, I am afraid. I only want to put my desire in it and - good painting. And my goal is not a slight one - I want it to be one of the beautiful Czech nudes. One of those sweet pictures by Mánes or that wonderful "Otava" by Ale”, not to mention ·vabinsk~ and Kremliaka. This is a considerable competition and I must do my best and make such a good painting so that I can rank among them.
For God's sake why should one hunt for the colour? For a deep, cheerful colour? Doesn't a boring landscape also comprise something that can take your mind away, no matter if the colour is faint, hazy. Outlines! Oh dear, a silent park or an ample alley. There are landscape painters who rely upon the fact that the nature itself has created a plentiful abundance and provides an inexhaustible multitude for them. These aren't even landscape painters of the lowest rank. But there are others too, much more scarce and less noisy, who sit in the landscape as if they were sitting down to a beautiful harp. It has all the strings on which they can play every melody and every song. The sight of the landscape in front of them can be resounded into the most curious sonnets and rondos. The artists, happy and unhappy at the same time, compose their images themselves. We wouldn't know such a painter if the nature hadn't given him such a gift for singing his sorrows by means of form and colour --- grey, tediousness, tediousness---
Living an ideal life wouldn't even be nice. There is a lovely short story by Francis James. It is about a hairy bunny who accompanies Saint Francis and is happy. Among his friends there is a wolf, a dove and a sheep. When hunger and winter come, his friends die one after another and he is the only one to stay alive as he dies hard. Francis takes them all to paradise, together with the live bunny. They get to the animal paradise and the dove, the wolf and the sheep find happiness there. The bunny is the only one to grieve and feel lonely. Saint Francis goes to God to consult about the bunny's grief. God who knows and understands everything tells him that the bunny cannot feel the bliss of heaven because he hasn't died yet. He still loves the earth and its sufferings and misses all the distress that vexed him down there but also made his life dear to him. Before we die, we need to live the life on earth which is poor and sweet and which we love the way it is. And if by some miracle we were granted the life in Heaven, without worries and fear, peaceful, happy and tranquil forever, we would certainly miss the restlessness of our life of today. We just need the freedom, the relative freedom, living without it isn't life any more. I feel sorry for all those who have died and won't live to freedom. I wish to God that we do live to freedom, that man believes in humanity again even though it is not ideal.