JAN ŠERÝCH IS ONE of the key figuresin Czech art culture, and also well-known internationally. He is essentially a conceptual artist even though he appeared on the Czech art scene well after the lesson of post-modernism had been absorbed.
It is also symptomatic that he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague after the political changes in our country. His degree work Dial, 1998–1999, for a long time exhibited in the Veletržní Palace (the National Gallery Modern Collection), already showed his adoption of the language of geometry but also the strong and very contemporary influence of other media, above all the computer. His pictures made this transformation of our perception a theme, but since then he has worked freely in a series of different media, from paintings to both visual and sound installations. He often combines textual and visual information, but sometimes also uses acoustic installation, and his work is determined by simple coding.
Last year he surprised me with an installation in the Alfa Arcade in Brno that was purely acoustic – Cricket. It was as if he was hinting at his increasing tendency to reduce the whole message. The rest of his work is somewhat more spectacular, for example combining two or three media, but the reductive language is always present, even if paradoxically applied. His big paintings, in which he is coming back to various geometric codes, often link two different cultural phenomena. In an installation with massive cut-out letters forming the name of the really “demonic”, “harsh” rock band Black Sabbath, the viewer discovers the name of a much more sugary band – Abba. Šerých often deploys irony and self-irony – he paints large pictures of his own first name JAN or his own telephone number, but also of telephone numbers that elicit an immediate reaction thanks to the announcement in the title of the work: Telephone Number of a Celebrity, I don’t Know Which. It’s a really big irony that his instruction in the caption “works” – and people actually call the number…
Šerých’s unique new aesthetic of black surface and white signs is retained throughout as a maximum form of reduction that is very striking in this traditional medium. In a similar style he creates other, slightly playful codes that assume a knowledge of Internet use and can be deciphered according to certain charactertics. For example in the work List A-B (2008) the artist shows a sequence from an alphabetical menu of porn pages from which he has removed the specific commercial references.Whatremains is just the beautiful typeface of names and basic attributes arranged following the original material. Anyone who visits porn pages understands it, but for anyone else the code remains concealed in what seems just a selection of personal characteristics. The meaning of the beautiful blue paintings with white words Office Blue (2010) can be identified only by someone who happens to have been interested in the circumstances of the plane crash that killed Polish President Lech Kaczyński.
Jan Šerých has been discovering new possibilities in the language of geometry. In 2007 the Brno Wannieck Gallery invited him to have a joint exhibition with Michal Škoda. The two artists took the word “joint” literally and for a week painted symmetrical geometrical constructs – sometimes very simple and sometimes a little more complex – on the panels there. They divided it in such a way that their symmetrical drawings would always overlap on each piece and the results were very original works combining the characteristics of both artists. This unique work was titled Forbidden Release. Unfortunately it was destroyed when the exhibition ended, alhough it was a rare example of real collaboration and joint development of the resulting concept in geometrical art. It was a project that also represented one, still marginal, field of Šerých’s output. This is pure geometry, starting with the monumental series of paintings Dial (1998–1999) moving on to the repetitive structures of black and white horizontals revitalising stripped-down minimalist simplicity at the exhibition in hunt kastner artworks Takemehome (2007) and later the wall painting Rorschach (2010), which reassesses the traditional division of the chessboard using the right angle of the corner of the gallery and a paradox of perception. The colour of one of the players gradually turns into the colour of the opponent, and ultimately both halves are truly identical (which is why the title refers to the symmetrical Rorschach Test). Not that this is really about a chessboard. We can find a similar geometricising approach in Grid (2012), which presents small variational shifts of the initial linear constellation, or in Memory (2012), which is concerned with the conceptual relationship between points and a linear structure. More or less in parallel with these paintings and installations, Jan Šerých has been working on linear drawings. Some are monochrome green, while others also subtly code personal information about the artist.
His series “textual geometry“ is also ongoing. I confess that Jan Šerých surprised even me when he updated a semantic and geometrical structure as hackneyed as the crossword. He created a whole series of crosswords of his own just to be able to insert his own mystery phrases into them. These transformed the semantics of puzzle-solving, starting with the solution SAY BOMB and carrying on to BOMB BOMB (Conversation, 2005). The puzzle solutions are already filled in,so don’t have to be solved, but they do need to be found in the already filled text field. They could be understood as a way of coding information that might be genuinely important, for example during a terrorist attack or hijacking when a bomb might actually be beeping – PÍ PÍ PÍ PÍ PÍ. But the series has moved on from puzzles with concrete social situations as their theme (Interview, 2005, Abbey Road 2,45, 2005) to repetitive sequences of letters that take language itself as a theme. Initially, the artist retained reference to the form of real speech – NONONONONO (2006). Later Šerých focused just on the principle, the frame of the existence of communication. His texts became a sheer aesthetic of selected graphemes, deliberally conveying literally minimal information: and what is more, the artist repeated the already incomprehensible graphemes another ten times: Tag 1–3, B–O–B (2008).
Šerých also works in the medium of photography, and his shots as well as his paintings always have a precisely articu lated serious concept. Let us recall for example his self-portraits, in which he his hand covers his face in a gesture of refusal. Many times multiplied in serial arrangement, these portraits formed the basis for the printed poster Nonononono (2006), and in 2007 the artist created an entire installation of them in the Futura Centre for Contemporary Art. Exploration of the new possibilities of the photographic medium seems to be becoming ever more important for Jan Šerých. It is an aspect of his work that I could also connect with the exhibition Last Shot (2008) in the Josef Sudek Studio, on which we collaborated. In this project Jan explored various situations that he found in situ and gave them new connotations, timeless and entirely topical. He is now obviously fascinated by the possibilities of Google Maps, and we exhibited the first“computer views of Wenceslas Square”in Blansko Town Gallery. In a similar spirit, apart from the sound installation Cricket (2011) mentioned above, which brought the chirping of crickets into the Alfa shopping arcade, he discovered another semantically fertile situation in Brno. His piece A Thousand Reasons to Come Back (Sculptures in the Streets, 2011), exhibited on Náměstí Svobody (Freedom Square), showed a panoramic photograph fixedona cylinder. Šerých placed the photograph, which was designed for three-dimensional Internet navigation of the streets, in the very same place that the photograph recorded. He has used the same method to discover further unique situations in the works Bermuda Triangle, San Antonio, TX, United States (2011), Hidden Place, Tallahassee, FL, United States (2011) and Nothing, Arizona, United States (2012). Jan Šerých often accompanies the visual images he has found in this way, i.e. photographs, with very terse but equally effective textual pictures. This enables him to reflect on the relationship of the two media in a new way. In the photographic diptych Black Square he first evokes the classic“ Malevichianicon”. The second part, transposed into negative, changes the visuality to the point of casting doubt on everything– the image and the posing figures.
In his new paintings we again find beautiful, originally perceived relationships. The basis of the painting Pair (2012) and Sample (2012) are two, or respectively four, identical constellations of points, which overlap in such a way that at first sight the viewer can not make out the original pattern. These works represent a new concept, albeit one that is faithful to the artist’s favored reduction to black and white with its aesthetic qualities, which we are compelled first to process consciously in our minds. Work that communicates effectively in all his favourite media, and sometimes demands a more perceptive intellectual response, continues to confirmthe status of Jan Šerých as a unique, authentic artist.
Jiří Valoch (*1946) is an artist, art theorist and critic of art. He lives and works in Brno.
Jan Šerých (*1972) is an artist. He lives and works in Prague.
JAN ŠERÝCH, Black Sabbath (Abba), 2002, installation, Neutral, Motorenhalle, Dresden, photo: author’s archive.
Black Square, 2011, Lambda print, 25 × 25 cm;
Sample, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 150 × 200 cm; photo: author’s archive.
Nonononono, 2006, poster, 42.6 × 61.2 cm;
Cricket, audioinstalation, 2011, Brno Art Open 2011 – Sculptures in the Street, photo: Martin Polák.