Artwork of month
Čestmír Kafka Flower, 1958

Čestmír Kafka
Flower, 1958

tempera, paper
100,5 x 70,5 cm

in exposition 
From the collections
Masaryk Square 24

With the May work of the month, we commemorate the pivotal figure of Czech abstract art after the Second World War, Jihlava native, painter and graphic artist Čestmír Kafka (14 November 1922 Jihlava – 21 May 1988 Prague), whose birth was 100 years ago last autumn and the month of May marks the 35th anniversary of his death.

May 2023

Čestmír Kafka spent his childhood and youth in Jihlava. The harsh landscape of the Bohemian-Moravian Highlands, the Czech-German cultural environment of the historic city and the unforgettable time spent in his grandfather's bakery were permanently etched in his memory and undoubtedly also significantly influenced the artist's work. After studying at the Reform Real Gymnasium in Jihlava and graduation in Prostějov, he began his art studies at the Baťa School of Art in Zlín (1940-1945). Under the guidance of professor Vladimír Hroch, he studied applied and decorative painting in architecture and advertising. He had to interrupt his studies here in 1942-1943 and was forcibly deployed in Styria.

In 1946, Kafka was accepted to study at the University of Applied Arts in Prague in the studio of professor Emil Filla. Here he met not only his future wife, the graphic artist Olga Čechová, but also other important figures in the art and cultural world, who became his colleagues and lifelong friends, and with whom he founded the Trasa group in 1954. In addition to Čestmír Kafka, the members and founders of Trasa included Eva Kmentová, Vladimír Preclík, Zdeněk Šimek, Karel Vaca, Jitka and Květa Válovy and Olbram Zoubek. It was precisely the graduates of Filla's studio who, with their work and activities, sharply opposed the totalitarian tendencies of the regime at the time and advocated the commonality of European art. Kafka regularly participated in their group exhibitions, but as he was unable to work publicly in the 1950s, he worked as a graphic artist for the Monument of National Literature. (He had his first solo exhibition only in 1963).

He fully returned to painting only in the second half of the 1950s with a series of paintings dominated by the effort to construct a shape using an economical range of colors. And it was at this time that the painting "Flower" was created, which has been part of the collections of the Vysočina Regional Gallery in Jihlava since 1977. This tempera from 1958 belongs to Kafka's early work, i.e. to the period when the members of the Trasa group focused on the rehabilitation of still lifes for contemporary Czech art and when they tried to capture simple things in their compositional relationship. They drew the energy of the forms from Léger's peculiar transformation of cubism. The stylized flower is here deprived of any imitation of reality and decorative pleasantness. The shapes of the flower, the vase and the table are transformed into abstract geometric forms defined by a contour line. The color is also strongly reduced to shades of grey, ocher and green.

Jana Bojanovská