I met Jitka Petrášová in her Prague flat which is also her studio. We sat on the floor, surrounded by paintings and discussed her relationship to sport, painting, and why she didn’t attend the Prague Academy of Fine Arts (AVU) right after high school but instead chose to wait until she was almost 40.
This interview is for Sport in Art magazine, so I’ll start by asking if you enjoy exercise, and if, what kind of sport do you do?
Last year I picked up yoga. It was mainly because I was home all the time but also to help my back. My classmate and I signed up just for a lark and I think that that was the first time I willingly exercised. We started with online classes and it stuck. I realised how nice it could be. A meditation of sorts, you have an hour just for yourself.
I’m also asking because sport is a recurring topic in your paintings. We can see water polo players, racing dogs, Tai Chi masters… I read somewhere that in your case it’s not as much because of a fascination with movement but rather your dislike of it that you’ve felt since P.E. classes in primary school. That your paintings are a sort of an attempt to mend your relationship with sport. Is that true?
The topics I try to capture stem from my personal experience. The athletic paintings indeed originated from negativity. I found the concept that a macho guy at art school dictates what you should and shouldn’t do absurd, so I used to go to the pub instead and had a crazy amount of missed classes. So instead of the end of year report, I got make-up exams. This continued all the way to university where we had mandatory P.E. as well. Because of my absences I had to write an essay titled My back doesn’t hurt anymore and accompany it with drawings of specific exercises. But the idea to paint athletes began only with the start of the Corona pandemic. A lot of people were telling me that they started to collect things so I decided to make my own collection of athletes to compensate for my negative relationship with sports. It started as a joke but I have to admit that some paintings also came from admiration. Some are inspired by my classmate who is a musher (a dog sled racer). I found it fascinating. One time, she was the only woman in a race, this frail art restorator, leading a bunch of sled dogs.
So there are also paintings positively inspired by sport.
Yeah. Especially when it comes to animal movement, I’m really enjoying the dynamics. Simultaneously, I find horse racing comical - the jockeys in their silly costumes and goggles and hats - but horses as creatures are unbelievably elegant.
I encountered your work for the first time during this year’s winter exhibitions at AVU (Academy of Fine Arts). I unwittingly stumbled on it already on the way there when I passed Galerie na Miladě where you were exhibiting at the time. And then I found your work at AVU when I saw a bunch of paintings leaning against the wall, smallest to largest, among the students’ works. Together, they seemed to be even more colourful. It was a moment that drew my attention. Was that intentional?
Yes, that was our teachers’ plan. They wanted us to exhibit a few works, ideally without titles, so the visitors have to look for more information and browse through the paintings.
In that case, it worked out perfectly, this exact thing happened to me. Even though I was a bit shy to touch the paintings at first, I browsed through them in the end and later looked them up online. I’d like to return to the colours, though. I’m fascinated by the explosion of colour combinations, your expressiveness and quick shortcuts. I observe the individual layers and think that you’re the kind of artist who could make content capturing the creation and development of your works. I’d happily watch that on Instagram. How would you describe your working process?
I’d never be able to make videos like that. My creative process is a very intimate thing. When I paint, I even make the dog leave the room. I put on music and I filter out the outside world. After that it’s quite easy, I see only colours and I paint. I have these strips of canvas - partially not to waste paint but also to mentally get rid of the respect of a clear canvas. I sometimes wipe my brush on them and then I feel less intimidated, I can start painting and not be afraid that I’ll mess it up. I tried to challenge myself during the lockdown to paint on a fresh canvas. One quick stroke of a brush and if you don’t make it first try, it’s ruined. But normally I start with the strips. I enjoy watching layers of paint emerge, and how they merge and mix like a glaze. It’s a kind of alchemy. You wait for the paint to dry to see what the final result is. I enjoy this bathing in colours.
I noticed you use a lot of turquoises, pinks, and yellows.
Yeah, the paintings look more positive. I have a feeling that the paintings always end up showing what kind of energy you made them with.
So paintings you made when you were sad look different?
To me, painting is a joy. When I don’t feel good I don’t paint. I’m always looking forward to those days when I walk the dog in the morning, I make tea and breakfast, prepare some music to get me in the mood and then I paint. In my atelier at school, they say that intuitive painting should be something that’s under your control. I don’t really agree with that. I usually get carried away. To me, painting is communicating with the piece. Sometimes I even talk to the characters on the canvas.
What kind of music do you listen to?
Lately I’ve been listening to Bonnie Prince Billy, Velvet Underground or Psí Vojáci. I’ve been painting for maybe even six months to this. I learnt to listen to things when painting and in the end, I created a kind of pavlovian reflex. I also like to wait until the weather’s good. I don’t paint at night, the colours are confusing when they’re not in natural light.
I know that many women don’t like to mention their age but I think that if we reveal it not you could inspire a lot of people. We often hear the stories of people who regret not doing something. I think that maybe to die with a feeling of regret over something we weren’t brave enough to do is the worst part of it all. You decided to study AVU when you were almost 40 years old. Was that a spontaneous decision or have you always wanted to go there? What kind of response did you get from your surroundings? Do you think there is a difference between going to art school straight from high school?
It was a difficult process for me. I already studied at one university in České Budějovice. After my dad died I didn’t want to ask my mum to finance my studies in Prague. And then there were my kids. I told myself that I might not be the youngest but I still want to go to AVU. I also kept underestimating myself but I thought: when if not now? A lot of people tried to dissuade me from going but I think it was worth it. I like being around my younger classmates, we have a lot in common, we go to the pub or gigs together.
And is it possible to manage studies along with other activities? What’s it like studying as a person who has other responsibilities - like a job or children?
You can always adjust everything to your needs. Although they prefer that you paint and work in the school you don’t have to. I explained to them that to me the painting process is really intimate and they indulged me. So I paint at home and go to AVU for lectures. The first year was more demanding for time management but later you can spread stuff out a bit more and choose subjects that suit you. Tuesday studio sessions are a priority, you should spend the whole day with other students, consult with each other and talk about your work.
Do you paint more now? Do you feel that AVU helped you progress?
What changed the most is the intensity of the work. I realised how useless these mental barriers that we create for ourselves are. The more you believe in yourself the more you dare try difficult things and suddenly it becomes easier. Before starting AVU I didn§t paint as much and now I feel like it’s a drug. As soon as you start working in a more intensive way you can’t stop. The lockdown also had a hand in that. I created so much more stuff, nothing distracted me. Some people told me that I don’t even have to apply to AVU, that I should just paint at home and go there only for consultations. But the school also opens doors for networking and exhibitions and I wanted to experience that process as well.
Why did you choose Robert Šalanda’s atelier?
Originally, I wanted to apply to Michael Rittstein’s atelier because his work is very close to mine. But when I was applying to AVU he already left. Robert Šalanda spoke to me with his text on the school’s website. But now that I’m in the third year I feel like we have exhausted what we can give each other. So right now I’m doing an internship with a visiting artist Anton Vidokle.
Do you think that local schools still struggle with the issue of chauvinistic behaviour from the teachers?
I think it’s changing. I also know that there is a female rector at AVU now (Maria Topolčanská is historically the first woman to lead a local institution). Also, most likely, Adéla Součková will take Vladimír Skrepl’s place, I think she’s really nice. I view her as another path I’d like to follow. She has a similar spirit to Vladimír who never pressures people into anything. He supports things he thinks have potential and is tactful when he thinks something doesn’t work. But mostly he leaves people to discover this for themselves. He doesn’t dictate what anything should look like and lets them have freedom.
I read somewhere that you’re not just a painter but also an illustrator, graphic and fashion designer, an owner of the Odsvetlusky fashion brand and a small publishing company called Knižnice Kodiak. How do you manage all this?
I don’t work with fashion as much anymore. Although lately, I’ve picked up blueprinting (a traditional fabric printing technique practised in Central and Eastern Europe, primarily the Czech Republic), I make my own patterns and I use my grandmother’s rollers. Fashion was my main source of income for a time but then I realised I don’t want to work myself to death. So I stopped when I reached my peak. It was a moment when I felt like I had to force myself into it. I was really worried if I can make art for a living. Maybe partially because I come from a small town where being a full-time artist doesn’t exist. Now I think it’s possible, you just have to believe in yourself. Sometimes it can be pretty hardcore. You don’t have a steady income but it’s amazing. My boyfriend also supports me a lot.
What are your plans for the future?I shouldn’t say. I’m letting things happen.
Jitka Petrášová (*1981, Strakonice) works primarily with large-format painting. In 2019 she started studying at the Academy of Fine Arts (AVU) in Prague at the Painting Atelier I. led by Robert Šalanda. She has exhibited at tens of group and solo exhibitions. Aside from painting she also works as an illustrator, graphic designer, and animator, and runs her fashion brand Odsvetlusky and an independent publishing company Kodiak. Her work is represented in Aleš South Bohemian Gallery, in a series of private collections and the Prácheňské Museum in Písek.