For almost thirty years now Jiří Sozanský never stopped disturbing the Czech art scene. His unmistakable dynamic "handwriting" can create an illusion either of the clash of wrestling bodies or of the alarming silence of oppressive human fate. He goes back again and again to his central theme - people in extreme situations - in many forms and in a topical context: a warning against violence and its consequences, against the indifference to suffering in all its possible aspects. He takes his viewers to most unexpected environments and irritates them with his frank statements, enhanced by the atmosphere of a given place and context. His for the most part multi-media projects combine painting, drawing and sculpture with photography, spatial installations and environmental happenings.
Such challenging activities are beyond the possibilities of a single individual - they require a whole team of assistants, reliable technical support and long, careful preparations. Luckily, Jiří Sozanský knows how to summon all he needs. His road to art was far from straightforward - fascination with Prague Baroque, manual labour and ultimately the Prague Arts Academy; he trained under the painter František Jiroudek and the graphic artist Ladislav Čepelák and focused simultaneously on the human figure and on the landscape. Sozanský, man and artist, breathed the atmosphere of the Prague Spring 1968, he lived through the invasion, the oppression of the "normalization" period, he was touched by Palach’s sacrifice - together with other artists he was influenced by New Figuration, helped reveal the disrupted development of modern Czech art and in a dialogue with official artists’ associations wrestled for freedom of the arts. At the time Jiří Sozanský had close contacts with the painter František Ronovský and the sculptors Olbram Zoubek and Eva Kmentová. Thanks to them he opened a standing dialogue of generations, which involved a great number of artists. Let us mention at least two, particularly important for Sozanský - his contemporary Petr Pavlík and the somewhat older Jiří Načeradský.
His multiple activities, their chief theme violence and trauma of the victims, began with several exhibitions at Terezín in the years 1976-1980. Many similar activities followed, regarded as political demonstrations by the powers that be; later followed, in the same spirit, semi-illegal confrontations at the Microbiological Institute of the Academy of Sciences in Prague, in the disappearing world of the demolished town of Most, in the neighbourhood of Sozanský’s studio in Vysočany, in the courtyards of Prague’s Lesser Town, in the shell of the burnt-out Trade-Fair Palace, at the Valdice prison and in several other locations. Jiří Sozanský, this highly original independent artist, launched with great personal courage large-scale multi-media events outside official exhibition rooms, in which he insistently evoked the martyrs of totalitarian regimes, undermined established tabus and in addition to quality emphasized social and existential aspects in art.
The "velvet" revolution in November 1989 provided conditions for such activities of a truly professional standard, often with international participation. Olga Sozanská lent her support as manager and producer and ensured the participation of the civic associations Hestia and Symposion. In this context let us mention the cooperation with the Gallery of Fine Arts in Litoměřice, which found a new purpose for the former Baroque Jesuit church: it hosted such international symposia as Baroque and the Present (1992) and Open Dialogue (1994). Their international repercussions were confirmed by the presentations in Vienna or Paris. The nationalistic world of new armed conflicts in former Yugoslavia provided a new impetus to Sozanský’s activities aimed at alibist indifference, as also to his involvement in the fate of Bosnia and Hercegovina and in assistance for the direly tormented country. In addition to his activities in the Czech Republic (From the Other Shore - Schwarzenberg Palace in Prague, Witnesses and Victims - Anxiety of the Body, Terezín), he launched various projects elsewhere: in Sarajevo - at the bombed-out National Library, at NATO headquarters in Brussels - Art in Extreme Situations, 1997. His large exhibition at the National Gallery in Prague (Sternberg Palace) was followed in 2000 by the project Work with the Body at the Mánes exhibition rooms in Prague, in which Sozanský combined performances with his beloved boxing. Another large-scale undertaking was the project Karlín-Zone A, which recalled the tribulations of the 2002 disastrous floods and the resurrection of a badly taxed Prague borough. Then came the projects Urbicide, Zones and Ground Zero - impressive large-scale paintings with striking pastose brushwork.
Jiří Sozanský never abandoned his graphic art; in his large cycles, which once more focus on specific themes, impressive figure motifs go hand in hand with literary inspiration. Fragments of authentic testimonies of the poet Jan Zahradníček persecuted by the communists, of Samuel Beckett’s existentialist texts, of statements by the Auschwitz prisoner Primo Levi and of his jailer Rudolf Höss evoke the drastic reality of victims - be they of the holocaust, of totalitarian regimes or of armed conflicts. This trend in Sozanský’s work culminated in 2005 with the cycle From Dust and Ashes for the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II. In a similar spirit is his most recent cycle on hope and despair, in which he resorted to highly impressive concentration-camp diaries of the artists Emil Filla and Josef Čapek. For the year of his sixtieth anniversary (born 27 June 1946) Jiří Sozanský prepared two exhibitions: Sources of Inspiration at the Gallery of Fine Arts in Litoměřice and Monologues at the Terezín Memorial, his symbolic return after thirty years.
We may say that Jiří Sozanský’s projects share one trait - they are only too painfully topical in their treatment of a given subject, handled in a comprehensive manner and purposefully presented. Thanks to Sozanský’s magnificent and at the same time aggressive approach these cycles serve their purpose - they exasperate persistent adversaries and reassure faithful followers of the artist’s unfailing involvement and of his artistic mastery. Sozanský’s strictly non-commercial projects, with their focus on a broad general public, are significant and necessary statements on the relationship of artists and society.
Jiří T. Kotalík