Jan Rybnicek’s newest body of work celebrates the age of the new figurative art. The artist puts an emphasis on the study of figuration and deals with inventive portrayals that remarkably set up an unusual imagery. In his figurative world, the subjects are not male or female but distinctive portrayals of anthropomorphic creatures. Rybnicek tries to engage his viewers with the unworldly appearance and the suggestive nature of his figures developing his own enigmatic world on the surface of his canvases. Drawn by the artist’s fantasy, these genderless avatar-like figures create subversive narratives that slightly flirt with abstraction, while encapsulating an ambiguity around the physiognomy of his compositions.
Words: Yannis Kostarias
Suggesting a mystifying atmosphere between his characters, flexibility and fluidity on canvas characterise the visual painting outcome and incite further interpretations around the artist’s work. In this realm, Rybnicek’s work visually underlines a wide sense of conjoint arrangements among his painterly fluid compositions; images portraying flowing substances whose unfixed shapes look like yielding within one another. Sometimes painterly techniques and visual tricks restrain the viewer’s ability to figure out whether a single depiction incorporates two or three components, or just a multilayered one that functions as a united composition. The painter brings up rather rounded bodily shapes, unearthly features expressions, pointed noses, freakish fingers or legs, and funny hair styles. Paintings like Ale začalo pršáti (2021) or Oči ve vlasech (Augen in Haaren) (2021) incite such surreal visuals in which bodies are usually intertwined, as if an avatar could not be separated from the other. In paintings such as Holubník (Taubenhaus) (2020), Kids (2020) or Hand in hand (Ruku v ruce) (2021), Rybnicek thoroughly develops intermingled bodies where the silhouettes of his avatars enhance unorthodox conjunctions.
Most works allow the viewer to observe the figure from aside creating the illusion of a monocular creature, resembling Cyclopean one-eyed beings with enormous strength and physique. These avatars are Rybnicek’s creative badges and construct an artistic coherence throughout his imagery. Although they do not always look alike, they all belong to the artist’s identical universe. Moreover, taking into account the body language of Rybnicek’s figures, they project a sense of physical proximity by giving hermetic hugs or secretly whispering to each other. This is a recurrent motif in his imagery that largely characterises the artist’s compositions. Sizable avatars depicted in a very sentimental appearance underline another visual and mindful contrast.
Vulnerability is not usually linked to unearthly and seemingly enlarged creatures. On one hand, the exterior parameters, such as body formation, might provoke fear that could possibly lead to awe. On the other hand, a more rigorous look brings up interpretations that convert passionless feelings to rather intense ones, like vulnerability and affection, as a result of their evocative body position on the canvas. Even though their enlarged silhouettes suggest an aggressive look (or sometimes imply superiority), the artist contrastingly calls attention to the body language that demonstrates motion, which surprisingly reveals uneasiness or even weakness. The tone of his work slides ambiguously into an artistic battle between mystery and phobia. Rybnicek’s fascination with bodies is evident; his work evokes an atmosphere that can be both visually dramatic and energetic, infused by oneiric and ghostly attributes, which develops into a mythic and surreal context with manifold interpretations. Rybnicek’s colour palette renders aesthetically pleasing painting results with earthly and pastel hints and hues. Carefully executed compositions, along with intellectual colourings, create a balanced interplay between background and foreground that augments his distinctive artistry.
Can you tell us about the process of making your work?
J.R.: Most of the time I come to my small studio where I play music and tidy up a little. Then I start to prepare canvases on frames and paint them with some random basic colour – most of the time yellow, blue and green…than I watch how the colours get dry, rotate the canvas and look for a story for my eye. For sure I have some things which I want to find there (especially when I make some series) – some kind of human, animal, face, object or hands… Then I start to define something concrete, crossing a lot. If something interesting evolves from this process that I grow to like, I start to define it more and more and make it as pronounced as possible.
How would you define your work in a few words (ideally in 3 words)?
J.R.: figuration, structure, conglomerate.
Could you share with us some insights on your ‘Hand in hand (Ruku v ruce), (2021)? Is there any particular story behind this new painting series?
J.R: In my final work at Munich Academy 2019 I did a series which is based on postponed (moved) effect and change of relations and stories based on that process. This painting I started like one year after the diploma with wish of the similarly energy and painting game. Colours and body positions suddenly formed one body built from two parts-unity and delamination, brutal hug and dance, something between romantic evening and abuse in a field…beauty and the beast in one creature …I liked this idea of composition and story but the topic was quite heavy and this painting was waiting almost one year in my studio until I found the energy and fun to finish it …This finally happened about two months ago)).
Where do you draw inspiration in order to construct your distinctive avatars on canvas? Are they related to personal memories or are they closer to your imagination as an artist?
J.R: Most of the time I actually don’t prepare any sketches at all. Sometimes I just create a quick sketch only if there is something already on the canvas that I want to keep in my mind before it dries or before it transforms into something different. I usually paint a structure or spread colour as a background and then I try to find a motive in it. The figures often emerge from memories of a dream, song, picture or a situation – so basically from an image which I saw and remember. But the main factor is still a specific interesting painting moment which creates the story of the future scene. During this process I often have a sudden „aha-moment“ and things come together very quickly after that. It helps me to define the general direction of the painting. These are nice moments, above all when it works out in the end. Sometimes I just just break apart a whole painting and use just some part of it for a new story which might turn out completely different in the end.
Do specific artworks have been created by random experiments in your studio or do you always come up with a particular concept or narrative in the very beginning?
J.R: I almost never start with a particular concept. The reason is because most of the time when I started with a ”great” plan it simply didn’t work. I was often disappointed and feared that I could not bring it to the end… it’s a process with ups and downs.
Is there any particular theme that utterly triggers you to engage your art with?
J.R: I would say that my main topic is conglomerates of various figures, nature, objects and space. I’m interested in scenes with more meanings, multi-faceted, nothing is as it seems at first glance, nothing is just black or white. Trying to combine and create stories. What interests me is mysticism, irony and irrationality.
What would be the best way to exhibit your work?
J.R: I’m still quite conservative in this matter …I’m ok with a display wall, maybe higher ceilings would be nice to provide more space for larger works.
Can you mention any artists you, lately or generally, take inspiration from?
J.R: I took inspiration from a number of contemporary artists but it changed frequently during my life. I was totally into Baselitz and Messe, for example. I also like Nicolas Party quite a lot but my initial passion about their work cooled off a little bit recently. My professors Martin Mainer and Markus Oehlen are also a great source of inspiration and should be mentioned. My all time favourites however are the old Mohicans like Picasso, Picabia and Magritte.
What about the place where you work? What’s your studio space look like?
J.R: After art school I got the possibility to work in the Atelier Haus Domagk which is located in Munich. I’m realy happy there because even my studio is quite small – little more than 20 square meters. I have really high walls and great light. I also like the fact that many colleagues from my studies are there, too. It’s always nice to have the chance to talk to them and see what the others are creating. We can even play table tennis or basketball and have bbq in the small adjacent garden. Those things make me also happy there – especially now with spring at our doorsteps.
What does your mum think about your art?
J.R: My mum is nice but I think she still hopes that one day I will find serious job. When she was on my first solo exhibition she told me “Jan when I look at your art I think I must have been a bad mother!” In that time I was little bit darker in my work and she had a tendency to suspect some hidden psychical problems and bad childhood memories behind those scenes (But that‘s bullshit, she was a good mum J).
Which exhibition did you visit last?
J.R: Last Month I saw a really nice exhibition of Rinus Van de Velde in Kunstmuseum Lucerne during my visit in Switzerland. In fact I went there because of another nice exhibition of my girlfriend Judith Grassl – Gifts, in Kaligallery Lucerne.
Which are your plans for the near future?
J.R: The next months will be quite busy as I plan a couple of exhibitions – some also with our art group MalSO13. Three to four exhibitions will take place in different cities in Germany and one in Singapore…most of them are group exhibitions, though.
All images are courtesy of the artist