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Receptions to Pravoslav Sovak

A selection of diverse voices

As one of the most important European graphic artists of his generation, Pravoslav Sovak has touched and left a lasting impression on his contemporaries and companions. The fascination for his impressive approach to art, work and life is reflected in numerous texts, receptions, opening speeches, newspaper reports and résumés by important art historians, journalists and authors. Therefore, a selection of the diverse voices on Pravoslav Sovak and his work has been compiled here - from the friendly author Milan Kundera to the renowned art historian Ulrike Lorenz.

Milan Kundera, 1959


Quoted from: Leaflet of the C.J. Bucherverlag, 1970. Cf.: SOVAK weltvernetzt. Pravoslav Sovak at the Kunstforum Ostdeutsche Galerie Regensburg, exhibition cat. Regensburg 2009, published by the Stiftung Kunstforum Ostdeutsche Galerie, Regensburg 2009, p. 118. Originally: Kundera, Milan: Pravoslav Sovák. Obrazy, kresby, grafika 1945-1958, in: Exhibition Catalog Gallery Špála, Prague 1959. (German translation from Regensburg).

Pravoslav Sovák lived through our time; he was not a spectator, but got to know this time as a great, personal adventure - full of magic and privations. [...] Sovák takes possession of his subjects in a versatile yet uniform manner, and despite all the experimentation, a strict exactness of image shines through. He always approaches reality in order to move away from it again. From extreme aspects the themes are brought into certain harmonized syntheses.

Manuel Gasser, 1969


Gasser, Manuel: "Pravoslav Sovák," in: Graphis 25/No. 143 (1969), pp. 246-250. (Also: Introduction to the portfolio Grafisches Tagebuch).

Pravoslav Sovák uses the means of expression that he can assume are generally understood: The ciphers of physics and chemistry are used, modern technology lends its sign language, the vocabulary of international pop art is used consciously and with elegance.

Exhibition of works

Oto Bihalji-Merin, 1972

Art historian

Bihalji-Merin, Oto: "Ein Kafka der Grafik," opening speech for the exhibition at the Schmidt-Bank Gallery in Nuremberg, in: Mitteilungen des Instituts für moderne Kunst Nürnberg, No. 5, 1972.

Not only the undramatic of his style and artistic statement, - the evocative power, - which can do without external effects, and the seriousness of the quiet in Sovak's graphics have conscious or subconscious relation to Kafka, his compatriot.

Heinz Neidel, 1972

Director of the Institute of Modern Art, Nuremberg (1974-1994)

Neidel, Heinz: "Ein Kafka der Graphik", in: Artis. Zeitschrift für neue Kunst 24/No. 6, 1972, pp. 22-23.
It began with structures that have organic as well as constructed elements in their relationship. Then landscapes crystallize; in this urban space, man still exists only as a sprinkling. 1962 marks the beginning of a significant phase: theoretical-abstract systems practice dialectics with biological ones.

Marléne Schnieper, 1973


Schnieper, Marléne: "Mitteilungen ohne Worte -Endspiele", abridged version of the vernissage speech for the exhibition in the bookstore Balmer, Zug, 1973/74 in: Luzerner Neuste Nachrichten, 05.12.1973.
What else is there to say about Sovák in his own words? About [sic.] him, who hardly forgives others, like himself, for empty phrases? Should we compare him, who communicates his and our endgame situations 'without words' and 'indirectly', for the sake of wordplay, with the third in the group of writers available for comparison: with Beckett? Or simply inform factually?

Thomas M. Messer, 1974

Art historian and director of the Guggenheim Museum, New York

Messer, Thomas M.: "Pravoslav Sovak," in: Sovak. Radierungen, ed. by Kölnischer Kunstverein, Lucerne/Frankfurt (Main) 1974, p. 5.
Once we concede that the artist's attention is intentionally focused on articulations of the blank surface of a paper and on solving problems inherent in the autonomous sign language of the etcher, we can observe, not without amazement, how much of general meaning and embedded symbolism is detached from Sovak's art into life.

Hilton Kramer, 1977

Art critic

Kramer, Hilton: "Art: New Works By Philip Guston," in: New York Times, 25.03.1977, p. 68.
Pravoslav Sovak (Staempfli, 47 East 77th Street): Working in small formats, often using a sharp-pointed pencil with the patience of a saint, Pravoslav Sovak has produced a series of watercolor drawings and gouaches that evoke vast desert spaces. Yet it is not quite the space of nature that is evoked in these works.

Werner Schmalenbach, 1978

Art historian and Director of the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf

Quote printed in the flyer for the exhibition of the Ditesheim Gallery, Switzerland, exhibition 24.9. -2.10.1983; source not given
Sovák's art is a quiet art. It is not the art of a trailblazer. It is characterized by the quiet nature of the artist. Silence, mystery, accuracy and spirituality: these are the qualities due to which these sheets assert themselves. And they are qualities thanks to which they are more than private notes of a dreamer.

Helmut Heißenbüttel, 1981


Heißenbüttel, Helmut: "Von der Logik der Bilder. On the Logic of Pictures," vol. 1, in: Sovák, Pravoslav: Pravoslav Sovák, Arbeiten auf Papier. Pravoslav Sovák, work on paper, with texts by Helmut Heißenbüttel, 2 vols, Stuttgart 1981, p. 5-11, here p.10.

I got to know Pravoslav Sovak as a person later than his paintings. Than some of his paintings. And it is not indifferent from which side one enters, enters into a work of art. It is correctable, but not revocable. The figure in the geometric sign as the measure of the landscape, that was my first look at Sovák.

Jean Pierrard, 1996


Quoted from: SOVAK weltvernetzt. Pravoslav Sovak at the Kunstforum Ostdeutsche Galerie Regensburg, Ausst.-Kat. Regensburg 2009, published by the Stiftung Kunstforum Ostdeutsche Galerie, Regensburg 2009, p. 122. Originally: Pierrard, Jean: "Sovak. Prints and Drawings," in: Le Point, 6.7.1996, German translation in the Sovak Archive, KOG Regensburg.
The work is so delicate that you hardly notice it. Sovak is Czech artist -born in 1926-with a sense of fine gradation. With great finesse he creates day after day his light work -a tremor of water over mossy ground -in which the etching plays the main role.
Realities. Realities. If you tell me what reality is, I will tell you if I am a realist.

Sovak (with W. Herzogenrath) 1974, p.8.

Werner Hoffmann, 1999

Art historian and director of the Hamburger Kunsthalle

Hofmann, Werner: "Essay", in: Pravoslav Sovak-Works on Paper. A Retrospective, exh. Cat. Vienna 1999, ed. by Pravoslav Sovak and Konrad Oberhuber, Vienna 1998, pp. 11-15, here p. 11.
A parable could be told like this: An artist, in order to get hold of reality, lays thin threads over the world of appearances. Running crisscross and diagonally, they form a dense net that catches the scattered things and binds them to itself.

Konrad Oberhuber, 1999

Art historian and director of the Albertina, Vienna

Oberhuber, Konrad: "Pravoslav Sovak", in: Pravoslav Sovak-Arbeiten auf Papier. Eine Retrospektive, exh. Cat. Vienna 1999, ed. by Pravoslav Sovak and Konrad Oberhuber, Vienna 1998, pp. 17-25, here p. 17.

Sovak thus shares with his actual contemporaries, on the one hand, a preference for clear structures, which in his case can form and condense into vertical-horizontal networks, triangles, pyramids, or diagonal arrangements, and, on the other hand, the discovery of the artistic statement of the by-products of human culture, especially in his case of the media world.

Jiří Gruša, 2008


Greeting at the exhibition opening in Munich, 27.02.2008
Well, one who is called Pravoslav has an easier time pleading his case in Czech. The name means 'the one who became famous for doing the right thing'. It was certainly not easy in the time span of Pravoslav's life to find, let alone do, the right thing. If I count correctly, he graduated seven systems, all of which wanted to represent the right thing, and among them two that decreed it bloody.

Oliver Prange, 2014

Journalist and editor-in-chief of the cultural magazine Du

Prange, Oliver: "Bergung eines unentdeckten Schatzes," in: Du. Die Zeitschrift der Kultur, No. 850 (2014), October 2014, p. 1.
Who is Pravoslav Sovak? [...] He is a very sensitive person, clear and deep in his thoughts, lives secluded, surrounded by a wild garden. He does not believe that he has a deeper connection to his unconscious than others.

Hans-Peter Riese, 2014


Riese, Hans-Peter: "Pravsolav Sovak. Eines Künstlers lange Reise zu sich selbst," in: Du. Die Zeitschrift der Kultur, no. 850 (2014), October 2014, pp. 22-37, here p. 22.
He was never an insider tip, rather an invisible star of the art scene. His paintings hang in the Museum of Modern Art and the Albertina in Vienna, he has had major exhibitions in Paris, Berlin and New York. Pravoslav Sovak has lived in Switzerland on Lake Lucerne for many years, he has traveled all over the world and explored the desert for years.

Milan Kundera, 2014


Kundera, Milan: "The Art of Perfection," in: Du. The Journal of Culture, no. 850 (2014), October 2014, pp. 52-53, here p. 53.

When an artist is obsessed with perfection to such a degree, a practical consequence must follow: He works for years on a single picture. [...] In some eras such slowness would have been considered a more or less obvious virtue, in other eras something extraordinary.

Zsófia Bán, 2018


Bán, Zsófia: "Sovak on the Beach", German translation by Robert Svoboda, in: Pravoslav Sovak. Krajiny času - landscapes of time, exh. Cat. Prague 2018, ed. by Helena Musilová, Prague 2018, pp. 49-60, here pp. 51f.
So it is perfectly understandable that when circumstances drive one 'z hausuraus', when one is forced to leave the house and country of birth, this cultural mother tongue can be as sorely missed as a lost spouse and lost siblings, as a river and a puppy from childhood years that barked on the banks of that river, or even as the actual, non-metaphorical mother tongue.
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