The selection of works presented in this space were painted between January 2019 and June 2020.
were painted during what is now called the "Confinement"or the "Lockdown", so between March and May 2020. It was a particularly glorious period for me from an artistic point of view, quite fruitful. The other paintings such as
were painted in 2019 and correspond to the continuity of a work begun several years ago with the series Ad Infinitum, Tzimtzoum and Transcendental Objects.
is a reference to the Singularity of consciousness, that point of inner wobble that on a cosmological scale would be the image of a black hole.
In the space of the black hole, the laws of physics cease their relevance. Events beyond the horizon of a black hole remain and will forever remain invisible and incomprehensible to human consciousness and reason. This is a Singularity for science.
As for the Singularity of consciousness, it corresponds to the same point of rupture, that of an inversion towards an enlarged consciousness, a collapse of objective reason.
I consider each painting as a pictorial fact, a metalanguage that expresses a poetic and philosophical vision of the world inseparable from my individuality. The immediacy of the painting imposes a direct confrontation with the work, it is
as defined by the philosopher Georges Steiner. The journey into sensation, into the aesthesis is the prerequisite for any authentic
feeling. All reality is above all an inner reality. All the phenomena of nature, all that exists at every moment in the universe exists first of all independently of the human consciousness but takes on meaning only through the filter of the consciousness which allow each human to apprehend the world and to conceive its reality.
Science defines consciousness as a chemical flow of electrical and neurological connections within the brain. The aesthetic feeling is unfortunately part of this conception.
This is very unsatisfactory for many human beings, thinkers and artists in particular, who have always had the profound intuition that science does not have the monopoly of consciousness and that knowledge is not limited to mathematical formulas or equations. Art begins where science stops.
The microscope, the optical laws, in no way explain the feeling of beauty felt in front of a work of art. The awareness of the mystery that emerges from a painted work, its timelessness totally escapes reason despite all attempts to explain its nature.
All attempts to reduce painting to an idea, an ideology or to enclose it in a formal discourse, in a historical catalogue is not only an obstacle to the freedom of art but above all a failure of discursive reason, an intellectual dead end, an aporia in philosophical language.
The bursts and luminous collapses of geometric nature visible in some of my canvases are rhythmed by a spiral movement.
For more than a year, I have obeyed a more poetic than geometric order. The appearance of landscapes, of visions populated with what resembles an infinity of living touches of light, of more or less regular brushstrokes, were the fruit of a pictorial formulation where the form was released sometimes thanks to the eye sometimes thanks to the hand that is to say the gesture, the touch.
so elegantly said the philosopher Gilles Deleuze (Conferences on painting - Vincennes, 1981). In other words, a struggle between reason and intuition.
The Singularity in painting, on the individual scale of each human consciousness and on a global perspective, is in my opinion this indefinable and impalpable moment where reason collapses into an interiority that literally explodes the classical conceptions of reality, of the significance of what real means. The Singularity corresponds precisely to the times that humanity is currently going through, it is a promise of meaning, just like painting.
Vision, according to a scientist specialized in the psychology of visual perception, requires not only the eye, light conditions, and solar refraction, but also interior light, that light that transforms raw sensorial experience, the rough tonal impact, into a perception containing meaning. The light of the mind, we could say, taken as the necessary complement to natural light in the process of creating an intelligible construct. This is the indispensable theoretical nucleus for understanding the sequence of luminous stelae that Wilfried Prager proposes in the exhibit presented here. Light understood as the primary stimulus in a process of formal associations that activates and brings to life affinities and encounters of extraordinary beauty.
Light, in effect, venerated as an omnipotent and fleeting deity, like the elusive image of a transcendent and supra-sensorial nature. "Light, more light" were Goethe's last words. "The sun is God" was on Turner's final breath. The mythologies of historical traditions insist on the consequences of the deconstruction of the impact of light: many are the mythical and timeless stories about the sun, the moon, the stars and fire. With their magnetic counterparts: the rainbow and the dawn. The characteristics of a culture, undeniably, appear reflected in the shared and dazzling image of light, the ideal space for the silent conspiracy between nature and the human mind.
The life of light turns out to be an understandable and close correlate of the reality of the sensitive forms that give birth to, never more clearly stated, the plastic space of images. Let's turn to a diaphanous example. An exceptional central European deserter, the Rhinelander Albert Vigoleis Thelen, in his forgotten novel written in exile in Palma de Majorca during the years between the two world wars -The Island of the Second Sight. From the Applied Recollections of Vigoleis
-, recounts for us his impressions of the Balearic coast illuminated by the setting sun transforming it into shapes of color. "On the island," he confesses, "I found I was more fascinated by the light than by its infrequent inhabitants. But yes, it is not habitual to speak to the reader about the consanguinity of the light. Understanding by such a strange notion the peculiarities of luminosity that are produced when different qualities of shadows are mixed with each other. The shadows projected and the shadows themselves, complete shadows and half-shadows, join together in a regular manner and in this way create, from the darkness, the enigma of the insular light that disconcerts the traveler. Numerous painters around the world did not believe what their eyes were seeing when they saw this vision for the first time."
The sequence of brilliant and dazzling images that Wilfried Prager arranges here in a tracing of light over time has something unsettling about it, a subtle experimentation about color reproduced with its decisive gradations in luminous intensity, but which also reveals at the same time, perhaps in a register not evident to the superficial glance, the artist's obstinate and silent fascination with the nature of the landscape. A long and careful reflection of those misleading figurations that have appeared throughout artistic tradition. Prager is a contemporary artist who has lucidly placed his works over the aggressive narrative "isms" that trace and unnecessarily obscure the history of modern art, the transparent marks of diverse and contradictory manners of making sensitive worlds and knowing how to relate them in a temporary display of model-images.
In Prager's case, a reasonable skepticism seasoned with a certain formal irony no doubt results from the painter's singular biography: Austrian origins, trained in Paris, and educated in the demanding culture of color. Born in 1964 en Paris, brought up in the warmth of a family of Central European roots –that world of yesterday
, portrayed with incisive skill by Stefan Zweig launched into a cosmopolitan and polyglot world in which the father, a member of the UNESCO diplomatic service, energetically marked out a horizon of difficult cultural alternatives. Wilfried Prager's work once again shows the infinite possibilities of the creative assimilation of carefully selected expressive universes.
The latent influence of Alena Kucerova and Miloslav Moucha, among Czech artist friends, adventures the tenuous crepuscular light that illuminates Prager's early landscapes, the barely sketched silhouettes that dissolve into stains of color without attaining precise figurative definition. Autumn landscapes from the French countryside, naturally, but also landscapes painted from memory rooted in the romantic imagination of a still diffuse project. Wilfried Prager's artistic experience is debated in this manner, apparently dramatically, within the confines of a dilemma of substantive representation: form or experiment. History or autonomous plastic discovery. Submitted, as well, to painful restrictions that show through a piercing formal appreciation. The favorite place only half-disguised, I insist, by romantic landscapists.
The figures in shadow populate continued accurate notes on nature in rigorous chromatic scale and a wise selection of models of abstraction –the destiny of art-, and propose an early vanguardist reading centered on the geometry of light –Kandinsky, Klee, Mondrian-, at the same time as they are submerged in the formal color variables introduced by the New York school of abstract expressionism, as can be easily verified visually. Perhaps the powerful presence of Frank Stella stands out –Inversión
, 1992, and one example suffices-, but also the arduous inquiry into space-light that explains and justifies the different illusory efforts to develop a "pure science of color". An art of melancholy, if closely observed, absorbed in discerning how art rectifies and improves nature, if indeed we can still talk this way. But in the same way, and this is not a minor effect, art in the service of fantasy and the fractal discovery of the enigma-light, that unsolvable unknown that conditions the look of time.
Prager's art is paradoxically transfigured now, surprisingly, in an active chamber of chromatic sensations always nuanced by light, that controls the extremes and ensures expressive tensión. A universe of light-signs that resort to color as the necessary support for its definition in quality of art forms. In short, the overflowing trajectory of light-motifs presented by Wilfried Prager in this exhibit aspires to be something more than the index of skillful oscillations in the gradual spectrum that mediates between light and shadow. Prager shows us, rather, an original scale of formal values that converts the plastic expression of light into a daring display of moments of vision. The perhaps elusive dialogue between the eye and the mind, stated in the classical manner of Leonardo and Dürer. The brain is alerted, faced with the overflowing perception of the retina. The eternal debate of painting, nothing more or less.
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Au dehors de l'histoire
Pour Wilfried Prager
Des années de pratique de la peinture m'ont progressivement conduit aux frontières de ce que l'on nomme ordinairement la conscience. Les mouvements artistiques du XXe siècle ont produit une accélération de l'histoire de l'art comme jamais auparavant, notamment grâce aux développements des sciences et des technologies et dorénavant grâce à la circulation de l'information. Une interrogation s'impose sur la validité, l'impact et le rôle de l'art dans une époque qui s'enfonce toujours plus vite dans ce qui semble être le chaos. L'inefficacité et l'incapacité du politique (l'homo politicus) à résoudre les conflits des sociétés humaines ainsi qu'une perte de confiance dans la science, considérée peu à peu comme pouvant mettre en danger l'espèce humaine, a conduit un nombre grandissant d'artistes depuis l'après-guerre à s'immiscer dans un domaine qui ne semblait pas forcément le plus agréable ni le plus efficace pour l'art : l'exploration de la conscience.
La découverte par Freud au début du XXe siècle de l'inconscient a constitué à cet égard une étape primordiale dans l'acceptation par la société occidentale de la possibilité d'une nature humaine dont la conception du réel ne serait plus la simple observation de l'extériorité des êtres, des choses et des phénomènes mais également une possible préconception ou a-conception de la réalité. Ce fut le début d'une remise en cause du modèle newtonien de la connaissance et du savoir.
Même si la science réductionniste actuelle s'acharne à ne pas reconnaître la validité des théories de Freud, la porte qu'il a ouverte (et qui fut d'ailleurs toujours ouverte depuis des milliers d'années par les pratiques animistes des peuples autochtones), a permis à un grand nombre de personnes de sortir de leur souffrance d'une part, mais aussi aux artistes de commencer à explorer la conscience ou leur inconscient.
La vie moderne a engendré une aliénation du contenu numineux archétypique de l'inconscient collectif ce qui a graduellement et progressivement généré une angoisse et un désespoir qui semble nous emmener toujours plus vers l'abîme. Les motifs archétypiques des traditions religieuses occidentales ont perdu de leur efficacité pour une grande partie de l'humanité et sont relégués au mieux à un niveau psychologique de la réalité. Le sens de l'unité avec le cosmos et du mystère transcendant n'est plus qu'un songe lointain. La science moderne et progressiste a proposé une image de l'homme comme produit accidentel de la création, inséré dans un processus évolutif dont le hasard est le seul « Dieu », dans un univers qui est lui-même sans but ni sens. L'aliénation des humains de leur fondement numineux a fabriqué une éthique existentialiste et des préoccupations contemporaines qui sont liés à une obsessionnelle immédiateté de l'histoire, de la situation historique.
Les humains sont en conséquence supposés conduire une existence profane dans une continuité profane que l'on appelle « l'histoire ». La réalité du sacré est niée, refusée ou au mieux réduite au niveau de la psychologie.
Dans les cultures autochtones et depuis des temps très éloignés, « les humains ne sont pas conscients de vivre dans un temps historique, mais se perçoivent comme intégrés, comme inclus dans un temps numineux sacré » comme l'écrivit Mircea Eliade (Le Cosmos et l'Histoire,1959). Si ces êtres ont une quelconque perception de l'histoire, il s'agit d'une histoire mythique, paradigmatique.
C'est dans cette position peu enviable que se situe le tempérament de l'homme moderne, angoissé par l'imminence de la mort, piégé par le profane, le temps historique et, qui conçoit la mort seulement comme un néant. La présence rédemptrice du sacré et du transcendant est absente de la vision du monde contemporain.
Au bord de cet abysse que sont la mort et le néant, il est possible de percevoir le rôle d'un chamanisme moderne, incarné possiblement par l'artiste.
L opium qui fut l'un des principaux facteurs des états altérés de conscience pour les artistes romantiques (Coleridge, De Quincey, Laurence Sterne) mais aussi le haschich avec Baudelaire, Byron, Shelley et de nombreux artistes du 20 e siècle, ont constitué des « brèches ontologiques » dans l'ordre établi par le dogme scientifique et le dogme religieux, depuis cinq cents ans pour l'un et deux mille ans pour l'autre.
Les modèles Jungien et Freudien de connaissance intérieure ont alors été largement dépassés par les expériences de cette culture « underground ». Les années soixante furent à cet égard une époque pionnière pour un grand nombre de personnes et d'artistes avec notamment l'utilisation du LSD et du champignon psilocybe.
La science s'est trouvée confrontée à un mode de connaissance considéré jusque-là comme occulte. Mais des artistes comme l'écrivain Ernst Jünger, pour ne prendre qu'un seul exemple, ont établi des rapprochements avec le monde scientifique. Jünger a consommé plusieurs fois des substances psychédéliques dont le LSD, et cela grâce et même en compagnie d'Albert Hoffmann lui-même père du LSD et chercheur scientifique. Mais d'une manière générale, les excès de la Beat Generation ont purement et simplement conduit les pouvoirs politiques, culturels et sanitaires des principales nations occidentales à considérer ces substances dites psychédéliques comme des dangers pour l'équilibre mental des populations. Les artistes ont malgré tout continué à utiliser ces substances plus ou moins clandestinement.
Aujourd'hui, la nécessité pour les peuples occidentaux de trouver un sens à l'existence et de littéralement « sortir de l'histoire », ont accéléré le nombre d'expériences psychédéliques de manière exponentielle. Et rien ne peut plus arrêter cette tendance. Les artistes qui furent les premiers à s'emparer de ces outils de connaissance (après les chamanes bien sûr) apparaissent comme des intermédiaires, des « Stalkers » entre deux conceptions différentes de la civilisation mais aussi entre les deux grands frères ennemis des sociétés occidentales : la science et l'art.
Dans les Vedas, monument de l'humanité, la Soma est absorbée par l'homme pour accéder à la connaissance, à la fabrique des rêves.
Le rôle de certains artistes dans la culture moderne est de s'approcher de la sorcellerie.
À travers la manipulation de son medium, l'artiste cherche à exprimer une vision issue des racines de l'inconscient et non dépendante d'un consensus du public, en fait souvent activement opposée à ce dernier. Le rôle de l'artiste dans la modernité se doit en quelque sorte d'être chamanique et non pas seulement politique ou social comme le rabâche les penseurs et sociologues contemporains. Depuis les célébrations d'Eleusis à l'époque préchrétienne, elles mêmes issues des rites de l'Egypte antique, aux visions d'un Jérôme Bosch, jusqu'aux Surréalistes et l'automatisme cher à Breton et puis Artaud ou Michaux par exemple, qui ont laissé une trace troublante dans l'imaginaire et dans notre culture contemporaine, l'utilisation de substance enthéogène, psychédélique, a toujours existé dans la culture humaine depuis des temps immémoriaux et ce à des fins sacrées pour tenter d'exprimer l'intensité et la complexité de la nature humaine et définir la place de l'homme dans l'univers. Il n'est plus possible de reléguer ces expériences dans le registre des délires de certains individus ou artistes, bien vite catalogués comme schizophrène par l'ordre moral. Il est urgent pour notre civilisation occidentale, menacée de nihilisme et de disparition pur et simple, de faire un état des lieux de cet accés aux états modifiés de conscience et pourquoi pas de tenter de définir « une cartographie de la conscience », car il est bien possible que ce soit dans cette « intériorité épique », au dehors de l'histoire et du temps chronologique classique que se situent les frontières de nouveaux mondes à explorer.
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A Return to the Light
by Otto M. Urban
In art there are revivals that allow us to discover a natural reaction to the past, present and future. These serve as our attitudes to the world around us and as our sources of inspiration. In an era, such as our own, marked by dynamic progress in the field of telecommunications - the existence of ever faster, more convenient modes of interpersonal communications, authenticity, "naturalness" gains new value. We often look disdainfully upon the artificiality of contemporary civilization. Artificiality seems to us rather superficial, disingenuous and we have the impression that artificial objects are somehow impermanent, disposable. Artificiality is also troubling to us because, in its excessive perfection, it seems inhuman, it lacks human frailty. This belief provokes a number of reactions: from absolute adoration of artificiality all the way to the complete rejection of it. Rigid acceptance of only classical forms, material and content in art is a de facto rejection of artificiality and is evidence of the uneasiness we feel when confronted with artificiality.
Artistic revivals, however, have profoundly influenced and inspired modern art. This influence is most strongly felt in connection with discussions about the so-called "literary quality" of the visual arts. This issue has also significantly shaped contemporary thinking about modernism. The fundamentalist period of shrill announcements and manifestos, from which we have inherited a number of theories and methodological procedures in the field of art history, belong to an irretrievable past. The concept which characterizes the 90s is tolerance, the co-existence of various styles. The 1990s are also years marked by varied fusion and experiments in art. The possibilities created by this more liberal outlook led to new chapters in film, in music, and of course, in the visual arts. For those who are open to it, contemporary art can be a rich source of inspiration.
This liberal attitude facilitates an environment ready to accept countless revivals, which defy simple classification into categories as narrow as classicism or academisim. Wilfried Prager's approach, from the view of the authentic avant-garde, goes heretically against the grain. Pioneers of deconstruction of the renaissance perspective used those who opposed them to define their work. In this respect, Wilfried Prager's paintings connect what used to be inconsistent and harmonize elements which once clashed.
Prager's art reached its pinnacle in the sphere of geometric abstraction. His search for personal expression led him to experiment with the shapes of the canvases on which he painted. In this way, his work is continuous with American abstract art of the 1960s, especially the work of Frank Stella, who during those years experimented as well with shaped canvases. Both Prager and Stella were to eventually reject this style, however.
For Prager, the contact with American abstract expressionism and its offshoots led to him to experiment with color. Frequent visits to New York allowed him to overcome his original fascination and discover another route. This meant not only the conclusion of one stylistic attempt for Prager, but simultaneously the end of an entire phase of his work. His fascination with nature led him away from the artificiality of shaped canvas and back to the traditional format. This renewed interest in the natural was to affect not only the shapes of his works, but also the content within the frames, the light which shone on them and from them. "For too long I worked under halogen and neon lights, I came to live in the countryside to see things differently." (In 1996, Prager moved to Vlle de Chevreuse, 40 kilometers from Paris.) His sojourn in the French countryside was a quest for light. Light itself is one of the main themes in Prager's work. In 1997, he wrote the following about one of his paintings: "something is missing, but what? As always, light, shadows... The light in colored photographs is chromatically flattened, for this reason black and white photographs are often more interesting. In my current work I interpret photographs of landscapes." In so doing, Prager was combining authenticity with the artificiality of the photographic process. This tension is visible especially in his black and white landscapes. His previous experiments with "artificial" light, however, stayed with him. The countryside afforded him a natural setting, a natural spectrum of possibilities. It is here that the existential drama of individual isolationism is played out.
Prager's landscapes are subfusc, almost monotonous, his paintings usually feature trees, which invite a variety of interpretations. The tree was traditionally ".... worshiped as the fountainhead of nature, as a holy object inhabited by God. In the Middle East it was connected with the cult of the earth goddess..." The tree has always been a basic theme in the visual arts and during the renaissance it gained even more symbolic meanings, a trend which gathered momentum at the beginning of the 19th century. From this time, the tree has come to represent a continuity in the visual arts, from the visionary drawings of William Blake, through the windswept trees in Caspar David Fredrich's canvases, to Arnold Bocklin's cypresses, Frantisek Bilek's sculptures, the landscapes of Egon Schiele and Josef Sima, all the way to Joseph Beuys' conceptual work entitled "7000 Oaks".
The artists who most influenced Prager and his work do not comprise a specific artistic school, nor are they all from one era. Romanticism, of which Prager often speaks, is for him not only several decades of modern art at the beginning of the 19th century. Romanticism for him is an attitude, a "method" which fascinates him. Despite his interest in romanticism, Prager has been most inspired by painters from the last half of the 15th and the beginning of the 16th centuries, at a time when art was strongly and equally influenced both by middle age mysticism and by "pure" science. The artistic work, the painting, became encrypted with clearly defined structure and terminology. A perfect example of this is Durer's engraving "Melancholy." This era was also one in which a change in the understanding of nature was expressed in art. The fascination with the natural sciences, with nature, brought philosophy and science together. Fresh discoveries about the laws which govern human existence prodded people to explore their relationships with the surrounding world and universe in new ways. Many artists who were to influence Prager lived during this time, when renaissance thought pervaded practically the entire European continent. Giorgione (Giorgio Da Castelfranco), Joachim Patinier, Albrecht Durer, Vermeer van Delft are but a few of their names.
Prager's landscapes are settings for intimate reflection, one can penetrate them only through concentrated contemplation. A solitary figure wanders through them and, in the end, slips into the mist. Most of Prager's works are without titles, which would enable the viewer to orient himself in Prager's world. His refusal to title his works is really Prager's refusal to demand a definitive interpretation and explanation for his works. Who are these beings made of nebula? It is as if the Earth and the surrounding universe have merged into one. The contours are blurry and begin to disappear in sharp light. From time immemorial, the universe has fascinated us with its secrets of light in darkness. The universe is, for its observers, a grand stage on which they can watch the drama of a multitude of shining planets and stars. "They are thousands of light years away from us and contain sufficient material to create 10 or 100 starts. The description of the nebulae in Orion's belt is significant in connection with Prager's paintings, They are both gaseous and dust. They shine only as much as the stars around them shine. If there are stars behind them, the nebulae absorb some of their light."
Prager spent the end of the century mostly in Prague, a city of many lights, colors and extremes. However, the theme with which he began working while in the country remained in his art. Only the light changed. He gradually began to create landscapes lit by the muted light of his own memories. His figures started to take on definite outlines. Mastery of his theme allowed Prager to work with larger formats. His paintings were now marked not only by their grand scale, but as well by the subtle tension within them. Prager reached another pinnacle in his work; his last pictures signal this change. The figures in his paintings begin to take on distinct shapes, become more clearly defined. And what direction will Prager's work take in the future? If he is to return to abstraction, influenced by his experimentation with light, or if he will work more with figures, one can only speculate. There is no nostalgia for a lost world in Prager's most recent works. Aware of the complexity, dangers and disappointments of the world around him, Prager is creating paintings which reflect his acute consciousness if both the past and the present.
Translated from the Czech by Thea M. Favaloro
Wilfried Prager, Geneze. Galerie Bayer a Bayer
number I, year II. Praha 1998, p. 1. Wilfried Prager, ibid.
James Hall, Slovnk nmetu a symbolu ve vtvarnm umen. Praha 1991, p. 427.
Carl Friedrich von Wiezsacker, Dejiny prrody. Praha 1972, p.67.
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Vídeo "The Antipodes of the Mind", 2021 (Vimeo)
Vídeo "Ad Infinitum", 2016 (YouTube)