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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Artist manipulates famous works into critiques

By Esther Howe & Lauren Teixeira 

Jiri Anderle’s prints are creepy. Disembodied faces emerge distorted and pained, stretched and hollow across the pages of his prints. Bulbous forms ricochet across his compositions, shaped like limbs, organs, or some combination of the two. Marfa Prokhorova ’12, the Faulconer Gallery Intern last fall, suggests that these prints express the Czech artist’s fascination and preoccupation with time in communist Czechoslovakia, which lasted from 1948 to the Velvet Revolution in 1989.

Hannah Kapp-Klote ’13 and Amber Gruner ’13 examine Anderle’s work in the basement of Burling – Avery Rowlison

As Prokhorova outlines in her curatorial statement, Anderle worked to challenge the status quo by creating images based on the work of the Italian Renaissance masters, and other arguably seminal Western artists, like Durer and Bosch. Ingeniously, Anderle appropriated these artists’ images to form metaphorical critiques of the communist party—the images’ familiar content and structure meant his work and its underlying subversive implications went unnoticed by the government.

Displayed in the basement of Burling, Anderle’s prints disrupt a simple, formerly straightforward, walk to the bathroom. The majority of Prokhorova’s selections read as pages from a sketchbook, with a wide variation in detail and formal development, suggestive of morphing and movement. Anderle emerges as a mapmaker, charting the boundaries between figures, the space between skulls.

In “Variation on Portrait of Renaissance Girl by Abrosio de Predis” (1977), a girl’s shoulder, neck, and the curve of her skull are easy to make out, but her face is another story—the story of a mythical creature, a baby-bird-elephant, a conglomeration of vertebras found in the desert. Her face bleeds and moans across the delicate paper and there is no possibility of looking her in the eye or distinguishing the angle of her gaze. It looks like a dementor is sucking this girl’s soul out of her face.

“Woman in Fur,” crafted a year later in 1978, plays with the image of a Renaissance-style nude. On the right side of the piece, the woman is innocuously drawn, her form solid and her expression placid. But as the eye flows to the left, Anderle repeats the form, with modifications. Certain parts of the outline fade, positive space becomes filled with textural script-like doodles, and, most significantly, her expression changes to one of supreme shock—she appears mortified to have been discovered naked. Typical of Anderle, the result is amusing, intriguing and ultimately very disturbing.

In a similar vein, “Promenade—Lovers and Death” (1982), a sly variation on Albrecht Durer’s “Promenade” (1498), depicts the two lovers of Durer’s engraving wearing subversively grotesque expressions. Notably, Anderle emphasizes the skeleton lurking behind the tree, reinforcing the popular medieval idea of “memento mori”—the importance of remembering one’s own mortality.

Indeed, memento mori seems to stalk the exhibit, albeit in a manner that is more morbid than instructional. Anderle is fascinated by skeletons and internal organs, and makes them prominent in a great number of his works. Many of his pieces depict human forms and heads “unwrapped” to reveal the anatomical features underneath, as in “Mademoiselle Riviere Entre Nous” (1975). It is in these instances Anderle’s skill as a master draftsman becomes most apparent—the detail etching is exquisite and visually fascinating.

“Cruel Game for Man” (1978), which was commissioned by the wife of a Holocaust survivor, is in some ways the emotional centerpiece of the exhibit. Composed as a visual narrative, Anderle portrays a fearful mother and guileless child just above a disturbing sequence depicting the transformation of a skeleton into a German soldier. “Cruel Game for Man” is resonant because it capitalizes on Anderle’s unique skill for using the past—Czechoslovakia’s Nazi history—to comment on similar oppression in the present.

Yet however disturbing or unreal Anderle makes his figures, however tortured and strained, there is also an element of simple familiarity in his work—or at least one of his pieces.

“TV Game” (1975) contains figures, just as piecemeal and disjointed as “Renaissance Girl,” attending to a television with cigarettes gracing their hands and mouths. And so Anderle introduces a simple object, the television, into the metaphysical forest of his compositions and with this object, a moment of relief and a gesture towards entertainment. Though in the context of its creation, TV Game was probably a critical statement on media production, it is also, in our basement environment, a familiar moment and an opportunity to read ourselves into his compositions.

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