The work of Michaela Petrů (a graduate of Michael Rittstein’s painting studio at the Prague Academy of Fine Arts) is characterised by an open playfulness, variability and lightness, and yet underneath it all is a sensitive perception of the world around her. Her works take the perceptive viewer back to the years of their childhood. In a gentle, feminine and natural manner, they awaken within us the ancient and irresistible desire to experiment and discover, to cross boundaries and abandon ingrained habits. Her paintings are interactive playing fields in which we can participate in shaping stories, wildly fly about or, with the most serious intentions, explore and create our own rules in order to reshape reality in our own image.

The exhibition Ballerina with a Beard represents a follow-up (with some overlap) to the earlier exhibition project Neboj Karlín, held at the gallery at Uhledný mlýn, Libčice nad Vltavou, in late 2020 and early 2021. In her earlier series, Petrů focused on the distinctive Prague neighbourhood of Karlín, drawing on her personal experience as a resident who has watched the original working-class neighbourhood of factories change in character. Her paintings showed typical places in Karlín such as the old barracks buildings (Kasárna), the pier, the Invalidovna, the Karlín tunnel, the Negrelli viaduct, and the Divoké matky (Wild Mothers) café – all done in an attempt at capturing the neighbourhood’s social diversity and architectural diversity. On her wanderings with a sketchpad and camera, she took note of places where time was still standing still. She was fascinated by original industrial buildings, hidden corners and historical structures that were being inexorably engulfed by new development projects that have produced soulless offices of monstrous dimensions. In some cases, however, architectural revitalisation has given rise to new, welcoming and cultivated centres imbued with an inspirational atmosphere.

This ambivalence and diversity is reflected in Karlín’s social makeup, which Petrů also captures on her canvases with a large dose of imagination and painterly stylisation. Her most recent series of paintings, Ballerina with a Beard, takes a more detailed look at this complexity of social strata in contemporary society, and not just in Karlín. She is interested in the conventions and ingrained motivations, desires and objectives of various mainstream groups as well as bohemian subcultures, poking fun at how they strive to take maximum advantage of all opportunities here and now. On the one hand, she paints grotesque caricatures of hard-working businessmen and productivity-conscious managers clamouring for top positions, people who spend their free time with their families or their mistresses in overpriced resorts in ‘exotic Edens’. On the other hand, she depicts oddball hipsters and bohemians hedonistically taking in one random party after another, never-ending entertainment set to a wild rhythm of beats and sampled love for all.

This mixing of the commercial with the alternative, this combination of trends, fashions and styles, forms a theatrum mundi that Petrů depicts objectively and generously, even adapting her paintings’ form and technique to this end. As in her earlier works, she creatively combines ‘classical’ acrylic and fluoro-acrylic painting with colourful adhesive sheeting that she cuts up and pastes in layers to create a kind of Pop-art collage of comical figures, urban motifs, signs, advertisements and objects of everyday use that poignantly capture the natural chaos and ever-changing character of the urban mosaic. She also makes innovative use of the street-art technique known as ‘Sticker Art’, which adds to the vibrancy and unrestrained nature of the pulsating metropolis.

The large- and small-scale works exhibited as part of Ballerina with a Beard at GASK’s Gallery Point respond to the gallery’s exhibition space with subtle irony and a critical subtext. As presented, the works introduce visitors to the entire broad scope and multi-layered nature of Michaela Petrů’s fresh artistic style.

Veronika Marešová