Time is like the withered edge
of a beech leaf’s dying,
the effulgent coat of gleam and glare
discarded in fatigue
by God, essence of the deep,
flight-weary to the quick.
Hiding himself at each new spring,
he waited for his root-like hair
to grow in all things.

Rainer Maria Rilke, The Book of Hours

Zdena Šafka (born 1953) studied fabric design at the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague. From the 1980s she worked in fabric and costume design, fashion design, tapestry restoring and teaching. Since 2005 she has devoted herself wholly to fine art, above all painting and drawing.

Over the past decade and a half, the focus of her expression has shifted between the contrasting fields of lyrical figuration and geometrical abstraction. The formal diversity of her themes finds a common thread in her innate sense of stylisation, compositional harmony and colour poetics. A less obvious, but perhaps profounder ‘hallmark’ of Šafka’a art is the implicit feeling of a paradoxical ‘intimate remoteness’ that subtly emanates from each of her works. It is a form of consciousness stemming from her introverted observation of the environment around her and leading to a symbolic statement about the bonds between outward reality and her inward mental and spiritual life. The resulting images are based on Šafka’s personal experiences as well as on her awareness of the miraculous essence of the world.

The cohesive series of paintings that Zdena Šafka is presenting at GASK was inspired by nature in the immediate surroundings of her home and studio. It thus follows on from her focused exploration of the landscape’s forms and meanings. In these pictures, however, we don’t see the landscape as a panoramic whole or as individual sections, but as a ‘microcosmos’ composed of individual elements of nature, above all the leaves of several tree and plant species. The pictorial structure of these compositions is not based on perspectival space, but on intuitive spatial perception most often determined by rectangular planes that are partially or wholly transparent. Using an acrylic spray-paint technique in which leaves serve as stencils, Šafka creates spectral reflections on the ever-changing boundary between presence and absence, past and present, permanence and transience. Out of the fusion of two seemingly contradicting visual currents, namely concrete ornament and dream-like surreality, there emerges a space of transcendent ideas in which ‘ordinary’ objects taken from nature speak to us in the language of age-old symbolism – the fern and dandelion, for example, symbolise the eternal cycle of birth, death and rebirth, which is why they also symbolise the family and hope for future generations. In the colourist modelling of the pictorial motifs and their rhythmic and, in places, almost abstracted shapes, we can perceive a musical sensibility that is also indicated by the titles of many of the artist’s works: Variations on a Forest Tune, Piano Sonata, Harmony, Étude, A Little Day Music, Concert in a Rose Garden and Nocturne.

The paintings that Zdena Šafka is exhibiting at GASK can be understood as the expression of her inner wonder at nature. In their mutedly emotional sfumato, however, we can also sense the artist’s quiet personal confession.