Jiří Beránek has been working with wood from the beginning of his sculpting career. Shortly after completing his studies in 1972, he started producing figural work. These were distinct expressive figures, finished with polychromy, in which the sculptor refers to famous stories from religious history (Loto’s wife, 1973, Salome, 1973). His figures are intentionally presented in torsos. The break-up of classicist form is compensated by biomorphic shapes, referring to Baroque aesthetics, as well as to some sculpting directions of the 20th century. At the same time, he started to develop non-figural work in which he examines geometric morphology (Cube, 1973). In these works, Beránek examines the inner space of sculpture and spatial relations, and he shifts to abstract expression. At the same time his sense for rustic image of form deepens and is present throughout his entire future work. During the 1970s he creates statues such as The Tower of Babylon (1974), Windy Corner (1974), Shack (1975) or Rock City (1979). Here the author examines his relationship with the memory of a place and he treats the specific determinateness of environment. It is about the idea of an “inhabited sculpture”, which as if had traces of ancient anonymous inhabitants encoded in it. He follows up on this style in the subsequent years, for example with his works Chest (1980), Layers (1982), Corner (1982 and 1984), Resurrection (1990), Place of Sacrifice (1991), Top Floor (1994) and others. Since the 1970s Beránek’s strong relationship to nature – landscape that he perceives also as a place in memory, starts to form. Beránek comes from an agricultural family from southern Bohemia and nature and earth were in his inheritance as something vitally important. This is also were the source of the earthiness of his work and its rustic character comes from. In 1975 it was the artist’s roots that led him to create the earth piece Corridor, and that were the base for the origin of his installations in nature that contain natural materials such as branches, soil or grass (Shack, 1975, Layers, 1986 and 1990, Place Suddenly Abandoned, 1987, Fall to the Ground Floor, 1988, Labyrinth, As if Naked in the Thorns, 1990). One of the climaxes of the tendency, in which Beránek works with earthy materials, was his exhibition Dusk of Memory in the Royal Summer Palace in Prague in 1998. Beránek filled the Summer Palace with an installation of peaty bricks. Beránek’s ancestors used to mine peat for heating in his home village Borkovice. The space of the Summer Place transformed to a sort of sacral place, where Beránek memorialized his ancestors and where sanctity intermeshed with profanity and the archaic with the present. He used a suggestive manner to express the idea of the eternal cycle of vanishing and birth, and he made the eternal elemental energy of the universe current. In Beránek’s depiction “poor” material gains new meaning and changes to mystic matter testifying to the existential presence in our lives. In the 1990s Beránek matures to monumental works, out of which we should mention the broadscale sculpture Resurrection (1990). The artist managed to have this piece of work placed on the extensive La Defénse square in Paris. He created an interesting clash by doing so: he confronted handmade, rustic work with the cold, dehumanized modernistic aesthetics of the perfectionistic, rationalistic skyscrapers.
Through his work Jiří Beránek reveals a world of myths that reach deep into our memory. Through his work he reaches mythologization of nature and its interdigitation with pagan or Christian cults. His style of working also relates to that: Beránek took up country craft traditional working with wood (most likely going back to prehistoric times) and has created work of antonymous quality. With his woodwork Jiří Beránek opened up new horizons in this field already in the 1970s. His spectrum focused on rustic work inspired by primitive art, partly following up on the tradition of Czech woodcarving and partly injecting new impulses into it, drawing from a whole range of modern art. An important factor in Beránek’s work is that it is never just about a mere game with forms, but about accenting spiritual messages.