Jiří Sozanský graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague in 1973. This was a difficult period in all sorts of ways. Sozanský found it difficult to reconcile himself with the lack of freedom of the normalisation period, which prevented any open dialogue or contact with the world. In addition, the 1970s generation was finding it difficult to create a distinctive style. After the fertile 1960s, which introduced many new trends onto the art scene, it was difficult to find a path that did not simply imitate what had gone before. Though he was both a painter and draftsman, Sozanský was to find an outlet for his personal feelings in environmental actions.
The whole of Sozanský’s oeuvre is characterised by an engagement against different forms of social violence and ideological diktat that undermine human rights and the dignity of Man. As a result, his work captures Man in marginal situations and depicts human trauma provoked by a dramatic turn of events or the violence of official power. This is present in the graphic cycle Job, which he began working on while still a student in 1970-71. This cycle shows Sozanský to be an artist for whom the figure is the main theme.
In the late 1970s, Sozanský discovered a new possibility in environmental events. His first such event was held in Terezín. The artist reacted to the concentration camp in Small Fortress (1976). He began to create expressive sculptures betraying traces of the inspiration of the work of Olbram Zoubek, with whom Sozanský worked briefly. He placed his sculptures in the austere prison cells and grey courtyards of the fortress. The environmental images he created in Terezín became a timeless symbol of those tragic moments in human history in which Man is cast into a state of torment through the power of despotism.
Since then Sozanský’s work has been characterised by a combination of various artistic methods. He responded to his experience in Terezín with paintings and drawings, and these became an ongoing part of his work alongside the environment and sculpture. An innovation came in the form of Models of Extreme Situations (1979), in which the artist moved away from classical sculpture. These are constructions created from metal and plaster representing a kind of semi-demolished space in which small human figures are situated. The existential resonance of these situations expanded the intensity of the artist’s work, which has become an ongoing seismograph of the conflict of Man with civilisation that does not always conduct itself humanistically.
Sozanský returned to Terezín once more in 1980, this time inviting Zdeněk Beran and Ivan Bukovský to participate in expressing their opinion in art that should above all contain a message and represent a testimony of the world. Another of his events followed the same direction, this time in the deserted buildings of the old part of the City of Most, intended for demolition in order to make way for new mining concessions. The derelict building because the subject of the artist’s interest in the environmental event House No. 50, 1987. This also involved a collaboration, this time with an actor who read out the story of Job in the deserted premises, creating a moving performance captured in many sequential photographs.
The situation following the Velvet Revolution allowed Sozanský to work on the preparation of similar projects on a professional level with international participation. He and his wife set up a civic association, which organised symposia in collaboration with the Gallery of Fine Art in Litoměřice at what used to be the Jesuit baroque church (Sozanský has always loved the baroque). The church was the venue for international meetings (The Baroque and the Present Day, 1992, Open Dialogue, 1994).
Another impulse behind Sozanský’s output were the atrocities taking place in the former Yugoslavia. Sozanský became involved in the struggle over the territory and experienced this extreme situation for himself. The result was an event that took aim against buck-passing indifference and sought support for the suffering of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Sozanský was also moved by the events of 9/11 to paint the cycle called Ground Zero.
The whole of Sozanský’s output is infused with an artistic reflection upon the life of people in critical situations. It can take the form of environment, painting, sculpture, drawing or graphic art. Many events, some on the frontier of happening, were one-off in character and preserved only in photographs and video recordings. Sozanský’s starting point was concrete politically motivated events. However, his work is a generally valid cautionary memento of global civilisation in these widest of contexts.
Action / Environment
Akce (environmentální instalace)
Karlín - Zóna A, Praha
Otevřený dialog, Kostel Zvěstování Panny Marie, Litoměřice
Barok a dnešek, Kostel Zvěstování Panny Marie, Litoměřice
Pocta Janu Zahradníčkovi, věznice Valdice
Dům číslo 50, Galerie 55, Kladno
Veletržní palác, Praha
Most 81/82, Most, Most
Pevnost, Soukromé sympozium v Malé Pevnosti v Terezíně, Malá pevnost, Terezín
Beran, Bukovský, Dolejšek, Janečka, Kovář, Kulhánek, Sozanský, Památník Terezín, Terezín
Památník Terezín, Terezín
Architecture and Public spaces:
Mater Mortis, Úřad vlády České republiky, Praha
Spojenci,Vrchní soud, Praha
Nový Památník obětem komunismu,Věznice Valdice
Šedesátý devátý , Galerie hlavního města Prahy, Trojský zámek
Strážce, Nejvyšší kontrolní úřad ČR, Praha
Památník obětem komunismu, Památník Vojna u Příbrami
Ukřižovaný II., kostel sv. Anny Jablonec nad Nisou
Apokalyptický jezdec, Galerie hlavního města Prahy, Trojský zámek
Ukřižovaný I., Severočeská galerie výtvarného umění v Litoměřicích
Memento mori,Terezín, důl Richard
Památník obětem komunismu, Věznice Valdice
Jiří Sozanský, Zóna, Nakladatelství Kant, Praha 2013
Jiří Sozanský, Sutiny (plastiky, grafiky, obrazy, koláže), katalog k výstavě v Obecním domě v Praze 2009, (text Brabec,J. a kol.), 54s., Symposion, Praha 2009
J.Sozanský a kol, Jiří Sozanský: Monology 1971-2006, Prostor, 214s., Praha 2006
I.Málková, J.Sozanský, Hledání Viléma Závady, Votobia, 286s., Praha 2003
J.Sozanský, K pramenům inspirace, Národní galerie v Praze, 40s.), 2000
Jiří Sozanský 1970-1989, katalog k výstavě v Lidovém domě, Praha-Vysočany, ONV Praha 9, 1989