Zdeněk Beran began in the late 1950s with expressive-styled figurative pictures. He was inspired by the Czech avant-garde (B. Kubišta), though we also find a connection with modern, namely French painting (G. Roualt). He then turned to Tachism (e.g. his Action studies from 1958). His debut was then marked by his affiliation with the “informel” circle’s Konfrontace (Confrontation) exhibitions that took place in 1960 and that introduced quite a reversal in art's path. The Konfrontace artists rejected any kind of continuation in the pre-war tradition and embraced contemporary trends that they saw in, for instance, the work of Jean Dubuffet.
In his informel objects, Beran often used redundant materials (wood, metal, sand, cardboard, fibreboard, straw, rope, textile, cotton, tiles, paint), which stacked into ever growing reliefs that cut through and create textures from which atmosphere of decay radiates. This motif of decomposition became characteristic of his other works as well – objects that were created in later years. In the latter half of the 1960s the artist also returned to figuration in paintings and reliefs. The Rembrandt-like painted abstract Dýňovitá hlava (Pumpkin head) is a wildly imaginative picture on the existential feelings of man. It does not lack for dramatically powerful feeling of decay and destruction. This basic direction of emotional reflection in Beran's work is fully applied in his famous environmental work Rehabilitační oddělení Dr. Dr. a jeho transformace (Rehabilitation department Dr. Dr. and its transformation). The installation was first made in 1970-71 as an interior work in the space of one building in the Karlín quarter of Prague. The space, itself subject to unstoppable devastation, brought to mind a tiled hospital room filled with metal beds, hangers and strangely bandaged torsos of dummies. Later, after 1989, the installation was “buried” in a deep pit and covered with sheet glass.
It was then covered with dirt and in 2000 again exhumed so that part of the installation could be exhibited in the National Gallery. Rehabilitační oddělení was a logical result of my personal scepticism rooted in my internal resistance to modernist-like positive postulates, like the kind formulated in our country with blind faith in universal progress in the latter half of the 1960s in particular,” said Beran. The themes of decrepitude, devastation and futility also appear in the Kufry (Suitcases) series (subtitled Fear of existence in a suitcase) made in 1976. Various destroyed objects spilling out like the entrails of the suitcases that Beran adorns with tiles and adds hyper-realistic drawings to. In 1990, Beran exhibited suitcases and other typically dilapidated “body remains” in an environmental performance in the Terezín Fort – in an environment that enhanced the expressive nature of the works. Models of his Spatial Formations from 1983-85 move in a less emotionally charged environment. These are actually studies of installations that have never been carried out (save for one exception). The space in plexiglass boxes is equipped on two sides with “tiled” walls and small objects are installed in a miniature interior: most often a chair or bed, which are augmented by simple geometric forms (triangle, cross) and once again, as with the suitcases, featuring the artists hyper-realistic drawings.
Since the 1970s Beran has focused on large-format veristic drawing in which there appear fragments of the human body that are violated by rope, for instance, and which he used to continue to address the existential problems that constantly dogged him during the communist years. In the 1990s, he began to focus on hyper-realistic painting, in which he worked with different fragments of reality that were not always legible at first sight. Most recently, Beran has created a figurative series of nude torsos, and mainly the backsides of bodies – backs and buttocks. These are sections of the body that have been enlarged so much that the body fragment fills the picture. Beran says that he enjoys painting something that hasn’t been done here: In his view, the front parts of the body have been “historically worn out”. Existential rawness gives way here to a less biased, blunt description. With their formal reduction and enlargement, the body parts, though they’re still painted in a veristic manner to the point of photographic realism, border here on an abstract image.
Zdeněk Beran. Texty: Zdeněk Beran, Jindřich Chalupecký, Milan Knížák, Jan kříž, Jiří Machalický, Mahulena Nešlehová, Patrik Šimon, Petr Wittlich. Národní galerie v Praze 2007.
Wagner Radan: Dvě strany jedné mince, A2 kulturní týdeník, s. 8