Zdeněk Palcr belongs to the influential generation of artists who went to university just after the 2nd World War and managed to study with important figures of inter-war modernism before they were expelled after 1948. From the end of the fifties this generation participated in the massive upsurge in Czech art which lasted throughout the following decade. The important generational focal points included the Josef Wagner studio at the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague, where Palcr studied alongside Miloslav Chlupáč, Eva and Vladimír Janoušek, Eva Kmentová, Olbram Zoubek, Vladimír Preclík, Zdena Fibichová and the Polish Alina Szapocznikow. Palcr was attracted less by Wagner’s lyricism than by the construction-based work of Gutfreund, and from abroad especially Charles Despiau. Other important influences worth mentioning include the aesthetics lectures given by Václav Nebeský, which subsequently became the starting point of Palcr’s own theoretical approach.
Palcr was always more interested in a pure sculptural form cleansed of literary or decorative accretions. In particular, the first stage of his work in the fifties and first half of the sixties is characterised by the endeavour to achieve an ever more complete reduction of the shape most often depicting the female form. From approximately 1958 more corpulent forms gradually gave way to flattened cubist representations. A fuller female form thus gradually made way for a frontally conceived depiction with implied features of femininity. Later even these disappeared. In the second half of the sixties these flat raised verticals on variously shaped bases have lost their direct link to the organic archetype and Palcr supplements them with protrusions in the form of cylinders, consoles and ledges. Linear elements gradually appear in the form of rods twisted in space, onto which plaster is applied, probably making reference to the outline of the absent figure. The most radical manifestation in this spirit are sculptures conceived of as leaning poles, which the artist later rejected and destroyed. He showed his work from this time at an exhibition in Nová síň in 1970.
The sculptor abandoned the rich morphology of the sixties and devoted himself to perfecting one formal mode – narrow “stelae” with variously conceived base and finish. This involved only a subtle issue of the problematic of overall proportions, processing of the surface, and subtle irregularities in the thickness of the board or the vertical lines, everything taking into account the effect of light. His method of work changed too. Instead of the modelling principle Palcr began using a method in which he applied plaster which he then sanded. In his studio in a former barn in Zdiby, Prague, he would always work on several sculptures simultaneously, returning to them again and again, though never acknowledging the majority of them as finished pieces. An important aspect of his work was long, focussed observation, during which he sought the optimum proportions and made subtle modifications.
Recently certain retrograde elements have appeared in his work, which have seen him combine simple minimalistic shapes with realistic details. However, almost nobody has seen these sculptures since they have not yet been exhibited.
Palcr regarded his sculptures as spiritual works which should not be contaminated by practical considerations. He refused to exhibit them or support himself through sculpture (he characteristically undertook only very few public commissions), but preferred to earn a living through designing film posters (several of which, for instance Forman’s Loves of a Blonde, area amongst the iconic posters of the sixties: Palcr himself was a noted film buff) and restoration (on a contract lasting many years to repair the sgraffito of the chateau in Litomyš, a project he undertook with Stanislav Podhrázský, Václav Boštík and Olbram Zoubek – the project is dealt with in the novel by Libuše Moníková entitled Façade).
From the seventies he was concerned with the written formulation of his creative theory, which was influenced by Václav Nebeský, Petr Rezek and Jan Patočka. It is characteristic that it corresponds to his later creative opinion and yet we do not find any interface with the works of the radical period at the end of the sixties. His texts (three of which – Giacometti’s Perception, The Naive World of a Genius, and the Mysterious Occurrence of a Fact and the Importance of Picture and Sculpture – are particularly important) and interviews were published in the nineties. Despite all the criticism which he attracted (from Jiří Zemánek, Jiří Valoch and Jaromír Zemina) in terms of the negative effect on his work, they are amongst the deepest manifestations of thinking about art which we have in this country from the 20th century from creative artists. He created the texts similarly to the way he created his sculptures at that time: they arose in long time segments, and were gradually supplemented, their ideas and formulations clarified, though this meant they often went beyond the boundary of intelligibility. Palcr follows several basic themes in them, especially the sculpture-object dichotomy. He conceives of a sculpture as a formation with a special character related to the physical existence of man. “The substance of the volume of a sculpture is in a state of harmony with physicality.” The principles of this harmony are above all three-dimensionality, weight and an analogous position in relation to the ground. For Palcr a sculpture carries two basic circles of significance: one is linked to physicality and the second has a relationship with the base. However, both are in contact with the other and are combined in the principle of standing, which in itself carries both an internal physical dynamic and that relationship to the ground which Palcr described as “the connection to the base”. There are two meanings to this: on the one hand the base is that upon which “we physically stand”, that which bonds us to ourselves and from which we cannot escape, i.e. metaphorically speaking physicality as a basic attribute of our existence in this world and as the condition and mission of sculpture. At the same time it is “the world of mothers and fathers, men and women”, a “community of a spiritual whole”, with which we are linked by a similarly fixed bond. Our bondage with the ground is thus metaphorically based on the level of civilised links by which we are determined, physicality is transcended in the direction of the spiritual world. Something similar applies to the sculpture, which is linked by virtue of its weight to the ground, and which also “grows” from the thousands’ of years of development which has gone into it and which determines it to a significant extent. Palcr perceived sculpture as one of the foundation stones of European culture and felt intensely the degradation of its fundamentals and its threatening demise. His resistance to this process determined his conduct as sculptor and man, a man who must find his mission and pursue it with determination if his life is to have any meaning.
Palcr’s work has never been exhibited as a whole and we only know certain works from the studio photos of his friend, Jan Svoboda. The artist himself destroyed a certain part of his oeuvre through his exaggerated self-criticism, while other works are at threat because of their material existence in plaster, the inappropriate handling of his estate and their sheer size. This extraordinary value of Czech art of the 20th century remains to a large extent concealed.
Plastika pro Společenský dům, Praha, vápenec, v. 120 cm, 1958 – 60
Plastika pro Čsl. pavilon na světové výstavě EXPO '67, Montreal, Kanada, vápenec, v. 150 cm, 1966
Plastika pro hotel Juventus, Praha, vápenec, v. 100 cm, 1967
Plastika pro budovu Chemapolu, Praha – Vršovice, travertin, 130 x 210 cm, 1968 (ve spolupr. s arch. D. Šestákovou a V. Novákovou)
Reliéfní stěna pro Čsl. pavilon na Světové výstavě EXPO '70 v Osace, Japonsko, litý beton, 4,5 x cca 60 m, 1969 – 70
Reliéfní stěna u budovy TJ Tesla, Brno-Lesná, beton, 2,8 x 25 m, 1982 (ve spolupr. s arch. V. Rudišem)
Plastika (Sedící žena) pro sídliště v Brně-Líšni, pískovec, v. 150 cm, 1988 (ve spolupr. s arch. V. Rudišem)
Zemina, Jaroslav: Zdeněk Palcr. Výtvarné umění, r. 20, 1970, č. 3, s. 122 – 131.
Zdeňkovi Palcrovi, sochaři a příteli, k jubileu 3. září 1977. Vydáno jako samizdat k padesátinám Zdeňka Palcra. Sestavil Jaroslav Anděl. Strojopis. Praha: 1978.
Rezek, Petr: Tělo, věc a skutečnost v současném umění. Jazzová sekce, Jazzpetit, č. 17, Praha 1982.
Rezek, Petr: Haptická ozvěna a haptická ozvěnovitost. Zdeňku Palcrovi k pětašedesátinám. In: Konserva/Na hudbu, 1992, č. 8, s. 31 – 39.
Rezek, Petr: Moře a luk. Text z roku 1992 k pětašedesátinám Zdeňka Palcra. In: Literární noviny, příloha Konserva, r. VII, č. 29, 17. 7. 1996, s. 3.
Koubová – Eidernová, Vladimíra: Obec a půvab. K úsilí zjevit skutečnost duchovního světa budováním figur. Na okraj interview se Zdeňkem Palcrem (Revolver revue, č. 30). In: Architekt, 1997, r. 43, č. 4-5, s. 51-52.
Kapusta ml., Jan: Cesta Zdeňka Palcra k soše. In: Zdeněk Palcr. katalog výstavy. Náchod: Státní galerie výtvarného umění v Náchodě ve spolupráci s nadací Arbor vitae 1997, s. 7 – 45.
Chlupáč, Miloslav: O Zdeňku Palcrovi. In: Zdeněk Palcr. katalog výstavy. Náchod: Státní galerie výtvarného umění v Náchodě ve spolupráci s nadací Arbor vitae 1997, s. 5, 6.
O soše. Rozhovor Karla Srpa se Zdeňkem Palcrem. In: Výtvarné umění 1990, č. 5, s. 23-29. - Palcr, Zdeněk: Giacomettiho postřeh. In: Konserva/Na hudbu 1992, č. 8, s. 3-26. - Měl jsem pocit, že se po mně něco chce... Rozhovor Vladimíry Koubové-Eidernové se Zdeňkem Palcrem. In: Revolver Revue 30, 1995, s. 240-261. - Zemina, Jaromír: Proslov na vernisáži Palcrovy výstavy v Litoměřicích 26. 2. 1998 - Šetlík Jiří: Vzpomínání na Zdeňka Palcra – Chlupáč, Miloslav: Raná léta Zdeňka Palcra - Kolíbal Stanislav: Několik poznámek k povaze Palcrova díla – Petrová, Eva: Sochy zachovávají své jádro v sobě – Zoubek, Olbram: Ahoj Zdeňku - Janoušek, Vladimír: Pro Zdeňka - Janoušková, Věra: Zdeněk Palcr – Svobodová, Anna: Samota Zdeňka Palcra – Janoušek, Ivo: Člověk a umělec Zdeněk Palcr – Valoch, Jiří: Umělec, který se zapletl do vlastního lasa - Zemánek, Jiří: Dvě kacířské poznámky k dílu Zdeňka Palcra. In: Za Zdeňkem Palcrem. Sborník textů z vědeckého sympozia. Editor Jiřina Kumstátová. Litoměřice: Severočeská galerie v Litoměřicích 1999.
Fišer, Marcel: Socha jako význam. K textům Zdeňka Palcra. In: Bydžovská, Lenka – Prahl, Roman (eds.): V mužském mozku. Sborník k 70. narozeninám Petra Wittlicha. Praha: Scriptorium 2002.
Rezek, Petr: Co námi se děje (Pokus o výklad jedné Palcrovy věty) - Proměna plastičnosti - Maskovitá plasticita. In: Rezek, Petr: K teorii plastičnosti. Sborník textů. Sestavila Eva Fialová. Praha: Triáda 2004.
Giacomettiho postřeh. In: Konserva / Na hudbu, 1993, č. 10, s. 3 – 26.
Naivní svět génia. In: Konserva / Na hudbu, č. 10, s. 2 – 13.
Podhrázského deset soch a zákon specializace. In: Stanislav Podhrázský. Katalog výstavy v SGVU v Náchodě. Náchod: SGVU Náchod 1995.
Ten, kdo zůstal věrný představě své touhy, neboli Chlupáčovo očekávání. In: Miloslav Chlupáč. Katalog výstavy. Litoměřice: GVU v Litoměřicích 1995.
Záhdaný výskyt skutečnosti a význam obrazu a sochy. In: Konserva / Na hudbu, 1995, č. 12, s. 92 – 132. Přetištěno in: Ateliér, č. 9, 12. 9. 1996, s. 2.
Giacomettiho postřeh. Pracovní verze, leden 1982. Ediční poznámka Michal Blažek. In: Revolver revue, č. 42/2000, s. 267 n.