art

Film artist Kurt on Sense8 and other work

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Concept and storyboard film artist Kurt van der Basch is surely a name that many in the Prague art and film scene would recognise. Originally from Canada, he moved to Prague to pursue a career in art which inevitably led him to film. Like many of us expats, he began teaching English. Kurt’s journey and career has been incredibly diverse and I’ve personally been looking forward to this interview for some time. On top of that, I’m also a major movie nerd so editing and listening back to this interview took a while – there were moments that I had to say to myself ‘Ryan, just shut up…” From working on recent Prague based films like Child 44 to sketching 100s of storyboard frames for the new Netflix series Sense8, there are some interesting insights into the film industry in Prague, and Central Europe… Not to mention some of Kurt’s early obsessions that got him into drawing in the first place. Enjoy!

Where are you from originally?

The east coast of Canada, Nova Scotia.. Halifax. Well, not really from Halifax, but from a suburban little town near there…. But we moved around a lot.

And what are your greatest memories of growing up in that part of Canada?

The landscape and the weather. The long winters, meter-high snow.

Do you miss the snow?

Sure, because I’m not into driving so it’s never really affected my day. I just love it. And there’s something cozy about the snow reflecting off the ceiling too – it kind of lights up a whole room.

What did you want to be when you were a kid?

I really wanted to be an Egyptologist. I had that worked out for years. I took it so seriously. I even had a newspaper cut-out of me somewhere saying “I want to be an Egyptologist” when I was about 12. 1986 I think it was. There are actually a lot of Czech egyptologists. It’s a specialty here, it’s always been a dream to go there but it would be really hard now.

When did you get into drawing?

I was always into it, as far as I can remember. I was always into drawing black and white, in pencil. My Mum would just sit me down and I would draw.

And what would you draw? 

Well, I would obsess and draw one thing over and over again. I had a mermaid obsession, and the egyptology was a part of a lot of the stuff that I would draw too – I think that had a big impact on my drawing because it was so graphic and standardised. You know, a hand always looks exactly the same, so does a foot. So I’d really try and nail it. But then I got into music which became a huge diversion in my life. So then I would draw pictures of Beethoven over and over and over.

That’s really nice. To be so young and drawing Beethoven? That’s quite unheard of.

When I was 12 I broke my arm doing gymnastics in rubber boots on the grass… the wet grass (laughs). And it hurt so badly – it was coming out at a 90 degree angle.

Ouch!

Yes.. anyhow, I was in the cast for about a year and when I got it off I met a girl who played the piano and she was really good and she taught me some Beethoven so then I became obsessed. So my parents got me a used piano and a teacher. And as an obsessive gay boy with no friends, I would go home and practice and practice and all of a sudden I went from a total beginner to quite advanced in just a few years. Then I went to university and studied music. Everything was music. But the whole time I was drawing and drawing and drawing. You know, we have sort of a romantic idea of artists – that they should suffer and it should be really hard, and practise 7 hours a day. A lot of people, including me, find that very attractive. So I was a good artist, but because it came easily to me and there was no romantic suffering involved, I didn’t feel like it was a very special skill. The whole time my Mum was saying “why don’t you go to art school?” and I thought “please, I’m a pianist” (laughs). So then in my third year of studies I realised that I wasn’t mean to be a pianist, but an artist.

How did you get to Prague?

I was finishing music at university, and I sort of wished that I wasn’t because I wanted to be an artist. Originally I thought I wanted to be a painter, so I thought I had to go to Europe. I had a friend, Moira, who had moved to Prague to teach English, so I just copied her and came here to teach for three months and then all these fateful things happened… and that’s why I’m still here 16 years later.

Wow, a long time.

Yeah, I arrived the summer of 99.

That almost sounds like that Bryan Adams song.

Yes! Canadians roll their eyes at Bryan Adams, because he’s Canadian. We often give people from our own country a hard time.

How did you make this transition from teaching into art?

It’s so weird, you know when you think, oh god if I hadn’t met that person at that time.

Sure.

I had a friend who was a teacher and he had a friend who was working for Barrandov studios here. And she said that she knew some guys doing a movie who needed an art department assistant… Which means tea and photocopies but you have to sort of know something about art. So we got in touch and I brought them my sketchbook and they gave me the job, and yeah I did a lot of tea and a lot of coffee. But it was a fantasy movie and one time some things needed to be designed and drawn up earlier so they gave me a chance at it. So I just kept drawing and making photocopies. I could draw and also speak Czech which was good for them. Eventually I became a set painter and did that for three jobs and it was so great, I could have almost done that as a career actually. You’re filthy all the time and building scaffolding and stuff.

It’s nice to be able to use your hands like that.

Yeah, it was really great and we would go for lunch together and some people wouldn’t let us in because we were so dirty and black. 90% of what you paint is black. When we did Blade 2 we had to paint a big tunnel that was just hundreds of metres of white plaster bricks that we needed to paint to look like real bricks. Brick, brick, brick, brick (laughs).

(Laughs) Could get a little monotonous?

Monotonous but fun and the guys we worked with were really great. At the end of the day I just wanted to draw, so I left the set painting and got into the illustration side of film making.

How long did it take you to learn Czech?

Well I met my boyfriend after working here for two months and he didn’t speak any English – we’re still together after 16 years. I was gung ho because I’d just arrived and wanted to learn Czech. But you learn Czech mainly from arguments, so you know I would write words on my hand to arm myself for the next argument, like “irresponsible” (laughs). Hmmm I have to remember to say that to him. And I worked in bars too where my Czech improved a lot.

At what point did you think “I’ve made it, I’m living out a dream job”

The first time I saw my name in the credits, that was pretty cool. But cooler than that was the first time my parents and my sister saw my name in a credited movie that they went to the cinema to see. That was really cool.

Would you have any advice for other expats that come here and want to pursue their dreams?

Well, for me it was really useful to learn the language. I mean in Holland or Germany it’s hard to learn because everyone speaks English, but here it’s possible to learn it and really integrate with it. So that’s a big one. Learn the language. And also to get friends who are Czech.

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What are some of your fondest memories on film sets?

Me and my friend Chris who also works in the movies, we worked on this movie Doom and we were doing this bio lab filled with hearts and lungs, and a veiny dildo that we snuck into the background 🙂 Anyway, we rigged them up with LEDs, it looked really cool. And during the filming we had to lie under the tables aqueezing air pumps to make them beat and move which was great. So that was a funny one.

(Laughs) That sounds brilliant. Now from what I understand, you’ve worked with some directors and filmmakers more than once. Tell us about some of them.

Well I have worked with Tom Tykwer on several things now and through him Wachowskis. Tykwer always uses the same team who I met on Season of the Witch. That was an amazing gig in Budapest but I also just fell in love with this art department and we’re really close now. And it was around this time that Tykwer’s designer Uli Hanisch said I had to buy this book called ‘Cloud Atlas’. This was in 2008 and he said a movie might happen, and then a couple of years later it did so I went over to Berlin to do a week long illustration workshop and then they used this as a pitch for the studios while the Wachowskis were doing the same thing with their art department in Chicago. Then a couple of years later it happened. I also had a job working with a Dutch designer on a children’s film. We really hit it off together so I’ve worked with him a bit. And there are also some commercial directors I always go back to, particularly those who specialise in hair. So for a long time the only commercials I did were hair commercials. Have I told you about this hair world?

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Cloud Atlas

No, please do.

Well with these hair commercials, the directors really guard their tricks. There is this one trick where they use a phantom slowmotion camera and there is this big rig that the hair model sits in like a guillotine with all these holes in it and they’ll bring the hair up in strands and spend about an hour setting this up. Then when they drop it, the weights fall down and it flies into the air and you think her head’s going to come off but instead the hair falls in these beautiful individual locks that they catch with a phantom camera. Then you get this slow beautiful Lars Von Trier look (laughs). They always want to use the same people, it’s very close. Commercials are great.

Now, you worked on Child 44 that was released recently, and it was actually filmed in Prague. For people that see the movie, can they recognise Prague there?

Constantly. Any exterior, even if you can’t see exactly where it’s done, you can still tell the sidewalk or a doorway and know that it’s Prague.

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Child 44

I really look forward to seeing it. So, tell us about Sense8. Everyone is talking about this on the internet at the moment.

Wow, Sense8 is crazy. The crew said it was the hardest job they have ever done. It was filmed in Nairobi, Berlin, Chicago, Deli, Iceland.. everywhere. But I only worked on the Tykwer parts in Berlin, there was a director for each section. I think it looks really good, the trailers look great. Also Darryl Hannah seems so interesting and weird. All the crew on Sense8 pulled really long hours – I did too. For scheduling and budget reasons, Tom Tykwer could only bring me over to Berlin for a few days with the plan to storyboad only the trickiest action sequences but as we were considering them there was always one more and one more that would be great to have boarded out. SO in the end we were hammering them out in rough form at an incredible speed. I did more frames per day on this job than I ever have on any other one. I counted 280 drawings in 3 days. Though it shows! They’re awful but they do the job. It’s great to see how positive the reaction to the show is after the divided reception of Jupiter Ascending (another Wachowski film) and Cloud Atlas.

SENSE8 Page

I think your hard work paid off. What work are you most proud of so far?
Cloud Atlas definitely. I think it’s a masterpiece. And as far as drawing work goes I really liked what I did on Child 44. I was quite impatient for that to come out. And also Jupiter Ascending. There were over 30 concept artists on that film.

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Cloud Atlas Mural

It was stunning, and I also remember seeing the Prague dancing house in that movie!

Yeah! I noticed that too! That was funny. It really worked in that scene and in that environment, it doesn’t work here in Prague.

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Jupiter Ascending

You don’t like it?

No, I don’t. It sticks out like a sore thumb. I think it’s arrogant to take such a beautiful vista and do something so attention-grabbing.  I also did a comic book prologue for Dead Snow 2 which they passed out at Norwegian cinemas – that was nice.

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I also saw on IMDB that you worked on the new Star Wars.. What can you tell me about that?

Nothing at all. The NDA on that job is major.

And what are you working on at the moment?

I’ve been in London for nearly six months on a big studio movie with another crazy strict NDA so you’ll have to wait for it to come out 🙂 Something else I’ve worked on that is due to come out soon is a Tom Tykwer and Tom Hanks film called A Hologram for the King. That was a really enjoyable Berlin job and I think it will be a good movie.

For the first time this July I’m also teaching a one week course at the university of West Bohemia about storyboard illustration and I’m very nervous about it.

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Sounds great! I’m sure you’ll be fine. How would you describe Prague in a few brief words?

Prague is trashy and chic all at once – a great combination.

If you could go back in time and see anything, what would you see?

I would love to go back to ancient Egypt or late 18th century Vienna with Beethoven and Mozart around. That’d be really cool.

What is your favorite word in English and in Czech?

Does Polari count as English? Because I do like ‘Zhoosh’. In Czech I think Jejda is funny.

Who would play you in a movie about your life?

Some friends used to say I looked like Jonathan Rhys Myers, which I didn’t see. But then recently there were some pictures of him looking puffy and sad drinking straight out of a bottle of vodka on the street and I thought ok now I can sort of see it (laughs).

Where do you like hanging out in Prague?

Well actually I’m not a big hanger-outerer. Once in a while I go crazy but I spend a lot of time on my own. I really need it. So I hang out in our kitchen with our three cats a lot (laughs) and I also like going to the movies a lot. I’m also learning to play the accordion.

Keep updated with Kurt’s work on his Facebook page.

Check out the Sense8 trailer below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E9c_KSZ6zM

Written by Ryan Keating-Lambert. Photos by Ryan Keating-Lambert and Kurt van der Basch.


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Petr Hájek – from football pitch to art gallery

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Petr Hájek is a name that some of you may know from the developing Czech art scene. As owner of the Chemistry Gallery, Petr has carefully crafted a superb gallery to showcase talented young Czech artists and their impressive work. We sat down in Café Louvre, a historical hub for creative Czechs of the past including writers Franz Kafka and Karel Čapek, for a chat about the birth of the Chemistry Gallery and Petr’s wide array of hidden talents that make for an inspiring tale.

Are you originally from Prague, Petr?

I was born in Olomouc, but I was living in Hranice na Moravě until I was six then my family moved to Prague. So Prague is my home.

Tell us a little about the Chemistry Gallery? How did it all begin?

Well, it’s kind of a funny story because I studied law here in Prague and before that I was actually playing football. So I used to play football, I used to be a lawyer and now I own an art gallery (laughs).

Very diverse!

I played football until I was about 22 or 23.

Professionally?

Yes, I played for Sparta. When I was studying at the faculty of law, I was also playing for Sparta’s B team. And when I finished my studies I knew that I could try to play football in the first and second league, but it seemed to me that it was time to do something else. So I started to work for Czech Invest. Then when the CEO at that time, Martin Jahn became the vice prime minister for economic affairs, he became a member of the government and offered me to join him, so I became the head of the business environment and legislation department. Our aim was to make sure new legislations never harmed business environments in the Czech Republic.

Then when he finished in the government, his team left the office and I started to think about what I really wanted to do. I had two ideas, one was to organize music concerts and the other was to open an art gallery – a street art gallery. At that time a lot of people were organising concerts so I thought it would be better to do a gallery. Suddenly, it became an idea that I couldn’t get rid of. So after three years of talking about it, I started to do something. At that time, I made friends with a photographer Martin Kamen and he was interested in something like this as well. So once we met and talked about it and I decided to make it a gallery for young artists. I thought that just a street art gallery in a Czech environment would be too narrow. We wanted to be something very different. For me at the time it seemed impossible to do it as I was working in PricewaterhouseCoopers, but Martin made it possible. So we opened in October 2008 in Vinohrady. At the beginning Martin was the art director while I was responsible for the operations and financing. After a year, he left so I took over the art directing. When he left I took it as an opportunity to open up to new curators and new ways of presenting art. It’s been going for 6 years now.

You’ve certainly done a lot, I’m not even sure what to ask you now! It’s very interesting that you went from football to art. Are there any similarities between them? Did one influence the other?

I’m always thankful that I played football. I loved it and started to travel with it. I also think when you play a collective sport it helps you to become a collective team member. This is always helpful when you’re working in a big company, or on your own. I still play football now but only with my friends. I have a team with classmates from my secondary school.

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Did you want to be a football player when you were a child or were you interested in art?

My mother was a headmaster at a basic school and my father was a geologist so there wasn’t a lot of art about. When I was 6 I wanted to be a truck driver (laughs)…. I still don’t have a drivers license.

Me neither, driving isn’t for me.

Then I wanted to be a teacher, because of the summer holidays. But once I started playing football, I wanted to be a famous football player.

What kind of art do you prefer?

Actually, I really like street art and graffiti, that was my original idea for the gallery too. I’m pleased that some people regard us as a street art gallery. We represent some of Czech Republic’s most well known street artists like Michal Škapa or Pasta Oner. Every year we have two or three exhibitions of street artists. But we have a variety of styles, and I’m pleased that some of our collectors believe in my taste and selection.

More: Artist Pasta Oner on Warhol and the spirit of Prague

Why the ‘chemistry’ gallery?

There needs to be chemistry between the audience and the art, the same with the artist and the art they create.

I see, and why did you move to Holesovice?

Dejvice and Letná have always been my neighborhood. But we moved because I found a good space there. We started in Vinohrady which was an 80 square meter flat so you had to ring a bell to get in. At that time I was also interested in a nice renovated space in Konviktská Street (Nové Město). I knew the owner of the space and he kept telling me about another place in Kampa, but I thought there were a lot of strange galleries there and I didn’t want us to be like them. But eventually I went to see the space, and it was next to Charles Bridge and it was 240 square meters, approachable from the street. I decided that it doesn’t matter where the gallery is, but what’s inside. But after a year the rent increased and became too expensive so I found a space in the Orco building in Bubenská Street. Originally we were on the corner, then we moved to our current location. It’s bigger and better and we also have a dance studio downstairs so it’s not a typical gallery, because of this studio there are more people there to see the work. So it came to me by chance in the end.

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The Chemistry Gallery’s 6th birthday, October 2014.

You’ve had some interesting events, how was the Andy Warhol New Year Eve’s party?

Well it was an ideal possibility to use our location as one big club. It was nice, there were about 400 people there after midnight. There were three dance shows because of the school, it’s great to be able to use them. We also had a reincarnated Andy Warhol – a performer dressed up like him and walked around the gallery. He also had an iPhone with a wireless video signal transmitted to the LCD displays. There was a pop art filter to make everything look topical. There were 6 DJs too.

How would you describe Prague?

The word I use the most when talking to foreigners is ‘blooming’, I think Prague is blooming and it will keep going for the next five years. This is something that you can’t see that much anymore in other cities like Paris for example. There are a lot of opportunities for cultural projects here now. When we started chemistry there were not many galleries, but since then there have been several galleries created, some of them focusing on young artists. It’s going to be an interesting time.

If you could go back in time and see anything, what would you see?

Well I’ve thought about this before and I would like to see three periods. The first is the period of Charles the 4th in Prague, then the pharaohs in Egypt and the Roman Empire before it went to hell.

Who would play you in a movie about your life?

I think I have to say Leonardo DiCaprio because I like him a lot. Maybe Paul Newman too, if he was still alive.

Where do you like to hang out in Prague?

As I said before, my main area was Dejvice and Letna, but now I live in Prague 1 and my favorite place is Bukanyr. I like Q cafe too because it’s run by my friends and it’s around the corner from where I live. I go where the good music is.

What’s your favorite word?

Favorite word? I think ‘báječně’. Whenever someone asks me how I am, I always say that. It means fabulous, great, wonderful etc.

Check out what’s going down at the Chemistry Gallery now, including the Tadeáš Kotrba exhibition which has now been extended until the 13th of March.

From March 24 – 29, the gallery will also exhibit works from the 14th International Contemporary Art Fair ART PRAGUE, an internationally reknowned event in the world of visual art.

Written and transcribed by Ryan Keating-Lambert. Photos from The Chemistry Gallery. Headline photo by Jakub Kajbin.

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Photo by Nikolas Tušl 

Artist Pasta Oner on Warhol and the spirit of Prague

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Last Thursday I had the privilege of attending the launch of the new special edition ‘Andy Warhol’ Absolut Vodka in the Gallery of Art Prague, surrounded by an exhibition of his stunning prints. It turns out that Andy Warhol once had a bit of an obsession with the Absolut vodka bottle. At the launch were a number of familiar faces across the happening Czech art scene including artist, Pasta Oner.

Pasta is primarily known for his colourful street art and murals which he has been flawlessly creating for some time. As the years have progressed, he has moved on to a number of other styles and presented his work regularly in Prague. As sometimes uninformed expats, we tend to notice the Czech art scene, but often ask ourselves the question: who did this? Pasta is a prime example of an artist whose humble yet remarkable talents mirror and compliment great icons of the past, including Andy Warhol. His use of colours, characters and text remind us a little of the pop art that Warhol (who has Slovakian roots) was once known for. Read on for a brief interview with Pasta and his thoughts on Andy Warhol, Prague and vodka…

In a nutshell, how did you get to this point?

I started to paint graffiti twenty years ago, I was thirteen. During those years, street art came to the Czech Republic for the first years I was only looking at the Internet and thinking about where I could move with graffiti, and this was the next step. From my childhood I had been painting and studied at a school for graphic art in Prague. In 2002 I had my first exhibition here. Now I concentrate more on studio works, canvases and sculptures. But I still mainly do mural art.
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‘Choose to be happy’ mural in Dejvice

You’ve been compared to Michelangelo and others, do you feel that famous?

It’s a local thing. It’s a really local thing – it means Prague. Most people don’t know that my art exists, they don’t know me. Sometimes similar artists around the world know my work, but it’s people who are interested in it and check it on the net.

At what point did you realize that you were becoming a bit of a big deal here?

It happened slowly. The smaller circle of friends around you never say it, they are your close friends or family and they don’t need to say it. Maybe when you are shopping sometimes people will ask for a signature, then you think ok.. somebody knows me! But it’s better for me this way.

How would you describe Andy Warhol in only a few words?

The biggest edge in the world of art, the biggest star in the world of art. He developed something that we know now – that artists can be stars. There had not been artists like this before.

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Pasta Oner with actress Anna Geislerová at the Andy Warhol Absolut Vodka Launch

How would you describe vodka in only a few words?

We call it liquid karate here in Prague. For most people I know, it makes them more… (karate gestures). It’s full of energy and usually you drink it with red bull. It makes something really change in most people. Normally I don’t drink red bull, I’m careful. But if I need it to restart or something, I’ll have one and everything is perfect (laughs).

I love vodka, but with red bull…

It’s quite dangerous.

Are you originally from Prague?

Yes, but it’s kind of difficult because I was born in Slovakia in a city called Trenčín, on the Czech border. During the time that we were one country, and no one cared about borders. My mother is Slovakian and my father is Czech. When my Mother was pregnant, she went to Slovakia and I was born there… So I’m originally from Slovakia, but moved to Prague when I was very young. My Prague-born friends still joke about that with me, they say I’m not really from Prague (laughs).

How would you describe Prague?

I travelled a lot when I was a child because my mother was an air hostess for 25 years, so I felt that this was one of the biggest schools of my life – travelling, but every time I come back to Prague I feel something that is very difficult to describe. It’s the spirit of this place, it’s really strong in Prague because it’s a really really old place and many cultural things happened over 100s of years.

Like a kind of electricity in the air?

Yeah maybe, it’s kind of magical. I really love Prague for the energy of the city. I love New York too. I could even live there but Prague has something special. I don’t know what it is. I’m glad that the bars and gastronomy are changing here too. Everything’s going up at least, because years ago it was terrible. When I came back here from London or New York it was hard falling down to Prague. I don’t have anything more that I need here now. I think everything is good now.

What did you want to be when you were a kid?

Because my mother was an air hostess, I wanted to work on a plane. Everyone thought I wanted to be a pilot, but I actually wanted to be a steward because of the girls (laughs). I saw a lot of really beautiful air hostesses.

If you could go back in time and see anything, what would you see?

Woah (laughs). Maybe, years ago I attended free techno parties here in the Czech Republic. From 1996 it started to be really huge and I still have these roots in my head and in my heart, so I would like to see Woodstock or something. Something before the travellers came to Europe and gave free techno to people.

And you used to be a DJ in the past, is that correct?

I quit because I don’t have time. Years ago we had a group called “Toys” – we were three DJs in the group and we were called this because… we were not really DJs (laughs). We were quite a famous group, we had many fans, but one day we quit. I don’t know why. I guess we were tired of it.

Which actor would play you in a film about your life?

Leonardo DiCaprio because he definitely needs an Oscar (laughs). But in a true way, not ironically. I think that The Wolf of Wall Street is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. He was totally fucking perfect. He didn’t play it, he was IN it.

Great, one last thing… Do you have a favorite piece of yours?

It’s a hard question, it’s usually the last one.

Because it’s finished I guess – and you’re relieved that it’s done?

Yes, and then in a year you look at it and think “hmm, I’m not sure” (laughs).

Check out more of Pasta’s work on Facebook or his website.

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Written and transcribed by Ryan Keating-Lambert. Photos by Petr Hricko Photography and Pasta Oner.

DeafMessanger Kučin on art and fatherhood

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Kučin’s DeafMessanger label and project have been going for quite some time now. Since his first series of postcards his industry and talent has grown immensely. Using found objects in Prague and all over the world, Kučin and his team carefully assemble diaries, notebooks, postcards, bags and many more. All designs are intricately sprayed and printed using a stencil system typical for street art. With DeafMessenger products now being sold globally, I thought it would be nice to visit Kučin and find out what makes him tick. We sat down with an espresso and a cigarette in his studio which had distinctive smells of freshly brewed coffee, paper and paint – that creative smell that all art spaces have. Frida – Kučin’s beautiful one-eyed cat, patrolled the space guarding her master and artist’s terroritory as we chatted about life, art and the contradicting adjectives that make up this crazy city we live in.

Where are you originally from?

I’m originally from the East of Czech Republic, from Moravia. A place called Napajedla. I never really wanted to go to Prague, but my girlfriend at the time did. We had just come back from New Zealand after 6 months and I was 24 and the time had come where I had to follow some goals. I thought if I stayed there (in the town), I would regret it. I would have to get a job and have a kid. It sounds silly, but I was scared. So that’s how I got here.

What did you want to be when you were a kid?

I wanted to work with animals. I didn’t want to be an astronaut or a pilot, you know all these crazy positions. I wanted to work with animals because from an early age I was trying to catch fish, lizards, birds etc. So my dream job was to work in a zoo, later I found out how sad and shitty the conditions are for the animals. Even to be a marinebiologist with dolphins and whales – it kept in my head until I was 14.

How did you start DeafMessanger?

Ok so I mentioned New Zealand, right? The idea came there that I really want to work with my hands. I knew that my position wouldn’t be in an office or in front of a computer screen. So I came back and started to spray my first postcards which were very different to what I do now. I thought that if I made these and sold them, it would be enough to make a living. Then I realised that it definitely wasn’t, so I started to do social work and that dream kind of disappeared. Then later on with no ambitions, I made my first set of notebooks. I already had some stencils from street art, so I brought the spare notebooks to one of the shops that sold my postcards and he called me the same day to say that this German couple bought all of them, so I should make more. Then I started to travel with it. I went to Berlin, London, Vienna – the main cities, trying to get my products in their shops… And that’s how it all started.

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Check out designs here and on Facebook.

So I know you did some designs for the Sea Shepherds. Some people support them, but some think there is too much violence and Greenpeace is better. what do you think?

I think both of these organisations make really profound changes. Sea shepherds are more dedicated to marine life, whereas Greenpeace are covering other issues. Sea Shepherds are more about direct action and Greenpeace about speaking to the government. I think when Greenpeace are speaking and trying to do things, there are still animals dying. While the Sea Shepherds are trying to be there in the actual spot at the moment protecting the animals – and that justifies their work for me. I don’t see the violence in that. These animals cannot speak for themselves, so the Sea Shepherds are their voice and they’re really acting in the moment.

You’ve travelled quite a bit with your work. What is your favourite place to go to?

Well the work trips are usually short trips and in connection with the people living there. Half of the reason to go there is to visit friends or the city, and the other half to talk to the shop. The other trips are places that I don’t do business in like South East Asia or India are some of my favourite spots. New York City for business too, that’s one place I love going back to.

Has your work been influenced by your travels? By art or culture?

Just being around all this street art happening in Berlin or New York City (from what I’ve seen in Brooklyn that is). I think these places and seeing all this stuff happening is an influence, and of course going to the galleries and being surrounded by art and creative people. It’s not the designs that are influenced, but just the feeling that I really want to create. It motivates me.

Everyone has a specific work environment. What helps you work?

Well in the spraying room for the last three years. I always listen to the soundtrack from Black Hawk Down. I know the timing of it, so I put on my gloves and the facial mask and I work. There were a few times when my phone battery wasn’t charged or something and I wasn’t comfortable without it. Here in the studio if it’s me and my colleague we might listen to something else.

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So you are hard of hearing, how would you describe this?

It’s part of everyday life. Something that annoys me, but also something I can joke about a lot. And now, with a kid on the way people are saying when I’m a father I won’t have to wake up. I can just turn off my hearing aid and not hear anything (laughs).

And what about fatherhood? Are you excited?

I’m so excited, I really am. Now it’s three weeks to go, and what is a really cool thing is the feeling of becoming responsible. My girlfriend is doing fine, and I have a great deal of respect for her coping with being heavier and having to sleep on only one side, all of these things. And for myself I just feel like now is the right time, it’s not stopping me from anything. I want to be a good father and someone that the kid looks up to, it’s not an easy task.

Decribe Prague in adjectives.

Awesome! Beautiful, definitely. Conservative. Changing. It’s hmmm… exciting in so many ways. It’s depressing in so many ways. There are many contradicting adjectives I think of when I think about Prague.

Who would play you in a movie about your life?

I’ve never thought about that before! Joaquin Phoenix from Walk the Line. I can imagine him, yeah.

If you could go back in time and see anything, what would you see?

It doesn’t have to be from my life?

No and it can be in the future too!

Another planet with life on it

For more information on DeafMessanger’s art, notebooks and designs, visit the website and Facebook page.

Written and photographed by Ryan Keating-Lambert.

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Charisse talks art and the “wayback machine”

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Petr and I were blown away when we set foot in Charisse’s studio apartment. It was as if New Orleans’ legend Marie Laveau herself had decorated and imprinted part of her voodoo queen soul on the walls. We were now in Charisse’s world; one dedicated to the mystic, and the sublime. A candle lit art studio that brought some fascinating tales into the light.

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Where are you from originally, Charisse?

I’m originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I went to a regular school and we were some the first kids that went to an all white school. That has really shaped my whole entire life, I think.

Do you miss it back home? What do you miss the most?

No, I don’t miss it (laughs). I do miss my Grandmother and her house though. I don’t miss the city, I never want to move back.

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What do you miss about your grandmother?

I miss her love and her aura – you know that grandmother’s aura.

How did you get to Prague, Charisse?

I flipped a coin. It was a toss-up between here and Seville in Spain.

No way! That’s cool!

It was one of the most interesting things I’ve ever done. I was living in Minneapolis and I was thinking, do I actually do this? I went to the window and it was raining, and I thought oh god! There was a double rainbow! The only thing I knew about the Czech Republic at that point was Alfons Mucha…

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What were your first impressions of Prague?

I got into the wayback machine and went back 20 years.

A wayback machine?

The cartoon TV show Rocky and Bullwinkle. Peabody and Sherman had this time travel machine called the wayback machine (laughs).. Lots of parts of Prague remind me of Milwaukee actually, because of the Polish. We have a big Polish community over there too.

Where is your favourite place to hang out in Prague?

It used to be this bar Hush on Lublanska before it closed. Now I like Vzorkovna bar.. I had some of my paintings in a show there too.

If you could describe Prague in adjectives, which would you use?

Random, Grey, lost but found opportunities. It’s very new. Everything is a rebirth. Definitely a renaissance. Freedom.

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Are you religious?

I’m spiritual. I’ve discovered a lot of stuff since I’ve moved to Prague. That’s why I think of it as a rebirth.

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You’re a very talented! You paint and make your own clothes and jewellery too. Anything else?

Anything! I just like to make shit! Whatever I want, I guess. I like to spend my time being creative. Pretty much everything you see in this room has been done.

What inspires you to make these things?

I like different cultures. I like the mystic and I love the sublime. I like the underdogs, the people that nobody seems to like. The person that makes you question yourself, I like that person.

What designs or projects are you most proud of? Anything you can show us?

I’ve done all of these paintings. This is my Mary Magdalene (pictures below on the far left), she is my Mona Lisa and she comes everywhere with me and I WON’T sell her!

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How would you compare Czechs to Americans?

Hmmm. You can pretty much say whatever you want to Czechs, and they will leave you alone and go home and bitch about you there, American’s will do the opposite. The people here are not aggressive at all.

What makes you laugh?

I like dirty humour; stuff that sneaks up on me. Quirky and random things make me laugh, the odd and the mundane.

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If you could go back in time, when would you go?

I’ll be cliché. I would go and stand next to Buddha under the Bohdi tree.

Who has made Prague especially great for you?

My friends definitely. I’ve met the most inspiring people. We’re like honey and flies; we stick to each other. This is what I was looking for in Minneapolis, and it took me years to get it there.

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Do you think you make friends faster when you’re an expat?

That’s when your human instincts kick in. Especially when you travel alone. You’re forced to meet people.

Can you speak Czech?

(Silence) Ambiguity is the best. Wink, wink.

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(Laughs) Very good answer. How multicultural do you think Prague is? The US must be quite different on that level. Do you miss this?

Yes, I do. I miss the diversity. I actually find myself watching a lot of television shows from when I was a kid just so I can see some diversity again (laughs). Otherwise, everybody basically looks the same…

And do you think that Prague will change in the future?

Yeah, dude! Prague is changing a lot already. Look at the fashion for example, 5 years ago it was socks and sandals central, but now everybody has stepped up their game. It is the younger generations that are changing things now.

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Thanks so much for letting us crash your pad, Charisse! We loved every minute of you company.

Written and transcribed by Ryan Keating. Photography by Petr Kurečka.