artists

Nick from Nottingham on crafts and cats

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By Ryan Keating-Lambert

So this was kind of cheating, because Nick does NOT live in Prague. But how many time do you get the chance to interview an expat living in the isolated Czech countryside?? He also lives with 8 cats (one of them named Mario from Milan) and a German shepherd, so I couldn’t resist having a chat with him. I’m fascinated by country life but definitely couldn’t handle the islolation myself… Nick deals with it by crafting, building and rebuilding furniture with vintage market materials from his village. I realised after looking at his handiwork around the house that he wasn’t just a handyman, but a kind of home decor “MacGyver”.

 

Where are you originally from?

Nottingham England, like Robin Hood!

What was it like growing up there?

Looking back, it was perfect. I was living in the suburbs only a bike ride away from beautiful countryside and yet we had a pretty big city on our doorstep. As a child I spent most of my weekends playing in the forests and gardens of Wollaton Hall, an Elizabethan Mansion close to our house, and later for a teenager at art school, Nottingham was a fantastic place to live.

What did you want to be as a kid?

I got into acting when I was young which is kind of strange as I was quite shy, but my real passion was drawing, designing and building…anything and everything! I think I wanted to be a roofer first, then a builder, carpenter, set and costume designer, artist… the list is endless!

What made you decide to pack your bags and leave England?

I had been studying then working in London which I loved but felt I was no longer following my dreams-is there such a thing as a ‘mid-twenties crisis? A friend of mine in Italy suggested I take a break and visit, and within a couple of months I had moved to Milan and started a new life. It was totally irresponsible and I was broke, but it was fantastic.

And what made you decide to come to the Czech Republic?

I’d spent most of my summers in the Czech countryside with my friends and family at my father’s neglected holiday house (my father also loves Czech but doesn’t have the time to visit often) This area is a dream-it’s truly beautiful and Ustek the closest town, is stunning. It was so different to what I was used to, but somehow felt familiar. When I left Italy I took my cat Mario and our junk, and decided to come here and start working on the house and garden in Czech. The first night I slept here alone, I felt like I had come home.

Tell us a bit about your home here. What do you spend your days doing?

This house is about 200 years old and has gone through many changes. Most of the original features had sadly been removed over the years and it was kind of plain. I started little by little removing modern walls, opening original doorways and fixing problems as and when they came up and things continued from there. I taught myself to plaster and build and as I didn’t have much of a budget I found creative ways of reusing materials and doing the work myself. It now feels like I’ve made some progress but there is still a long way to go.

What are some of the things you’ve made in here?

In the kitchen I built the fireplace (pictures below) and put in an old English stove. Around the fireplace I painted 17th century tile designs by hand (using ‘real’ tiles would have cost soooo much) I copied the designs from images on google and painted them straight onto the plaster.

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I also built the staircase paneling from old wardrobes and made the sofa from old wood, some curtains and some flea market feet. The sofa was kind of a bet with a friend who said I wouldn’t be able to make one.

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I also design and make bags and small accessories, from surplus or vintage materials, under the name ‘From No 19‘which is the house number here. It started off as a necessity as I didn’t have any money, now I think it’s something I should do – I hate waste!!!

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Very nice, and do you ever miss the big city life?

I thought I would, and sometimes I do miss the anonymity and diversity, but overall I’m pretty happy being one of the village people 😉

You’ve got some pets! Tell us about them..

After spending his life in a flat in Milan, my cat Mario slotted himself into Czech country living with remarkable ease. When a farmer offered me a German Shepherd puppy I gladly accepted but vowed he would never enter the house…he now spends his nights on the sofa with Mario and the 7 other cats I’ve given a home to over the years. I know I’m falling into the stereotype of a mad old person, but I do enjoy the company of animals.

8 cats?! That’s a lot. How is your Czech?

Bad! However, I would have gone mad without the daily company and conversation of the friends I’ve made here in the village, an older Czech lady and a Roma boy, neither of which speak English and so I guess I have at least some level of communication. I find some people make an effort to understand my bad Czech which really helps me, and others don’t even try-that’s just the way it goes.

How would you sum up Czech Republic in a few words?

A pretty door, closed but unlocked, hides something far more interesting and beautiful.

Who would play you in a movie about your life?

Someone unknown.

If you could travel back in time and see anything, what would you choose to see?

I think the village and area in which I live has such an interesting history it would be fascinating to see it in the past-to know who also loved and lived in this place. On my attic ceiling there’s a painted love heart with the words ‘built with love’ in German…I’d love to see this house when it was first built. Mind you, I wouldn’t mind going back in time and revisiting all the places I’ve been! What an adventure it would be!

For more on No 19, check out the website or Facebook.

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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.

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.